I set off at a fast pace, eager to put some distance between me and the camp. In a way I’m surprised how easily they let me go. But it’s the way that climbers and explorers behave, one to another; a person is allowed to take any chance he or she decides is acceptable, provided it is not putting anyone else at risk. Art catches up with me on the ski-doo and offers me a lift to the edge of the mountains well beyond the airstrip. After a moment’s hesitation I accept, he’s really an exceptional man. It will also save well over an hour’s laborious trekking across the very slippery ice field and will save me a lot of energy. Zen is explained as being effortless but requiring enormous effort and any way to conserve energy enables you to go that little bit further. Anyhow I enjoy being in Art’s company as he never intrudes and is just there. You can talk to him or not, either way he’s happy. He is so easy to be with he makes me keen to visit his Alaskan retreat. His own philosophy must imbue the place with a deep meaning and create a positive purpose which can only help one to understand that little bit more. That’s really all most of us can or should ask for in life. The ski-doo trip takes just under 20 minutes. Art doesn’t ever race and likes to feel the ice just below him and I am happy to go at his speed. He drops me at the beginning of the ice ridge, wishes me well, turns around and drives off immediately without a backward glance. The Antarctic quickly swallows him up as he crosses over a ridge and is soon out of sight.
I am alone. For a brief moment it is almost frightening. I feel as if I am the only man in the world, no one else left. It feels as if I could head off in any direction and never be seen again. Whatever the emotions I am experiencing I allow them to run over and through me. I may never be this alone again and I want to feel what that means. Being lost in the jungle, as I have been, is not the same. At least there you see and smell trees and plants, swaying and rustling and the sounds of other animals, whether welcome or not. Here there is nothing, no sense of smell, not the tiniest creature to be aware of. It feels beautiful, immensely so, but at the same time it is barren, desolate, abandoned even. What would it really be like to be the last man alive? I can remember the protest marches against the nuclear bomb; it was the fear of it causing the world to die that made so many people feel they must dedicate their lives to protesting against the manufacture of atomic weapons. Perhaps the world leaders should hold their disarmament conferences in Antarctica.
Antarctica Travel Info Photo Gallery
Whilst thinking these wild and rather gloomy thoughts, my legs have not stood still. They have taken me, almost of their own accord, up the first rock section. Now they are battling across a jagged shale field that causes me to slip and slide in all directions. I have to concentrate to stay upright and I force my mind to focus on the heavy work ahead. I use the ski stick to good advantage and manage to make good progress and fairly quickly reach the top of the first ridge. There are plenty to go but first I reward myself with a banana, folding the skin inside my pack to bring back. It proves impossible to wear my backpack over my very thick parka, so I carry the pack under my arm as I continue upwards.
Despite the initial intense coldness my exertions soon cause me to heat up and I have to stop and take off my jersey and warm shirt. To anyone watching it would certainly look very strange to see a man undressing on a mountainside in the Antarctic. There are alternate steep and easier sections and I have climbed some way before I need to stop for a breather. I’m still finding the shale areas difficult and head off diagonally to try and find more solid rock to climb. I hit an icy patch and start to slip backwards and only manage to arrest my slide by digging my fingers hard into the ice on the slope. I scramble higher over a section littered with large rocks and head for the next snow line.
It’s tough climbing and I need to settle into my rhythm to maintain a regular pace. The way of the experienced climber is not to race upwards then continually pause, but to keep going steadily, even if only slowly. Previously I had told Art that I might be back at camp by about 4 p.m., but I am enjoying it so much that I want to keep climbing on further. I stop for another sandwich and drink some of the hot water. I had forgotten the tea bags but I’m happy with just the water. The thermos is big and heavy but it is worth the effort. In these temperatures water starts to cool down rapidly but it doesn’t matter. In this rarefied atmosphere it still feels like I am feasting. I am isolated from any living soul and have only myself to worry about. I want to express my feelings and try a shout, then a burst of song but quickly quieten down as I remember the ice and snow could be unstable and a loud sound could trigger an avalanche. I think I could easily keep going for many more hours but realise I’d then have to travel all the way back. It’s probably wiser to turn around, whilst I am still feeling fresh enough for it not to become a struggle. Also I mustn’t risk the mists and winds suddenly whipping up, making it impossible to find my way.
I’ve made the right decision. Climbing down is not at all easy. My feet slip constantly and without the ski stick to balance me it would be much more difficult. I cannot see the camp at all as it has become quite misty but I remember the basic direction, although I am all too aware it would be all too easy to veer slightly off course and trek to either side and miss it altogether. This is a place where all ways lead north and a compass would not be of use. That’s another reason why pilots out here will only fly when there is reasonable visibility and they don’t have to rely on instruments even if the plane is equipped with the GPS system of navigation. It’s another reason why the camp is situated in a broad plateau, so can be usually seen easily from the air, provided it’s clear enough.