For the two or three of you not following the Scott Expedition blog on Boxing Day, refreshing your screen every hour through the evening, I’m happy to report that Ben and Tarka made it to the South Pole on December 26, 2013.
As Ben puts it, the scene was nothing like Scott’s arrival in that cold, desolate spot 101 years ago, yet entirely similar:
In short, I’m afraid to say -though it’s probably quite apt- that I concur with Captain Scott himself when he said of the South Pole “Great God this is an awful place”. For him, of course, there was nothing there at all. A patch of snow at the heart of a barren, deeply inhospitable continent. For us, it felt like walking into a cross between an airport, a junkyard and a military base. Or perhaps a scene that was omitted from a Star Wars film: skiing along with sacks swinging from our backs, futuristic mirrored goggles and hoods framed by coyote fur, we looked like two bounty hunters approaching some sort of outpost on a frozen planet.
In both cases, they were just happy to turn away from the long-aimed for spot and head for home.
And that, of course, is the tricky part. After 60+ days of pulling hard, laying depots, walking through whiteouts, and expending everything, they now have to retrace their steps, find the cached depots, and hope they planned well enough and travel quickly enough to make it back to safety.
There’s a sense that, in this Internet age, Ben and Tarka are not so alone as Scott, Bowers, Wilson, Evans, and Oates because we are watching. They’re in satellite communication with their base team and us, uploading blog posts, videos, and photos. But that really doesn’t lessen the hard work ahead that only they can do, one step at a time. They are most definitely out there on their own, walking another 900 miles across Antarctica to safety.
That they’ve chosen to make this journey of their own free will, just to see if they can do it, doesn’t mean it isn’t devilishly difficult to do. Many before, who had no more reason to go than the desire to do it, have tried and failed.
This armchair explorer, warm by her fire, will be watching with bated breath.
p.s. In a semi-related story, Conservators of the New Zealand Antarctic Trust have recently discovered a box of 22 negatives left by Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party. The negatives were found in a block of ice in Scott’s hut. Shackleton didn’t make it to the South Pole, but he made it home. And now so have these amazing photos.