Back at work!

Back at the desk this week, normality returns!

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At the Geographical South Pole

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Seth and I at the South Pole

 

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Sunday 22nd January

Dear all

Apologise for my blog suddenly drying up but please let me explain. My journey home became a complete through passage from the South Pole to Pembrokeshire and time was limited. This is how my last days at the South Pole unfolded:

Monday 16th January
We started early with breakfast and then went on a conducted tour of the South Pole Base Station. It was spectacular to say the least. It had been built in 2008 and is vast. It took 900 loads on Hercules aircraft and everything had to be designed to fit inside the Hercules and when it got to the Pole it was simply reassembled. It is so vast they even have a basket ball court, a sound recording studio and a vast canteen. They grow their own vegetables there with hydroponics, they have sleeping facilities for about 150 and in the summer they have to provide further sleeping facilities in a tented village at the back as well.

The staff that we met were all highly intelligent people on graduate placements doing research into all sorts of different things and ologies, climatology, geology, but also research that was way over my head, neutrinos and the origin of the universe. That done we headed back and commenced what was to be a very long day. It was very, very cold with wind chill it was -41°C and I think, with the fatigue that was catching up on me, that was the first day I really felt the cold. I sorted out my kit and had a nap in the afternoon, did several radio interviews and visited the gift shop. After a late supper we went on to the visitor centre, which is actually a building midway between our camp and the South Pole Station, where we met a lot of the American staff. They were very keen to talk, quite reserved, but obviously appreciated different people to talk to.

Tuesday 17th January – the Celebration
At 2.15am we were all escorted to the geographical South Pole for a ceremony. As usual it was bright sunshine and 200+ people attended. There were various speakers and probably the one that was most memorable was Henry Worsely who had just completed the Amundsen trek to the Pole and had arrived about 4 or 5 days before. He quoted from Scott’s diary and spoke so well; it was an inspirational and moving moment. It was bitterly cold and we were all very, very chilled. One of the girls had brought a bottle of champagne and some glasses to toast Scott’s arrival at the Pole, but when she poured the champagne into the glass it froze instantly, there was no celebration at the Pole that night. We went back to the mess tent for some champagne and ironically any food we could find because everybody by this time was starving. At that point, which is why the blog died so suddenly, we were advised by the management that the weather was about to deteriorate quite rapidly so therefore we were to go to bed, have about 3 hours sleep and prepare to be flown out in the morning very rapidly.

After the brief rest, we had breakfast at 7am (still the 17th). We had taken all our equipment to the aircraft that were going to fly us out, a DC3 and a Twin Otter and then, at approximately 8.45am we loaded onto the aircraft. All the kit was stowed because as it was the centenary, there were quite a lot of people leaving the Pole that day including guests that had flown all the way to the pole from various parts of the World to celebrate the centenary.

I came back on the DC3, a 3.5 hour flight to Union Glacier. Everyone was very, very tired and we slept most of the day. I sat next to the senior medic for ALE called Doc Martin and it transpired that his wife was born in Pembrokeshire. What a small world and they come back here every year. We arrived at Union Glacier to a 20 knot head wind but it was -8°C which was just like a balmy spring day after the temperatures that we had endured. We had a celebration lunch and then had to prepare for a flight out of Antarctica the following day so there was a lot of kit to be returned to stores, tents, skis and poles – all sorts of odds and sods.

Wednesday 18th January
A busy morning. After breakfast packed my tent for the last time and we were all on standby for the Aleutian aircraft’s arrival which was coming in from Punta. All our luggage was packed onto a massive sledge to go down to the runway at 10am. We saw the Aleutian fly up the glacier and land at lunch time. It was an incredible site. Then we went down to the runway, loaded up and headed out of Antarctica for the last time. I got to the hotel in Punta Arenas about midnight that night, for a very short night because in the meantime my team back in Pembrokeshire had been rearranging my flight to get me home because, as far as I was concerned, mission was accomplished and actually all I wanted to do was get home. So a short night in Punta and I was back in the airport at 8 ‘o’clock on Thursday morning for the trip back to the UK.

The trip was wonderful, every single flight was on time and I eventually touched down in Heathrow at about 10pm on Friday the 20th to be met by Pamela. We drove home and got back to Pembs at about 2am on Saturday 21st. So arrived home, had a family welcome and lunch and an update which was lovely. We had a quick run through of photographs and back to work Monday morning.

