The South Pole Preparation

The idea of going to the South Pole had always been at the back of my mind ever since I gave a talk at Finse, Norway, in 2018 and met many polar explorers, not least Borge Ousland, arguably the greatest of them all. I became Facebook friends with many of them and for the last 5 years have read their posts with a mixture of admiration and envy. I found their endeavours very inspiring and the polar community as a whole very hospitable and convivial, and I wanted to be part of it. Despite having plenty of experience skiing in Scandinavian, including the trip I gave the talk about at Finse, I did not consider myself in the Polar Explorer echelon. I almost felt a fraud rubbing shoulders with seasoned polar explorers like Bengt Rotmo. 

As I saw posts on Facebook, the seed germinated and took root and in the last few years had grown into a sapling. However I still felt I needed more experience with winter camping so I did a couple of trips this winter to Scandinavia to test my equipment and familiarise myself again with temperatures of -30 C. The first trip across Hardangervidda was not a great success as I succumbed to a cabin during a small storm. However towards the end of it I met the very experienced Louis Rudd and Wendy Searle who were contagiously enthusiastic. On the  second, more demanding, trip to Sarek had no get out clauses to seductive cabins and I was able to test everything over 14 days. It was a great trip and it filled me with confidence. The next stage was to find out about the Antarctic. 

I contacted a friend of mine Denise Martin who is a very experienced polar veteran and she thought with my previous experience I would be able to make a solo journey without a guide with ALE (Antarctic Logistics and Exploration) handling the logistics. She put me in touch with Devon McDairmaid and eventually Steve Jones who is the Expeditions Manager for ALE. I put together an expedition CV, which was basically a link to my website, for him to peruse and see if it was indeed viable for me to make a solo expedition. I had asked him to suggest a route which showcased the splendour of Antarctica and was also something of a “classic”. Without hesitation he suggested the Hercules Inlet to the South Pole route. It was not the shortest at 1200 km but it was the most viable for me.  After a month of positive feedback I finally got the final seal of approval from the board of ALE in late May 2023. It was on and I had some 5 months to prepare and assemble everything I needed. 

003. From the comfort of my room I spent the summer preparing for the expedition assembling all my equiment and adapting it. It will all have to fit in the pulk (sledge) along with 56 days worth of food and fuel.

There are two parts to the preparation which I had to get into gear. The equipment and food I would need for the trip and my physical fitness. The equipment had to be the most reliable I could get. There were many items which are critical, ski’s, tent, stove, boots, gloves, goggles and if any of them were to fail then the whole expedition would fail. I would have to have spares of a lot of them. I would need to put everything in a pulk (sledge) as the weight of all the equipment and food would be terrific, well over 100kg I estimated. I already had a couple of pulks but I would have to graduate to a larger one. There seemed to be only one clear choice for me and that was the Acapulka 210. I could not justify spending £6000 on the Kevlar model so opted for the standard fibreglass model at £1500 which was only 4 kilograms heavier. Something I am sure I will regret as I haul the pulk up the slope from Hercules inlet into the Patriot Hills at the start. The summer and early autumn were spent gathering together everything I needed in my study and adapting it if necessary. To make it easier for my mind to cope with everything I needed I made a spreadsheet with all items and their weights. It is quite unwieldy and changes by the day but a link to it is HERE

The next thing to consider would be the food. I estimate it would take 56 days to do the entire 1200 km trip. It is a little more than average but I did not want to run out and if I did make good time I could always gorge myself in the final 3 weeks. Having done longer trips before I know I can run on a deficit of calories for a while as I burn up my own resources. People have said that I would need 7500 calories a day, but using that amount of calories a day can only be done for a few days as the effort would be so strenuous the body would not cope day after day. Perhaps an average of about 5500 calories a day would be more viable on a consistent basis. I therefore opted to pack 5000 a day and run a small deficit. While the food would mostly be for calories I also needed some protein to repair and maintain my muscles. Much of the food would be carbohydrate rather than the classic fatty fare of pemmican and lard of the Heroic age of exploration and most of the daily dose of protein would come from whey. Four litres of drinking chocolate each day would keep me hydrated and are also high in calories. 

