Sunday 19 December, 8.00pm
Having arrived at 3am at ALE´s Union Glacier camp we were met by some of the team there who collected our bags on ski-doos and rode them over to the clam shell tents which we would be sleeping in. We quickly took ourselves to the mess tent for some hot coffee and something which we had been craving for a while - Coca Cola. The feeling among the team was satisfaction and elation at what we had achieved and relief that the belt drive had held out! The first Expedition ever to travel coast to coast and back again, with the privelege of visiting the South Pole twice. We joked in the mess tent before deciding that we were not going to sleep and headed over to the Mechanic Area and back to the vehicles.
Here we began the laborious process of unloading everything from the SSVs, the trailer and the roof. All the aluminium boxes needed emptying and sorting, the unused food supplies separated and all the rubbish and waste disposed of with ALE. Once it was all laid out on the floor it was amazing to see how much stuff we had on-board. By breakfast time at 8am we had made a lot of progress, almost everything organised and accounted for and re-packed. We quickly made our way back to the mess tent to enjoy scrambled eggs and bacon. For the first time in weeks we could sit at a table, eat off a plate and use real cutlery, and not a spork (spook, fork and knife creation). Hot coffee did not require us to melt snow and we we did not have to crouch in our tents and eat with our bowls around our knees.
After breakfast we returned to the vehicles to continue with the packing. We did not know when the next flight would be at this stage but wanted to ensure we were ready to go as soon as we got the go-ahead. With Christmas around the corner and scheduled flights leaving Punta Arenas on Monday the team was keen to get off the ice, but we knew ultimately that we were in the hands of Nature, which would dictate the actual timetable. It quicky came round to lunchtime and once again we were first in the queue, the food at the ALE camp fantastic and we all agreed better than the restaurants in Punta Arenas!
With our spaghetti bolognese we heard the news there was a fuel flight scheduled to be coming in, which we could return on. The ony risk was the weather forecast - a change in the wind direction could blow in a weather system that would prevent the Ilyushin from landing. We hoped and prayed that this wouldn´t be the case. After lunch the team had a chance to use the shower at Union Glacier. To shower, you filled a bucket with hot water from the snow melter, mixed in some snow to adjust the temperature and placed the shower pump in the bucket before jumping in the cubicle. It was not posh but the feeling of being clean after three weeks with wet wipes and alcohol gel was unbelievable, finally having some water to wash with was amazing.
After sleeping in the afternoon we had dinner and a short slideshow of some of the pictures in the recreation tent attended by the team and some of the ALE staff ad guests. It was great to see some pictures and remind ourselves of the adventure. The good news also came that the fuel flight would be landing at 5:20 am and we could be on it home. Everyone was relieved that it was coming in, the next scheduled flight not until the 29th December, over tens days away. Still on Moon Regan time and not used to sleeping most of the team stayed up until the flight. ALE had layed on Champagne and wine with dinner and we were determined to see it all off in celebration! 5am came around quickly and we headed out to the ice runway to wait for the Ilyushin to land. On time, it appeared in the sky and came to rest shortly afterwards. Once all the fuel had been unloaded from the plane we were allowed on board. We arrived in Punta Arenas about five hours later, our adventure complete and Antarctica just a memory.
The Expedition will stay in my memory forever and so will Antarctica. It is the most beautiful and breathtaking continent, whilst remaining the most unforgiving place in the worls, hiding its perils and danger. Treating the place with the utmost respect, we had achieved a crossing, allowing us to see the the mountains, the Polar plateau, the Leverett Glacier and the Ross Ice Shelf. We had done it as a team, ten individuals from very different backgrounds had pulled together to make the Expedition a success and a team that will remain friends for many years to come. We could not have done it without the help of the FCO, the hugely professional and incredibly helpful team at ALE, all our sponsors and in particular, Winston Wong. To all of them we are eternally grateful, and also to Andrew Moon and Andrew Regan, whose vision it was to cross Antarctica and whose motivation made the trip possible. We leave Punta Arenas tomorrow, bound for Buenos Aires then onwards to our separate destinations...Telluride, Cape Town, Iceland and London.
Friday 17 December, 8.15am
We’ve done it, completed the first ever TransAntarctic crossing there-and-back.
It was not entirely without incident from the Institute fuel cache to the ALE camp at Union Glacier. We made good progress to the fuel cache at Institute, the going a mixture of soft and hard snow, the team patient in the trucks and looking forward to some hot food. We finally arrived at Institute, a marker on the GPS system, save for four neat rows of fuel drums lined up in the snow. In SSV2, we pulled up a few minutes before the other vehicle and immediately detached the trailer and lined the barrels up for the re-fuelling process. We watched in much amusement as Pete pulled up towards the drums, completely ignorant to the fact that he was towing the BIV and despite shouting and hand signals from everyone who could see the calamity about to occur, pulled one of the skis straight onto the drums. Now four feet off the ground and at a forty-five degree angle and stopped momentarily, he was still entirely oblivious what was going on and shifted to drive to finish his manoeuvre. When it dawned upon him what had happened he went very quiet and sheepish. With no lasting damage, it easily became the butt of our jokes, and a credit to the Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle’s suspension!
Having not eaten a hot meal in thirty-six hours, we were delighted that Vern fired the stoves up and set to work cooking some food. On the menu for lunch was Mexican chilli bean with grilled salmon which tasted fantastic. Once the refuelling was finished and the BIV gently pushed off its new platform, we set off, final destination Union Glacier. From here we had the benefit of the tracks of a fuel train once again, ALE sending a re-supply of fuel barrels to a Thiel Mountain cache, via Institute and Patriot Hills. They had left after us and seemed to follow our tracks, the benefit being the weight of their train compressing the soft snow. Off the tracks the going was as painful as it had been at the start of the Expedition, so we took care to follow the line. We made good progress from Institute with 270km to Union Glacier, travelling well and hoping the last push would now be straightforward. Like travelling down the Leverett it was not so, as we realised the rear tyre on SSV2 was losing air more quickly than the others. Valdi attempted a repair, filling the hole with a puncture kit, Gunni pointing out that he was probably the only man in Antarctica to ever have got a stone puncture on the snow. We had driven lopsided in SSV2 for over 600km, the air suspension not auto-levelling. Gunni finally decided a fix was in order and had the dashboard and front seat out of the vehicle within 30 minutes. Locating the problem, he had everyone out of the car and the problem fixed within the hour. The change was amazing, finally sitting level in the car and not on our side! Unfortunately, the tyre fix was not a permanent solution so we pulled over two hours later to change the tyre. The trailer, which was probably the single most hated item of the Expedition on account of its weight and inconvenience, providing the spare. Within a short time the tyre was changed, whilst Pete removed the half-shafts from SSV1, it having developed a clanking noise somewhere along the route. Hoping the problem was fixed, we loaded all the tools up, only to stop 100 yards later to confirm it wasn’t. As Pete had originally suspected, it was the drive shaft, so we set to work digging a mechanic pit in front of the SSV2 at Gunni’s request. With the job complete he then informed us the vehicle could only reverse so we filled it in and started again. The drive shaft to the rear axle was soon replaced and we were finally on our way, the mechanics’ ability to perform on-the-spot repairs amazing us all once again.
