Spectre Expedition, signing off!

Spectre Expedition, signing off!

Date = 10/1/2018
Day 50 (Expedition) Day 57 (Antarctica)
Location = UNION GLACIER !!!
Coordinates  - S79 45.712, W82 51.383’
Altitude = 715m
Temperature =  -15C
Wind speed / direction = 5-20 S.
Windchill = - 20C
Distance travelled = 48km
Distance remaining = 0km

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.

We blasted 20km in less than hour into the end of the Horseshoe valley. A jaw of jagged peaks, almost closing the path ahead but for a series of cols between the tooth like peaks. We couldn’t tell, from the line on our GPS, which col we were aiming for as we left the plateau terrain and entered the mountains.

Almost immediately the wind matched the terrain. Plateau wind is good for kiting but Mountain is not. Turbulent, gusty and temperamental, oh and uphill.

We were becalmed for half an hour. We discussed walking the last 5km to the col, still pulling 120kg in 10cm of soft snow. We unanimously decided to wait and pounce on any gust of wind. We changed kites and waited, frustrated!

It took 3 hours to cover 3kms before somebody flicked the switch and the wind turned on and we climbed the last steep section to the col in 10mins. It was magnificent; the peaks of Horseshoe valley behind, and the great Plateau beyond. In front, the snaking Henderson glacier, flanked by the painted rocky faces of sculpted mountains, spilled down into the vastness of the Ronnie Ice shelf.

The wind funnelled through the col, and distracted by the glorious vista, I crashed my kite resulting in a double bow tie. This is not good, in a steep windy col with a hugely overpowered massive kite wing. Normally you would anchor the kite and walk to it to untie the mess. That is mighty difficult in a precarious place with so much wind.

Thankfully over the course of the last 50 days & 1000miles I have become extremely proficient at untangling kites with the control bar, mainly as I have had much practice! I was quite pleased with myself for managing to intentionally untie the double bow and launch the kite again.

About 500m later I caught up with the guys, and as we crested the col, beginning to descend the wind went nuts, and we immediately all released our kites onto their safety lines, resulting in an epic kite tangle.

At the same time, Jean broke his binding toe piece, 20km from the almost visible finish line. We popped up the tent and before Mark and I had finished our cheese and biscuits, Jean had located the spare and replaced the broken unit.

After lunch Mark, who spent years as a ski patroller, gave me a quick briefing on how to ski downhill with a litter; or a heavy pulk. I was impressed how well it worked and we descended 6km of blue/red run terrain with refreshingly little difficulty. As it flattened out we launched our mid-size kites and began once again battling with erratic mountain air flows.

Jean and Leo demonstrating their nation's favourite ski stances :-)

Once again after a frustrating hour it came good and we blasted the last few kilometres of the glacier and crucially up the short steep hill to the Henderson col leading to Union glacier. Well Jean and I did, Mark ‘kite-mared’ just below the crest and had to walk the last bit.

Meanwhile, Jean and I overlooked our final destination, the ALE Union glacier camp, suddenly visible 6km distant. We regrouped, packed the kites and skied the last 100m to the glacier.

The dangerously crevassed area we were concerned about was a non-issue thanks to the snowmobile track and flags marked by ALE for their Antarctic marathon event a few weeks ago.

With the end in sight, a good, hard surface and no wind; we got the message, popped the skins on the GS skis and began the victory march. It was at least 15C warmer than the morning and we were melting.

A twin otter came in to land and spotted us. It circled us and gave us wing wave before landing. 10 minutes later, Fred arrived on a snowmobile. With just 2kms to go, we decided to pass off the pulks and skate without weight to the end.

A bunch of people came out to give us a warm welcome.

And it suddenly it was done. The toils and troubles, and wonder and joy, of the Spectre Expedition, immediately confined to memory.

50 days self-supported in the deep field - 1600km by kite, less than 100km man-hauling. And we climbed the Spectre.

Best of all Jean, Mark and I had a ball out there at the end of the Earth. It was really very tough, especially the first 20 days. We are a pretty seasoned crew and we pretty much maxed at the start.

But we kept enough in reserve not only to stay safe but to do everything we set out to do, and to do so smiling.

There are lots of people I’d like to thank: supporters, family, friends, followers... but I’ll spare you just for now.

