December 10, 2007
Yesterday evening we set up camp knowing that it would be very brief. The fine weather and continuous daylight giving us the opportunity to reach Patriot Hills before the unpredictable Antarctic weather changed again, perhaps trapping us for yet another day on the Glacier. We ate and drank as much as we could and bedded down for about two and a half hours before striking camp and setting off towards the still-distant line of Patriot Hills at about 11.50 (just before midnight). This time we walked in Mukluks, rather than using the skis on our sore and blistered feet. Of course the weather did deteriorate. A phenomenon of low contrast – sometimes described as being in the inside of a ping-pong ball – causes difficulties seeing any features on the glacier. Heaving heavy pulks over sastrugi that you can’t see until you fall over them is a pain. However, we had the incentive of the end of our journey and pushed on through the night, leading in turn through the murk, until at last we got our first clear view of Patriot Hills camp when we were about 5 km away. Eventually, we all walked into camp at about 5.00 am. We had dragged the laden pulks over 32 km in 17 hours (including our break for food and sleep). We all now have an enormous sense of achievement and relief. In spite of fearing that weather and terrain would not allow us to do it, we did indeed walk all the way back to the base.
After lots of hot drinks, we all caught up on a few hours sleep. As I type this (in a large tent that we have been given permission to use) the team are working away packing up the gear that will need to be flown back to Punta Arenas. We have all been weighed by Phil for his project and have (nearly all of us) lost some weight; Phil most of all. We are now trying hard to put it back on!
Tonight the staff of A.L.E. at Patriot Hills have asked us to tell them all about our expedition, so preparing that will be our next job.
In some ways this marks the end of the main part of our expedition but there is still a huge amount to do – and some time to go before we will make it back to the UK. Ruth will try to carry out some further research on the blue ice near Patriot Hills tomorrow and, in spite of our scheduled departure being tomorrow too, the weather is unlikely to allow this. Carl has just pointed out that this could be our home for the next ten days (groan!) but we are all dreaming of a proper wash and the flight home. Let’s hope that the weather is good to us.