From here we had less than 200km to Union Glacier and we hoped that it would be without incident. The next 100km passing smoothly before we came to Patriot Hills once again and a beautiful vista, the sun shining in the bright blue sky, with some crisp white clouds settling over the Patriot Hills. We pulled under the shadow of the hills and continued along our route. As Patriot Hills disappeared into the background, we covered kilometre after kilometre with incredible visibility. As we came to a pass above the hills, 700m above sea-level, part of the route that had remained clearly in memory, the Ellsworth Mountains appeared below us in the distance, the Vincent Massif looking spectacular from our viewpoint . The journey from Patriot Hills to Union Glacier, which had taken us 22 hours in thick snow on our outward journey, passing quickly by on our return. We finally pulled into ALE’s Union Glacier camp at 3:30 am Friday 17 December 2010 (Chilean local time).
The team was ecstatic, after 20 days and 12 hours and 30 minutes, we had crossed from Union Glacier, to the Geographic South Pole and across the continent to the Ross Ice Shelf, before completing the journey in reverse. As a team, we had pulled together through 100 km/h winds, white-outs, sub -40 Celsius temperatures, thick snow, sastrugi, crevasses, mechanical failures, delays and frustration; the elation was phenomenal. We got out of the vehicles, appreciating their incredible performance In Antarctica, surviving all that was thrown at them, with no catastrophic breakdowns and SSV1 even traversing the Continent with half a drive belt. At times of frustration it felt like all the odds were against us and that a TransAntarctic crossing in wheeled vehicles hadn’t been attempted before for a reason, and we were delighted to prove it could be done and had been done.
We didn’t do it for the speed of the crossing. We wanted to show how technology has moved on and how such technology might improve access to Antarctica and the secrets its holds - geological, scientific or the Continent’s pure beauty. We hope that the scientific data we have collected will provide a legacy for research and work at Imperial College, and beyond. With the right checks and controls, and with the help of organisations like the FCO, we can find the right balance between accessing this incredible continent and protecting its splendour.
Our arrival at Union Glacier, whilst the end of our Expedition, does not mark the end of our stay in Antarctica; we have the vehicles to unload, our kit to pack and the wait for the Ilyushin to fly us out to Punta Arenas.
....from all at Toumaz..... ‘Congratulations on all your achievements during the Expedition to date, and for those to come! All of us here at Toumaz are so happy to have been part of this record-breaking expedition. We wish you all well and are looking forward to your safe return’.
... a quick note from your Editor...:
Have you noticed that we’ve talked about both McMurdo and the Ross Ice Shelf as the destination for the initial drive across the continent? Just to explain: the team always planned to travel all the way to McMurdo, which is steeped in Antarctic history - and apparently (trivia nuts take note) has the only cash dispenser in the continent! But the end of the continent land mass is reached earlier. Once the team had experienced serious delays in even getting to Antarctica, and very slow going for the early part of their crossing, the tough decision had to be made to relinquish the chance of seeing McMurdo.
Thursday 16 December, 8am
Paul and Pete drove the SSVs through the early part of the night, the terrain particularly frustrating, as it felt like we were travelling through a snowy desert. The vehicles would one minute be traveling along smoothly and the next bogged down in thick snow, swallowing the tyres like quicksand. It meant we were never quite sure how much progress we were making, the speed of the vehicles constantly changing and entirely dictated by the terrain. There was a (highly amusing) show of tempers in SSV1, with two of the team out of the truck shouting at each other whilst Andrew Moon acted as ringmaster and we looked on in our rear view mirror, Andrew Regan encouraging George to film it. After three weeks on the ice together, I can say that there was an occasional contradiction of professional opinion between two of the team about driving style and mechanical issues. It seemed that if the terrain was not trying to halt our progress, Gunni was, insisting in the middle of the night on digging a pit to re-seal the rear axle., then stopping to switch from towing the BIV and the trailer, then stopping again to change a tyre from the trailer with SSV1.When all was done and there was nothing else to change, we were finally able to drive for a sensible period of time. Valdi and Gunni then did a fantastic job, driving through the night for over twelve hours, battling with the conditions. Driving in thick snow was a skill that we had gone some way to mastering, but experience shone through ultimately – overall, the Icelandic’s were less likely to get stuck. They could not, however, drive forever and after a huge session at the wheel, they retired to the back seat for a long rest, other team members taking to the wheel.
In SSV2 we have somewhat of a Chocolate Digestive addict, in Paul, and hence we had finished our packets long before SSV1. Expecting the other vehicle to have more biscuits, I set about negotiating with Pete and George a trade for a new packet over the radio. With very little to barter with, we finally managed to trade the use of Andrew’s iPad (whilst he slept) for a packet of the dark chocolate rascals. I don’t think we could have been happier at this point (unless we had more Ribena), particularly since it was only 42% charged and the deal didn’t include the charger! As we pushed onwards across Antarctica, people took the time to re-charge, sleeping more in the trucks than they had on the way out. We continued to follow the GPS, ensuring that we stopped at the waypoints that we marked on the outward journey to collect the empty fuel barrels we had cached. We strapped these to the trailer and towed them behind the vehicles, removing all trace of our being in Antarctica. This also gave us the opportunity to transfer the some fuel from the auxiliary tanks to the main tanks. Never will any of the team underestimate the convenience of using a petrol station in the future! The intention was to drive to the Institute fuel cache and take some final barrels on-board, prior to completing the final leg of the journey to Union Glacier and our TransAntarctic there-and-back crossing.
(Apologies, readers! I’ve just realised that Tuesday’s blog wasn’t here. It is now. Sincere apologies. I put it there, but clearly pressed the wrong button at some point.....)
