“If you are going through hell, keep going”

I spoke to Daragh on Christmas Day. Although he’s basically in good physical and mental shape, he admitted to being tired, which must be a huge understatement! He told me his blisters have healed a little though, and the frost-bite on his face is also healing and not too serious.

The team achieved their second cache as planned on the 23rd and had travelled for half a day on the 25th. The main reason for the half-day was that they wanted to celebrate and eat Christmas dinner and – rather like Conor – they can’t stay awake in the evening unless they have a good sleep in the afternoon!

The team had a Secret Santa, taking one individual present plus one item for the team (Daragh took Top Gear Top Trumps and a small LED Christmas Tree that will run off the solar charger). There is also a small Christmas cake and festive food, which I reckon they’ve done well not to eat long before now! They have all certainly lost weight, although of course it’s impossible to tell how much.

The physical effort required has increased over the past few weeks with some steep climbs. They have already scaled a buried escarpment of the Transantarctic Mountains, which divide east and west Antarctica, before achieving more level ground at 87 degrees south. They are currently at 88 degrees south and ascending the long slog towards the Polar Plateau. On the 22nd they travelled 25kms, with a 700 ft climb, in 8 hours.

Quick lecture on altitude (skip a few paragraphs if you like): the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is at an altitude of almost 10,000 feet. (The ground is actually close to sea level, it’s the ice that’s almost 10,000 feet thick!). The rotation of the Earth causes the atmosphere to thin out at each Pole, meaning the air pressure at the station is more like that found at 13,000 feet.

Therefore the team are experiencing symptoms associated with higher altitude than they are actually at, including less oxygen, shortness of breath, etc. Danger of UV exposure is also greater at the South Pole than it is at the Antarctic coast, as a result of the thinner atmosphere and ozone layer. I don’t believe they will be at risk of altitude sickness though, as they have acclimatised while travelling over the past month.

The team expect to reach the Polar Plateau 2-3 days after Christmas, and the South Pole about 8 days after Christmas, on the 2nd or 3rd January. It is very hard to estimate their speed between here and the Pole though; firstly because of the gradients, and then because the sticky, dry snow that is found on the Plateau will make their skis and sleds stick rather than glide. This is when all that training by tyre-dragging should really kick in!

I’m hopeful that the next blog will be about the final leg and approach to the Pole!

- AH