Along with the 4 litres of drinking chocolate I would need another 2 litres of water for my dehydrated meals and back up during the day. To melt these 6 litres from the snow in the porch of the tent I have allowed for 250 millilitres of fuel a day or just under 2 litres a week. So for the 8 weeks I will need 15 litres of fuel altogether. Luckily the fuel I will be using, which is Coleman’s Fuel, has a low density and the 15 litres only weighs 12 kg. To keep juggling food with weight to get the best balance I made a spreadsheet with all the consumable items, their weights and calorific values. I have also included the fuel in this. A link to it is HERE. As the expedition unfolds the total weight of the consumables should reduce by nearly 9 kilos a week. 

011. Nearly 300,000 calories which I only have 56 days to eat. It all get divided up into daily portion bags and pack into in weekly sack. The 8 sacks will line the bottom of the sledge (pulk)

Before I was to pack the food into 56 daily ration packs in the comfort of my kitchen I realised that Chile had a very protective agricultural policy, which is very understandable for such a food producing nation. All “animal products and their derivatives” were not allowed in and this included milk and its products like yoghurt and cheese. Dry, powdered milk which had been heat treated was a grey area so I decided to leave it all in their original unopened packages, declare it at the Agricultural Customs and hope a charm offensive would prevent confiscation. If some foods were confiscated I could replace them in Punta Arenas. Whatever the outcome I would have to spend a few days in my hotel room there filling ziploc bags with dry and powdered foods. 

010. The daily walk up and over Blackford and Braid Hills in Edinburgh. 9km with 400 metres up and down with a 30kg rucksack is all part of the training

The other aspect of preparation was training. I try to keep a daily high base level of fitness but I know I have to prepare for some pretty arduous days. I am too old for records and they are not part of my journey at all, which is born more out of curiosity. However, if I succeed then at 64 years old I will inadvertently be the oldest person to have skied to the south pole without support. My biggest concern will be wear and tear injuries or even something more terminal like getting a hernia. To reduce the chances of this I have been doing my daily walk of about 10 km every day. It involves some 400 metres of ascent and descent. To make it more realistic I do it with a 30 kg rucksack full of sacks of bird seed. The walk strengthens my legs muscles and I am now not totally exhausted at the end of it. I am blessed to have Blackford and Braid Hill in Edinburgh on my doorstep, so I can do the walk every day without travelling. In addition to this I have a couple of tyres I can throw in the boot of the car and go down to Portobello Beach, also in Edinburgh. The tyres quickly fill with wet sand if I go near the surf and the friction is terrific. A walk up and down the beach is about 5 km and takes a good 2 hours and it whips me into shape. The only problem with the tyre pulling is that it eats into my day to drive nearly an hour to the beach and another back again. I also feel much more self conscious on the beach dragging a tyre than on the hills with a rucksack full of bird seed. 

009. Pulling a lorry tyre on Portobello Beach. Once the tyre is full of wet sand it clings to the beach like a limpet

I depart for Chile on the 27th October on two flights with a 20 hour layover in Barcelona. I built this into the timetable to allow any of my 5 checked bags to catch up with me in case they get lost. I arrive in Barcelona on the 28th October and then will book the flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas once I have my 5 bags through the Agricultural customs. I should get to Punta Arenas on the last days of October and then spend 10 days there packing food and doing the final preparations in ALE’s warehouse before their flight to Union Glacier in Antarctica, when there is a good weather window and the icy runway is smooth around the 10-12th November. I will probably then spend 2-4 days at ALE’s base at Union Glacier before taking the short flight to the drop off point at Hercules Inlet with my pulk. The pilot will help me out of the plane and return, leaving me alone to begin my 56 day journey south over Antarctica’s ice covered expanses for 1200 km.                               

A quick summary of the expedition is given on the blue “About the Trip” tab which has a map of the route and a timetable. 

During the final preparations I had an interview with BBC Radio Scotland on the 20 October with just a week to go before departure.  A recording of the interview is below, just click the arrow on the right to hear the 8 minute recording

 

012. The surfboard bag, the pulk and the protective insert of hard insulation to protect the pulk.

013. The hard insulation insert on the top of the pulk to prevent it getting crushed sideways.

014. The pulk in its surf board bag for the long flight south to the White Continent 4 flights away.

Packing was no small task. I had to make sure the pulk, which was checked as a surfboard, got to its destination unscathed. I fashioned a protective cover for it to make sure the sides and top could not get compressed and crack, out of hard insulation sheets glued together and then put the whole thing, with my skis inside, into the protective bag. It was now ready to go. The food went into another 3 large bags and the equipment into a further 3. My precious gadgets and the most valuable items went as cabin baggage. Check in went smoothly and suddenly I was relieved of the two trolleys worth of bags. In Barcelona I booked into an airport hotel and then spent the afternoon wandering about the Sagrada Familia Cathedral and later downtown. The next day was the long flight direct flight to Santiago and I was relieved to see all my bags getting loaded onto the plane as I boarded. 