And without the generous support of sponsors and trust donations, this adventure would never have happened - investing and backing something so uncertain - we hope our efforts have met your expectations.

I must however say:

Jean, Mark - thanks, that was awesome. I couldn’t imagine a better pair of partners, nor a more challenging adventure. The reason we are here safe and successful is because we formed a fantastic team and had a massive laugh overcoming at times overwhelming obstacles.

You are a pair of winners.

OK, so I’d also like to thank all you out there for reading this and following us. I hope you enjoyed the ride and we were able to share something of this savage Antarctic wonderland. We have shot some amazing footage which we will release as a film in the autumn.  We’ll post some high res imagery and a few video tasters soon. Please keep your eyes peeled for updates.

It’s been a lot of effort keeping this blog going, and your comments have been both motivating and inspiring – thank you…

So that’s it folks!!!

Leo Houlding aka Captain Faff, Spectre Expedition, signing off.

Just over that hill (and past those crevasses)

Just over that hill (and past those crevasses)

Date = 8/1/2018
Day 48 (Expedition) Day 55 (Antarctica)
Location = Horse Shoe valley
Coordinates  - S80 2.924’, W82 8.526’
Altitude = 1032m
Temperature =  -15C
Wind speed / direction = 5-10 S. white out
Windchill = - 20C
Distance travelled = 31km
Distance remaining = 59km

Will this be the last time I wake to this view?

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.

40 hours in the tent and it improved slightly. We decided to move and by the time we were set, the wind dropped to zero! But we were patient and managed 3km before the kites withered. Then 9km. Then another 19km. So after 3 hours chilled kiting we are 31km closer.

We have another 25km on the flat, then we enter a high mountain cirque and go over a col and down a glacier. Technical terrain and given our lack of easy experiences out here, we are prepared for the very final stage of our journey to be complex and time consuming. But praying that it’ll be straightforward and fast! Just so long as we don’t have my more crevasse incidents, we’ll be happy.

Some sun and a 10knot southerly is our final request. Dare I say this maybe our last night in the wilderness? No I daren’t! 59km through the mountains with 100kg is 2 solid days of hard walking, so surely with kite power we can be there by Wednesday?  No! Don’t say it.

Antarctica has a wicked sense of humour and irony…


Final Irony

Final Irony

Date = 7/1/2018
Day 47 (Expedition) Day 54 (Antarctica)
Location = Horse Shoe valley
Coordinates  - S80 16.485’, W81 14.171’
Altitude = 800m
Temperature =  -15C
Wind speed / direction = 0-5 S. white out
Windchill = - 18C
Distance travelled = 0km
Distance remaining = 90km

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.

We managed to charge enough camera batteries overnight to be ready to shoot an amazing polar kite sequence. We have a plan and are all set to execute and ride home to glory.

But we can’t see anything. At all, like not even the ground. And there is no wind!

Looks like she’s not finished with us yet! 90km to go, and we are not going anywhere. The forecast is for a couple of days of this.

It has lifted a little and we probably could travel at least some of the way. But we have to go over a mountain col and down the crevassed Henderson glacier to reach Union and for that we will need good visibility.

And we’re super keen to try to capture some of the high speed kite magic on film properly, to be able to share with you all what it’s like to be here doing this. It’s awesome, it feels awesome, and we want to make it look as awesome as it is, to give you a feel for it.

There is no need to sprint blindly for the finish. A few more days out here, away from the other 7.6 billion humans gives us some time to rest, relax and recover before re-entry into reality.


Last Corner

Last Corner

Date = 6/1/2018
Day 46 (Expedition) Day 53 (Antarctica)
Location = Horse Shoe valley
Coordinates  - S80 16.485’, W81 14.171’
Altitude = 800m
Temperature =  -12C
Wind speed / direction = 15-25 knot S
Windchill = - 20C
Distance travelled = 160km
Distance remaining = 90km

The team turning the corner into Horse Shoe Valley

What a day! This morning we did a solid 5 hours session with no break, covering 135km massively overpowered on our Hyperlink 12m kites (with 37.5m lines a modification which completely changed the wing)

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!


(Footage from the training mission in Greenland)

We had to abort in 25+knot winds, just as we reached the three sail peaks, the entrance to the horse shoe valley and the true home straight of our expedition.

We set up the tent and then a couple of hours later grabbed another 25kms, taking us further into the valley.

