Hi guys. Hope you are all well. I am currently in Union Glacier Base Camp in Antarctica waiting for a weather window to start my Antarctica Speed Record expedition.I’ve moved in to a tent with Rob the cameraman, it turns out we’re like brothers from another mother over here! I put the union jack flag up in the middle of the tent and the welsh flag on my side – Rob has put up a Wakefield flag with a Yorkshire tea sign on his side!
Have finally got round to writing a blog on the last week or so, here goes…
It was cool to be back in Punta Arenas in Chile, it’s pretty familiar now (my 3rd visit) It’s good to know which are the best restaurants and best places to get good, cheap food. It’s always great to catch up with the staff from ALE, who once again have been really supportive throughout this expedition. This time my freight was actually waiting for me, which was really cool!
When I got to Punta I sorted through my gear and re-packed to fly on the Ilyushin on to the Antarctic continent. I also did some work on my pulk (sled) in the ALE warehouse. I had some new runners sent through from the guys at Sportsnett and Acapulka so I took my old runners off my pulk and fitted new ones, which are a little bit more efficient. I did a lot of filming and training. It was quite a cool transition period for me. As always things were epically busy with me before leaving the UK, so having that time in Punta as a transition zone where I can just recalibrate my thoughts, focus the mind is really useful.[caption id="attachment_5777" align="aligncenter" width="450"] A spot of DIY in the ALE warehouse[/caption]
We had delays in Punta that were all weather related. There had been some really bad weather here on the ground at Union Glacier (UG) in Antarctica so we were waiting for the weather window to fly in. I was pretty relaxed about the delays as my start date was always going to be around the 18th November and I had allowed for weather contingencies.
Finally when we got the window to get in to UG it was just a few hours. We arrived here and it was pretty mild, sunny and winds were quite low, but then within a few hours of us being here it just completely shut down. Really high winds, low cloud, no visibility and we had about 3 or 4 days of rubbish weather conditions. It got pretty cold too.
Over the last few days the weather has improved, the winds are still pretty high, it can be cold in the wind but there is a lot less cloud cover. I guess it’s about -15c here at UG and with wind chill it probably takes it down to about -25c.
I was hoping to get a twin otter flight to Hercules Inlet (my starting point for this expedition) either today or tomorrow – that was always the plan and I’ve not really been stressed about the delays as I factored in contingencies. Although conditions are good to fly today or tomorrow – there is a bad weather system forecast for the end of the week meaning the temperatures are dropping, winds gusting with really low cloud and quite a lot of humidity in the air which means at UG it will be around -25c gusting up to 42 knots which means there will be a wind chill of around or below -45c and really poor visibility conditions. With that in mind and given that during the first 150-200km of the expedition I have to navigate quite a dangerous crevassed area as I move from the sea ice of Hercules Inlet on to the continent, I have had a chat with the guys here today and opted to wait. Although I would love to get going and am certainly ready to get going now, both physically and psychologically, I am going to wait until the end of the week and keep reviewing the weather every day. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a flight on Friday or Saturday to Hercules Inlet – but it’s not just a case of a weather window to get the flight, it’s waiting for a 2 or 3 day window to get me through that crevassed section of my route.
I think momentum on this particular expedition is going to be key; from all the little systems I have been working on, hour to hour, to day to day – momentum will be crucial. A good start will certainly put me in good stead, however weather conditions are so changeable down here that I have to take each day as it comes, I think the important thing is getting through that crevassed area with good contrast and good visibility on the snow, so I can move as fast and safely as I can.
I have made the most of the further delays. It has given me the opportunity to fine tune my systems, check my gear and get everything up and running. Although it is difficult playing a waiting game, away from home and away from loved ones and mates, this time has been really productive and useful and even though I left the UK pretty dialled, the time has helped tighten my systems even further.[caption id="attachment_5779" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Cognitive testing gear[/caption]
Today I spent all day today working with Simon, one of the crew from ALE, further tweaking and planning my route. I’ve used some of my waypoints from last year and also have access to new data and new ground penetrating radar and satellite images that ALE have, to plan not only the fastest route, but also the safest route.
Having access to ALE’s incredible new software, satellite images and ground penetrating radar this year is awesome. It has given me confidence in part of the route that I used last year and also given me the opportunity to tweak it and improve it using the new information that I have at my disposal – today has been a really awesome day. It’s always difficult managing the rollercoaster of emotions when you are waiting when things are outside of your control but today has been really positive, not just from taking a lot of confidence from being able to visualise my route through satellite images, but knowing that I am giving myself the best chance of success with the fastest and safest route – it’s been a really productive day. The guys here are at the very, very top of their game. It’s so awesome once again to work together on my preparation with a crew who are at the top of their field.
There is so much experience down here with all the crew and talking to people at UG, it’s been great to get a different insight and looking at different ways to do things – it’s always great to speak to people so experienced, certainly speaking to Hannah McKeand who held the solo speed record before Christian Eide set the record, has been really valuable to sharpen my mind and sharpen my systems even further. The flip side to this and I am managing this really well, is that every day I am here waiting, talking, I tweak something else or I think of something else to look at again. Second guessing everything and constantly checking or evaluating has the potential to get really draining psychologically, but the margins for this expedition are so small that actually I have been grateful for the time to not just re think things but have the opportunity to test them in the field out here.
I have been eating really well. The food as always is awesome here at UG (Sticky Toffee Pudding my favourite so far). I have continued to put weight on, just as I was doing before I left the UK.
I’m not interested in the weight of my gear now, I’ve not even weighed my pulk. I know that everything in my pulk has been shaved to the lightest it can possibly be. I know that everything in it is vital and the lightest and tightest system that I can go with. My gear is down to the bear minimum.
Off the top of my head my main bits of gear:
One set of Rab MeCo 165 base layers
Rab Xenon X Hoodie
Rab Photon Pants
2 pairs of socks
Rab Alliance Gloves
Rab Guide Gloves
Woolen mitt with cotton outer mitt that I used on Everest
Extreme Planet polar boots designed by Alain Hubert
Rab Andes 800 sleeping bag
To compensate for some of my filming equipment and cognitive testing equipment that I am taking, I have had to be really strict with some of my usual luxuries. There’s no room for them on this expedition. I have my gear to absolute bare minimum.[caption id="attachment_5778" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Running in Punta[/caption]
A lot of people talk about cutting their toothbrush in half to save on weight but I have decided not to take it. Instead I am taking my firefly™ recovery devices, recovery is more important than clean teeth.
So now is the real waiting time for me in my mind – I am ready to go, it’s just about waiting for the weather to become more favourable…then it’s game time.
I’ve been pretty focused the last few months on this exped and I have only just learned today from my sat phone call back home to my team that my old mate smiler Matthew Rees has been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Having had cancer affect my family I know how tough it is, I also know how tough smiler is and I just wanted to wish him all the best.
Speak soon guys. Rich.
Richard Parks - originally published on richardparks.co.uk