On the morning of the 13th November, I was sat in the mess tent at Union Glacier camp, Antarctica, drinking coffee and chatting to people about my upcoming expedition. When Fred the flight manager came up to me: ‘Can you be ready to fly out in 15 minutes, we have a weather window to Hercules Inlet’
I scrambled to my feet and out of the door of the tent with the sound of clapping and good luck shouts from the lovely staff of Union Glacier camp. With one last look back at their smiling faces and a wave that I hope conveyed confidence, I was out of the door, packing up my last bits of kit and heading across camp to where the plane was waiting.
As I approached the small Twin Otter plane, the nerves caught me by surprise. I had hardly felt nervous in the run up to this trip, in all of my prep and even when I first landed in Antarctica. But they were here now, twisting in the pit of my stomach and pushing a lump up into my throat.
This small plane would drop me at Hercules Inlet, on the Southwestern edge of the Ronne Ice shelf, where the sea ice meets the Antarctic landmass and the start point of my biggest expedition to date. I would ski from this point all the way to the Geographic South Pole, over 600 nautical miles away (700 + statute miles and over 1,100km). And I would complete this expedition solo, without team mates, guides or another human to rely on. I had enough food and fuel to last me for 48 days. This meant I had to cover an average of 12.5 nautical miles each day for the next 48 days.
It was a short flight to Hercules Inlet, not much more than 20 minutes. The pilots circled a few time over a large flat stretch of ice before choosing the perfect landing spot. The engines slowed to silence, the doors opened and I jumped out of the plane onto the hard ice.
Goggles on, skis on, a quick comms check with Union Glacier camp, I checked my bearing, set my compass and I was ready. The pilots kindly took some pictures of me, gave me a hug and I pushed off towards my first waypoint, three nautical miles ahead on the edge of Hercules Inlet.
The plane started its engine behind me, took off and circled Hercules Inlet, swooping down close to me to say goodbye. I threw my hands in the air and waved off civilisation, human contact and my way out.
I felt ecstatic. Adrenaline pumped through my body and I felt nothing but gratitude for being here, I had dreamt about this place for so long, this place that so many people dream of, but not many get to see.
The first nautical mile of my journey was good, the sun was shinning, there was no wind and my sled was moving, all 105kg of it. However, quite quickly dark clouds grew overhead, the sun became hidden, the temperature dropped. I did not know at this point that I wouldn’t see the sun again for 9 days.
During my expedition I would cross 10 degrees of latitude, all 60 nautical miles in length. The first degree is often talked of as the hardest. My sled was at its heaviest weight, packed full of food, fuel and kit for the whole expedition. The route is largely uphill and the weather is often at its worst.
The incline began, and soon the winds picked up too, blowing down hill straight at me, bitterly cold. My skis slipped backwards every few meters, pulled backwards by the weight of my sled. It was a whole body movement to make any progress. I would dig my poles into the ground, pull through my arms, push through my hips and strain through my legs. Every movement hurt, how much it hurt scared me. I was 3NM in and it was this hard, how on earth was I going to make this?
I inched forward, counting to 100 in my head to keep me moving, over and over again. I was aiming for 6pm, my stopping time. It didn’t matter how far I had skied; this was my time to stop.
The wind was whipping off of the hill in front of me. It took an hour to pitch my tent, carefully connecting it to my sled, pegging down one end, laying it out, pushing in the poles, covering the snow skirt with hard packed snow and of course digging out my kitchen and bathroom.
I lit the stove and quickly made a hot chocolate to warm up. Remembering something I needed from my sled, I put my jacket and gloves on and headed back out into the wind. After closing up my sled I stopped and looked around me, I began to cry. This was unlike any cry I have ever had before. There was no sadness, just overwhelming emotion. This place is so incredibly beautiful, it had taken me so much time and hard work to get here and I knew that there were so many people willing me on back home, these emotions overwhelmed me. I sobbed into Antarctica, my own personal cry, there was no one to see it, no one to hear it, I was so very alone.