Wednesday 15 December, 8am
We were driving along listen to the iPod at about 6am, awake since the start of Andrew’s Birthday. Paul and I had heard that in 2005, when he was at the South Pole on his birthday, he sang ‘Happy Birthday to me…’ every hour for all the time zones in the world, so we decided to nip this in the bud early, singing it every five minutes from midnight – by 00:20 there was no more Happy Birthday singing. The terrain had been a mixture of enormous sastrugi and very flat terrain. The sastrugi was several feet high at times, the vehicles making light work of the job but the ride incredibly tough inside the cabins and there was always the risk of serious damage to the suspension system, if we took the wrong path at the wrong speed. The speed of our journey across Antarctica was dictated by a huge number of factors including the terrain, weather conditions, visibility and was not something we could freely dictate, choosing the safest speed to complete a successful crossing, the overall time of our journey irrelevant. On the flatter patches of harder terrain we made good progress, finally out of the low low-range gearbox.
We were enjoying the beautiful sunshine and reflections off the ice when we heard a slight crack and saw SSV1 stop in front of us. We had been expecting it on the GPS for the previous 50km and now we were once again in the crevasse field. Crevasses form where large blocks of ice meet, the danger being the snow bridges that form on top of the cracks, preventing the drivers from seeing the potentially deadly gaps. Given the length of the vehicles, we hoped it was unlikely that we would encounter any crevasses in this area that would cause us serious problems, but we had to approach the crevasse field with the utmost care and respect.
Once in the crevasse field the mood in the vehicles changed entirely, this being the time to focus and concentrate on the team’s safety. Generally we took our shoes off in the vehicles overnight to allow our boots to air, but now we now put them on and made sure we had all our kit to hand, should we need it. The main rule in the crevasse field is that nobody gets out the vehicle without a harness and safety rope, so these were pulled out from their easy access under the seat and readied. We turned the music off and set off at a crawl over the surface. It was possible here, where little snow had formed to see the crack lines and the important thing was to judge the width of the crack, it being possible for the vehicles to pass over narrow cracks, the tyres alone bridging the gap. SSV1 led the way with Gunni at the wheel next to Vern, who has much experience and spent time mapping crevasses in Antarctica back in the Nineties; we followed behind, with Valdi at the wheel. I am not sure which is worse, leading the way or following from behind and watching the tyres of the front vehicle occasionally dip under the surface. Onwards we rolled at 2-3 km/h, feeling our way across the surface, avoiding the areas where the Icelandics, with all their experience of glacial crevasses, thought the danger would be greater. Once again we were reminded of the deadly beauty of Antarctica, the sun forming spectacular colours on the surface of the ice, the reflections and light incredible, but masking the danger underneath. We saw SSV1 roll slightly to the right, the back tyre falling below the surface but carrying on smoothly through. We followed behind, taking a route to the left of their tyre tracks to avoid the crack but to no avail, our tyres too slipping under the surface. Even with the front and rear differential locks engaged we couldn’t get the tyres out of the crack. Valdi put on the harness and stepped outside, anchored to the vehicle for safety, whilst Vern did the same from SSV1, coming back to assist with the winch. With the crack running diagonally across our front and back tyres, we realised that pulling the car forward could drag it into the crack rather than the rest of the car to safety. Armed with a shovel, Valdi attempted to dig around the front right tyre to test the crevasse and work out how best to remedy the situation. By digging to remove some of the snow we gained enough traction to reverse out of the crevasse without the winch, and moved to cross the ice crack at a narrower point. Once safely clear of this, Vern and Andrew Moon walked in front of the SSV1, harnessed for safety, to check for crevasses with ice probes. By driving in between their footprints we were sure that the vehicles would not fall into a crack. This was the best way to ensure our safety and certainly the right thing to do, although a very time consuming process as we moved at less than walking pace.
In SSV2, we followed in the tracks behind, noting that the Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle (whilst still on tow for lack of fuel) did not even break the surface. We knew once we hit the next waypoint we were well clear of the crevasses and by 9am, three hours later, we had safely crossed the 5km section with no further incident, much to the relief of the entire team. The terrain turned out to be very different on the return, even following the old tracks. Sections where we had struggled with sastrugi had been partially filled with snow and were much smoother, whilst other sections we don’t recall causing us problems were slower and more arduous. After the crevasse field we found the going smoother and after a short while stopped to re-fuel, allow some more science work, prepare some food and give the mechanics another opportunity to look-over the vehicles. We often made stops to check the tyre pressures and load but from time-to-time it was useful to give the vehicles a more thorough once over, and allow Andrew to valet the interior of SSV2. We needed to check our oil and gearbox levels so Gunni asked Paul to open the bonnet. In his haste he pulled the bonnet release catch clean out, the wire cable snapping in the cold. At this point I think he felt slightly foolish, because the mechanics could no longer get to the engine to fix anything, something they were incredibly good at! In SSV2, the power steering was becoming heavy and the problem quickly became apparent once the bonnet was finally opened – Valdi had forgotten to screw the cap back on the power steering fluid at the last stop and it was now missing. He quietly tried to tape a bag where the cap should be, although this was quickly spotted, much to the amusement of everyone!
It was incredible how much we had acclimatised to the weather, it was -18 Celsius outside and people were venturing out with far less clothing than at the start of the Expedition. In the sunshine it felt very warm, the cloudless sky making all the difference, whilst making the snow sparkle and shine. Once all the science had been done we were on our way again, continuing our crossing back to Union Glacier. Everyone felt refreshed by the stop, having enjoyed some chicken pasta cooked on stoves on the back of the trailer by Vern. The decision was taken to push through the night without camping, keen to stick to our original schedule and making up some of the time driving once again.
With the rest stop I took the opportunity to phone England, only to hear some very sad news. My grandfather, Thomas Bligh, has recently passed away, the funeral last Friday at home – a huge shock and entirely unexpected. He was the most fantastic man and brilliant story teller, recounting tales of his time serving in the army, as bank manager and later as Mayor of Twickenham. As a scout, he had taken much interest in the Expedition and I know he was so looking forward to hearing about Antarctica on my return. This made me realise the remoteness of this phenomenal continent and the kind words from the team made a huge difference to me. It gives me great comfort to know he is watching over us and an overwhelming motivation for me to complete our Expedition in his memory. I will miss him greatly.
Tuesday 14 December, 8am
We continued our journey North, the South Pole long gone from our sights, heading for Institute where we had re-fuelled previously. Since Union Glacier was our final destination we wanted to ensure we had enough fuel to get there, but did not need any surplus in the tanks. Therefore, the plan was to monitor the fuel consumption carefully to Institute and work out exactly what was required, hoping to miss out the Patriot Hills fuel cache on the return, as it added some kilometres to the journey.