It has been an incredible trip. Now it’s all sinking in and I can enjoy the memories and the experiences that I’ve had. It is something that I’m so pleased I’ve done and I am also hugely grateful to everybody who has supported me, everyone who has read my blog and everybody who has contributed to the Teenage Cancer Trust fund. Please if you haven’t done so contribute whatever you can; I will continue raising funds for some months yet.

That’s it, that’s the last blog, it’s now back to the grindstone. Until next time ………………………

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4.08am (GMT 16th Jan) 1.08am Local time (16th Jan)

After the drama of yesterday’s weather by the time we set the camp up last night and had supper, the weather had completely changed. It turned into an absolutely incredibly perfect evening, still, sunny but as always very cold. We decided to start early this morning and we were in harness and skiing by 8.15am. Antarctica provided the best weather of the entire trip for this special day. So still, so clear, and the snow very crisp. After 1 hour we should make out the buildings of the South Pole station. For the last 8 days we have seen nothing but white snow, no topography , no land, no buildings, no trace of humanity, no trace of animals so the site of the station, although such a significant landmark to me and Antarctica, will look slightly out of place in this magnificent wilderness. I anticipated that seeing the Pole after all these days would be such an exciting event that I would have renewed vigour and quicken my pace to my final destination; strangely that was not quite the case. As the weather was so perfect we saw the buildings some 7 miles out and the relief of knowing that we were safe and we were going to complete this journey flooded through my veins and it was a great feeling indeed. The frustration however is that we still had 4 hours of skiing to get there and everything in Antarctica looks closer than it is because there is no relief and nothing to reference it against, those buildings took forever to come closer. My cumulative tiredness became very apparent and my legs felt like lead. At a certain place, 1.5 miles from the station, we had to call the base and ask, as protocol, for permission to enter the zone. As Seth was making the call I had a silly thought, what if they said no? Of course they didn’t, I’m from Wales, from God’s country!

We then skied down the approach avenue, the only designated route which is marked by flags every 100 meters, for the final 1.5 miles. It is dead straight and took us over an hour but we had arrived at the geographic South Pole and were standing at the bottom of the world. What an amazing feeling.

The station is vast with enormous buildings that house 150 Americans who work at the base. We had a designated area to put up our tent, which we did and then found a mess tent to find some food. To have succeeded was a great feeling. We had overcome the dangers and the risk of frostbite, altitude sickness, getting lost and everything else that this continent can throw at you, was a huge relief.

There was another fear that today was removed and that was the fear of failure. Because I wanted to raise a lot of money for the Teenage Cancer Trust and increase amongst other things the awareness of Bluestone, this sponsored walk was a high profile one from the word go. I have already done many of radio and TV interviews before leaving the UK and was conscious that if I didn’t complete this challenge I would have to come back with my tail between my legs and face the consequences. It is a good feeling indeed that I do not have to face that ordeal. Later this evening I walked the last half mile to the famous globe with flags of the members of the Antarctic Treaty fluttering around in a semi-circle. I took some photographs with my sponsor’s logos which I am looking forward to these presenting to them. Without their support this endeavour could not have been undertaken and I thank them most sincerely.
I also would like to thank anyone who had taken the time to read my diary, over the last 10 days especially, I have told it as it is. I will continue for a few more days as I have a special centenary event to commemorate Scott’s arrival at the pole 100 years ago on the 17th and we have a tour of the base tomorrow morning and all sorts of interesting things going. Incidentally we arrived on Sunday 15th Chilean at 3pm which is 3 hours behind GMT but the South Pole station runs on new Zealand time 16 hours ahead. So effectively we got here on Monday 16th at 7am. I don’t really know when we arrived. What I can say, with confidence however, is that I am definitely here, I am safe, very happy. Mission accomplished!

Interview with William Live from the South Pole on Radio Pembrokeshire

Click here to listen

 

To listen to William’s interview on the BBC Wales Roy Noble show on Friday

Click here to listen

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1.05am (GMT 15th Jan) 7.36pm Local time (14th Jan)

Another extraordinary day we set off with very good intentions this morning to cover lots of miles after yesterday’s trials with the weather, but again it was not to be. Within 1 hour the weather had changed considerably with 20 knot winds blowing snow at us from the left hand side. There was no sun although the visibility was better than yesterday; no sun no Wilson. Wilson’s a light weight I have decided; whenever the weather is crap Wilson’s not there with us. Anyway the weather got worse and we battled on through incredible wind chill and quite horrible conditions. It made sense though to carry on, and Seth did say at one stage it was marginal as to whether we should, the alternative was to set up our camp again, which we both thought would probably be more hazardous because every time you stop you get cold and it takes a while to get the tent up especially in those conditions. By the time we had got inside it we would have been very, very severely frozen by that point.

