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Our campsite was forced upon us yesterday and we had to make the best of a bad spot – a single tent-sized patch of flat snow set on bare glacial ice. With only three ice screws I needed to make holes with one screw for each guy rope and set pegs within them, a laborious task in the crazy wind. With no snow for protective walls, we relied implicitly on the strength of our Hilleberg tent. A couple of lone sastrugi provided us a water supply.

So today we charged our devices with our solar panels, read, listened, emailed, ate, prepared our headwear for plateau travel and generally lazed around like fat spiders. And Keith found and repaired a final leak in his mattress. Happy boy.

Tomorrow we hope to pass the foot of the Kansas Glacier, of interest to some reading this blog.

15 December 2016 Ice ice baby

Wind abated overnight and we felt ready for the ice. With anti inflammatories and strapping, Rob's foot played ball and we did the first 5km pretty easily. The second session saw Rob and I on crampons, which could have killed his foot all over but he nursed it through.

The Reedy is highly ablated being so far south, and large expanses of white and blue ice are exposed. But the surface is not flat – it's covered in sun cupping, making it very uneven to walk on. The sleds skitter across but our feet twist and roll with every footfall. Luckily occasional longitudinal valleys of snow stretching 5km or so give us highways to ski on. We're camped on one now.

Keith is still on the bike, still much faster than us. I predicted his bike would be strapped to his sled 90% of the time, but so far he's cycled 95% of the distance. I'm gunning for him to ride the whole way.

Skiing towards the mountains

In December 2016 and January 2017, Eric Philips, Rob Smith and Keith Tuffley undertook a 34-day, 605km ski expedition from the Ross Ice Shelf to the South Pole – becoming the first people to traverse the little-known Reedy Glacier. This is the second part of their story.

Camp on the ice

South Pole


part 2

11 December 2016 Katabatic winds

For the first 3 days we had katabatic winds in the morning, which petered out around midday. They are like clockwork, formed by the temperature and altitude differential between the plateau above and the shelf below which, together with gravity, pulls the air down from above. Once it warms a little with the sun a bit higher in the north they switch off. They've been relatively light but can be very powerful.

The wind we had today was more than katabatic – it was an all-day bitter blast from the southeast that gave us a sample of the cold we'll experience up top.

20km but over a laborious eight hours as we gained almost 200m elevation. Once we hit the glacier we should be able to cover more ground. Tomorrow we pass our first nunatak – a peak emerging from the ice.

All happy, eating Pringles and wishing for vodka.

12 December 2016 On the Reedy

After almost 21km we are now camped on the lower Reedy Glacier. Wow factor is astronomical when you consider that no one has done this route let alone seen the fine details of nunataks, moraine lines and ice features from so close up. Scientists have been flown in to study the Reedy and we don't know exactly where but only on isolated locations. Big mountains are looming and they'll be flanking us tomorrow.

Challenging day. With a strong wind in our face all day we climbed 160m, reached our first nunataks, cramponed across our first field of blue ice and finally climbed into the tent at almost 8pm.

Why start so far away from the glacier foot? Well, it's a pretty superficial reason. Short version. When the early explorers came in by ship they had no choice but to start from the shore. In the 80s a couple of expeditions did likewise, wintering over before heading to the pole, and beyond. With the introduction of air access to Antarctica some adventurers flew to coastal locations such as Berkner Island, Ross Island or Queen Maud Land to emulate the early explorers – but with very high costs, and long distances. British explorers Ran Fiennes and Mike Stroud were to my knowledge the first to use the geographical or contiguous coastline as an end point after an Antarctic traverse instead of continuing across an ice shelf to its seaward coast – on this occasion finishing at the end of the Beardmore Glacier where it reaches the Ross Ice Shelf. This sparked a new era of shorter expeditions starting from a coastline in effect undetectable, buried under as much as 200 metres of ice.

Walking on crampons

Our expedition started from a coastline, buried below the Ross Ice Shelf and adjoining continental ice. A century ago explorers would have skied over 500km to reach this point.

13 December 2016 Wind with a vengeance

We hoped the wind would abate overnight but alas, it got stronger. We're now in a true katabatic wind howling down from the plateau. I know it to be a local effect because the few clouds in our beautiful blue sky are lazy.

Pitching the tent was pretty epic – a team effort for sure that if done wrong can result in broken poles at best and a lost tent at worst. Game over. Times like these we feel our remoteness in spades. The rest of the time – hauling a sled slowly past magnificent peaks and glaciers – is excitement in slow motion, slow burn adventure. Nothing happens fast – I kinda like it that way.

Rob's ankle and heel gave him considerable grief today and we stopped early to give his foot some rest. It's pretty swollen – hmm, where will I find some ice?

14km today, 111km behind us, 491 out front.

14 December 2016 Day of rest

It's a scenario we hadn't envisioned at the outset, to have a rest day after less than a week of travel. But Rob's damaged foot needed recovery time, evidenced by his hobbling yesterday afternoon before camping. Another day of that and we could chance a seriously debilitating injury. Besides, the wind was horrendous all night and until this evening. Now we hear not much more than a zephyr on the tent, which bodes well for tomorrow.

Taking a break
Rob on his bike

Just over 20km today, 473 to the pole. I am reporting my distance remaining as the skua flies – but we may have a dogleg that adds up to 25km.

16 December 2016 Joining dots

A hot tent got us out and moving by 8.30 and we did the first 10km lightly dressed, Keith in his board shorts and Baffin Boots.

Skis are preferable to crampons, so Rob and I ski on patches of snow in the shallow glacial valleys that run longitudinal to the glacier. These valleys are the first to accumulate snow during wind events, and we try and join the dots by skiing from patch to patch.

We are almost at the narrowest part of the Reedy glacier, 10km. Since passing Kansas Glacier we have also passed the Colorado and Hueneme glaciers with the Norfolk, Gardiner, Wotkyns, McCarthy and Olentangy glaciers yet to come. It could be the Reedy Glacier – our glacier – is the most southern in the world.

Our friend the wind is back.

20km again today.

Skiing on patches of snow

Eric Philips OAM has been exploring the Earth's fragile polar regions since 1992. He is author of Icetrek. The Bitter Journey to the South Pole and his expeditions have produced four internationally-screened documentary films, including the Emmy Award-winning Greenland production Chasing the Midnight Sun. He is founder and Director of Icetrek Expeditions and Equipment, and is President of the International Polar Guides Association. Eric lives in Hobart, Australia.

Eric Philips

Green Adventures May 2017