015. 181 kg of Expedition food, equipment, clothing, gadgets and packaging at Santiago Airport between flights.

I was a bit worried about how I might fare at Santiago customs, particularly the Agricutural Officers (SAG), with my milk powders still in their sealed containers. The customs officers could not have been more helpful and even pushed my second trolley to the exit. Once out I went up stairs and bought a ticket for the 0400 flight to Punta Arenas in 6 hours time. The LATAM ticket salesman gave me a cheap price and even pushed a trolley from one terminal the other. After the taxi from Punta Arenas airport to the ALE office and warehouse I could finally leave my bags and find a hotel. The Endurance Apart Hotel was highly recommended so I went there. It was perfect with a kitchenette and a table in the room. 

017. The endless task of weighing different ingredients to make up meals and drinks took 3 painstakingly days.

I returned to ALE and got all my food into bags and and they drove it to the Endurance. I then bought some digital kitchen scales and spent the next 3 days packaging the food. I had 230 drinks packets to prepare from powdered milk, whey and hot chocolate. Each one had to be measured precisely and put into a ziploc bag. Then the 56 breakfasts and the 56 lunches and 56 dinners. Just by transferring the lunches and dinners from their foil packets into ziploc bags I managed to save 2 kg in weight. If I had been slapdash in weighting the drinks and put an extra 10 grams of milk powder in each one it would have cost me an extra 2.5 kg over all.

018. A days withstood of food. From top. Lunch of 1000 calories of Mac and Cheese. Dinner of 1200 calories of Fish and Potato. 1000 calories of snacks of 2 clif bars and 3 litrs of chocolate/milk drink. 1200 calorie breakfast of Whey/milk drink and granola. Finally a packet of vitamins, minerals and cod liver oil. 5000 calories in all and 1.130 kg.

Once I had all my ziploc packets made up I put them into daily ration packs, with some minerals and vitamins. Each daily ration weighed 1.130 kg. I then crammed 7 daily rations, 7 wet wipes, a mini toothpaste, a pair of underpants and 2 liner socks into each weekly pack. In all I had 8 weekly packs with enough supplies for 56 days. These 8 packs would line the floor of the pulk as they were the heaviest and densest items and they would help with the stability of the sledge. In all the 8 food packs came to 68 kg. I would pick up a further 12 kg of fuel (15 litres) from the Union Glacier base in Antarctica giving me 80 Kg of consumables in all which would reduce by 1.4 kg a day, leaving me with just a few kg of ziploc bags at the end. It was a significant carrot to take it easy at the beginning and then speed up towards the end when the pulk was vastly reduced. 

016. Sacks of food already bagged into ziploc bags waiting to be put into the 1 day ration pack

019. After 3 days for measuring and putting food into ziploc bags I finally had all 56 days bagged into day rations and in turn 7 of these into a weeks supply- which is a red bag.

While the first 3 days in Punta Arenas were largely stuck in the room bagging powders I did meet Sam Cox from Devon and Patrick from Canada. They were also both doing solo expeditions and theirs were significantly longer than mine as they were both starting at Berkner Island on the outer edge of the Ronne Ice shelf at the open water of Southern Ocean. Sam’s trip was especially long at 2200 km. They were down here already as they were starting as early as possible in the season. I was down here early as I did not want to be rushed when buying food in case my milk products got confiscated at Santiago airport (which did not happen). We ate dinner together occasionally but we were all busy preparing our food. With my food preparation going so smoothly I had over a week to spare. I did not want to hang around Punta Arenas so looked for a break. I had also been sedentary for the best part of 3 weeks now and needed a walk. 

020. On the rustic 30 hour ferry from Punta Arenas South to Puerto Williams I met a few interesting people, not least Hector and Julia who where going to the yacht having berthed it in Puerto Williams as they sailed round the world.

I looked at 2 options. One was going round the O circuit of Torres del Paine for 7 days, which I had already done twice and loved. The other was heading south to Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino where there was a 4 day hike. Booking the huts on the Torres del Paine O circuit was fraught with complications and expense so I decided on the latter option. There was a 30 hour ferry leaving that evening and I was soon booked on it. I had to buy some new boots, gas stove and pots, in town and then went out to Sanchez y Sanchez, a cheap department store and got a tent, sleeping bag, rucksack, walking poles and rain jacket of very dubious quality but all for under $100. I did not want to use my Antatrctica gear for this trip. 

