Flying from Santiago to Paris

We made it, we’re done, we’re out 🙂

I want to apologise to those of you who have been following the despatches for my perpetual complaining in many of my previous despatches. The truth of the matter is that I have just concluded the greatest experience of my life, and yet it was the very things that I complained about, the hardship and adversity that made it so. I feel so much more fulfilled and accomplished because of those very aspects of the trip.

Memory is a very funny yet kind creature, whenever we look back on experiences we always remember the good and tend to forget the bad, or at least the bad doesn’t exist as prominently in our psyche as the good. The funny thing about this experience is that it was the very things that I complained about that I now cherish and relish and very much miss. We were certainly very far outside our comfort zone but now in retrospect it was exactly that that was absolutely fantastic. I miss my -100 degree space boots, I miss sharing a filthy and stinky tent with my brother, I miss wearing the same clothes for a week, I miss huddling one on top of the other in the tiny dining tent for meals, I miss the pristine whiteness, the spotlessness, the absolute clean, the views, the endless expanses, I miss the colour of the sky that awesome blue on a sunny day, I miss the feeling at the end of everyday when we achieved our set target, I miss the hot cup-a-soups after 20km of skiing, I don’t miss being on my feet for 9 hours a day, I don’t miss the cold!

What is strange is that it is over the course of a life time a person’s definitions of normality are put in place, yet when an experience is extreme enough those boundaries of normality can be re-drawn in a relatively short period of time, in our case sixteen days, and what was once normal became completely alien. When we landed in Punta from Antarctica two things struck me most and were almost alien concepts, one was that for the first time in 16 days I’m not walking on snow, for 16 days the only place we didn’t have snow under our feet while standing up was in the dining tent (we couldn’t stand in our sleeping tents), the second was the fact that it was dark! We arrived at night and it was dark, wow! I couldn’t believe the sensation I felt when I looked at the night sky and it felt weird, different, that was when it really hit me that we really did go to the end of the earth and what’s so surreal is that such a simple concept such as night and day which are corner stones of normal in our world, the whole thing about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, the light and dark thing, these basic rules of our world had become a foreign concept to me, it was wild!

What an experience! If it hasn’t been mentioned yet, Antarctica is the most beautiful place I have ever been to, the polar plateau is featureless, beautiful nonetheless but that’s not what I’m talking about. The location of the camp at Union Glacier, the sites were awe inspiring, the mountains on three sides, the clearly visible glaciers of blue ice, the whole thing was just magnificent! I also managed to get closer to my father and brother than ever before which within itself is enough to make any trip a grand slam, and finally to go somewhere and experience something that is so profoundly different from what I’m used to was an incredible privilege.

And my final note, I managed to check the website briefly yesterday when I got to Punta and I saw all of your comments and support, whilst we couldn’t read them when we were out there when we communicated with my mother by sat phone she used to tell us about all the kind words of support and encouragement that came from all of you and it really made a difference to everyone on the team. I really can’t thank you all enough. When you are out in the middle of nowhere and you know there is someone out there following your progress and rooting for you it makes a massive difference. So a big thank you to everyone for the incredible show of support.

Haytham.

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Posted in The return | 12 Comments

The journey concludes

Union Glacier, Dec 12th 2010.

It has been 3 days since our safe return from the South Pole, waiting for good weather in Union Glacier to allow the Ilyushin to pick us up for the return flight back to Punta Arenas and the longed for journey home.

Now in retrospect sitting in the relative comfort of ALE’s UG camp, the past two weeks seem like a dream but the reality of the experience is far from that and is one that will be embedded in my memory for a long time to come.

When Mohamed and Haytham first suggested we undertake this expedition I was thrilled at the prospect of sharing in such an adventure with them, and whilst I expected it to be hard, I had no idea how hard it would actually turn out to be – physically, psychologically, emotionally and hygienically. This was by far the most demanding and challenging two weeks of my past 60 years.

Two weeks that would normally flash by unnoticed in our everyday life, crawled excruciatingly slowly here on the ice. Every kilometer gained and every hour clocked felt like a lifetime. But in all those kilometers and hours, it was the last two, when the pole was so close that it seemed so unattainably far.

But alhamdulillah we made it, by Allah’s grace and mercy, all in one piece and none worse for wear other than the brutally blistered feet and marginally frost bitten noses and hands.

Of all the memories that I will have of this trip, the one that I will never forget is the incident that took place around kilometer 54, the last 6 kilometers of our first 20 kilometer days. I was spent, totally drained didn’t have enough energy to take another step, but knew that we had a good 2 hours of hard going to go, all of a sudden, noticing my desperation, Haytham and Mohamed materialized on either side of me, no words were exchanged, but they knew that I knew why they were there, and their sheer proximity, energy and determination gave me the heart to find a reserve that was not there and kept me going for those two more hours.

