Dennis reviews his Incredible 520 mile Journey
I know that many of you will have learned that I am now back home following my trip of a life time across Antarctica from the Coast to the South Pole through 750 miles of frozen wastes.
It was an exhilarating, exciting, exhausting and ultimately over whelming challenge that was nevertheless one of the most enjoyable and physically satisfying yet draining experiences I can ever have imagined. I would like to thank all of you who followed my expedition blog. I cannot tell you how much help your messages and support have been over the last 3 months. It was a major incentive knowing so many of you were following my blogs and keeping in touch with Sue. Messages were passed to me in Antarctica from our base camp and were often received at times when I needed a boost to help me on my way.
I thought you might like an account of my journey which I have put together here from my detailed diary notes. Now I am home I will be putting together a complete account ready for various groups, scouts schools and Fuellers, who have kindly shown an interest in a presentation.
The expedition started on schedule with our six member team flying from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier on the coast of Antarctica on November 22nd 2011 .
On Nov. 25th we were flown on to Hercules Inlet to start our 750 mile trek.
The first week went the way we were planning. By day 7 we were covering 19 kilometres per day and were planning to increase this to 22 km and on up to 25 km by the following week. Unfortunately Bob went down with a very bad cold which made it hard for him to walk and breathe properly. Ronny suffered severe leg cramps on day 8 and in the end requested a medical evacuation on day 9 (Dec 3rd 2011)
We pressed on now reduced to 5 team members. Bob was sleeping in a tent on his own which became known in the team as the isolation tent. As Bob became fitter and stronger then Bryony (BB) went down with the same bug and we switched her to the isolation tent. Despite this the team increased our daily distances to between 23 & 25 km per day.
By now we were 14 days into our trip and I had taken over some of the navigating duties on certain days to give Lisa and Oscar, our sister and brother team guides, a break. I found this duty fascinatating and enjoyable.
On day 17 (11 Dec 2011) we reached our first resupply cache which had been dropped off by a Twin Otter plane some days before. It was still possible to see the tracks of the aircrafts skis in the snow, the first sign of any other life since Ronny was flown out.
Day 18 was a peculiar day for me. My energy levels dropped dramatically as if somebody was turning all the switches off in my body. I felt ill and very weak. I was concerned that I had caught the same bug as BB and Bob but over the next few days it became apparent it was something else possibly more serious that was affecting me. We called the doctor back at base camp on our emergency satellite phone. She felt this was possibly to do with dry air (Antarctica is the highest, coldest and driest continent on the planet) and lack of oxygen due to the gain in height.
In the end it was agreed with the doctors that it was probably a viral infection and I started antibiotics which were issued to the team before we left. My breathing had deteriorated to the extent I couldn’t sleep at night and was struggling in the daytime with all the exertion of pulling my pulk.
By day 30 (24 Dec 2011)and 4 days later I was feeling better and much stronger. We had a difficult climb this day which was rewarded when we got to the ice ridge with a wonderful view of the Thiel Mountain range.
Day 31 was Christmas Day at the end of which we reached our 2nd resupply containing all our Christmas goodies after the longest distance of the trek so far. We felt a sense of achievement and were looked forward to Boxing Day which we decided would be a rest day.
Day 33 (27 Dec 2011) and heavier pulks. Following a team talk we decided unanimously to take the challenging, scenic glacier route up and over the Thiel Mountains and had the hardest days climbing on the trip so far. The glacier was incredible with much of it being bare backed meaning that the snow on the surface had blown off revealing the deep blue ice which was extremely difficult to ski over. The pulks took on a life of their own and would slide off in all different directions, on skis 100% concentration was required to ensure you stayed on your feet and avoided some of the man size crevasses that were hidden below some of the snow covered sections of the glacier.
We kept on going and got over the ridge of the Glacier to more fantastic views of the Thiel Mountain Range spread out for 75 miles or more into the distance. This was where we camped the night, one of our most picturesque sites of the whole trip.
For the next 6 days my strength began steadily to return. I spoke to Sue on New Year’s Day (Day 38) telling her I hoped to get back to full fitness in a day or two. Unfortunately nothing was further from the truth and on day 39 (2 Jan 2012) I developed a major breathing problem. I immediately put myself on a 2nd course of antibiotics however I did not improve and could not sleep for more than an hour or so at night before waking gasping for air.
It was finally agreed that on day 45 (8 Jan 2012) a doctor would fly out to check me out. I took over an hour to get dressed that morning. I hooked up my pulks outside the tents and tried to pull them around the 2 tent camp site. I couldn’t go more than 10 paces without stopping to gulp in air . I realised it was game over and that with deep regret I was going to have to pull out of the expedition This is the first time I have ever had to give up on anything in my life.
After 45 days on the ice, 27 of them fighting sickness and a very emotional goodbye to the team I was flown out. Much to my surprise the flight was headed on to the South Pole I was able to take part in a guided tour of the Scott Amundsen research station a surreal moment following 45 days on the ice. I was also able to get some pictures at the Ceremonial and Geographic Poles.
We returned by DC3 to Union Glacier which is much lower in altitude. This flight took 4 hours 3 of them over the route we had skied and I realised how far we had gone. In 45 days I had skied 520 miles pulling 2 pulks most of the time and had climbed to over 8,000’ above sea level. When we returned to Union Glacier a large meal was laid on despite it being 1am in the morning our time. At the lower altitude I felt much better the doctors said my condition was altitude sickness (hypoxia) brought on at lower altitude than expected due to my viral infection. They thought it was exceptional I had managed to carry on for so long. To have continued would have jeopardised my long term health.
I spent 2 more days at Union Glacier and then caught the flight back to Punta Arenas. I had my first shower for 2 months and for the first time saw my body in a mirror. What I saw shocked me as I had lost 2.5 stone in weight some of which was muscle tone. I was now down to 11 stone. My waistline has reduced to 32” and on my return to the UK I have had to buy new trousers as none of mine would stay up.
All this has been a wonderful experience tinged with sadness at the end but one I will never regret doing although I will always know I have unfinished business in Antarctica.
In conclusion I will, once again thank you for all your support .