Day 40–On The Road Again

December 14, 2011 3:00pm

December 14, 2011

S80°23.8123 E037°42.613

Elevation 11570 feet

Today is a big day in the history of polar exploration, of course, as on this day one hundred years ago, Roald Amundsen and his team were the first to reach the South Pole, on December 14, 1911. Amundsen had learned a lot about polar travel from the Inuit in the north. Much of that knowledge was applied to his historical achievement, especially his use of dogs and the clothing he chose. Amundsen, who was not an especially pleasant individual, did boast a very efficient strategy, on and off the ice: he sneaked below the radar in his bid to be the first, ahead of Robert Falcon Scott who had departed from England amidst great media expectations. Amundsen set sails for the Arctic, but once out to sea, to prevent any leaks, changed his bearing and set it to Antarctica and the Ross ice shell, where he wintered over, unbeknownst to Scott who did the same at a nearby location. Scott was younger, and less experienced but a charismatic and eager leader. When he set off on the ice for the Pole, he had no idea that he was engaged in one of the greatest races in history. Instead of planting the British flag upon reaching the South Pole on January 17, 1912, to his great chagrin, Scott found there the Norwegian flag, and a note left for him from Amundsen. Tragically, on his voyage back, Scott and his team perished from cold and starvation, a mere eleven miles from a cache of food they had left on their way in. Scott had made the strategic error of choosing ponies, as well as tractors, in his bid for the Pole. The Scandinavian ponies did not resist the harshness of the Antarctica conditions, and died early. The tractors turned out to be utterly useless in soft snow. The men were therefore forced to haul their food and survival equipment and, faced with vicious storms, did not survive the ordeal. In the expedition world, the rivalry between Norway and England set then, lives even to this day.

For Eric and I, the day was no less significant. The fact that we posted our second best distance today (106 kilometers) was made all the more sweet as a cloud may have lifted from potential aborting of the mission. Of the last two days spent in the tent, the second was a tense contemplation of whether the trip might require medivac on account of my toe: while I finally managed to pull the big toe nail that had been badly bruised from two weeks ago riding the sastrugi, the liquid it had been oozing had set off a cold injury from the cold boots. Cutting the dead skin off the crown of the toe revealed a frost bite significant enough that our prospects looked challenged. Some of the flesh had already turned black, and without a rest day, there was no telling whether and if it might spread. I let the wound air out in the tent all day to assess its condition. After speaking with a frostbite medic, I forwarded photos and got a temporary assessment. Needless to say, I would rather not lose a toe; and yet, with the POI within reach, to abort at this stage was equally unappealing.

I spent some tense hours contemplating options, and their consequences. I was torn. It is hard to explain the mental stakes that reap havoc to the mind: the effort; the planning; years of aspiration; not to mention that the worst of the expedition is behind us. Additionally, one has a different perspective from the ice; the history of polar exploration is riddled with stubby digits…! Luckily, in the morning, the extent of the dead skin cells appeared to be contained. After reconfiguring by boot gaiters, socks combination, and shortening our traveling section duration–from two hours to one, less if my toes felt cold–we decided to go for it. The morning was tense. For one, it is difficult to tell exactly what threshold of cold is or isn’t acceptable. My toes have temporarily lost sensitivity from the long days kiting, and cold feet more or less come with the job. However, after each one hour section, I took the time to walk around and restore circulation to toes and feet. After six and a half hours of kiting, we were both anxious to see whether any change had developed. I am happy to report that the bite is stable, and the actions we have taken seem to be working. We are now 349 kilometers from the POI, a distance that can hopefully be reached in less than a week. For now, the objectives remain the same, even if one at a time: POI, South Pole, and Hercules Inlet. Daily monitoring will diligently be in effect. Don’t worry people, I have no desired to be acquiring the ungainly moniker of Stubby Seb: the toe stays! I obviously have an angel sitting on my shoulder; please don’t fly away!

6 Responses to “Day 40–On The Road Again”

  1. Karin says:

    Chain that Angel tight to your back, losing the big toe is cruel! Take care!

  2. Penelope Casadesus says:

    And try and envisage wind-surfing next summer at the Ile de Re without a big toe! You’re going to REALLY regret it then!! However, it sounds awful, as anything to do with extremities is very painful. What a trip! Carolin is coming to stay with me in Paris for the week-end, and you will be in our thoughts as we munch on dinner…..
    Look after yourselves – this sounds like the trip from hell! All love – Mum xxx

  3. BASILE says:

    I wish your big toe will safe and restore
    All the best♥

    • Omaira says:

      Pobrecito!! Been there, done that! I broke my little toe twice in one year! They taped it to the next toes and it was still ferover before it was well. I tend to kick the dang doorjambs or Mama’s walker’s wheels or just about Anything that is out there. Should wear steel-toed army boots all the time. I mean, even in the house! Maybe especially in the house! Glad he isn’t in too much pain.

  4. Adrian Fiebig says:

    Thinking of you Seb and Eric. Sending you positive vibrations Love ya Adrian

  5. Sammy cuz says:

    So pleased the toe stays!!! Bast, when i think about what your doing i just cant tell you how proud i am, also rather concerned you may be a little mad!!!
    Keep going and hold on to that toe!


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