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.

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