021. The spectacular scenery of the Darwin Cordillera from the relatively sheltered Beagle Channel more than made up for the perfunctory comfort of the ferry.

The ferry was very rustic with reclining seats and prison food. However the crew were great and the other 20 passengers all very interesting. Among them were Hector and Julia, an Chilean/Australian and American couple who had sailed to Puerto Williams over the last 5 years from France and were going back to their boat to continue north into the Pacific. The scenery was also very spectacular as the ferry went down the Beagle Channel to the south of the heavily glaciated and inhospitable Cordillera Darwin. A few of the glaciers actually made it down to the sea in walls of tumbling blue ice. The ferry got in at 0200 in the morning. 

022. The first day of the Dientes de Navarino circuit. Below is Lago Salto lake where I previously harboured thoughts of having a swim as I camped in the meadows beside it.

The next morning I prepared to set off on the 4 day circuit called the Dientes the Navarino – The Teeth of Navarino.  I would camp beside alpine lakes in the upper southern beech (Nothofagus) forests. I set off up Cerro Bandera in the drizzle but as I left the forest at 500m altitude it has turned to snow. It was a hard walk for the next 4 hours crossing steep snowfields high above Lago Robalo. Eventually the faint path descended to Lago Salto where I hoped to camp and bathe in its clear mountain waters. However I was alarmed to see it was completely frozen and covered in snow so I dropped down to the next lake which was frozen but had woods around it. I camped in the trees here. 

023. On the second day of the 4 day circuit I wallowed through deep snow and realized I misjudjed the severity of the hike in November and had to turn round at the first pass.

The next day I went back up to Lago Salto and then steeply up the snow beyond to a high valley covered in deep snow. I waded up it for 2 hours to the Passo Australia on the spine of the island. I would now have a treeless, snow-covered series of passes and valleys in terrain fully exposed to the variables of the Southern Ocean for the next 48 hours. Fearful I might get stuck in deep snow or my $30 tent get shredded, I decided I had totally underestimated the trek and it was best to turn around. It took the rest of the day to go down the valley, into the beautiful Nothofagus forest, past Lake Robalo and back to Puerto Williams. There was space at the hostel so I booked in and enjoyed the next 2 days. On the second of these days I went up the near 1000 meter  Cerro Carancho with Sonja, a bright, German guest at the hostel. We left in sun, got to the top in a blizzard and as we returned the sun came out again. 

024. On my last day in Puerto Williams I went up Cerro Carancho with Sonja. it was bad weather at the top. I was now eager to get to Antarctica.

I returned to Punta Arenas on the 8th November after a 40 minute flight over the incredible Cordillera Darwin. On returning to the Endurance Apart Hotel I met Sam Cox. He was still hare and very frustrated as his flight to Antarctica with ALE had now been delayed for almost a week and he was eating into valuable time to do his 2200 km trip before the polar summer ended. However we were all told that the flight was now going on the 11th and I was on it. I had 2 days to do the final packing and get everything in order before I went off grid for 2 months. The main thing I had to do was to get all my food and equipment into bags weighing 25 kg. 

However the weather in Antarctica has not been following the usual pattern this spring and the extraordinary sea temperature meant there was not so much seasonal ice in the Weddell sea. As a result low pressures have been developing there and swirling round clockwise to bring inclement weather to the Ronne Ice Shelf and Union Glacier where ALE’s base and the runway is. This has been compounded by a blocking high pressure over the Southern Ocean and Queen Maud Land to the east preventing the natural easterly progression of these lows. It meant I was delayed by a further week.

The delay did not really make too much difference to me. I had really come down to Chile about 10 days too early anyway and perhaps my optimum start date from Hercules Inlet would be around 22 November and I am still well within that weather window. The delays would make a big difference to Sam and Patrick who had much longer trips. The inclement weather was also having an adverse effect on ALE who could not get their staff over to Antarctica to set up their camps for the season. As a consequence there were perhaps as many as 200 staff hanging about in Punta Arenas. As I wandered the streets doing small errands I kept bumping into them. They were an extraordinary group – almost an extended family. They had all been working together down here for many years on a seasonal basis and then dispersed to the other 6 continents for the rest of the year. They were all outdoorsmen and most very very accomplished, yet modest. There was a real sense of comradeship and bonhomie in this jovial, competent group. They all looked forward to meeting up with their friends in November to spend another 3 month season on Antarctica. Whenever I went to a coffee shop there was a crowd of them there and they welcomed me warmly. 

