“I wonder how many calories are in that.”
On the other side of the tent, Andy was holding up a 4 inch piece of skin which until that moment had been attached to the bottom of his foot. The comment was made in jest, but it was indicative of how obsessed we had become with calorie intake and weight loss. Three weeks into an expedition to ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and we were already suffering from nutrition shortfall.
I have always been fascinated with Antarctica and read with awe the feats of the pioneer explorers such as Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen. To have the opportunity to walk in their footsteps 100 years later was beyond my wildest dreams. The fact that I was striving to become the oldest Canadian to ski from coast to Pole made it all the more interesting.
I trained hard by running and dragging a truck tire along the country roads around my rural village in Southern Ontario, much to the amusement of everyone. Add in fundraising and I felt like I was in a frenzied vortex before heading to the South Pole.
I met the rest of the team in Punta Arenas, Chile. The team demographics were interesting. Bradley Cross, 30 from Scotland. Andy Styles, 50 from England and our guide Keith Heger, 39 from Chicago, USA. At 58 I was the oldest of the group. We all had extensive outdoor experience. I had previously climbed 5 of the “7 Summits”, cycled around Iceland and to the Arctic Ocean and in 2012 cycled solo and unsupported across Australia.
On November 24th we were deposited on the Ronne Ice Shelf 950 KMS and 9,000 feet in elevation from the South Pole. We had finally reached the start after 15 months of preparation. After circling overhead, the plane departed and we were left with the deafening silence that is Antarctica. I looked around and was immediately intimidated. What looked like a rough and frozen ploughed field stretched to the horizon in every direction. We were alone. The landscape would not change for 44 days.
Our daily routine was simple. Drag 120 LB sleds uphill for 9 hours every day. Break every 75 minutes. Cover at least 12 nautical miles to ensure we would arrive at the Pole before our food and fuel ran out. The routine was as predictable as the food we ate. Oatmeal and butter for breakfast. Dinner out of a bag. Frozen chunks of salami, cheese, chocolate and power bars were crammed into our mouths during each break, chewed and washed down with luke warm water from our thermos flasks. The cumulative effects of cold, altitude, fatigue and significant calorie shortfall eventually took their toll. We could carry only 4,500 calories of food per person per day, but were consuming close to 9,000.
We all had injuries, most of which cleared up after time. I however had additional challenges with a heel spur from overtraining in Canada and a swollen right big toe from overuse that I could not bend. Tears of pain and despair gave way to resignation. My goals became very short — the next break, next chocolate bar, next tune on the MP3 player and the end of the day. I managed the injuries with insoles cut from my Thermarest, icing at night and painkillers during the day. The guys were great and took some of my load to keep the team together.
The wind in Antarctica is legendary, always blowing from the south off the Polar Plateau and into our faces. Like a slow torture, it wore us down and found any small gap in our face masks, but we also used it for navigation on those zero-visibility whiteout days. Towards the end we communicated less at our breaks and when we did we spoke more slowly and slurred our words. We were in survival mode and had withdrawn into ourselves.
There were no wild celebrations at the Pole. We took publicity photos and video footage, toured the South Pole station, put up our tents one more time and slept. The expedition was over.
My memories include feeling utterly insignificant in this wildest of places and yet how fortunate I was to be here. But the lasting memory will be of Keith, Bradley and Andy; without them I would still be dragging my sleds up that last hill to the South Pole.
For more information, to access Ian’s award-winning blog, track progress of the upcoming documentary film and to contact Ian for speaking engagements, visit his website at: www.ianevans.ca or by email at: [email protected]
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