Whilst the snow was soft in places, we managed to average a good speed for much of the early part of the day. The quickest strategy was for the two vehicles to travel in convoy, following the tracks in the snow. This at times meant the second vehicle would get stuck, because the snow was too churned up – so the driver’s quickly learnt to slow in the soft patches to ensure we were never too far away to use the tow rope. A process which took very little time but meant the lead car had to reverse back around whatever it was towing to help the other out. Either way, it was better than getting the shovels out, a solution which never really worked very well and which most of the team had now formally retired from! With the wind blowing strong behind us, SSV2 struggled to get enough air into the cooling system, frequently heating up. Pete, who had previously been sleeping was woken up to fix the problem, which he and Gunni did in no time at all, removing the fan and making some adjustments to it. From here everything was in fairly good shape, the vehicles were soldiering on, showing no sign of giving up after over 2,500km of punishment in the harsh conditions and the team still enthusiastic about the progress we were making. We often pushed 20-25 m/h, a speed we were delighted with, and which had given us such astonishing times on the other side of the continent, down to the coast. In SSV2, the driving rotated between Valdi, Paul and I, taking the opportunity to rest when not at the wheel and in SSV1, Pete and Gunni shared the task. As we followed our tracks the conditions improved, the surface getting firmer and the going much easier. But, similar to our experiences so far, harder terrain led to sastrugi nd this was the case once again. New snow and ice, which had formed in the 10 days, or so, since we had been here, created lots of bumps and ridges that the vehicles clattered over. It made the ride incredibly bumpy at times and meant that the ‘bunk bed’ we had laid out across the top of the integrated fuel tanks was unusable. It was incredible to see how much the terrain had changed in so little time, all down to Nature’s power. The sastrugi fields were much like travelling across a rough ocean, the driver trying to navigate through the waves to keep the vessels stable and comfortable. As we continued driving late into the evening, we once again had to refuel the main vehicle tanks from the auxiliary tanks fitted in the boot. The process went very smoothly, Valdi, Andrew and Pete taking charge, having used the previous 2,500 km to practise getting the job done as quickly as possible. With water bottles running empty, Vern got the cooking equipment out and set to work boiling water and preparing some food. Our hot meal had, once again, become the delight of the day as we assumed a timetable of long driving hours without overnight camp stops.
At just past midnight, SSV1 started singing Happy Birthday to Andrew Regan over the radio and we all joined in wishing him the best. This was his second birthday enjoyed on the ice and, apparently, also his 28th?! Andrew Moon had bought him a Cayman Island Tortuga Rum Cake and Paul and Christine bought him a flask filled with Whiskey and fresh coffee and sent a Birthday card. The birthday card from his mother was less of a surprise, Andrew not resisting the temptation to open it at least ten days earlier in anticipation. What would a Birthday be without wine, and fortunately a bottle of red found its way onto the ice. Meanwhile, everyone has been passing around the present from his son, Jojo, a mammoth tusk carved into the shape of a lady – it quickly becoming clear what the Expedition team was missing most on the ice!
Monday 13 December, 8am
Progress was moderate as we headed away from the South Pole, the snow on this side of the Pole much thicker than we had experienced heading across to the Leverett Glacier and down onto the Ross Ice Shelf.
Coupled with our heavy load, we ploughed through the thick snow, both vehicles travelling quite close together following a single track. We did not leave the South Pole until after 8pm the previous evening and having made a push into the night we decided that it would be no bad thing to stop the vehicles, put up a tent and have a rest, everyone tired after a long day loading and preparing for departure. With over 1,200 km back to Union Glacier there was no sense in the team being exhausted by pushing too hard on the first day heading back.
We enjoyed the rest stop, everyone enjoying the chance to sleep and awaking to a glorious day. The temperature was still very cold at -27 Celsius but the wind was unusually quiet and the sun was shining brightly. We had some porridge with fruit for breakfast, washed down with several cups of coffee and planned the day ahead. Having made a start on our return journey and got a feel for the terrain, Gunni, Valdi and Pete wanted to get the bonnet up once again and ensure that everything was working at its best, whilst the wind was calm and the weather kind to us.
Whilst they busied themselves getting their hands dirty in the engine compartment, the remainder of the team found suitable ways to occupy themselves. Ray and Andrew Regan thought it prudent to use the opportunity to carry out more of the intended scientific aims of the Expedition. They had already spent much of the journey searching for meteorites, the intention being to log their position and report it back to ANSMET, as part of a much larger study across Antarctica, which is expected to make one of the single biggest contributions to planetary science of our generation. This search continued today and they also used to opportunity to collect snow samples from the surface, the objective of which is to detect atmospheric contaminants in the top layer, once out of Antarctica.
Andrew Moon assisted the mechanics with their work and ensured the GPS system was correctly calibrated, finally retiring with his book once this was done. George, quite unsure of what to do, larked around with his camera irritating people, before making himself useful by asking people to call him Stephanie, the waitress, and taking the mechanics some lunch that Vern had cooked up in the mess tent. We dug several holes to assist the mechanics, helping them to check under the vehicle, an unusually satisfying chore in the soft snow. Whilst they finished, everyone else enjoyed a bit of down-time taking advantage of the weather; Paul and Andrew playing more backgammon, George organising pictures, whilst I set about building a snow pit to read my book and enjoy the sunshine.
Once we were re-packed and ready to set off once again, spirits were high amongst the team, keen to make some solid ground. The snow was soft which bogged the vehicles down at times. On the way to the Pole we had travelled through this swamp-like area at about 10km/h, the vehicles battling through. This time round progress was a lot better, moving at twice that speed, SSV1 in front with the trailer. The only caveat to this improved progress was that occasionally SSV2 got stuck in the soft snow that the front car had chewed up. This either meant rocking the car gently backwards and forwards, jumping out with a couple of shovels to make life easier for the vehicle and once relying on the winch to pull the car out, when the other methods had failed. For the most part, the cars made light work of the terrain and we were pleased to be making our way across the continent.
