So what does one take for a 2-month, 1000km trek to the South Pole. Well, one packs very carefully as every item you pack is extra weight you need to pull that 1000km’s.
Since our expedition is unsupported we will not have any re-supply along the way and everything we will need for the entire journey we will start with. This means our sleds will weigh well over 200lbs at the start. The majority of that weight will be food and fuel so we need to minimize the additional weight added through our clothing, tents, sleeping system, cameras and other items.
In this post I will attempt to provide you with a relatively complete picture of what we will take with us. I will look at group gear first and then build on that with personal items and communications.
As a group we will each have a sled. Some groups use a large plastic children’s play sled and some use high tech Kevlar and fiberglass creations. We will be using a new sled design by Ice Trek sleds. This high tech plastic sled is designed to be strong, lightweight and to have low friction slide properties. All our gear will be placed inside this sled, hooked to a harness and pulled.
The basic group gear consists of food, fuel, tents, stoves, pots, safety gear, and communications equipment. We will be using tents specially designed to be strong and easy to erect and have lots of inside space. These will be our homes for 45-50 days. We will have 2 tents with 2 people per tent. When not skiing we will be inside the tents cooking or sleeping.
Cooking will be done on small light weight camp stoves. All our water is produced from melting snow and ice. When you combine drinking water, water for meals, and cleaning we will need to produce about 8-10 liters of water per person per day. This is 32-40 liters and will consume a huge amount of time.
Food will be mostly of the freeze dried and dehydrated type. We will supplement this with high caloric additions such as nuts, butter, olive oil and chocolate. We will burn around 9000 calories per day and our food plan will provide about 4000 calories per day. Although this deficit does not sound smart we need to calculate the balance point between food to bring and calories needed. If we bring more food, the pull weight is higher and we will burn more calories. The combination we are taking is the optimum balance that will allow us to make it to the Pole, albeit a little slimmer, without dragging excess weight and while having enough energy to accomplish the job.
Each person will then bring their own clothing and gear supplies that will keep them safe and comfortable for the duration of the trip.
Starting from the feet up; I will be using Fischer E99 Easy Skin skis. These are a very sturdy cross country ski design with a metal edge for added grip on hard pack surfaces. The Easy Skin ski has a removable grip skin in the kick area. This grip skin will allow me to have traction on the hard packed snow surfaces of Antarctica and yet still have some glide on the ski. However, early in the trip when the loads are heavy and we have more uphill ground to cover I will put on a full tip-to-tail skin that will provide maximum traction, but little glide.
My boots are a custom boot that I used on the North Pole expedition with True Patriot Love (TPL). These boots are basically like an average winter boot on steroids. The boot is very lightweight, with high insulation qualities. The sole is very thick and insulated as this is where the majority of the cold seeps into the foot.
These boots are paired with a special binding designed by Canadian Polar legend Richard Weber. Richard has used these bindings on many South and North pole expeditions and these are the same bindings I used when I was guiding the TPL group to the North Pole with Richard. These strong metal bindings have a long hinged foot plate and the boot is held in place with a custom binding similar to a snowboard binding. The binding is a little heavy, but it is virtually indestructible.
I will be using a carbon/kevlar fiber pole by Norwegian company Asnes. This pole is strong and light weight and will give me extra pulling power on the ice.
During the ski days I will wear one or two pair of long underwear bottoms and my Gore-Tex pants. There is a condition called “polar thigh” caused by the constant cold wind blowing on the thighs. This produces bruising and blisters that can develop into puss filled sores. To help avoid this I will have an additional long underwear layer that will come down to my knees providing greater protection on really cold and windy days. I will have 4 pair of underwear so that will give me a clean pair every 12-14 days.
On my upper body I will have a two layer long underwear system again with a vest to add when cold. On top of this I have a special jacket designed by Klattermusen that is a tight weave cotton. Cotton breathes better than Gore-Tex and I do not need to worry about rain on this trip. This jacket is designed to be long and comes down past mid-thigh. This is again to provide extra protection for my legs. It even has a crotch strap that can be put on in really extreme wind to prevent the jacket from blowing up in the wind.
I have several glove combinations depending upon the conditions, temperature, wind, and task at hand. I have really warm extreme mitts for the really cold times and thin gloves with good dexterity for tasks around camp.
On my head I have several neck gaiter, balaclava, hat and hood combinations again dependent upon the conditions. I will have a Cold Avenger face mask that is specially designed for extreme cold and provides a special breathing apparatus that warms the incoming air and that does not build ice across your face.
I will have glacier glasses and goggles and will select one over the other based on sun and wind conditions. On the goggles I will sew an additional fleece bib of sorts that will hang down over my face and provide additional protection from the wind. Frostbite is a very real and potentially trip ending injury so we must do everything we can to avoid it. Our faces, hands and feet are the most susceptible to frostbite.
For sleeping I have a full-length foam pad and a light weight therm-a-rest on top of that. I will use my Mountain Hardware -40 Ghost sleeping bag to keep me warm while I sleep. There will be no need for a headlamp as we will have 24 hours of sunlight. This does make it challenging to sleep however.
On top of this I will have various stuff sacks for storage and organization, my iPod, a camera, a GoPro camera, some tasty snacks, toiletries (only the basics), and a small first aid kit consisting mostly of anti-inflammatories, pain killers and sleeping pills.
All this will be placed in my sled and dragged for 8-10 hours each day until we reach the South Pole 1000km from our start point. Sound like fun?