025. At the start of the hike up Monte Tarn the trail passes through rich Nothofagus (Southern Beech) forest. Darwin climbed this hill on the Second Voyage of the Beagle.

However I could not wander around the streets of Punta Arenas all the time so I looked for options. Some at ALE suggested I go and climb Monte Tarn while I waited for the weather to improve. I learnt that Darwin climbed it when he visited nearly 200 years ago. I had to rent a car and drive down past Fuerte Bulnes and San Juan to the end of the road some 70 km south of Punta Arenas. From here there was a beautiful climb up through the Lenga (Nothofagus) forest for a couple of hours until it reached a shoulder on the mountain. Here the terrain leveled out a bit, but it was soggy with plenty of small melting snowfields in the knee high scrub. The final part was up the shoulder to larger snowfields and gravel fields, where cushion plants were trying to establish themselves. The top was more craggy and gave a great view over to Dawson Island and even beyond to the distant glaciated Cordillera Darwin. It was spectacular and inhospitable terrain on these coasts and a marvel that indigenous people managed to hunt and gather here up till 100 years ago. The descent took a couple of hours as I came down the same way without the caution to keep my feet dry. All in all it was a great day. 

026. The summit of Monte Tarn is about 850m. In the mid spring it still had large snowfields on it.

I also spent a few days in the Reserva Nacional Magallanes just to the west of Punta Arenas. There were dull rolling hills here but they were clad in Lenga trees. One of the walks I did was the “Circuito de Lenga”, a 10 km loop in the forest with a couple of lookouts. There were a few hawks and hares up in these forests which were just a 15 minute, $5, taxi ride from downtown Punta Arenas. It gave me some exercise and clean fresh air. Indeed the air was so clean in the forests the trees were covered in lichen, especially the old man’s beard which dripped off their branches. 

027. A short ride to the west of Punta Arenas was the Magellen National Reserve with its Nothofagus forests and hiking trails which I explored every other day.

Every evening I met with a few of the other solo skiers who were doing expeditions in the Antarctic and like me were waiting for the weather to allow the flight. There was Sam Cox, a Brit from Devon, who was doing a very long trip from Berkner Island on the Outer Coast to the South Pole and then down a glacier to the inner coast on the Ross Ice Shelf. It was over 2000 km and he would need 80 days for it.  Then there was Patrick, a Canadian who was skiing some 1400 km from Berkner Island to the South Pole and was banking on about 65 days. There was also Jacob who was doing the same as me, namely Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, but aimed to do it in 45 days as opposed to my more sluggish 56 I was planning. We were often joined by others or merged onto a lively table of ALE employers. 

028. There are about 8 solo expeditions from either the Inner or Outer Coasts of Antarctica to the South Pole. Here are 4 of them from left James Baxter 1150 km from Hercules Inlet, Sam Cox 2000 Km from Berkner Island, Jacob Myers 1150 km from Hercules Inlet, and Patrick Bernier 1400 km from Berkner Island. We ate together most evenings.

ALE were conscious of some grumblings in the ranks with the delays so they had a briefing on the 14th November just to explain to everyone why the delays were unavoidable due to the weather. Their in house metrologist explained what had been happening with the weather and showed us forecast charts over the next few days. It seemed there would be a good chance to go on the 17th November. On the 15th there was a huge check in at their office. Many ALE staff arrived with their waterproof duffel bags to get weighted in and receive their boarding pass. Before long there was a mountain of bags piled up and waiting to go on the first flight. Sam, Patrick and myself also checked in with our pulks and 4-5 bags each which I was glad to see all had a fragile label put on them and were placed in a much smaller pile. We received our boarding passes and were told that we might fly as quickly as the next day but we all had our doubts given what the metrologist had said. ALE had done their best but the weather was just not usual. For ALE itself it was also a major headache as very few of their staff were in place to receive the imminent tourists they had on their various programs. 

029. At last the boarding pass was issued for the first flight to Antarctica for the ALE crew and the expedition members after a lengthy delay of a week or so caused by inclement weather.