Sunday 12 December, 9.15am
Having stood once again on the South Pole we headed to the campsite to set up the mess tent and unload our kit. Having driven non-stop for a number of days it was great to take the opportunity to get everything in order before we embarked on the final leg of the journey. As it was already getting late we decided to leave our tasks for Saturday. In the vehicles, the mechanics had to check that everything was as ready as possible. In SSV2 this meant having a look at the cooling system once again to ensure we didn’t overheat – something that wasn’t a problem driving into the wind but was still a struggle when the wind was behind and the vehicle didn’t get enough airflow. The air compressor also had a leak again, which Pete realised was due to the pipe that connecting it to the low low-range gearbox being too short, a problem quickly fixed by cutting some cable ties to loosen it. SSV1 also needed a quick service, and a check of the drive-belt, which was in good shape, although two strands fewer than at the Ross Ice Shelf. The decision was taken to continue on ahead, once it was re-aligned in the centre of the pulleys. In very short time we had the mess tent erected and a VE25 sleeping tent; although we had not camped for many nights, we had certainly improved our efficiency at putting them up. Everyone sorted through their personal kit, emptied the trucks and we waited for dinner to be ready.
Vern cooked up some lamb chops with chilli beans and cheese, followed by some tinned fruit and hot chocolate. It was such a pleasure to be eating a proper, hot meal outside of the vehicles. We were delighted at the speed that we had returned from the Ross Ice Shelf and we enjoyed some banter about people’s driving and everyone’s company together as a team. We decided very early in the Expedition which people would go in which vehicle and this had remained the same the entire trip, nobody really stopping to think twice about it. The benefit of this was that we had an extraordinary amount of kit in the vehicles, hats, gloves, goggles, sunglasses, sun cream, jackets, jumpers, fleeces, boots, food, bowls, washbags, etc. that we accessed constantly, and changing round seemed more hassle than it was worth. The dynamics of each vehicle seemed to work very well, with personalities and characters complementing each other. There was always a risk with change; particularly if Andrew Regan’s now compulsively obsessive tidiness came up against George’s chaos and disorder. Sleeping in a tent in -40 Celsius had never seemed that inviting before we departed on the Expedition but, having spent so much time in the vehicles it was now an absolute pleasure. Finally, we could unpack our bags, sleep on our Thermarests with our sleeping bags and, for the taller members of the Expedition, lie outstretched in the tent! It wasn’t cold in the tents with our Arctic sleeping bags and everyone slept incredibly well, clearly in need of the rest. Some members still chose to sleep in the trucks, Gunni, because anti-freeze cursed through his veins and Ray, because he was using the Toumaz Technology Sensium Platform to monitor overnight cardio-patterns and the laptop battery couldn’t survive the night in the cold. The other benefit to stopping and putting up camp was that we were able to take our kit bags off the roof and change our clothes. We had all become remarkably immune to how much we (probably) smelt after several days in the same gear, but putting on clean clothes felt incredible and made up for the fact that we now hadn’t showered for two and a half weeks! We awoke yesterday morning feeling much refreshed to the smell of bacon, served by Vern with scrambled eggs, hash browns and ketchup. It was the best breakfast yet and a considerable improvement on cereal bars and chocolate digestives we had eaten in the trucks. With two meals and a great sleep under our belts everyone felt much refreshed and ready to pack up and depart for Union Glacier. We had given up setting a target time for leaving, instead relying on Moon-Regan time to dictate when we were ready, once all the jobs had been done. It was much better to fix problems at the South Pole, whilst we had tents up and things unpacked, rather than travel 5km down the road when we were fully loaded up and all the boxes were ratcheted down. Like refuelling, ratchet straps had also become an incredibly tiresome part of the trip, one needing to be untied before anything outside the vehicle could be accessed, then tied up again before we could set off.
There are clearly two different philosophies on how best to tie a ratchet strap, and I can safely say having been explained both of them at length by several ‘experts’ on the team, that neither way is any better than the other, hence I won’t bore you with the details. At the South Pole once again we needed to refuel another 1000L, which took about ninety minutes, the fuel pumps struggling with the altitude and the cold weather. Like a Formula One pit crew, we were now, at least, incredibly efficient changing drums and fuel tanks. The cache we left at the South Pole now needed loading onto the vehicles and trailer, which meant that we were now about four stories high on SSV2 with 10 large kit-bags, lots of rubbish, food sacks, a spare wheel and some science equipment. SSV1 meanwhile had the trailer in tow, seven aluminium boxes, the GPR boom and some oil drums. Combined with the nearly two tonnes of fuel on-board, we were going to be heavy driving out of the South Pole. Fortunately we had our tracks to follow and the surface had been harder on the drive into the Pole. We certainly hoped so as driving at 5km/h in thick snow is as bad as being in a 20 mile tailback on the M25, incredibly frustrating and very slow progress. By 8pm, we had everything loaded on the vehicles, all the ratchet straps tied off, and all the bits of rubbish and waste cleared from the campsite. Andrew Moon checked the waypoints once again in the vehicles to ensure we were heading in the right direction. We decided to tow the Winston Wong Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle because there was no suitable fuel at the South Pole cache. Having enjoyed using the BIV so much to the South Pole it was a real shame that we weren’t able to drive it back. We are determined to use it again, perhaps nearer Union glacier where the right fuel may be available at one of the other caches. It was no longer needed to scout ahead of the SSVs, the intention being to follow our tracks which would still be visible in the snow, and which should help speed progress in the softer conditions.
We departed the South Pole, following the set-route and our previous tracks, avoiding the antennae, and various zones designated by the NSF and South Pole Station. Unfortunately, SSV1 had developed a fault with the fuelling system which meant that it was running under heavily reduced power and at very slow speed. It was a problem that we had encountered on the way to the South Pole, and one we put down to low-quality fuel in the barrels. The mechanics tried changing the fuel filters, blowing the fuel lines with air and checking the engine management system to no avail. Instead we ploughed on, hoping it might clear itself after a night of driving once the first tank had cleared through. Following in their tracks in SSV2, Valdi decided that instead of sleeping at the wheel he would write his diary. Paul and Andrew busied themselves with more backgammon, Paul convinced the iPad was conspiring against him and debating a letter to Steve Jobs. Meanwhile, Ray troubled himself with the fact that the load on the roof was causing the weather station to misread the wind speed. Hopefully, progress will quicken once the fuel issue is resolved and we can make haste to Union Glacier.
Saturday 11 December, 8.40am
Quite an unbelievable 31 hours since we left the Leverett Glacier and we are back at the South Pole! We left the Ross Ice Shelf at around 1pm on Thursday afternoon, after some Steak and bean in celebration of the crossing. The vehicles were fully reloaded and we were keen to make a start on the return crossing. The sun was shining and the temperature moderate down at 200m above sea level so Pete and I took the opportunity (on separate occasions I might add) to wander far into the quiet of the Ross Ice shelf with the loo seat! We had very quickly learnt that any chance to avoid exposing oneself to -40 Celsius with 50km/h winds was very sensible.
