So you are thinking of signing up to ski to the South Pole are you. But you are wondering, what is a typical day like on an expedition to the South Pole. Well, have you ever seen the movie Groundhog Day?
Routine is critical on a South Pole expedition. Routine creates efficiencies and helps to ensure nothing gets missed. The first few days are spent figuring out systems and roles and as we all fall into the expedition life we take on roles and responsibilities that we will keep for much of the expedition.
With a group of 3-4 people you will have 2 tents that will be your home for the expedition. You may or may not switch tent partners part way through the trip.
Each morning begins around 6am when one person in each tent wakes up and starts the stove. Each day we need to melt enough snow to generate 5-6 litres of water per person. This takes hours at the stove. This water is used for drinking through the day and for hydrating our freeze-dried food for meals.
As the one partner starts to make water the other starts to get dressed for the day and to pack up their gear. At some point the stove attendant will also start to pack up their sleeping bag and gear from the night and begin to put on layers of socks, long underwear, sunscreen, hats, gloves and wind layers. Once the water is ready, we make our breakfast and a hot drink and relax for a few minutes.
After breakfast we pack up the rest of our gear and put on our warmest layers and large down parka. We exit the tent making sure we have all possessions in hand as the strong and constant wind will whip away forever anything left unattended.
We open our sled bags and store our items inside. We then grab the shovel to start to dig out the tent and anything that was buried overnight. We carefully take the tent down to make sure it is not damaged in the process and to make sure it does not blow away and no parts are lost. The tent too is packed away inside our sleds.
Once camp is all packed up we take off our heavy parka, store it away for safety, and then put on our pulling harness and skis and clip into our tow straps on the sled. This is about 8am. We are now prepared for 8-10 hours of pulling.
We will travel in a single file taking turns at the lead. We will travel for 60 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. Each person will take a turn at being in the lead position as this is the hardest role as the leader is navigating, setting the pace, breaking trail, and keeping track of time. After 60 minutes we stop for ten minutes to fuel up and to adjust any equipment or clothing necessary. After two hours in the lead the leader will take the spot at the end of the line and the number two person will take the lead. We will not stop for an extended lunch as it is just too cold to do so. It is best to keep moving and have many short breaks through the day.
After we have covered enough distance for the day we will look for a reasonably flat spot to make camp. We will work together as a team to set up and secure the tents against the constant Antarctic winds. Once the tents are up we will crawl inside to warm up, rest and begin the process of melting water for drinks and dinner. By about 9pm all the work is done and you have earned a rest in your warm sleeping bag.
After a fitful sleep we wake the next morning and do it all again. For our Last Degree South Pole expedition we will do this for 8-10 days. For a full ski from the coast such as what I did in 2016 you will do this for 45-55 days and it is not always as entertaining as the movie Groundhog Day.