The temperature in Derbyshire has been around minus two degrees centigrade all week.  It’s been the same on the Ross Ice Shelf.  ‘Who would have thought that the one thing we have run short of is suncream?’,  exclaimed Will Gow in his daily audio report, ‘It’s just too hot!  We’ve stripped down to vests and tights and are still sweating buckets.’ 

 

Gow with his two companions, Henry Adams and Henry Worsley are descendants of the members of the Nimrod Expedition to the South Pole, led by Ernest Shackleton exactly a hundred years ago.  They are following Shackleton’s route – across the ice shelf, up the Beardmore Glacier and a final trek across the polar plateau.  Here the comparisons differ.  Shackleton took 4 men and four ponies for his push to the pole, but the ponies exhausted themselves; their hooves broke the ice crust at every step and sank a foot into the snow.  One by one, they failed and three had to be shot.  Socks fell into a glacier and nearly dragged their stores with him.  This meant that Shackleton and his men needed to drag their sledges up the Beardmore in relays, a climb of 8,000 feet.  Shackleton didn’t know the route.  Nobody had been there before.  He nevertheless found the only feasible access to the polar plateau by following a light in the sky – the reflection of The Beardmore on the clouds.  They were within 100  miles of the pole when they turned back. 

 

It is day thirty-one of The 2008/9 Shackleton Centenary Expedition. Gow, Adams and Worsley know the way and they been sending back reports and images daily.  I have been monitoring their progress. On skis, dragging 600lb sledges yet matching the pace of their ancestors, they have now reached the foot of The Beardmore.  Tomorrow they will climb Mount Hope, from which they should see their route to the pole. 

 

Conditions have been so much better than Shackleton’s expedition. Most days have been warm and sunny with excellent visibility and although the snow is ridged into sastrugi, these have been relatively shallow and the sledges have glided well. The men are fit and cheerful.  Their days fit into a pattern; heating snow for water,  packing up the sledges,  pulling for 8 hours taking it in turn to lead and then camping and cooking their fat laden supper.  They are each eating about 6000 calories a day to offset the energy they are burning off pulling their heavy sledges.  For the last week they have averaged 15 miles a day over safe ground, but ahead is a long climb over dangerous transected by bottomless crevasses concealed by the flimsiest of ice bridges. 

 

How I would love to be there!  In August, I responded to an advertisement for a volunteer to join the expedition.  Of course I am too old, but the idea captured my imagination, and now I am on their mailing list as a supporter.  It’s so symbolic; the idea of three ‘wise’ men travelling across a frozen desert following the stars to the South Pole for Christmas at a time when the collapse of credit is threatening the lives of millions and people are dying of cholera in Zimbabwe.  Their’s is a message of hope, an inspiration in the face of  disaster.

 

Today I shall run up the hill out of Edensor and over to Monsal Head.  Hardly The Beardmore, but as  inspirational as it gets in these parts.  Have a lovely Christmas and may you reach your south pole next year or at least catch sight of it!        

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