Anyway we pressed on and the weather slowly improved but not to what I would call a nice day for the entire journey. We pushed on hard, we travelled for 7 hours and we only had 2 very short breaks in that time due to the very bad weather and the temperature and we covered 10.5 miles. At the end believe you me, I was very glad to get the tent set up and get in it.

The exciting thing is that we are now less than a day’s hike to our final destination, the South Pole. That should be tomorrow (Sunday), we should get there, but as we have learnt to our cost these last 2 days you can take nothing for granted down here and even when you set off and the weather looks fine, as we found out today and yesterday the weather can suddenly change and things can be very, very different indeed. So we will have to see what tomorrow brings.

I would like to tell you a little bit about my companion here. Mr Seth Timparno, he is 29, an American from Montana. He is a very intelligent young man, he went to University and has 3 degrees in Physics, Maths and Philosophy and had a masters in Physics and was well on his way to a PhD in Physics when a calling from the wild took him off in another direction and at 24 he became a full time mountain guide. It is his second season in Antarctica and he specialises in the high altitude stuff not the flat plateau stuff that we have been doing for the last week or so. He spends a lot of time on Mount Vinson, which is 5,000 meters in Antarctica and is the highest mountain obviously in this region. He does that for 2.5 – 3 months in the Antarctic season and then goes off to Argentina, Alaska and Washington State where he is a professional guider. When he is not professionally guiding and has time off he goes off rock climbing and ice climbing and has admitted to me that he spends probably in excess of 300 days in every year either sleeping in his truck if he’s doing it recreationally or guiding in small tents like this so I think the man is mad, but there we are. It’s his first time to the Pole and he doesn’t do a great deal of this sort of guiding. We met 10 days ago as complete strangers and have spent the last 8 days together, 24 hours a day, more than half the time in this very small tent and the remaining time trekking across the polar plateau together in these extreme conditions just the 2 of us. In the last 8 – 9 days of this journey we have seen not a living sole, or any habitation or anything, just frozen plateau, it has been quite incredible. But I can honestly say that during that time there has been no tension at all and I have thoroughly enjoyed his companionship and stewardship and despite quite remote and dangerous conditions I have felt very safe at all times, so all credit to him. I’m not the easiest person to get on with but it’s been a good trip and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Tomorrow will be an interesting day we will see where it gets us.

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10.36pm (GMT 13th Jan) 7.36pm Local time

We woke up this morning and realised it was Friday 13th which makes it a little bit anxious when you’re in the middle of nowhere down in Antarctica, however Seth informed me he was born on Friday 13th so I relaxed and the day started well. It actually started with a chat with Roy Noble from Radio Wales which was great. He is a very nice chap and I enjoyed meeting him when I did to do a live piece with him on his show prior to leaving the UK. It was recorded this morning so I hope it went out sometime today.

We set off with all good intentions expecting to cover some serious miles today, but it was not to be. Within 1 hour the cloud came down very, very fast and blowing snow was hitting us from about 9 ‘o’ clock. It got worse and worse and literally within 1 hour we could not tell the ground from the sky or see for more than 30 meters in any direction. We battled on through this for 6 hours taking a compass bearing every 50 meters and sticking close together. With nothing to reference, without a compass or an instrument we would have simply gone round in circles. It is most peculiar, most unsettling. Seth did a great job, as confirmed by the GPS course that we saw when we were in the tent later today, but I have to say it was an anxious and quite frightening day and with the wind chill it was -30°C throughout. We didn’t really have more than very, very quick breaks with the snow blowing on us it was a horrible, horrible day. Wilson obviously deserted us completely which we were not impressed with, not very chivalrous of him.

We called it a day at 4pm and set up our camp in record time. As soon as we got in we get snow going and I had a cup of soup and an hour getting warm and thawing out again in my sleeping bag and then I felt a lot better. During the stops today I had some seriously cold fingers and you have to be so, so careful about them out here. We are now in the tent and we will have to sit it out until conditions improve. That’s particularly frustrating as we are now only 20 miles from the South Pole but we just have to be patient.