Tomorrow, surrounded by stunning mountains, we will try and shoot some more imagery, and then we are out of here!!


Yes, yes, yes! 201km!!!

Yes, yes, yes! 201km!!!

Date = 5/1/2018
Day 45 (Expedition) Day 52 (Antarctica)
Location = Thiel plateau
Coordinates  - S81 38.123’, W80 06.266’
Altitude = 782m
Temperature =  -15C
Wind speed / direction = 15-20 knot S
Windchill = - 20C
Distance travelled = 201km
Distance remaining = 250km

We started off in nasty rock hard sastrugi thinking it was going to be a tough day. We battled through and the hit another run of silky smooth perfection. We switched to our beloved big 15m Ozone Chrono’s and the kms started to die. We kited over 5 hours covering 100km+ without stopping! With a 20knot of wind, landing a high aspect ratio 15m kite is no mean feat so we just kept going and kept looping.

We stopped after 160km, and after a drink, we decided to go for one more session, and we are so glad we did. Relaxed, fully powered, perfect surface, glorious sun; Yes, yes, yes!

Nearly 40km an hour, with 100kgs+, whooping all the way - so, so, good.

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!

We have another 130km across the ice cap and then we will be treated to mountain views as traverse the horse shoe valley.  The last 25km is over a mountain pass and down a glacier. It could take a whole day if we can’t kite.

Mark satisfied with his day's work

So suddenly the flashes of the checkered flag in the distance! No complacency, we are not there yet! I had a terrible high speed crash today, worst of the trip. Not exactly sure what happened, but suddenly I was 6 metres in the air hurtling forward at 20kmph. Mark got full visuals and tells me my 196cm long skis were wind-milling. I ‘landed’ it, but my skis came off, and I cratered hard, narrowly missed by the speeding pulk behind me! Thankfully it was a soft surface. I was winded, and my unzipped down suit was full of snow, but I walked.

An incident like that on the sastrugi would not end well. One second, that’s all it takes. We’ve been out here pushing hard and getting hammered for 45 days and just one second can decide how it ends!

So we must be safe and steady for the final phase of the final phase, and of course rip as fast as we possibly can, with wide eyes and giant grins all the way.


Getting there

Getting there

Date = 4/1/2018
Day 44 (Expedition) Day 51 (Antarctica)
Location = Thiel plateau
Coordinates  - S83 25.875’, W80 21.200’
Altitude = 1650m
Temperature =  -14C
Wind speed / direction = 15-20 knot SSE
Windchill = - 23C
Distance travelled = 110km
Distance remaining = 450km

Today's progress

[Spectre Admin] The charging connector on Iridium Go (Internet modem) has finally gone.  The team have a spare battery that they are hoping will last them until their arrival at Union Glacier.  So hopefully they can still send daily reports, but unfortunately without the photos.


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.

We started off on our medium 12m kites with 25m lines. Trying to loop the kite downwind is difficult as it soon crashes into the ground because of the short lines, so Jean is busy modifying line sets to optimise performance for tomorrow.

The wind eased and we switched to the big 15m Chrono’s on 65m lines. Right on cue the surface smoothed up and we enjoyed a relaxed final few miles before she dropped to zero.

Today the sequins were shimmering in the sky - Ice crystals on the wind, sparkling like glitter catching the sun.

We are happy to be making meaningful progress on a fun ride. There is no rush for this to be over , but at the same time I can almost taste the fresh food and beer waiting for us 420km away in Union Glacier.

Our time out from that other world, from our other lives, is drawing to a close. Post-Spectre Exped thoughts are starting to enter my mind for the first time in months, years even. There’ll be a massive amount of follow up to deal with, but I’m thinking more about fun activities and micro adventures at home with the kids.

But for now, and the foreseeable future, we must stay focused on this mega-adventure. A momentary lapse of concentration is all it takes whilst kiting to drastically change the situation. Especially when travelling at the kind of speeds we’re getting used to.

So, steady as she goes and who knows, maybe there be beers and medals before the end of next week?

The promised wind...

The promised wind...

Date = 3/1/2018
Day 43 (Expedition) Day 50 (Antarctica)
Location = Thieil plateau
Coordinates  - S84 24.895’, W80 35.513’
Altitude = 1920m
Temperature =  -14C
Wind speed / direction = 15-20 knot SSE
Windchill = - 24C
Distance travelled = 180km (plus 55km from 02/01/18)
Distance remaining = 560km

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.

