Day 58: Almost There
This was my most enjoyable day. And it was not that the buildings at the pole were visible, although they certainly gave me something to look at besides endless miles of snow, ice, sastrugi, or the clouds forming, moving, dissipating, or the tail end of Ray's sled.
Today it seemed I had found a small reservoir of energy. The flat terrain helped, and the relatively warm day. When you are not constantly battling to stay warm, the energy can instead be used for forward progress.
Most of all, though, I finally began to see the hidden, subtle beauty of Antarctica. It had been there all along, but I had failed to see it all these long days.
I wondered what the actual land looks like under all this ice. Barren rocks, of course, perhaps similar to the great Canadian Shield when that ice cap retreated.
It's hard to believe we are just 5.5 miles from the pole. I tried to picture ourselves, here at the "bottom" of the world. As I trucked along, with my gaze fixed ahead at the pole, I remembered a line from a movie, Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers. Frodo and Sam are lost in a rocky maze, and as Frodo slips and lands at the foot of a cliff, he calls up to Sam, "I think I found the bottom."
Ray: We started out in beautiful weather, clear sky, bright sun, and only about 3 to 5 knots of wind out of the east.
Speaking of which, the sun travels around the sky maintaining an altitude of about 20 degrees above the horizon. On December 21 or thereabouts, the sun was at its high point of 23 degrees, and now it is getting noticeably lower as the summer is waning.
About an hour into our morning, still 16 or 17 miles distant from the pole, we saw an infinitesimally small black dot on the southern horizon, lying almost directly on our path.
We high-fived each other. The pole station at last!
Other than the cache at Thiels, and a couple of airplanes, this black dot has been the only other man-made object we have seen in almost two months.
That is one thing I like about Antarctica, of many: It is pristine. In fact, it is the most pristine place I have ever been. I like that. The Barrenlands of northern Canada, where we go canoeing, fall into much the same category. There, one finds very little trash. Yet here, we have seen absolutely no trash. (When we rowed the Atlantic, trash floating on the water was common.)
And by the way, we always carry all our trash with us. At present, we have an extra-large stowbag full of trash, and three empty gallon fuel cans. The trash will be flown back to Chili and disposed of there. The empty fuel cans may be re-filled for use by another expedition.
In another hour the black dot disappeared from view, and the hill began; and this went on through the remainder of the day. But the terrain was fairly smooth, and with the good weather we enjoyed the day very much.
For the technically minded, you can tell about what time it is, in some of these photos. Assuming we are skiing south, look at the angle of the shadows. Throughout the day, the shadows move counter-clockwise 15° per hour. (24h x 15°/h = 360° full circle.) Look at the shadow in this photo, and compare the angles to those of the first photo on this page. Our present longitude is given on the bottom of the page, and we are using UTC -3 time zone of Punta Arenas, Chile.
Mid afternoon the black dot reappeared, and grew very, very slowly. At quitting time we had several (eight) buildings in sight, but they are still a long ways off - five and a half miles.
Five and a half miles from the South Pole station. We didn't know it, but the station management and communications officers had been expecting us, and presently a comms operator had noted our tent through her binoculars.
Five and a half miles might not sound like much, but at our rate of progress, it is still half a day's travel. But compared to the original 750 miles, it is not all that much.
Countdown: 5.5 miles to the Pole
Evening camp: S 89° 55.224' W 94° 46.417'
Today's mileage: 12.6 in 10.5 hrs
Altitude: 9250', Temperature: -19C