Any such endeavor is team dependent, and what a team it was. Duncan and Jeff, Guy and Sean, Rob, Ronny and Tim a bunch of truly great guys with whom we had the pleasure of sharing a unique experience.

An amazing trip under any and every circumstance, one that I will never attempt again, but one that I am truly blessed and privileged not to have missed!

Waleed.

Posted in Antarctica, The return | 9 Comments

It is almost over now

We’re still at Union glacier, awaiting a flight tomorrow if the weather continues to improve, as the trend has been thus far.
The delay we have had here, before we return to the real world, has given us time to reflect on our adventures and appreciate the incredible world we live in and all that is of value to us. These realisations are ultimately what we derive from these activities, more-so than the actual achievement of the goal itself.
You really have to live it to achieve it and there is no way to attain that destination by artificial means. Yep, at the end of the day, it’s about hard work, commitment and dedication to what is important to you. Achievement does not come without sacrifice, therein lies the conundrum of life and happiness.

As a group of people traveling to the South Pole we have all been challenged and tested. Through that we have bonded to form everlasting friendships that we know will last the test of time and we will prosper from the shared obstacles we have endured. Some may say this is in essence the exhilir of a healthy life, it is up to each of us to decide our ultimate fate and set along that pathway. Our individual journey is a personal pilgrimage that enables us the opportunity to elect what outcomes are possible for ourselves; we can decide to engage in challenges that allow us (force us) to grow or we may chose an easier but less rewarding path. An aspect of our privileged lives is that the decision is ours to live the life we want and it therefore takes a concerted personal motivation to achieve our goals as opposed to taking the easiest route. Once upon a time we faced inexorable challenges merely to stay alive; therein was our motivation and desire to face those challenges. Today that focus is less apparent. Our lives in this modern age are devoid of those same struggles and have been replaced instead with arbitrary objectives and hurdles that seem meaningless and artificial by comparison.

Journeys like we have just completed give us the perspective that we need to provide balance in our busy and sometimes hectic lives whilst giving us a metaphoric ‘measuring stick’ for what we believe is important and what is not.

We all can achieve what we want, we merely have to make an absolute commitment towards our end goal to begin the process.

Ok, that is enough philosophising for one dispatch. I will post a final message on our return to Chile. To all our friends, family and followers: myself and the rest of the team thank you for your understanding, support and interest, and we hope you join us on our next adventure.

This is Guy signing off on a balmy minus 8 degree morning in Antarctica.

Posted in Antarctica, The return | 4 Comments

What a true adventure

Ah, I miss it.

100 years ago, two men, Amundsen and Scott, were determined to be the first to reach the South Pole by only one possible means of transportation; on skis. Antarctica, such an alien and hostile world, is where the wind, sun and ice are dominant in the 5 million square mile continent.

I enjoyed every aspect of it. The frigid cold, the brutal wind, the powerful hidden UV rays, the vast nothingness and the company of my father and brother. The success to completing any adventure is through determination and patience. While I had both, it was a reminder to how I managed on my first expedition, Kilimanjaro, when watching my father and Haytham cope with their new environment and adapt one day at a time.

Although I anticipated a higher challenge, it was most surely out of my comfort zone and required hard work in earning respect from the Antarctic extremities. There is no margin for error. The cold can freeze you, the sun can burn you, the wind can bite you and the monotony can wear you down. On the last day, I thought Antarctica had accepted me because of the generous treatment it gave me but not so; on the final stretch, it slapped me with a fierce wind bite on my cheek leaving a scar, hopefully not permanently – a sure reminder to be on alert at all times.

The long grueling hours of skiing took a toll on the body but alas it was what was needed to achieve the goal of reaching the South Pole and my determination kept me in good spirits. The hourly breaks were no joy. Emptying the bladder, hydrating and eating were mandatory at each stop and were an energy draining mission. Each day was an achievement that strengthened our resolve.

The sight of the South Pole, first spotted from 15 kilometers out, gave us a false perception of heaven. It was a large fortress, the Amundsen-Scott station, neatly hidden and tucked in the dense clouds, a rare sighting after 10 days of nothing but the wind, sun and ice. It was adrenaline jolting.

