Winds of change by Nathan Hambrook-Skinner
A lot can change in a week. Especially a week in Antarctica. The last time I wrote Parker Liautaud, polar explorer, was surfing on a wave of success after powering his way up the Leverett Glacier in a stunning display of stamina and endurance.
In this moment, as I look out of the window of the Willis Resilience Expedition vehicle, Ice Broker, Parker is slumped on the edge of his sled looking dejectedly into the snowy mists surrounding him as thirty knot winds whip around his haunches.
Not that I blame him. Three days ago the weather turned. Brilliant blue skies and sparkling snow covered mountains were replaced by a thick layer of cloud, a bitingly cold easterly wind and intermittent white out conditions.
It’s hard for me to explain how draining it must be to drag an 80 kilogram sled for 10 or 12 hours a day when the only thing you can see in front of you is the tips of your skis.
As a passive observer – here to help document and record this historic expedition – I can’t possibly imagine how difficult it must be to get up each morning in minus thirty degrees, drag yourself out of your sleeping bag, dismantle your tent and begin the drudgery all over again.
In the words of veteran polar guide and Parker’s teammate, Doug Stoup: “It’s like Groundhog Day”.
All of this is compounded by the fact that Parker has struggled with a host of health issues, including back pain, sweat rash, a chesty cough (which expedition doctors think might be a viral infection) and the effects of altitude sickness.
It can be difficult to watch Parker battling with all these issues sometimes. Like when he crested a hill and as he descended the far side his weighty sled accelerated and slammed into the back of his legs. He was clearly hurt and annoyed but unbowed by it.
It was one of those moments where I really felt for the guy. Trying his best but tired after a long day in the face of a bullying wind he let his concentration slip and he was punished for it.
Naturally the whole thing was caught on our live cameras – and hopefully moments like this are capturing the imagination of people around the world.
Despite the scale of the challenge confronting him I haven’t once doubted Parker’s resolve.
During nightly conversations in his tent as we discuss the day’s events and what in the way of news media opportunities might be coming up I’ve been privileged enough to develop a tiny insight into this explorer’s mindset.
One such evening sticks in my mind. It was after the skiers had completed a particularly gruelling day. I wanted to congratulate Parker on his performance, which also included a live interview with the American cable network CNBC midway through his twelve hour slog.
As I ducked into the vestibule of their clammy tent I was horrified to see a pale faced and exhausted looking Parker still shivering inside his sleeping bag. It was a stark and shocking illustration of exactly how much this expedition means to him. And what he is prepared to put himself through in order to succeed. In field sports terminology – he is leaving it all on the pitch.
But strangely I left the tent that night feeling even more confident that Parker would triumph. In the spirit of resilience, and despite what I’d seen the previous night, the next morning Parker was up and about speaking confidently to the Willis TV cameras. Ready to face Groundhog day all over again.