NATHAN HAMBROOK-SKINNER BLOG: THE WORLD RECORD IS ON
Eyjo breathed a huge sigh of relief when we arrived at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf on December 5 – just three days later than we’d originally planned to. The sense of relief from the whole team was palpable as we stood on the edge of Antarctica – with the Trans Antarctic Mountains to our backs and the frozen Ross Sea in front of us.
Despite the constant threat of crevasses, difficult terrain, deep snow and fuel leaks, by tearing across Antarctica for 6 solid days we’d made up on our delay in Punta Arenas. Ice Broker had been put through its paces over 1800 kilometres and from here on out following the skiers for 30 kilometres a day would be comparatively easy going. I could see the tension lift from Eyjo’s face. For him the hard part of the expedition is now over. But for Parker the hardest part is yet to come.
Before starting the race though there was still one more snow pit to dig. So at 8pm the evening before embarking on surely the most challenging expedition of his life, young Parker Liautaud was standing in a 2 metre pit meticulously taking snow samples at 10cm intervals. I have to admire the man.
One of the things I’ve been most intimately involved in and enjoyed the most so far during this expedition is helping Parker with the science. All in all we have sampled 10 sites across the continent. It has been hard work. Digging deep snow pits for two or three hours in the freezing cold has undoubtedly tested my resilience. But Parker‘s patience and dedication to the science despite the harsh environment is admirable. It’s so easy and tempting to cut corners considering the conditions but he simply refuses to do so.
We hadn’t seen a single other person or sign of life since leaving the South Pole so it was with a huge sense of excitement that on the morning of December 6 at 9am we streamed live footage of the beginning of the race phase of the Willis Resilience Expedition.
The morning of the race couldn’t have gone better. Our live stream worked almost seamlessly and a high spirited Parker set off with a spring in his step. Perhaps propelled by that mood of confidence the skiers did exceptionally well on their first day, covering well over the prescribed 30 kilometre daily target.
When we finally made camp in a beautiful frozen valley with crevasse lined mountains on either side, expedition cameraman Paddy Scott walked over to Parker’s tent to record a video blog for the expedition website. Parker’s mood of optimism was still intact and he even boasted that he could make it to the top of the Leverett glacier (possibly the most challenging stretch of skiing) in less than the scheduled five days. Only time will tell if this bears out but I for one wouldn’t bet against this remarkable young guy.
Mirroring the mood of the day we made camp that evening and enjoyed the best of Antarctic summer conditions. It was glorious – only about eight degrees below freezing with a soft south easterly wind blowing off the glacier above us. By the time we’d cooked dinner and eaten it the wind had died down almost completely and the sun was still high in the sky, almost at its zenith.
Basking in the warming rays of the sun, which reflected off the snow covered ground from every direction, Paddy and I decided that now might be a good time to take a snow bath. There’s every chance that conditions will deteriorate rapidly as we gain altitude so it seemed like a sensible decision.
After more than a week without taking a shower, I didn’t need much encouragement to strip off and dive into the snow. Drying off afterwards was simply a case of standing on the snowy plateau in just down booties and shorts for a few minutes while I waited for the powerful sun to dry my bare skin.
As the expedition pushes deeper into the frozen continent I’m sure this will remain a highlight. For the moment at least the Willis Resilience Expedition is enjoying fare winds. Long may it continue.