Spectre Expedition, signing off!

True to form our final day of the trip proved to be far from easy!

At 5am it was clear and very cold. Within an hour we were ready to go. We began preparing the big kites, but the wind started to increase drastically. Mark & Jean launched the smallest kites and we got what we hoped for, some high speed, solid gold kite footage.

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Just over that hill (and past those crevasses)

We had our welcome storm, our welcome back storm and then last night our goodbye storm. It was pretty mild but for a while progressed beyond bad weather to what could be called a storm.

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Final Irony

Whiteout. After an hour of sun and light wind as we had breakfast, a wall of white approached from the coast and our magnificent scene vanished.

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Last Corner

100km of that was more of the silky smooth, ultra-perfection surface, we have come to know and love. It just couldn’t be better. Today’s top speed was 45.7km and that was without trying to go fast; in fact for most of the day we were trying to go as slowly as possible!

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Yes, yes, yes! 201km!!!

The belief that this was here is what motivated me to make this expedition happen. The fact it took 40 days to find is a mere detail. Well we finally found it wholeheartedly! Almost 500km in 3 days. We can see the Pirrit Hills on the horizon. My goodness we have come far! We are now just 250km from Union glacier!

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Getting there

It doesn’t get any better than perfect, so yesterday was an impossible act to follow. But today was a good attempt. Immediately after setting off, our silky smooth soft surface deteriorated into sastrugi and soon became really quite messy.

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The promised wind…

Finally our wind arrived and took us not, just out of no man’s land, but well past the Thiel mountains.

Type 1 fun! High speed, low drag, for miles across a creamy smooth surface. So much fun and just what the doctor ordered after our extended spell in the doldrums.

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Hot cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner, oh and did I mention sauna and hot tub..

The remote outpost of Union Glacier is an emerald city in my imagination. The food there is genuinely delicious and all you can eat. Currently the thought of the hot cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner is actually making my mouth water. And beer and wine... so close but so far... and seats and tables and heated spaces. Then there are the hot showers fed by giant snow melters. And a set of clean clothes. And a real toilet with a seat that’s not windy or -30C.

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Happy 2018

Happy new year from the doldrums of no man’s land, Antarctica!
We dubbed this region No Man’s land on the map as it is likely very few, if any have passed, here and certainly not traversed by kite.

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Stagnant

Starting to get a bit bored here still tent bound in miserable conditions. Forecast for tomorrow has slipped a bit giving us the fear that we could get marooned out here in no man’s land.

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Standing by

We are once again shut down by wind and cloud. Glad of the rest today. Looks similar for tomorrow and then, dare I say it, our blessed SE wind and sun may return and stay around for a while. Perhaps our ride all the way home?

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Phenomenal phenomenon

We’ve seen few halos around the sun and a couple of sun-dogs but yesterday either somebody slipped something into our porridge or we were blessed to witness an utterly psychedelic, three dimensional display of polar sun refraction and reflection.

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On the move

No report from the team this morning, as it looks like they have been on the move. Setting off from camp 20 at about 1AM UTC it looks like they completed about 100km finishing about 7AM UTC.

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Adventure Cake

“You guys have bitten off a pretty big chunk, but if you make good decisions and conditions hold, you’re in a good position”
Said Tim the ALE operations manager when we asked him what he thought of our plan.

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Kiting Christmas

4am on Christmas morning we were awake and excited to open our kites into the 10knot SE wind.

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White(out) Christmas

Yesterday was our ‘welcome back storm’ in exactly the same spot as our ‘welcome storm’ a month ago. It was far less severe yesterday, but it was total whiteout with visibility less than 5m.

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Weathered

Wow, how a kite and some skis can change an expedition. After ‘man hauling’ up the broken, icy and cravassed Scott Glacier covering anywhere from 8 to 18km a day over 4 days, we launched our kites and the game changed. 2.5 days of kiting got us to our first cache saving us 6-8 days of walking uphill with heavy loads.

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Stage 3 complete!

We have arrived at the place where we were dropped by the plane a little over a month ago. Up on the featureless, deep freeze of the high plateau.

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Solstice delight!

What a difference a day makes! What a way to celebrate the summer / winter solstice. An unusual easterly wind combined with a freshly groomed road just delivered us an early Christmas and may well have cut 10 days off the journey?

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Polar vagabonds

A full on day of upwind kiting across the California plateau. We covered a point to point distance of 46km, and total tack distance of 117km. Strong wind and blue ice pushed us hard, but we fought back with our weapons of choice, high aspect ratio performance kites and World Cup giant slalom race skis. I don’t think what we did today would have possible with any other set up.

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Becalmed

Thanks to all you twitchers out there for the bird identification. Uncle Ed, Mika and Sue agree it is a Southern Polar Skua.
And BTW Uncle Ed - respect on first assent of Spectre! and GrizzlyPeaks! Incredible ascents.

