We arrived at 89 South two days ago and the first thing that struck us was that we were really in the middle of nowhere. It was a clear day and visibility was excellent and looking around in every direction 360 degrees there was absolutely nothing, I mean really NOTHING! Not a mountain not a tree nor a hill or shrub, not a bird nor a fly or ant or life of any kind, just an endless expanse of blue on top, white on the bottom and the sun that never goes away (thank God), it just simply does doughnuts overhead never setting beyond the horizon. The plane pulled right up to our camp that had been set up the day before by the first group, dumped us and some supplies off, then very unceremoniously about-faced, took off and left us! We turned around looking at each other, no one said anything because no one needed to. We were all thinking the same thing… “what the hell are we supposed to do now?” and “what on earth are we doing here!?”
That night we had a very welcome hot cooked meal in the dining tent then tried to settle into our sleeping tents which are doubles. I got into the sleeping tent that first night and couldn’t do anything but shake for the first fifteen minutes it was so cold, my brain was telling me to move and unpack my sleeping bag and get in it because that would make me warm(er) but I was frozen in place, it wasn’t until my brother Mohamed kicked me and asked me what I was doing did I start to move. But it’s so cold down here that the most basic tasks take forever to do. Mohamed almost broke a tooth with his tooth brush, the bristles were frozen solid. After a few hours in the tent, body heat and the sun’s radiation made the temperature quite bearable.
The next day (yesterday) we had a hot breakfast and set off on our skis. The initial plan was to only do 5km on the first day to help us acclimatise to the altitude, but because we were running a day behind due to the broken down aircraft we did 10km.
The skiing… Uff! It was tough! Not physically but mentally for so many reasons. 10km yesterday took us 6 hours including a total of 1 hour stopping time along the way (we would stop every hour to eat and drink), so our moving pace is 2km/h which is slow. It’s tough because there are no visual cues to indicate progress of movement, no hill or tree to aim for as a mini goal before you set your next, you can see so far ahead and you are walking (skiing) in that direction and there is nothing there, it’s like you are going somewhere you can see and your eyes are telling you there is nothing there when you get there. In fact it feels like you are not moving at all, it is complete sensory deprivation, like standing in front of a picture and in the fore ground there is a figure on skis looking away from you and the background is flat white bottom and blue ski, then staring at that picture that doesn’t change for 5 hours and yesterday was a short day. Today we were supposed to do 15km (due to technical difficulties with the support team we were made to stop after 5km) and starting tomorrow 20km per day.
On a positive note we are getting better and more efficient at everything, putting up and taking down tents used to take close to 20 min each, now we do it in just over 5 min. Managing the cold, what to wear, how to stay warm, all these things are becoming more and more like second nature. Our pace skiing went from 2km/h yesterday to 2.5km/h today and our average time per stop has come down, so things are getting better. It’s Dr. Jeff Lunt’s birthday today, I’m sure he could think of a thousand better places to spend it, but for now we’ll just try our best to make it as enjoyable as possible.