We’ve been searching for this blooming trade wind for 43 days and finally we found it. We have done precious little downwind kiting on this trip, so much so, I had forgotten how easy and relaxed it is, even when massively overpowered.

Today was awesome: perfect sun, surface and finally WIND! We covered 180km with a top speed of 40kmph and an average of 27kmph, pulling 120kgs each, now that’s what I’m talking about!!!

A few more days like that and we’re out of here. We were cruising towards 200km until I lost concentration for a second and ‘bow tied’ my kite. Still on our biggest 15m kites the wind must’ve built to 20knots. A big bow tied kite in a 20 knot wind is game over. We could’ve downsized and continued but it’s been so much fun to make some really meaningful progress, we stopped early with another big day tomorrow in mind.

At one point today, the wind was blowing channels of snow crystals across the textured ground.  Then, with the sun reflecting off these crystals, it created the most splendid effect of riding over a river of dancing jewels. It was so beautiful, travelling at downhill biking speed with a carpet of sequins flowing under foot.

Looping the big kite, downwind on extra-long lines generates the kind of power and acceleration normally associated with an engine. We were almost literally flying all day. The main problem was losing excess speed and trying not to go too fast.

Probably best we stopped when we did. Almost too much fun! Anything can happen and we are certainly not complacent, but we are now north of the Thiel Mountains, on the classic South Pole route. That means the next 420km leg of our route is exposed to a much more favourable wind direction and, dare I say it, it is very likely we can expect more quality kiting to ride home in style. It is hard to believe that, just yesterday, we were hopelessly becalmed, despairing, with almost 800km to go. Now we’re smiling with just over 500km!

We have been tried and tested and teased at every turn on this trip. After much effort, we a reaping some memorable returns. Bring me more!!!!



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

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

Date = 1/1/2018
Day 42 (Expedition) Day 48 (Antarctica)
Location = No man’s land
Coordinates  - S86 28.559’, W88 31.867’
Altitude = 1920m
Temperature =  -20C
Wind speed / direction = 6-10 knot ESE
Windchill = - 20C
Distance travelled = 20km
Distance remaining = 795km

Not the best light to kite in...

New Year’s Day, not quite escaped No man’s land.

We weren’t expecting much for today, based on the forecast, so we’re kind of pleased with the 20km we managed to grab first thing at the limit of the wind direction we can use.
Low expectations, high hopes for this leg of the journey and the year ahead!!

The visibility started poor and deteriorated to the point where you wouldn’t be able to see a man eating crevasse right in front of you so we stopped.

It’s very strange kiting in bad visibility. With flat light and no surface contrast you can’t tell which way is up. All you can see is the pretty, colourful kite dancing through the grey and white. At one point I couldn’t tell if I was moving or not, until I hit a bump and fell over.

Thankfully it appears tomorrow the wind finally swings in our favour and for few days we have SE/ SSE wind. Although it’s due to be very light, so perhaps not the gallop we want to be able finally break out from no man’s land.

This is day 42 in the deep field, and although we’re in good shape and spirits, we’re ready to see that checkered flag appear over the ever shifting horizon.  We still have 500 miles to go! And if / when the conditions line up, we are excited for some quality kiting and a little more of what has been rare type 1 fun.

But with so much down time in the last week, confined to clothes, sleeping bag and now tent, we are permanently permeated with the slightly sickening odour of post-digestion dehy; one can’t help pondering some the delights the near future holds.

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.

When we get back to Punta Arenas it’s going to be a giant meat fest. Steak and lamb from the Asado. Those amazing burgers from Lomitos, my gosh they are good, stuffed with Avacado and chill sauce.

After an hour of scrubbing in a hot power shower with luck they’ll be a sauna and a hot tub in our hotel and we can sip cold beers as we sweat the last of the dehy. from our system. And reminisce with pride and joy about our fraught but funny journey to of the Earth.

And within just a few days we will soon take those luxuries for granted. We will have forgotten the squalor and smell and doldrums of no man’s land and our minds will soon drift back to the golden moments of our most excellent adventure. The camaraderie and challenge. Our 6 weeks away from the rest of humanity, where our entire world and wellbeing lived in a sledge we never left.

