South Pole Success

Luck smiled upon us and enabled us to make the final 21km leg to the South Pole! We’ve spent the last couple of hours taking pictures at the South Pole and visiting the Amundsen-Scott base that is run by USA. We are all ecstatic to have finished the journey and our final day was sufficiently stout that we feel we’ve earned the right to celebrate. The winds were high today, starting at 15kts and building. Now it’s around 30kts outside the tent and worse weather is predicted. It is possible we could get stuck here but we hold out some hope for an early morning pick up. You’ll hear more from us tomorrow but right now we need some rest.

Good night

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Only one more day to go

I woke up this morning and the wind was still blowing Buicks and I had this sinking feeling that we were going to be stuck there for another night, we had already spent three nights at that location. Guy came around and said that whilst it was still blowing hard the weather had cleared up and it was about as good as it was going to get so they made the call and we were going to start moving again. This came as a huge relief to everyone. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was out in its full splendor and glory, visibility was endless and the sky was an incredible shade of blue. But the wind had to be taken very seriously, it was coming diagonal to head on from our left side and we had to make sure there was absolutely no exposed skin anywhere including our faces.

We did 20km today and it went by like a breeze, everyone was strong from the two days rest and super excited that it would be our second to last day.

We are now 21km from the pole, one day’s ski and spirits are running very high. We were hoping to reach the pole tomorrow, take pics, do a tour of the American research base then be picked up by the Basler and fly to Union Glacier in time for the Ilyushion flight on the 10th. The weather forecast is saying that they are expecting a weather system at Union Glacier tomorrow which could mean that we may not get picked up tomorrow in which case we would have to spend the night at the pole but also the Ilyushion would be grounded too and would not be flying on the 10th. Let’s pray the forecast is wrong.

We are finally one day away from our goal and hopefully this time tomorrow I’ll be dropping you a line saying we made it.

Distance traveled 90km, distance to the pole 21km. That hot shower is so close now.

Haytham.

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Still we wait

I felt extremely optimistic about the prospects for the day when I woke up because the tent wasn’t flapping so much. On a foray outside I discovered this was because our tent is half buried in snow that has drifted around it and all through the camp. Hundreds of cubic metres of snow has drifted into the camp forming ridges over 1 metre high and many metres long downwind from each tent or obstruction.

So as a result of ongoing inclement weather we slept in to midday then celebrated the 60th birthday of our esteemed team member Waleed. Norwegian polar specialist Ronnie made a superb dinner which was consumed with gusto amid plenty of banter about the meaning of life and all else that seems to be of importance to us out here as well as lots of the usual drivel we manage to come up with when we have the benefit of absolute isolation. In all, it has been a great day of rest and we pray to the weather gods for an improvement tomorrow.

Meanwhile thousands, if not millions of cubic metres of snow flows past us on its constant migration around Antarctica, not really going anywhere specific, but being moved around by the weather systems and neither melting or settling. Perhaps they should call it Gypsy snow as it has no permanent home and may never do as the winds keep it on the move. Considering we are on the driest continent on earth, there’s a hell of a lot of snow around!

We’re hoping to move in the morning, if we cannot, it’s hard to know what to write in the journal, we can only begin to reflect on the suffering of those who came before us almost 100 years ago but our time here in this environment only increases our respect for their fortitude and stoicism.

Meanwhile, happy to be born of the technological age, I retire to my North Face Inferno sleeping bag with zillions of centimeters of loft and billions of Btu’s generated by my body heat, relishing in the comforts provided by modern equipment while millimeters away, through the thin nylon wall of my tent, the harsh Antarctic climate blasts across the plateau unaffected by my passage. That in itself is actually a comforting thought on many levels.

Sweet dreams.