Whilst the mechanics were fixing the vehicle prior to departure they noticed that the drive belt in SSV1 had split from one eight-strand belt to two four-strand belts, so still attached and working but at serious risk of breaking. Unfortunately we had used both the spare drive belts on the way to the Pole and the mechanics hadn’t expected this many to break – they were all brand new pre-Expedition and have a (theoretical) lifespan of 100,000km. We were faced with a dilemma, the Union Glacier nearly 2,000km away, The South Pole 600km and McMurdo over a 1,000km. Since we had no idea whether it had split before we came onto the ice or 5 minutes earlier, Andrew and Andrew decided the most sensible option was to carry on with our plan back to the South Pole and Union Glacier, since nothing could be done in the middle of nowhere on the Ross Ice Shelf. If it broke we would have to come up with a solution further along the line.
We travelled back up the Leverett Glacier with relative ease, the wind still blowing strong, gusting at 122km/h at one point but the visibility was much improved. It was fantastic to see the mountain-range coming up the glacier, in a different light with everyone feeling on a massive high in the trucks. The journey back to
the South Pole from here was a dream, expect the drive-belt issue which was entirely out of our control, the trucks were in good shape and running well. In our tracks once again we easily drove across the plateau at 25km/h. Everyone was keen to make good progress on this part of the journey, where everything ran well and at speeds we had expected of the entire journey. Having bid the South Pole Traverse farewell less than 24 hours earlier we caught up to them at their campsite, now entirely different with all the vehicles dug out the snow, we carried on past them and into the sastrugi once again.
The weather over the past few days meant that the flatter ground was much easier to drive over but it seemed to have a negative impact on the sastrugi, which seemed rougher and more jagged than before. As we climbed higher and higher we eventually found our fuel cache and previous camping ground. We re-loaded the empty barrels onto the recovery sleds to tow back to the ALE cache at the Pole. It dawned on us that we had camped at one of the highest places on our route with high speed winds and worst conditions, the visibility once again down very low.
With the barrels in tow we continued through sastrugi which flattened out to much more amicable conditions. We shared the driving in the SSVs, pushing on through the night to make progress to the South Pole. People slept in the bench seats and we continued to diet on Ribena, chocolate Digestives, nuts and dried fruit. We continued onwards to the Pole, in SSV2 merrily driving along when Valdi seemed to plot a new route through the snow, entirely in the wrong direction, he suddenly piped up ‘Sorry, I was asleep’, at which point we insisted on changing driver’s once again! As we closed on the waypoint of the trailer, we saw it half buried in the snow. We quickly pulled it out using the winch and within minutes had the spare tyre re-attached and it hitched empty onto SSV1. One thing we had learnt was that travelling light made a huge difference to the performance of the vehicles, in terms of steering response, power and fuel economy.
‘The Swamp’ of thick snow which we had struggled through on the way out of the South Pole was now much harder and easy to cross, making the South Pole approach much more bearable. When at the South Pole and near the Station we have always tried to remain invisible and stay entirely out the way of the scientists and residents here. It seems the Arctic Trucks Expedition from Iceland took an entirely different, and somewhat arrogant, approach, marching into the station to use the private shower facilities. It perhaps explained the quieter welcome we received on our return to the Station, them trying not to encourage such behaviour, after all it is home to all the people that work here, who are only entitled to two two-minute showers per week. From all on the Moon Regan TransAntarctic Expedition we would like to thank the South Pole Station and its staff for the kind welcome we have received and hope that we remained respectful and the right side of the line at all times. There is something very special about the South Pole and once we got here for the second time we couldn’t resist standing at the bottom of the World once again. The plan is to camp overnight and set-off on our return to Union Glacier Saturday morning, with all our equipment and the Winston Wong Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle.
Friday 10 December, 9am
As we skipped along the plateau on our approach to the top of the Leverett Glacier the feeling of anticipation amongst the team was phenomenal. We had travelled so far across Antarctica at the mercy of the weather, the conditions and the vehicles and now we had a chance to complete the crossing. The sun was shining as we neared the top of the glacier, passing through a slight uphill incline before we entered. By all accounts, the Leverett Glacier and the mountain ranges surrounding it are one of the most beautiful sights in Antarctica and we were some of the few people to have the scarce opportunity to experience it. In our minds, all we had left was to pass down the glacier and drive out onto the Ross Ice Shelf, the floating ice off the continent, and a waypoint which we knew marked our Transantarctic crossing.
Given the adversity we had faced, delays, storms, thick snow and rough sastrugi we were excited to be so close to the end of our adventure across Antarctic. Our route traversed the glacier, avoiding travelling down the steep centre and avoiding crevasse areas, where the blue ice and mountains meet the moving glacier. The entrance to the glacier was marked by peaks on either side, like gateposts to the coast that lay below. The views of the mountain range on either side was breath taking, the sun glistening off the ice, with cracks built up over thousands of year looming above us. We watched as the wind carried snow down the glacier, masking our trail down. The sheer splendour of the view disguised the conditions as we dropped lower into the glacier.
Quickly we became engulfed by the swirling snow as we inched ahead. Valdi did a fantastic job, leading the Expedition down between the mountains, his calm demeanour and sunglasses masking intense concentration. The truck fell silent as we eased through the winds, battling against the conditions, then suddenly, as quickly as we had fallen into the icy gusts, we came out the other side and saw the Leverett Glacier open up below us, the mountains stretching out to our left hand side. The picture I took with my mind will stay with me forever. The photographs George and team took are incredible but the scale and beauty couldn’t quite be captured by a camera, perhaps because it lacked emotion.
We continued to descend through the glacier, watching the altitude drop from over 2,500m to less than 300m. Sasstruggi appearing towards the bottom of the glacier, brought in freshly by the latest storm – another reminder to us of the power nature holds here. As the glacier levelled out, we headed for our marker-post, on the floating Ross Ice Shelf, and the end of the Antarctic continent. We enjoyed the last few kilometres, delighted that at the end luck was on our side and we had made good progress once the storm had relented. The team jumped out the trucks, hugging and congratulating each other on making it and completing the Expedition’s primary goal, to cross Antarctica in wheeled-vehicles.
A personal goal for several of the team members, and particularly the Principal’s, Andrew Moon and Andrew Regan, was to cross the Ross Ice Shelf to McMurdo to visit Scott’s Huts. On this Expedition this goal eluded them, the huge delays and trying snow condition, coupled with the risk that the ice bridge to the fuel cache at Marble Point could have melted, meant that we stopped here. With the greatest will and planning in the World, Antarctica ultimately dictates the schedule and we leave this adventure for another day.