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Man Hauling 101

I hate Leo Houlding! I’m towing my pulk, It’s heavy, 100-120kgs. But it feels much heavier, I’m sure I’m towing it and Leo is just standing there; reading a book, having a drink, or talking to his GoPro, while I drag him and his pulk up the Scott Glacier. Eventually I have to look back and check. It’s sadly not the case, he is working just as hard hauling his own pulk, and the rope between us is slack. I don’t hate Leo.

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A fine farewell to the Trans-Antarctics!

Before I begin - today I saw a bird! I think it was a juvenile Albatross. It came quite close, checking out our kites. The others didn’t see it. I saw a butterfly above 8000m on Everest, a tiny little bird in the door of my tent in a blizzard on the Greenland icecap, a snow petrel on the summit of Ulvetanna and now a huge bird at 86 degrees south, 500miles from the ocean. I take them all as good omens!

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Bye bye Scott, hello plateau…

We won’t be mentioning km in tonight’s report. What we will focus on is the fact that the heavily crevassed and complex Scott Glacier is finally behind us. Grizzly peak is still visible in the distance but we are back at the toe of the Robison Glacier and far kinder terrain lies ahead, for a while.

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Cosy nest!

Our sleeping arrangement consists of one and a half extra thick closed cell foam pads, the half converts into a seat, with a really comfortable Sea to Summit insulated, inflatable mattress.

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Working for it

..but it is awesome to be here in this incredible mountain range so few have visited. There is a limited window in the year and limited opportunity in life to make things like this happen. We are here, and this is happening.

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The long walk home

Today is nicest weather we have experienced during the whole trip. The wind howled all night and we were worried we were in for an awful first day of man hauling. It took a couple of hours to dig out camp and to say thank you and goodbye to The Spectre by which time the weather had become delicious.

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A Chance

Yesterday we woke to sun and no wind; exactly what we hoped for. This time we packed huge amounts of clothes and gloves in preparation for the worst. We walked up to the col leading to North side together, before leaving Mark to explore alone. Jean and I set off up Tower A from the North aspect via the easiest looking line, with an attempt at the Spectre traverse in mind.

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An audience with the Spectre

Today every bone in my body aches, every muscle hurts, but I’m stoked to have climbed the Spectre. Nothing is easy down here! Now the boys are looking at what to climb next.....

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l’edition française

Nous avons eu une chance incroyable avec la météo de pouvoir grimper le Spectre il y a 3 jours, seul jour grimpable, mais l'Antarctique se fout pas mal de nos ambitions de vouloir grimper plus

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Difficult decisions, where to draw the line?

We have travelled so long, and worked so hard, to get here. I have schemed, trained, planned and grafted with so much energy to get us to this magnificent mountain. But we must accept we are at mercy of the weather. Already this far out, and with such large scale objectives we need some stability to make a safe attempt at anything …

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Spectre Summit

With the constant dead-ends and slow progress, we were being drawn into a very committing game of grown-up snakes and ladders.

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Get back to your day Job….

It is a balance between living the story and having time to tell the story. Leo, Jean and Mark are so passionate about their adventure, that they are willing, after a difficult challenging day, to sit down and write at length and sort through photographs to share what they have just experienced.

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Racking up and shovel cheesecake!

It is always good to partner with accomplished chefs! Mark's rest day fresh chicken & asparagus satay followed by shovel cheese cake! Very original and delicious!

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Iridium No-Go

A bit of an odd update today from the team - with the added excitement of a competition..

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Spectre Base Camp

We are in the most spectacular base camp, encompassed in the cirque of the Spectre, surrounded by the Organ Pipe peaks in the Gothic mountains. Indeed it is a Cathedral created by nature to humble those few, whose pilgrimage brings them this far.

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Looking up

We noticed last night that one runner on Jean’s pulk had all but ripped off, likely damaged during the spicy descent to Graves Nunataks as the pulks slid violently sideways, and worsened by the miles of hard iced yesterday.

I think secretly ‘Mr Fix It’ himself, was probably quite excited by the prospect of a real crisis fix, and today took it upon himself to repair it to a better standard than when it began!

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We made it!!! , just…

Relentless! Another full value day and we have completed the first leg of our journey. The spires of the Organ pipe peaks tower above us, the twin face of the Spectre centre stage. One face, inviting, sun -kissed and beautiful. The other, foreboding, hostile and chilling. The same aspect, different weather...

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Scott Glacier

At last a good session! And believe it or not it was 10C in the tent this morning! We started in a familiar strong gusty wind, horribly over-powered on poor surface; not what we’d hoped for, but we had to get moving. Within 5 kms our persistence paid off and for a short while we hit snow-kite perfection!

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Spectre History

Stable high pressure. they said. Cold but sunny, they said. Warm in the tent, they said. Big kites with long lines, they said. 200km a day, they said... Or was it my research that led me to say all that??

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Day Off

Leo, Jean and Mark have been working really hard over the last couple of weeks to provide some great blogs and amazing photos detailing their experiences. Given the cold and windy conditions they have been operating in, together with: a snail-paced satellite modem, frozen laptop and flat batteries

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Graves Nunatuks

“Snow kiting ere is so ‘ard!”, said Jean when we finally found a good spot to make camp. This will have to brief because I’m very tired, but in nutshell.