Nearly 3 weeks after arriving in South Chile the flight to Antarctica was eventually called on the 17 November as the inclement weather eased. A bus chartered by ALE went round all the hotels and hostels in Punta Arenas collecting some 60 ALE staff and the 4 “expeditioners” as we were now known. Mid-afternoon we were all aboard the plane and hurtling down the runway. Soon Punta Arenas disappeared behind us, and we were heading south over the Magallan Straits, then over Dawson Island, the glaciated Darwin Cordillera before heading out over the Drake Passage. 10 kilometres below I could see the breaking surf of giant waves in this notorious passage. The large plane was only quarter full, so everybody got a window seat. It took less than 2 hours to cross until the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula appeared far to the east. It was a large mountainous promonontary which jutted out defiantly into the Southern Ocean. These mountains were often lashed by snow and gales and were plastered in snow and glaciers calving into the sea.

More and more large icebergs appeared below us, often fringed with turquoise where they sloped into the sea. Not long after there were small flatter floes of seasonal ice and soon, they merged so virtually the whole sea was covered in them. After an hour or so of cruising over this seasonal ice with the frequent large iceberg embedded amongst them, we reached the main coast of Antarctica on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

We now flew over tremendous icefields with just the odd nunatak protruding through the huge expanses of smooth undulating icesheet. Occasionally the plane flew over a vast icestream which drained the plateaus.  Towards the end of the flight, we flew over a very prominent one which drained the NE side of the Vinson Massif, the highest ranges in Antarctica. this icestream carved a slot in the icesheet and was marked by heavily crevassed areas on each side. South of the huge Vinson Massif was the Heritage Range. Together the two formed the Ellsworth Mountains. The Heritage Range was not as high but their jagged ridges, riven by glaciers in cirques full of ice were very impressive in the bright crystal-clear sunlight. Soon everyone was putting on warm clothes as the plane came down to land. We flew between high peaks over glaciers until the place eventually landed at Union Glacier on an icy runway which had been cleared and compacted by piste bully’s.  We disembarked into the very bright sunlight and walked over to some snow vehicles. It was quite amazing to be walking across this glacier in Antarctica. In the vehicle we drove for about 10 km from the airfield to ALE’s main base at Union Glacier.

030. Flying over the Heritage Range with the Vinson Massif in the Sentinel Range in the distance. The 2 ranges make up the Ellsworth Mountains.

031. The 757 which ALE charter from Icelandair on the Blue Ice Runway on Union Glacier emptying its load of 60 staff and 4 Expeditioners after the 4-hour flight from Punta Arenas.

Union Glacier is a huge seasonal camp with a few large tents containing the kitchen, dining rooms and stores and also some 25 large metal containers to store equipment over the winter like the large tents, toilets, medical cabin, comms cabin and many more. There was also a huge, tented grid where all the staff slept in individual tents. It was quite an operation and the skeleton crew who had been here for three weeks setting up the place were about to get reinforced by the 60 new staff who would spring the camp into action. We were shown a place to camp near the guest toilets and after a great meal in the mess hall all our bags and pulks showed up. The 4 of us pitched our tents and then sorted out some of our equipment. As we were in the Chilean Sector of Antarctica the time everyone operated on was Chilean Time. Most of the staff and us stayed up until well past midnight working away to establish camp. The sun swung a shallow arc towards the mountains but did not reach them before it started to rise again. Even at its most shallow angle of perhaps 15 degrees it was bright but not that warm at about -10 C. Eventually I had all my packed in the pulk, my tent was up, and my sleeping system was ready, and I went into my tent lay down on the glacier, pulled my eye mask down and fell asleep. It had been quite an amazing and surreal day.

032. The grid of staff tents at the Union Glacier Camp. Some 100 staff work here including Doctors, Pilots, Chefs, Polar Guides, Comms operators, Handymen etc. They look after 5-600 guests annually.

I slept well and woke at 0800. It was nearly 0 degrees in the tent as the sun warmed it. The sun had not disappeared all night but merely revolved a third of the way round the compass and risen slightly. Outside it was still about -10 but beautiful and windstill. After breakfast the full complement of staff swept into action and there were tents and seasonal buildings going up everywhere.  The expeditioners still had a lot to get ready and gadgets to check and various meeting to go to with the medical, communications and safety teams. We also had to pick up fuel and decant the white gas into our own bottles. I had 15 litres, while Sam and Patrick needed slightly more. As we tinkered in the sun the staff continued to build around us and there was the constant rumble of heavy machinery bulldozing snow or emptying the shipping containers from their contents of tents, bedding and implements. In all ALE has about 500 guests here each year with about half hoping to climb Mount Vinson, the highest on the continent and a must tick box for the Seven Summits. More also came to go to the penguin camps or ski the guided route across the last degree (110 km) to the South Pole. The expeditions, solo or teams, made up a very small percentage of the overall guests – but we were the first here.