Guy

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From Dr. Jeff Lunt

Well folks here we are on day 2 of an enforced halt due to the blizzard which has grounded us. After landing at the 89th degree to blazing sunshine yet minus 30 we had several days of uniquely sublime weather. Waking up yesterday to a white-out and true antarctic conditions brought the nature of our quest home to us. For these last 72 hours we have been either staying warm by snuggling up [individually I hasten to add] in our down bags or eating, drinking and today playing cards in the communal tent. Having already had the first birthday of the trip, we awoke today to the really special occasion of Waleed’s 60th, and right now we are preparing the dining tent for a 3 course banquet for the celebratory dinner prepared by Ronnie our Norwegian masterchef.
This trip up to now has been amazing in every sense of the word. We are so fortunate to all be part of such a cohesive and like-minded yet uniquely individual bunch of nut-cases! We have suffered a few minor hiccups with technical issues out of our control, and the weather showed the vagaries of this phenomenal place. Right now it looks like the weather is clearing and we will be on trek in the morning. 40k to go, so stick with us folks and await the triumph in a day or two. I will propose a toast to this amazing guy who has brought us here – Waleed, you are a legend! Love to all of you at home who are thinking of us almost as much as we are thinking of you. See you soon.

Jeff xxx

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Happy birthday Waleed

Tuesday Dec 7th, (Dad’s 60th birthday and our initial target date for the pole)

The weather report came in at 8am this morning saying that the wind will persist for another 24 to 36 hours, I was so frustrated I did scream this time. We’ve been pinned down by the weather at 41km from the pole for the last 36 hours and now we may have to wait another 36 hours before we can move again, the news couldn’t have been worse. Here’s where we stand, if the wind dies down by 8 am tomorrow morning and we punch out two 20km days back to back which is very doable we can catch a flight out of the pole the evening of the 9th arriving in Union Glacier in time to catch the scheduled Ilyushion flight out of Antarctica to Punta Arenas Chile on the 10th. If the wind takes 36 hours to subside, and we choose to go for the pole on foot we won’t get to Union Glacier on time to make the Ilyushion flight and the next flight out of there is on the 14th, so it really is decision time.

At breakfast this morning the decision had to be made…

Waleed: “The forecast says that the wind will persist for another 24 to 36 hours, and the way I see it we have one of three options. I am a great believer in the democratic process… as long as it doesn’t interfere with my plans so here are our options:

1. Abort the pole and get the Basler to pick us up and take us to Union Glacier in time to make our flight off the continent.

2. Get the Basler to pick us up, fly us to the pole then on to Union Glacier again in time to leave Antarctica on the 10th.

3. Wait for the weather to subside, do the last 41km on foot, assume we will not make the flight on the 10th and leave Antarctica on 14th, in which case all other flights and connections need to be adjusted.

Those are your options gentlemen, I vote for holding out till the weather clears and going for it, I’ll be damned if I’ve come this far not to finish it”.

The vote was unanimous, everyone voted to wait for the weather to clear and go for the pole.

Being out here definitely has its effect on you though, at the beginning of the trip I inventoried all my clothes to determine how often I could change certain items of clothing, from socks to underwear, to thermal pants and tops etc… I remember when I first got out here I couldn’t wait till the next day to put on a fresh set of under garments. Now I’ve simply resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to be filthy regardless of what I do, and considering the fact that warmth is at a premium and is our most precious resource out here, I would rather keep on the set of warm clothes that I’ve been wearing for the last five days than pull out a set of frosty clean ones from my frozen duffel bag that would only serve to send me into a violent fit of shivering and serve no other real purpose. I just hope that when I get back to the real world I manage to regain that touch of civilization which I seem to have lost out here.

The wind really does make it a miserable existence out here though, last night I slept with my thick thermal socks covered by my down booties, thermal pants under my fleece pants, thermal top under my thick fleece top, woolly hat, neck gaiter and gloves, all of this inside my down sleeping bag that is rated to -40 degrees C, and I still had a chill in my bones, it was miserable. And if that wasn’t enough it started snowing in the inside of our tent if you can believe that, not because there was a rip in our tent or a zipper was left open, but because we’ve spent so much time in here that our breath condenses and freezes on the inside of our tent and over the 36 hours that we have been here it has built up, then the wind blows hard, shakes the tent and in the middle of the night while I’m sleeping I get very fine ice particles falling on my face, wonderful, really I highly recommend for everyone to visit the polar plateau.

But when all is said and done, with all the complaining set aside, I really am fortunate to be down here with the group that I’m with, they really are a great group of guys and even my brother who in the past no two consecutive days could go by without us having a fight, we haven’t argued once since we’ve been on the polar plateau, we’ve been on the plateau for seven nights now and in fact it’s been nothing but team work at the highest level for that duration.

