A six-man team of Army Reservists, dropped by ski-plane on the coastline of Antarctica in November are attempting to ski more than 1,100 miles, unsupported, to the South Pole, and then onto a full traverse of Antarctica by the end of January.
When you’re packing to spend up to 100 days in Antarctica, you obviously need kit, but weight is the priority.
A change of clothes is a luxury to be enjoyed at the 50 Day point; and repackaging food in lightweight bags and cutting the end off of your toothbrush are basic drills. The main weight becomes life essentials: food, communications kit, cookers, tents and maps are really all that the Spear 17 (South Pole Expedition Army Reserves 2017) Team has taken to Antarctica, where they plan to be the first Army Reserves Team to walk to the South Pole, while honouring the memory of Lt Col Henry Worsley who died during his solo attempt earlier this year.
WO1 Lou Rudd is the Spear 17 Team Leader, and also a great friend and expedition buddy of Henry Worsley’s. Lou said “Just looking round the five guys I’ve got here, I could not have chosen or asked for better travel companions. Antarctica has a way of stripping away any false pretences, bravado, and revealing who people truly are, and definitely I’ve got solid gold with the five team members I’ve got accompanying me on the expedition – I couldn’t have asked for more from them and they’re absolutely giving it 100% and more; a truly impressive team.
“Our target now is to get into South Pole by at least Christmas Day, and if we can punch a little bit harder we may even get in Christmas Eve, so we’d have the ultimate Christmas present which would be being at the South Pole on Christmas Day, which would be absolutely incredible.”
As the days go by, the lads are eating much of the burden on their pulks, which means they can increase their mileage. Indeed they are eating every hour, and consuming 6500 calories each day, but burning closer to 9000. So the weight reduction is offset against fatigue which is really starting to set in. The boys are losing more and more weight, and are waking stiff in the mornings taking longer and longer to warm up for the days exertions. They’re finding imaginative ways to enjoy themselves, and we have it on good authority that Ollie Stoten is good at dancing on skis while zoned out with his MP3.
But they’re dealing with facial sores, infected feet, tooth problems and tendinitis to name just some of the challenges. A bout of gastroenteritis for James Facer-Childs meant the team had a rest day while he recovered.
WO1 Rudd said: “To be honest it’s a miracle that we’ve managed to go 31 days without any hiccups or setbacks. So I think the rest day will do the whole team the world of good anyway.” James was able to speak to his parents on the phone to reassure them, and the team enjoyed a lie in and just taking on calories for a day.
Alex Brazier said: “As we're hauling, we're breathing hard… Most of us have now developed an incessant dry cough, and we're coughing every thirty seconds or so.
“Because we're doctors we've been measuring everything, at sea level, at the start of the expedition, my resting heart rate was between 35 and 40 beats per minute. Last night before bed - around four hours after we'd finished hauling for the day - it was 100 beats per minute. And oxygen saturation is around 89%, this is roughly equivalent to an elderly person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
One of the highlights for the team was a visit from the Twin Otter ski plane. Lou told us: “It scared the living daylights out of us, it came from behind. We never heard it till it was right over the top of us, probably at roundabout 50 feet above our heads and the pilot flew right over the top of the team which was fantastic. Obviously on the way from Union Glacier to the Pole itself, and decided to seek us out, and do a fly by.
"Really exciting to see the pilot come over and it gave its wings a little waggle as it disappeared over the horizon. It would probably have been at the Pole probably about an hour and a half later, and we still have a total of a week to go to do the same distance!”
It’s good to know someone is watching over the lads as they make this epic journey.
Follow the journey: www.spear17.org
Main photo: Jodie Willard.