Day 68–The Adventure Continues

January 12, 2012 3:45pm

January 11, 2012

S87°58.044 W095°28.243

Elevation 8668 feet

The were all standing outside the mess tent–Lou, Henry, Mark Wood and Mark George, Hannah and Ben–the motley crew that had made our community since reaching the Pole. By virtue of circumstances, and the commonality of our shared experiences, we had developed instant kinship’s. When you reach the bottom of the Earth, the stories of those who have, too, become part of your own. You don’t forget them. They were out to see us off. We had monitored the conditions all day, and while the forecast had called for five to ten knots slowly fading by end of day, predictably perhaps, the winds had only loosely reflected that trend. Now, at 18:00 GST, they were kicking up blowing snow, reaching eighteen knots and building. Eric and I had psyched ourselves to go; the comfort of life at the base was like a black hole luring us to stay; a siren at sea steering us off course by challenging our motivation. It was time to go. We were dressed for the trail, the tent had been freshly packed, the sledges re-arranged, and the kites were now laid out and gently bouncing in the gusts. The visibility had dropped to about two kilometers which was just enough to make out the South Pole Station perimeter, but not more. Our friends had put on warm jackets and gloves and were waiting in the cold to bid their farewell. Their faces displayed a mix of curiosity with the incredulous disconnect that comes from knowing that your mission has ended while witnessing the familiar steps of others committing to another round. It is a blend of relief and envy. They were already out; we were going back in. Besides, all of them had suffered the slow punishment of long distances covered on skis; it was hard to resist witnessing firsthand the modern alternative of swift and limber travel by kite!

Following warm embraces and the obligatory photos sealing permanently this page of our lives, Eric and I walked to our respective lines, clipped in the harness, raised our kites in the air and simultaneously glided away for the camp. We followed a flagged route that cut right through the station. We reached the runway, and steered right passed the parked Hercules aircraft. The flags lead us out of the station, between the Clean Air Sector and the Dark Sector. The gap separating them grew, and as the visibility was fast dropping, they were fading in the landscape. Soon, what appeared to be the last one marked the end of the road. I looked back. The station had disappeared. We were shrouded in white. The wind was kicking. The skis were scratching the ice below us and our speed was growing. The kites were diving up and down pulling us into the wild. We were back on the trail.

The thing about reaching the Pole is that any direction from there leads you North; and because the longitudinal lines are so close together–they meet at the Pole–navigation just out of the station can be a tad confusing. The further you move from the Pole, the more relaxed the GPS gets. In the whiteout, we could barely see two hundred feet in front of us; but the wind was pushing us downwind at a pretty good click: we were flying blindly, as if in a blank canvas! Luckily, the snow condition was soft, and the terrain flat. We continued in this way for almost two hours until we came upon a series of tracks, all headed to our shared destination: the coast at Hercules Inlet, some 1118 kilometers from there. Amongst them were the symmetrical five ski tracks which had been with us in the final days of reaching the Pole. They belonged, we found out, to a ski mounted platform with a tent on top, a cooler in the back and propelled by a large wing driven by a team of Spaniards! The whole set up weighs more than a ton!

The horizon eventually cleared up, and the conditions were perfect: solid wind on a broad reach, soft and flat surface. We were making great mileage with minimum effort. Three hours in, all of a sudden, about two thousand yards to the left of us, we noticed a camp of red Hilleberg tents. We changed course and decided to pay them a visit. It was a group of Japanese, doing a last degree (sixty nautical miles) to the Pole. This was their third day in. We landed the kites and said hello. They took pictures (of course!) and we were off. Not five minutes later, the same thing happened, this time with a group of Russians! They invited us in to their tent and served us tea. We shared stories, and eventually got back out. They, too, took photos! Five kilometers downwind, we found another camp, and again stopped by; the Russians had told us of a disabled man who was skiing the last degree to the Pole. We stopped to pay our respect, and again, were invite in! This was most definitely our social hour! It turns out that just eighteen months ago, he had suffered a snowmobile accident that had paralyzed him from the waist down. Choosing not to be beaten, he decided to pursue some of his various ambitions, including reaching the South Pole. He was there with a ream documenting it. By the time we stepped out of the tent, the wind had dropped considerably. We switched to the big kites and after they, too, took photos, we were off. This was the end of our last degree groups encounters, and the close of our social butterflying! We had lost two hours in great fun.
The wind grew again and was strong for the Yakuza’s, but given the downwind tack, we stuck it out, at time exceeding forty kilometers per hour. We traveled through the night, eager to descend off the plateau were both temperatures and winds are very predictable. By morning, we had covered two of the ten degrees for this leg of the trip, or 227 kilometers. We stopped more out of caution not to exhaust ourselves to reach Hercules only to sit for days waiting for our pick up. We have 903 kilometers left to cover, and twelve days to do it in.

5 Responses to “Day 68–The Adventure Continues”

  1. Fred says:

    May we comment on the excellent writing and rhythmic storytelling that’s tinged with humour no less?

  2. Tmac says:

    she a pretty………..amazing other worldly experience you are having…..if the wind keeps up, you will be ahead of schedule, GOTTA LOVE THAT ………nice !!!!!!! staying warm, keeping it real………..T

  3. Harald Golbach says:

    I really enjoyed your beautiful Witten Report.
    My heart Beats for you and you’re always in my Prayers.
    Alle my love…

  4. dave mitchell says:

    NIce one Seb! Proud of you brother XO

    Get back with all your toes!

    Soak it all in.

  5. BASILE says:

    Glad to read you are re-started in good circumstances

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