We spent only six hours on the Ross Ice Shelf, enough time to enjoy the moment and get our team photograph. Vern quickly moved to boil water once again and prepare some warm food. With much more moderate temperature and wind speeds, the mechanics checked the vehicles, Pete fixing our doors to stop the snow from blowing into the truck and Gunni fixing the air-line that drives the compressors and differential-locks. Paul and I once again found ourselves on the roof, reloading the kit bags and recovery sleds. Andrew Regan spoke to Timbercroft and Notre Dame Schools on the satellite phone, both keenly following our progress in London, the latter even singing Happy Birthday in advance of the 14th December. Meanwhile, Andrew Moon liaised with journalists and ALE, updating them on our progress.
We have now embarked on our return crossing to Union Glacier, repeating our journey across Antarctica in reverse. Everyone is as excited as we were when we first set-off, armed with the knowledge and experience we gained on the way here we anticipate a faster crossing, whilst collecting our caches along the route to leave this beautiful continent untouched.
Thursday 9 December, 8.45am
With no sign of the conditions changing, we realised that we had no option but to wait out the white-out and hope that the high speed winds would bring some new weather our way. We continued to rest in the vehicles, passing the time by reading, watching some DVDs, sleeping and for Andrew R and Paul, beginning a game of backgammon that has yet to stop 17 hours later. The current score is 1124-557, much to Andrew’s delight, his competitiveness almost unbearable to the entire vehicle. In spite of the wind, which gusted at 82km/h overnight, Vern, George and Pete decided they would sleep in the tent – they still won’t tell us what Gunni and Andrew Moon had done to force them to brave the conditions. Fortunately they arose the morning after cheery and full of energy.
The vicious wind had moved a lot of snow around our campsite and had not relented, but the visibility had improved. Once the decision was taken that it was safe to do so, we set to work completing the fuelling of SSV1 and taking down the tent, which was now entirely filled with snow except the inner sleeping area. Taking down a tent in 50-70 km/h winds is no easier than putting one up and it took four of us to ensure none of it blew away. It was clear that the prospect of using the loo seat in the tent was hugely preferable to out in the wind, as we collected the considerable number of Wag Bags and stored them in a sack (on the roof!) for removal from Antarctica at the end of our Expedition. With all the fuel barrels now empty we dug a cache to store them, with the intention of collecting them on our return. Once we had ensured that all waste had been removed from our camp sire, we put the vehicles into Drive and set off.
The visibility had dramatically improved and, masked by the snow still blowing in the strong winds, there were blue skies up ahead. We covered the next 80km with relative ease, everyone delighted that we were back on our way and not held at the mercy of the conditions. In the distance we saw a mass of vehicles and some large cabins on sleds - we had caught up with the South Pole Traverse. To see such a large collection of people and vehicles in the middle of Antarctica, after days on our own was incredibly exciting for the team. We had expected to bump into the traverse team at some point, aware that it was travelling to the Pole, but we had no idea where we might meet them and nothing could prepare us for the scale of their train. The American National Science Foundation sends fuel from McMurdo to the South Pole on an annual basis, preferring to travel over land instead of using comparatively inefficient air transport.
The traverse team use ten large caterpillar-tracked vehicles to tow a couple of cabins and fuel in 3,000 gallon bladders. They, too, had been camped for several days due to the appalling conditions and many of their vehicles were buried under the snow-drift. Terry Billings, part of the traverse team, came out to introduce himself as we pulled up and was incredibly welcoming, offering to show us around their impressive collection of equipment and taking a keen interest in our Expedition vehicles. We traded stories about our experience so far – them down to the South Pole and us up from it. Terry pointed out that this was the worst storm in eighteen years and much worse than the previous two traverses he had done. Most of the traverse team were working hard to dig themselves out the snow, but those we spoke to, like the personnel at the South Pole Station, were very friendly and we shared a genuine interest Antarctic travel and exploration. Using the traverse route, the NSF are able to re-supply the South Pole with fuel in a much more environmentally friendly way, as it reduces the number of fuel flights needed to the South Pole by a huge number. Keen not to outstay our welcome and aware of the work they and we had to do to complete our Expeditions, we thanked them kindly for sharing their experiences with us and continued on our route. The benefit of passing the traverse team was experienced the moment we left their camp. Weighing hundreds of tonnes, they had left a considerable track in the snow and for the first time in our crossing so far, we were able to disengage the low low-range gearbox. It seemed the weather reflected the mood in the trucks – the sun was shining once again and the sky was blue in all directions. We couldn’t resist the temptation to play our adopted Expedition tune ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ over the truck radios.
The approach to the Leverett Glacier, now we were clear of the rough sastrugi and onto a plateau was incredibly beautiful. We realised that we are probably the first people ever to use this route to cross this side of Antarctica except for the National Science Foundation, Andrew Moon estimating that less than about 60 people have even seen the plateau and mountains from the ground. George was very excited by the photographs he could take now that we could see once again. With the Watson Escarpment in the background, the prospect of completing our Transantarctic Expedition to the coastline at the bottom of the Leverett Glacier drew ever closer.
Wednesday 8 December, 4.30pm
Quick note from Marie in the UK:
Hoping to hear more soon from the team - preferably about movement! Just to say I’ve just gathered together some of the UK press coverage of the last few days - look under the NEWS button on the home page. It’s not all CORRECT, of course, but most of it is close!
Tuesday 7 December, 8pm
We have now been holed up for fifteen hours in the trucks since the last blog entry , Nature once again holding all the cards and preventing us from continuing our Expedition. With zero visibility because of the white-out we cannot travel any further. A short while ago we had the following weather forecast for our position at 87.6 South from Marc De Keyser at ALE in Union Glacier:
Today: Wind speed today 55-65 km/h gusting up to 80-90 km/h over the next 12 hours still increasing, to become 70-80km/h with gusts up to 100km/h. Similar conditions during the whole of the following night.
Tomorrow: after 11am Union Glacier local time, gradually but slowly decreasing to become (by next midnight) 30-40km/h, gusting 50km/hr.