033. The heated dining tent at Union Glacier camp. There are 2 such tents one for the staff and one for the guests.

After lunch I checked a few more gadgets and prepared all my equipment and tested the stove. The doctors gave me a few more medicines for my medical kit. I still had to meet the comms and safety team but would do that tomorrow. Tim the operations manager down here and in charge of everything told me I would probably not go until the 22nd as there was foggy weather due and flights would be difficult. Tim was a large, well presented, easy-going Alaskan with experienced and quietly authoritative manner. The partners who owned ALE were lucky to have such a competent man running the show. The team he had of the 100 odd staff were also quite an amazing and accomplished crew.

After dinner I took the opportunity to write more of the blog over that last 2 day’s events and then chatted with some of the staff and with Patrick and Sam. They had a weather window 3 days before mine and it would probably leave for their starting place on the 19th. It was at the north end of Berkner Island some 800 km away. Over the next two days I finished getting everything ready and testing some of my equipment. There were a few meetings I had to have with ALE, and they turned out to be quite comprehensive.

The first was a run through of my medical kit. The 3 doctors who were down here at the moment were all British, Paddy, Isla and Martin. They suggested a few things I might need extra to what I already had and explained to me that there would be a medical phone call every Monday. Medical Monday. It would be more of a chat but if I had any concerns, I could ring them anytime. If I needed to self-administer any medication they would be able to advise me and knew the arsenal of my medical kit. They were a superb bunch and I felt I would be very well looked after if need be.

The second meeting I had was with the safety team. Again, it was very comprehensive and they explained the route to me and the areas where there were crevasse fields some 10 kilometres sometimes to the west and sometimes to the east of the route. However, the route itself was crevasse free. They made sure the route was properly entered into my 2 GPX gadgets and all the waypoints has been entered. I had already done this, but it was good to know they checked and made sure I had the latest information. They constantly monitored all the routes with their team of guides, glaciologists and satellite surveys

The third meeting was with the comms team. They tested my iridium phone devices, and I made phone calls to them they wanted to make sure I knew the protocol. They also set a time for me to make my daily call which in my case was 2100hrs. I had two phone lines I could call in case one was not picked up. After these three meeting I also met with Tim the operations manager. He explained to me the importance of being diligent with my daily check in call. He said if I missed one then alarm bells would start to ring and he would have to start to divert resources to enable a rescue. If I missed two in a row, then he would have to launch a rescue which would be mean a plane and a team. If all this happened because I was slapdash or slightly rebellious then it would probably be a trip ending event and cause lots of angst. If it was genuine and I was in a pickle and helpless I should imagine it would be a welcome sight to see a plane arrive. Once I had all these meetings, I was really ready to go in principle. I just had to wait for a weather window which I assumed was in 2 days.

034. Some of the smaller planes are stationed at the camp like the Twin Otters and the Basras (DC3). The ferry guests about to various camps to start their climbs or expeditions.

Sam and Patrick had already been told their weather window was happening and were preparing to load their pulks onto the Basra plane which would fly them up to Goulds Bay on Berkner Island. We had an early supper together and then said goodbye. It was great to see them off and they were champing at the bit. It left just me and Omar in camp and he was doing a bicycle expedition. Our Isolation did not last long as soon the arrivals from the 757 arrived. There were all the Expeditioners on it, perhaps 12 people in all. There were also many from the British Antarctic Survey to do some scientific work and many more staff. I knew all the Expeditioners from Punta Arenas and it was a festive occasion to meet them all again, especially the always chirpy Jacob. At the same time someone from Operation came up to me and said there might actually be a weather window for the plane to land tomorrow and I should prepare to leave for 0900. They would let me know tomorrow morning. I went out to the tent to prepare the last of my stuff, write the final bit of the “Preparation” part of the blog and pack the stuff I want to leave here. I fully expect to fly on the morning on the 20th to Hercules Inlet to begin my trip. It is a short 20-minute flight to do the 80 km and I will be flying in the Twin Otter fitted with skis.

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