And then soon we’ll be home in our respective corners of Earth. Mark returns to true summer in the beautiful sun-blessed playground of Wanaka in New Zealand, where his wife and friends are BBQ-ing on the beach right now.

Jean to his ancient village in the southern Alps. So far it sounds like a good winter with lots of snow down in the valley. I’m sure he can’t wait to play in the snow with his 5 year old son, Malo who is learning to ski.

For me back to the ever green lake district. My two team mates, both being from places with 300 days per year of sunshine, give me lots of grief about living somewhere where it rains so much. We prefer to call it very green. And I can’t wait to get back to those mossy old walls, old oak forests and comforting colours of home.

But of course what I crave the most is to be with my family and enjoy some of the simple life with the full assistance of all creature comforts and supported all modern conveniences available.

Enjoy what you have. It is not until it is gone you realise its value.


Happy 2018

Happy 2018

Date = 31/12/2017
Day 41 (Expedition) Day 47 (Antarctica)
Location = No man’s land
Coordinates  - S86 37.792’, W90 10.171’
Altitude = 2055m
Temperature =  -20C
Wind speed / direction = 6-10 knot ESE
Windchill = - 24C
Distance travelled = 33km
Distance remaining = 815km

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.

We perhaps jinxed ourselves with that name, as we have indeed had a hard time crossing this 360km of land less travelled.

The surface is smooth and soft. Foot prints sink 10cm deep into the softest snow we have encountered. There is no sastrugi at all. The terrain is not perfectly flat, but very gentle rolling slopes that seem to be endlessly up but when you look behind appear down?

The snow is extremely heavy. It grips the heavy pulks like an anchor and drastically reduces the available power. It would be man-hauling hell. Today the sun is shining and it his warm out, due to the complete lack of wind. It’s much nicer than the last two days but we have been frustrated by winds; a bit too light from slightly the wrong direction.

With 15knot SE wind we could easily do 200km+ in a big session. Today with 8 knot ESE we worked hard for 5 hours before we lost the wind completely. 33km and we were pushed 5km downwind from our track. It’s going to be a long haul at this rate!

But we are getting closer and a slight route tweak means we are pretty much on track and 103km from the classic route. However we cannot loose anymore ground to wind until we get there, so if we don’t a have the wind to hold that heading, we must not travel, as there are some major open crevasses to the north of our track.

We’ll get across there sooner or later and then we are confident that the next 720km will have better wind patterns and kinder travelling conditions. At least we really hope so!

Of one thing we are very certain, we will complete our mission sometime early in the New Year!!!

We celebrated with a snow carved HAPPY 2018, that Jean then destroyed under kite. Very funny. A couple of Antarctic breeze and hot choco-vod cocktails and we are ready to begin 2018.

Looking forward to starting out from here with our long overdue Big session to whisk us homewards...

May your year be full of love and adventure.

Spectre crew



Date = 30/12/2017
Day 40 (Expedition) Day 46 (Antarctica)
Location = No man’s land
Coordinates  - S86 51.931’, W93 19.887’
Altitude = 2249m
Temperature =  -24C
Wind speed / direction = 3-8 knot E, White out
Windchill = - 25C
Distance travelled = 0km
Distance remaining = 848km

Jean cooking up a storm in a storm! Starting to get little tired of our menu after 40 days but mustn’t grumble...

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.

Our 120+kg loads and the 15+cm of soft snow mean we really need SE wind at least 10 knots to hold our heading out of here for 127km further. If we get pushed down wind we will end up in crevassed terrain and even more unfavourable wind streams.

We also need to be able to see at least 1km. ideally some sun.

After the next 127km we join the classic South Pole - Hercules Inlet route and make a 40 degree turn north, which means we will be able to harness weaker winds from much more Easterly directions.  So sooner or later we need a good session or two to kill these 127 kilometres and then we should start to make more consistent progress. Hopefully the S winds will return eventually!

We are still a week ahead of schedule but we have only covered 220km in 8 days which is half our estimation.

It’s really been all or nothing so far for phase 4. We still have 22 days of supplies so no major stress. Just be nice to have another couple of big sessions to remind us why we came and that we are going to get home eventually!

Please keep your comments coming in, great to know people are reading this stuff. Feeling a little uninspired so throw us any questions?


[Spectre Admin] I've reminding the team of the unanswered questions from the previous comments on the blog - hopefully that will keep them occupied for a bit - but please add some more.