12/30/2013 12:54 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reaching the South Pole (Our Half-Way Mark)


Apologies for the delayed update, but as you may already know we swang round the South Pole on Boxing Day and are now on the homeward leg of our journey. Our plan was always to pitch the tent and leave our sleds about 10km from the Pole and then to leg it with not much more than a bit of food and drink, our satellite phone, our tracking beacon, a camera and a flag. The round trip turned out to be a bit of an epic by the time we'd followed the regulation route into the South Pole station itself, skirting the runway, and we clocked 56.7km (nearly 36 miles) in what turned out to be a eighteen-hour day.

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.

As we skied alongside the runway, two skidoos -- presumably electric ones as they sounded like hairdryers -- skimmed past us, and one visored pilot raised a mittened hand in a half-wave, half-salute. It all felt very strange. The next thing we spotted was several acres of oil drums, cargo containers, pallets and cardboard boxes, with giant tracked vehicles moving between them, belching smoke and reversing with beepers blaring. We skied past several vast sets of fuel bladders that had been towed to the Pole from McMurdo, leaving tracks thirty feet wide. The smell of aviation fuel hung in the air, and huge exhaust plumes rose from what I assume are generators near the main station buildings itself.

We raced to the Pole (there are two actually, a few metres apart, the ceremonial one with all the flags, and the actual Pole that they move around as the ice slowly edges towards the coast), and took a few photos, shot some film and made some calls, before racing away again as fast as we could. By the time we made it back to the tent it was nearly 1am and we still had snow to melt and dinner to eat before sleeping for all of two and a half hours and skiing another 35km today.

I felt strangely devoid of emotion at the Pole, but now we're skiing back to the coast my excitement (and indeed apprehension about the colossal distance that still remains) is mounting. We're both, as you might imagine, pretty shattered, and were struggling deeply today after almost no rest. Sat on my sledge at some point this afternoon, struggling to keep my eyes open, I said to Tarka as we ate and drank, "This is a stupid way to make a living". "True," he replied, as he emptied a packet of cashew nuts into his mouth, "But it's not a bad way to make a life".

For Ben's daily news from Antarctica visit the Scott Expedition blog. For footage summing up two months in Antarctica visit Scott Expedition Videos.