On another note I am being sent, some verbally and some textually, responses to this blog which I am doing daily, from friends and all sorts of people. I cannot tell you how much that means. This is not, as I’ve said before, a walk in the park. I have never been in conditions like this and I have never pushed myself so hard, but your interest is hugely important to me and I appreciate it very much so please keep responding.

On a last point today I just want to remind everybody that this is about the Teenage Cancer Trust and if you can donate on line, if you haven’t already please, please do, we need to raise a lot of money and I promise you we will make that money, with the Teenage Cancer Trust, be used very effectively to help youngsters who are not as lucky as most of us. We must do this because if we haven’t then this trek will not have been worthwhile.

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It has been a good day for several reasons. We have just travelled another 11 miles – the average for the past 3 days. What is also great about this day in particular is that we have just passed the half-way marker for the total distance we have had to travel to the South Pole. Mentally this has had a very positive impact on me. Whilst psychologically it is now downhill all the way,  physically it is a gentle uphill all the way to the South Pole. There is a noticeable drop in the temperature as we are heading northwards. It must have snowed quite heavily in the night and this morning our tent was nearly buried in the white stuff. Sometimes a snowfall will increase the temperature but it makes it much more difficult to drag a sledge through fresh snowfalls. The cold is frankly startling.

We are managing the breaks during the days much better. I now know where everything is in my sledge. We stop, put another layer of clothing on, I hide my goggles under 3 layers to stop them freezing, quickly have something to eat and drink and then reverse the process and move off as quickly possible. If one of us is ready before the other they start off slowly – you simply cannot afford to stand around in the exceptionally low temperatures.

Interestingly as I dictate this at 8pm it is -30˚ C outside but inside my tent the temperature has reached the dizzying heights of 10˚ C – positively balmy! The tent is made of a red fabric – the best colour for allowing the radiation from the sun to heat up the interior of our tiny living space. It seems incredible to me that a mere 1mm of fabric accounts for a difference in temperature of 40 degrees.

As I move closer towards the South Pole during the long sledging periods I am increasingly in awe of Scott and his team. Scott, Bowers, Oates, Evans and Wilson were heading to the Pole on virtually the same path, same day and same time as I am travelling 100 years later. During our stay at Union Glacier there were extracts from Scott’s diary being put up for us to look at from which I could see that they were also at this stage of the their expedition travelling 11 miles a day. Almost identical to our pace.

Of course when we eventually arrive at the South Pole we know the Antarctic Station will be there along with quite a lot of people and for Seth and myself a flight out. For those guys there would have been nothing except ‘the great white’ and Admundsen’s flag – which had been planted there three weeks before Scott finally arrived at his goal. It must have been bitterly disappointing for all of them. As we know they all perished on the return journey and at least I now have some first hand experience of what they faced 100 years ago. Today, almost exactly a century later, I have modern clothing, satellite communications and special high-protein foods. Their lives, at the end, must have been simply indescribable. I hope sincerely to be able to pay my respects to those incredibly brave and determined gentlemen when I reach the South Pole on the 17th of January.

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11.22pm (GMT 11th Jan) 8.22pm Local time

Another long day today, we have done 11.3 statute miles in 4 sessions today. We set off at 9.20 this morning and finished just before 5pm. It has been a bitterly cold day but calm in the morning with no wind at all, but the wind got up at the end of the day.

The breaks – we had 3 today – are very cold and unpleasant and instead of looking forward to a break after 1¾ to 2 hours of hauling I dread them, they never last more than 10 minutes and the first thing you have to do is put on another layer the moment you stop, then have a drink to rehydrate, eat something and by then you’re chilled to the bone and the only thing to do is to get moving again as fast as you can. Although it’s -25°C, we are completely covered and the temperature is actually OK while you are moving but the moment you stop it is not.

My shadow, as I mentioned yesterday, has again been my trusted companion today, I have decided to name him. I’m going to call him Wilson after that lovely Tom Hanks film when he was shipwrecked on a desert island and the only companion he had was a basketball. So Wilson and I have had a good day, he’s been navigating and it really is incredible, I could get to the South Pole by positioning him as I explained yesterday without a compass at all.