It really has been amazing being out here though, I’ve gotten closer to Baba and Mohamed than ever before and that within itself has made it all more than worthwhile.

Let’s pray we can start moving tomorrow morning.

Current position, still, 70km traveled, 41km to our destination.

Haytham.

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Enforced rest day

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later but it’s such a shame that it happened now when we were doing so well and we were so close to the finish line… While I was writing my dispatch last night the “evil demon” (the wind) seemed to be getting stronger and stronger, I got concerned when our guide came round our tents while we were in them to make sure we strapped down properly so we didn’t blow away. I woke up at 3 am and it was still howling, knowing full well that we could not move if it persisted. Sure enough by 8:00 this morning we were told that it was blowing too hard and we had to wait for it to abate before we could start moving again which was a huge disappointment, really so unbelievably frustrating, imagine I was expecting to wake up this morning and say, we’ll be at the pole tomorrow night and out of here finally. Even if we can’t get off Antarctica early, just getting back to Union Glacier would be a huge relief, it’s like Club Med over there compared to here, at only -15 degrees C I’m fully planning on sunbathing in my shorts when I get there. I’m even going to try to bribe one of the staff to give me their weekly shower quota. I suppose there could be a positive side to this though, giving my blisters a rest would be one, I have four blisters and one I named Antarctica because of its size, it’s about 5 cm long by 2.5 cm wide and blown with fluid to just over a centimeter above the surface, really quite impressive. The good doctor Jeff did a small procedure on it yesterday and it held up quite well through out the day but I was secretly worried not knowing if I could do another two 20km days back to back on it.

It’s 2:15 pm at the moment and it’s still blowing bananas outside, but Baba made the call that if it stops blowing by midnight we set off (remember the sun never sets here it doesn’t even get darker). Currently the weather conditions are as follows, temperature – 31 degrees C, wind between 16 to 20 knots, temperature with wind chill -49 degrees C, basically cold beyond my capable description. As it stands this will set us back one day, the forecast says that it should let up by 8 am tomorrow morning, let’s pray it does.

Haytham.

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One day closer – Haytham

89.3763S,47.1143W
We punched out another 20km today, this time in 8 hours, an hour less than yesterday and whilst everyone is battered, bruised and falling apart all I can say is woooohooo! We’ve covered 70km in five days and have 41km to go, we are comfortably past the half way mark and God willing, weather and health permitting we will be out of this hell on earth after two more hard days, hopefully this time tomorrow I’ll be writing to tell you just one more day to go.

Today was COLD, it was overcast and the wind was blowing harder than usual, and that’s really why we arrived quicker. During the hourly breaks everyone got so cold and we all know the only way to get warm was by moving so no body wanted to hang around. I have to give it to Baba though, I see him out there day after day kilometer after kilometer really struggling but he doesn’t say a word, when I’m starting to tire and the cold takes its hold I think about him and how he’s doing, so I ask and the voice that responds is so belabored it makes him sound anything but fine but sure enough he pulls through to the end every time. Every night at dinner we have a distance discussion for the next day, and the day we did the 15km was really tough but Mohamed and I wanted to push for 20km the next day so we could finish in four days and get the hell out of here. Before dinner we strategized how we were going to lobby for 18km which would only be one more hour than 15km and go from there. He ended up cutting us off short saying 18km was neither here nor there so we would do 20km, I was shocked. After completing that first 20km day yesterday I thought no way he’ll agree to that again but not only did he agree to it, he suggested it. And now literally as I type this I can hear him singing in the tent next to mine, only to be interrupted by his coughing fit every once in a while.

He asked to put this part in the dispatch: “Haythoumi, you know what the best part of today was?”
“No Pap, what was it?”
“It was when you and Mohamed saw me dragging my heel and pulled up beside me on either side, you guys didn’t say anything but just skied with me from there till the end”.

It’s an especially cold and windy day today and hearing the wind outside our tent is akin to being in a horror movie and hearing the evil demon outside, but there is a great prospect that we will arrive at the pole after tomorrow and leave this savage absolutely cruel place which is enough to make us all smile, even if our teeth are chattering when we do.

Haytham.

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