Due to high winds heavy blowing snow which reduces visibility to less than 100 metres, with poor horizontal definition and surface contrast. It looks like we will be forced to wait out the conditions for a while yet. Along with the higher winds forecast, we are still expecting the worst sastrugi in our Antarctic crossing so far, in the range of six to eight feet. With no visibility it would be incredibly foolish to risk travelling any further. The vehicles are our lifeline and without them the Expedition would be over. In the conditions it would be impossible for the mechanics to fix the vehicles and any damage we are likely to cause in the sastrugi would be major damage to the steering and suspension systems. Whilst we wait we have re-fuelled the vehicles to empty out the barrels, which we aim to leave in a cache here for collection on our return. Vern, Pete and George attempted to dig a snow kitchen to allow us to boil water and cook some food but the snowdrift was too great, backfilling the shelter with snow. They decided we had to put up a mess tent, which was no easy task in the high winds, requiring six
team members to erect it instead of the usual two. Once it was finally up, Vern served up some chicken and pasta – much to the delight of everyone. Now that the cooking is finished we can use the mess tent for another purpose, much to the delight of Paul who earlier had to abandon midway through because his hands were too cold to wipe. Whilst we are stopped, Ray has taken the opportunity to use the Toumaz Technology Sensium Platform once again. This platform works by attaching two sensor pads either side of the heart and connecting it to the Sensium device. This device, in turn, connects wirelessly to a receiver in a laptop that collects data including heart rate and movement. The benefit of this technology is continuous healthcare monitoring without the constant intervention of doctors or healthcare professionals. If Ray had worn this in the crevasse field it would have been interesting to see the response!
Meanwhile, we wait out the conditions, hoping for a break in the weather so we can complete our primary goal of Coast to South Pole to Coast of Antarctica, Andrew Regan encouraging us that it is in our best interest to be patient, and working out that with the engines running, we can still be here until the 22nd December before we run out of fuel!
Tuesday 7 December, 9.20am
We continued driving through the night and into the early hours of the morning, hoping to get to the Leverett Glacier as quickly as possible. The delay now was not because of mechanical defects but the weather systems that had settled over much of Antarctica. It remained bitterly cold, the icy wind cutting through our thick layers and no clear skies and sunshine to warm us up. Progress in the vehicles was good, as the SSVs picked up old vehicle tracks, from previous rossings to the Pole - the NSF has adapted their approach to refuelling the South Pole Station, reducing the number of fuel flights and instead sending a 250 onne train of fuel towed behind large snow cats. Their route to the South Pole was the reverse of ours to McMurdo, across the Ross Ice Shelf and up the Leverett Glacier, and we were incredibly fortunate to be finding tracks from the previous train. The precipitation along this part of the route was zero, so no new now had settled on the cat-tracks; instead the violent winds merely swept the snow along the surface. We often lost the tracks and ended in deep snow either ide, where the compression had been less, but it was, nonetheless, a huge bonus and some good luck for the Expedition, as the going was faster and the fuel economy improved.
We were keen to unload some of the barrels that we were towing on the recovery skis behind the SSVs, because the risk of them becoming damaged in the ough terrain and spilling fuel was too great. Therefore, we pulled over into the wind to begin re-fuelling some of the vehicle tanks. At this point the wind was up o about 30km/h and the temperature well below -30 Celsius. We all put on extra layers in the vehicles, before stepping out to battle the cold. As a team we quickly had the barrels lined up and began pumping the Jet A1, the metal nozzles covering in ice as the fuelling took place. Even with gloves on it quickly became too cold to touch, the team swapping roles and sheltering from the wind as best they could. As we refuelled we noticed the tyres needed inflating lightly and I set to work with the airline. In order to deflate the tyres quickly in Antarctica, the valves had been removed to allow the air out easily. In the cold and keen to get the job done as quickly as possible I made a grave mistake. With my hands cold from the re-fuelling I pulled my glove off to remove the metal ust cap from the air valve and began inflating the tyre. As it neared ready, I tried to screw the cap back onto the valve with my fingers, whilst the cold air rushed out from the tyre. I missed and dropped the cap, with my hand now freezing I should have abandoned the situation and got in the truck and got it warm straight away but I hesitated, and tried a second time in vain. At this point I pulled my other glove and managed to fit the cap without further trouble. Abandoning the tyre at this point and, much later than I should have done, jumped in the truck, unable to feel my fingers other than shooting pain to my hand. Fortunately, Valdi was in the truck and worked quickly to get the warmth back in my hands before opening some hand warmers whilst feeding me hot coffee and chocolate. With no lasting damage, I realize how lucky I was that Valdi worked quickly – drawing on his wealth of experience as a mountain rescue driver. The biting conditions and cold are bad enough, but trying to work with metal and fatigue making the wrong decision it could have been much more serious. As soon as you feel cold here you have to take action to get warm, otherwise too quickly it can lead to frostbite and ruin the Expedition for you and the entire team.
With re-fuelling underway we set off once again, a mixture of empty and full barrels towed on the recovery skis behind. About 20km further into the journey we pulled alongside SSV1, who asked where our barrels were. We joked on the radio before realizing they were serious, we had lost two full 200L fuel barrels since we had made our last fuel stop. With the wind blowing the snow around we turned the vehicles, anxious to find them before they got buried under the surface. Using the GPS to trace back along out route, we eventually found everything strewn over the previous 5km, first picking up the ratchet straps, then the wooden separating boards before finally finding the barrels, themselves over a kilometre apart. Finally re-loaded and triple checking everything was securely tied we set off again, the weather getting progressively worse. Paul and Vern took to the wheel as the visibility dropped to less than 10 feet. The wind was now gusting at 53km/h, blowing snow around. As the sastrugi got rougher we once again it became increasingly difficult to get any contrast and see the snow surface, the vehicles bouncing and jarring over the ice. Coupled with this the engine in SSV2 had taken to randomly stopping completely, a somewhat irritating and entirely unpredictable fault. Fortunately Pete was able to fix the problem by giving us a blow with his airline somewhere under the truck; once again his on-the-spot repairs dramatically improving the situation. We continued to make progress despite the conditions, using the GPS for navigation and once again finding tracks under the surface. We were amazed that over a year since the last crossing we still benefitted from their crossing. After Vern had done his best rally driver impressions, crashing over the sastrugi; and Paul was exhausted from trying to see in the flat light for hour after hour, they decided to stop and rest. At this point we turned to Gunni and Valdi, with their glacial driving experience to lead us through the white-out. Warned by the South Pole Station that the next waypoint was nicknamed ‘Sastrugi National Park’ we knew we were in for a rough ride. Although perhaps not as bad as some of the sastrugi we experienced on our way south to the Pole, coupled with the lack of visibility it was brutal. After punishing the vehicles for a further 10km they decided that we were better off stopping the vehicles and waiting out the conditions. The risk of breaking the power steering, an axle or the suspension was too great and in the bitter cold, stopping to fix