Trekking down into the ice field, it becomes extremely slippery and I have to slow considerably to maintain my balance. The winds are also building up dramatically and often I have to stop and push the ski stick in deeply to avoid being blown over. I am heading straight into the sun, so keep my head covered as much as possible and look down to avoid the intense rays.
Although the ice field seems to go on forever, eventually I see in the far distance the outlines of the three aircraft and then fairly soon afterwards the camp itself. I look back at the mountains but they seem much nearer than the camp and obviously I’ve still got far to go. I think about radioing for a pick-up but quickly decide against it. I don’t want to cause anyone to think twice about letting me go off on my own another time. It’s better if I show I can manage.
Antarctica Travel Information Photo Gallery
After trekking a while longer I see a moving shadow on the ice ahead, gradually becoming larger and it turns out to be a ski-doo. The amazing Art once again has come looking for me to see if I would like a lift. Would I! He brings me all the way in right to my tent. It is very lucky for me, as by now the wind has reached blizzard proportions and the whole camp is already half-buried. The sign with the name Byrd has completely vanished and I have almost to dig my way through to find the tent flap. In case they are starting to worry I use the radio to tell Duncan and Rachel that I’ve returned safely but naturally Art’s already done so.
Resting only for a short while, I then go over to the cook tent, Robert Swan is there on his own and we can chat more quietly. He is an extraordinary character and has wonderful ideas and is also doing such a lot to help underprivileged children. He writes in my notebook, ‘Excellent to see you South on 1 January on return from the Heart of Antarctica. I salute you. Robert Swan.’ From one such as him that’s a tribute indeed! He even agrees to sponsor me for my Red Cross fund-raising. I am feeling more than a little down however. The weather is so bad that it’s looking even more doubtful there will be any chance of going to the Pole tomorrow and who knows when it might improve subsequently. In his inimitable fashion Robert bucks me up, we have some drinks to toast Britain and each other, and he explains that the weather can change in almost an instant. As Michael Palin of Monty Python fame (later to travel to the Antarctic himself) would say, ‘Always look on the bright side of life.’ They are both right of course and my own mood quickly brightens; it’s definitely time for more music.
After another sumptuous dinner prepared by the inventive Fran and Ros (perhaps they could have a TV series called Two Snow Women), amazingly the weather suddenly improves and Max actually starts talking of the possibility of going tomorrow, 2 January. That would be 3 January, New Zealand time, at the Pole. I can hardly countenance it but I certainly don’t intend to look a gift horse in the mouth and accept his change of attitude with alacrity. I spend the next hour with Max discussing the arrangements and what we can expect. Ian is not convinced and would prefer to wait for what the next day brings but I refuse to allow the possibility of not going to be discussed and I try to make it a fait accompli. Outside that is, inside I bury my own doubts into a deep, hidden recess.
Duncan Haigh gives me the visitors book to sign. I read the names of many explorers who have been here before me; including the versatile adventurer Ranulph Fiennes, the mountaineer Rob Hall who led me in Irian Jaya, the explorer David Hempleman-Adams, Norman Vaughan who signed it when he revisited the Antarctic in 1993. That last visit by Vaughan was when the DC6 crashed and all the huskies escaped. There are so many fascinating entries and signatures in this book but I tell Duncan that I would prefer to sign after I’ve reached the South Pole. He understands.
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