Yes, after arriving at the southern most point on Earth at the day’s end, I felt a tremendous reward and the paying off of the planning, training, self-discipline and tedious treks but neither compared to the feeling rushing through me at the appearance of my father and Haytham collapsing into each other’s arms with joy pouring out of them. Before joining, I snatched the opportunity for a minute to observe and capture a few pictures. This is the one minute that will be embedded in my memory for the rest of my life – the turning point of the expedition. It was emotionally magnificent.

Standing on Antarctica, the last great pristine and protected place on Earth, is a privilege!

The wind, sun and ice. Ah, I miss it.

Mohamed.

Posted in Antarctica, The return | 9 Comments

In Union Glacier awaiting favourable flying weather

Well folks here is my second missive of the trip – made possible now because of a not totally unexpected delay to our departure. Yesterday we were plucked from the rigours of the South Pole, right at the last minute, having started to prepare ourselves for further bad weather and a stay of two days or more in temperatures of -30 chilled down to -49 with the wind. The pilot of the Basler found a window in the weather and picked us up, arriving back at Union Glacier using IFR for the first time ever here [instrumental landing as the visibility was so poor!]. We were welcomed by a celebratory champagne dinner, complete with toasts and lauding of the team including ourselves, our guides, the pilots, the support staff and not forgetting all those folks at home. We have no internet access so are almost completely oblivious of all the intense activity which has been happening on the web site, all the messages of support and encouragement we have yet to read! At lunchtime today we were briefed by the Met man and Steve Jones – the logistics guy from ALE. Sunshine and clear blue skies were visible behind these guys as they delivered the news that the Ilyushin could not leave Punto and would be unlikely to land here for three days! Since then there has been frantic phone calls home for all of us to rearrange hectic schedules back in the real world. Not least in all our hearts is an even longer prolonged absence from you all, for that we are heartbroken and now must wait a little longer for that first hug!!

I almost forgot, on 9th we reached our goal of the South Pole, an incredibly emotional and uplifting experience. The journey has been punishing, and we all are nursing some physical scars of our trek – but we have willingly exchanged the discomfort and adversity for the intense satisfaction of the achievement. We long for the reunions folks and can’t wait, really sorry it is delayed.

Love to you all, Jeff

Posted in Antarctica, The return | 5 Comments

Escape from the pole

A strong breeze blew 20kts over our camp and a weak sun filtered through the blowing snow when we got news the Basler was it’s way in to pick us up! Woohoo, we are on our way out of here! A very quick pack-up ensued and soon we were loading all our kit into the aircraft for the 4 hour flight back to Union glacier. The relative luxury of this place is phenomenal, it’s a very pleasant minus 8 degrees C so we’re all happy to be here. We’re now awaiting better conditions for our flight back to Punta Arenas that may not occur until Monday. Naturally we’re all keen to get home so we’re hoping for a break in the clouds before then.
We will keep you posted!

Ciao

Guy for the AC Last Degree team

Posted in Antarctica, The return | 3 Comments

We made it

Yesterday was the toughest day of the trip so far. I think it must have been the combination of the very high winds and the build up of wear and fatigue on our body. The last 5km were especially grueling, I was behind Baba for part of that section, we had a vicious cross wind from our left and every step he took looked to be his last. I could see that he was completely spent, and to be honest so was I. I pulled up next to him to ask how he was doing like I have done so many times this trip to which I always get an “I’m fine” even when he was not but this time all I got was a rasp with one word “Tired”. But sure enough he put one foot in front of the other for two more hours and we made it. I cannot begin to describe the feeling of halation that overcame us all.

A toll has been paid though, my feet blew up with blisters when we were done, luckily we were finished when the worse ones came, the tip of my right index finger has frost bite (don’t worry Ma, I’ll get to keep it, it should recover on its own) and our faces and noses look like they’ve been attacked by a mad man with sand paper.

This trip has been incredibly grueling, thoroughly uncomfortable, inhumanely cold, painful, in fact agonizing at times but absolutely sensational! Covering 111km from 89 South to the South Pole with my sixty year old father and brother across the most miserable, desolate, savage, isolated and inhospitable place on earth has been the greatest experience of my life. When we arrived I had to hold back a tear in fear of it being inappropriate, but I looked at Baba and saw a couple running down his face and figured sure we’re allowed a couple. The only thing missing was Hamza.

I wish I could say that was the end of the story and now we get to leave this place and I get my hot shower, but I guess in Antarctica nothing is made simple. The Basler is on its way now to pick us up, it should be here in three hours to take us to Union Glacier, but because of bad weather the Ilyushion will not be able to fly in to Union Glacier for another couple of days, we were supposed to fly out on it today.

Haytham.

Posted in Antarctica | 22 Comments