10 years ago. Day 89 on the move across Antarctica. Started early today. Scrambled up 400 meters of the mountainside hauling the sledge behind me. Panting and puffing. Managed to get up the worst part in one and a half hours, I was rather pleased with myself to be honest.
Got up to the depot I carried up yesterday and loaded it onto the sledge before I continued up the last hill. There the sight I’ve been longing to see for many months awaited. The ocean! Words cannot describe the feeling of relief and joy flowing through me after three months alone in icy nothingness. The view changed radically, from mountainsides and hanging glaciers to a black ocean with many big and small icebergs floating on the surface. I judged some of the icebergs to at least 30 meters high and remembered that only 10 percent of the icebergs are visible over the surface.
I was thrilled with more than the ocean and the icebergs. Far to the north I could see Cape Washington, a distinctly black mountain peak rising up from the ocean. I can also see the Campbell Glacier, a glacier snout reaching eight to ten kilometres out in the ocean and is easily spotted on maps and satellite photos. But what really caught my eye was the 2732 meters high volcano Mt. Melbourne.
I was set back when I realised what the last leg of the trip would be like. In order to get down to the line of descent to the Italian base, I had to traverse a seven kilometer long mountainside. It was far steeper than the map had led me to believe. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because you’re easily deceived when you’re looking at a map in the scale 1 : 250 000. One centimetre on the map equals two and a half kilometres in the terrain and it goes without saying that it’s difficult to see small precipices of 10 to 20 meters. The terrain strongly resembles a bird rock. The cliff itself ascends downwards but the final 100 – 150 meters dives directly into the ocean.
It’s been a strenuous day with a lot of uphill. I’ve been crossing the mountainsides on rock-hard crust and blue ice. Polar Storm has been struggling to get sideways down to the drops and has upturned several times. From time to time it has been very steep and I’ve been carrying my heart in my throat. One mistake, and man and his sledge could tumble over the edge of the drop.
I’ve reconnoitred a lot today to decide which crevice was best suited to go through. Still, I’ve had some beautiful experiences and some fine breaks. The contrasts are enormous. The ocean, the icebergs, Mt. Melbourne rising above all the glaciers and the other mountains. Not to mention the clattering from the helicopters every ten to twenty minutes. Eventually, they saw me and I felt a bit proud. They circled around me before they took off again. They know I’m here. After slowly working my way along the mountainside, I finally caught sight of the base area too. I’m above their airport now, and all that separates me from them is a small downhill tomorrow. Well, to tell the truth it’s a rather long downhill. But that’s for tomorrow.
The day demanded more of me than I had imagined, and I’m tired and worn out. My camp is a gem and the weather is beautiful, although it’s blowing a strong breeze. It’s my last night of solitude. I’m enjoying it up here, with a panoramic view. It’s a mighty feeling, being here. I’ve been listening to ”These are the days” with Van Morrison many times today. It’s become a tradition to play it when I’m at the end of my expeditions. It’s an incredible song. And it gives me goose bumps all over. Tomorrow silence will be broken.
February 3, 2006. Reached the Italian base at 2 am European time, 1 pm local time.
The first downhill to the airstrip was steep and it went fast. Three Twin Otter planes have landed since I set camp yesterday. As I got down, they were busy loading up the plane. I hesitated to approach them. It’s been a while since I’ve been near other people. But I have to cross a glacier to get to the base, and I needed to know if it was passable. Maybe it was just an excuse to see some people. I left the sledge and slowly walked the last 300 meters to the planes. Felt a tingling sensation. Talking to someone who’s actually physically there.
I think his name was Jeff, and he told me the glacier was passable. The only thing, he said, was that there were a few cracks in the middle of the glacier. Cracks, I thought ironically. Been there, done that. I’ll handle it. No problem.
The glacier was icy and the steepest one so far. From above it looked like it dropped straight down into the sea. I wrapped lots of rope around the sledge to easier being able to slow it down. Took my time, no need to stress. Now I knew the trip was a success and I told myself to enjoy the last nights. The cracks were no big deal, but my nerves were worn to their thinnest so I didn’t relax before I was down on the moraines by the sea. The final point was in a large bay with a little sandy beach. Some small icebergs were floating in the bay and I saw the first signs of animal life, six Adelie penguins on the beach. It felt good too see them.
Sat down on a rock. Rolled up a cigarette. Lit it up and sat overlooking the bay and the Campbell Glacier. Mt. Melbourne was hiding behind the glacier. I quietly sat there, enjoying the sight of life on the beach, the sea, the sound of the waves and mighty nature.
”I’m there!”, I said loudly. And again: ”You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?”
Felt proud as I could answer the question: ”Yes, I can! Here you are, on the beach of Terra Nova Bay, with the Pacific to the north. 90 days and 4804 kilometres ago you were standing at the Russian NOVO-station and had the Atlantic Ocean to your north. Great job, Rune!”
The time spent on this journey is something to be proud of. Previous expeditions have used from 100 to 105 days on distances that were 1000 – 2000 kilometres shorter. I let a huge smile broaden my face and exhaled. Tomorrow I wouldn’t have to worry about what lay ahead. For a while, anyway.