He has also had another use and that is, towards the day, his skiing gets more sloppy, he stoops more and occasionally he loses his balance and I know at that point we are running out of steam and it’s time to stop. The last hour is the hardest and I can tell you each day the last hour is very, very hard indeed. When we stop at the end of the day we now have a good routine, me in first as I said yesterday. I crawl in on all fours, you have to because the tent is only 3 feet high but even if it was standing head room, I’d still crawl in on all fours, quite exhausted. This evening there is no sun and the tent is very cold inside and I had great difficulty getting warm. Sleep doesn’t come easily because the tent is rattling because the wind is up and I never sleep more than 2 to 3 hours at a time, but for some 14 hours a day I am lying down in the tent because you can’t do anything else, so rest makes up for not necessarily good sleeping.

Life inside this tent is not easy. We are both 6 foot tall. If you can imagine living in an area about the size of a medium sized kitchen table and we have to live under it! Everything that goes on in here, cooking, putting beds out, changing, getting dressed, all occurs in this tiny space. Also bear in mind that Seth and I had never met each other until my arrival in Antarctica just a week ago. The point is you have to make it work and we do. The last 3 days have been very, very hard and I am digging deep. This is the hardest physical thing that I have ever done, but each morning is a new day and overnight recovery helps. So I hope the weather is going to be reasonable tomorrow, we are making great progress and to get another couple of days under our belt will be good.

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Another long day at the office, the weather has been relatively kind today after yesterday’s low temperatures, it is probably mid -20s°C today. We pushed on hard today, we sledged for 7.5 hours with 3 breaks and covered 11 statute miles but it was tough going and I was pretty exhausted at the end of it. We have got into a bit of a routine when we finish because, as I said before, you are either hauling your sled or in your tent because of the cold. We put the tent up in under 10 mins then I go in first and drag all my stuff in and lay my sleeping bag out on the sleeping mat and then just lie there for about 20 or 30 minutes to come to again.

11 miles may not seem like a long way but when you’re wearing skis and hauling an 80lb sledge in these extreme conditions it is hard work. Added to which today at times we had quite challenging sastrugi, which is the sculpting made by the wind and the snow, in rows that were up to 3 or 4 feet deep in places, so it is very, very demanding physically. I realise now that without the hard training that I did for the 6 months before my trip, the endless times in the gym, walking the cliff path and all the help that Amanda gave me I would not have survived this far. It isn’t just a physical endurance either it is a mental one aswell. 7.5 hours either leading or following because there is just the 2 of us, myself and Seth, it isn’t practical to be using an I pod during the day because you’re ears are under 3 or 4 layers, you’ve got 3 pairs of mitts on and trying to get to switch anything on or off is just hopeless so we don’t do it. Neither can we really talk to each other because we look like a pair of astronauts, we don’t have any flesh showing and you can hardly hear each other speak.

I am felling a little bit better today. My altitude sickness is certainly easing but my big issue is eating. I have absolutely no appetite whatsoever. We’re probably burning in the region of 5000 to 6000 calories and at this point in time I’m probably eating less than half of that, somewhere between half and a third. However I am drinking a lot which is a very important thing and I have to rehydrate on a very regular basis. The other element that this is hard work with altitude sickness is the thinness of the air; I spend the whole day just gulping in seemingly empty air, craving for oxygen fulfilment which is never really there. All of these things conspire to make it pretty difficult conditions down here. I was musing today as I was dredging along thinking that when I get home and eventually get back to sea level I will be like Red Rum and win the Grand National without a horse!

I confess to having a companion on this trip, he doesn’t say much but he is a useful fellow and he is very faithful, always by my side and that is my shadow. I am not going mad! Let me explain. We navigate to the Pole by following a compass heading, however it is extremely difficult because there are no landmarks, nothing to reference looking ahead as to where you are, and on the odd occasion that I have gone ahead without a compass I think it wouldn’t be very long before I was walking in circles. This is where my shadow, my companion, becomes very helpful. In the morning if I keep his head at about 3 ‘o’ clock I am absolutely on the right track, by lunch time because obviously the sun is going round behind us, his head needs to be dead ahead in the direction of travel and by the end of the day he is my wingman at about 10 ‘o’ clock and it is amazing how accurate that allows me to certainly head to the Pole. There is only one caveat to that and that is the sun has to shine otherwise you’re in big trouble!

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