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Kitemare Times

Patience will be our ally, with the whims of the wind, and hopefully soon the conditions will align for a big day of kiting and we could be at Spectre that same day!

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Frustration and Elation

“Nothing’s easy out here” said our pilot struggling to remove the cap from a fuel drum as we refuelled at Theil ski-way. My word was he right. In fact everything is really hard from going to the toilet to clipping a buckle to turning on your phone! This place is relentlessly demanding.

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On the Road

It took 4 hours for Jean and I to get our stuff reasonably dried out and everything sorted. Mark was ready in half that time but patiently helped out. When we were finally set to go with just the tent to put down, Jean and I both had cold toes. Not good to start without sensation so we worked hard to get the feeling back which means taking off ski boots, massaging toes, putting them under each other arm pits, hot water bottles, and running around

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We’re moving

Yes it worked! 32kms in little over 2 hours on a late night session! It’s 1.30am and we are just bedding down after our fairly epic first session.

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Still here

Still here! The wind was quite alarming through yesterday afternoon and evening. You wouldn’t survive for long outside. But inside this sturdy little tent we are safe and warm. It’s a Hilleberg Keron GT4. A tunnel tent- quick to pitch, roomy for 2, a bit of a squeeze for 3. It didn’t flinch in the 40 knot winds we had last night

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Jean – Tech Punter

Third day at our drop off point, tent bound. Feeling good actually. Conditions aren't good for travelling, so we don't feel guilty to stay in the tent. Inside, despite the frost, we are as comfortable as possible and seeing right now Mark smiling, eating chocolate in his sleeping bag with some music on I can't think we are in a bad situation.

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Antarctic Blizzard

Breakfast update: Leo gave in and got up to make the tea/coffee and breakfast. He reports its cold in the kitchen. Covered in 3cms of spin drift snow and a bit breezy. Jean has just swept the inside walls of the tent with his ‘brosse’ removing a shovel full of snow. Life is good.

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This is not what it said in the brochure

Mark is being heroic, filming outside in the storm. Jean is measuring climatic conditions, though they both keep berating me that “this is not what it said in the brochure”.
I am doing the important task of communicating our predicament with the outside world from the comfort of my sleeping bag...

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Point of no return

It time to leave the past behind and focus on the here and now. Our loved ones will always fill our hearts but must be kept to the back of our minds allowing us to concentrate of the ongoing tasks of cold management, travelling and living as comfortably and healthily as we can out here. My god what have we let ourselves in for!!!!

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Jean – Excited and Terrified..

Our departure is due for tomorrow in the morning, if the weather allows it for sure. I’m excited as I am terrified by the journey to come, we enjoy our last meals in the very comfortable ALE camp. Staff here are amazing. From all nationalities they come for a few months to make possible any kind of tourism down here. Passionate, competent, smiley and available almost any time for a question, a broken buckle or a map briefing they are extremely helpful in finalising our prep. Many thanks to you guys, you rock!

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Captain’s Log

We got up at 7am to another gorgeous day and began semi-frantically trying to deal with all the final preparations to be ready for a potential noon twin otter departure. Midway through Mark filming my master pre-expedition interview which we have been trying to find time to do for a week now Jean came in to the weather Haven tent cabin.

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200kgs of the lightest, strongest kit ever made

Another beautiful day here in this magical Union Glacier community camp. -18C in such sunny weather is much more pleasant than a typical winter’s wet and windy day at home in the lakes.

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Union Glacier Camp

Our first 36 hours on this great white continent have been a roller coaster of conditions and emotions.

Immediately as we stepped out of the big Iluyshin we were struck by fairly brutal 16 knot winds and bad visibility. I’m sure the pilot would not have considered it were it not for his 200+ blue ice landings out here.

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On the Ice !

As I write this we’re in the belly of the big Ilyushin on the 4.5 hour flight south from Punta to ALEs Union Glacier logistics hub and camp in the Ellsworth Mountains, western Antarctica.  A Soviet era heavy cargo plane, it is an awesome machine.

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FAFF-TASTIC

For the best part of the past week Jean, Mark & I have been in Punta Arenas, Chile the most southerly city in the world preparing for our departure even further south to Antarctica. Initially I thought that seemed a long time to add the finishing touches to a trip I have been planning intently all year and in part for at least two before. How wrong I was!

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Fear

“To express oneself honestly not lying to oneself and to express myself honestly, now that my friend is very hard to do ....”

[Bruce Lee]

Last week on the eve of departure for my longest most challenging expedition thus far I hosted an assembly at Freya, my four year old daughter’s school.

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SPECTRE EXPEDITION IS GO!

Spectre (spɛktə), noun – something widely feared as a possible unpleasant or dangerous occurrence.

Although the dictionary definition of this mountain’s name is somewhat ominous, from the first moment I saw a photo of the Spectre in Damien Gildea’s inspirational book “Mountaineering in Antarctica” it quickly jumped to the top of my most wanted list.

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