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Pole to Pole

Day 140: Patriot Hills to the Thiel Mountains

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleScott puts Rudy and myself to work, assembling a tent. It is, I'm sure, quite simple to those familiar with these matters, but I have never been a happy camper and the cluster of fibreglass rods spells nothing to me but confusion. Scott's patience is wholly commendable.

'They're all colour-coded,' he points out, a little tersely. This is no help as my sunglasses distort most colours completely.

After much grunting and groaning and wrestling hopelessly to combine precision assembly with thick polar gloves, we have the tent up and crawl inside to drink tea and coffee and nibble chocolate while we wait for Dan to return from dropping Kazama's fuel, some fifty miles away.

Of course, in the dim recesses of one's mind the awareness that we are in sub-zero temperatures 300 miles from the South Pole with no means of transport does cause a flickering of doubt. Not often can one's survival be said to depend on one man, but the prospect of Dan not coming back doesn't really bear thinking about.

The wind-driven snow licks around us. It must be infinitely worse out in the open, away from the protective barrier of King's Peak. All of us are more relieved than we care to show when the scarlet flash of the Otter comes around the mountain again.

Dan takes a last weather check with the Amundsen-Scott base. As with Russ at the North Pole, a great deal of responsibility rests on the pilot at times like this. Dan knows that there is no safe place, no fuel cache at which to land between here and the Pole. It's entirely up to him to evaluate the information and make the final decision. He decides we should go in.

11.30 p.m. We have seen the last of the rock-strewn slopes of the escarpment, now there is nothing but whiteness below in every direction. In front of me Clem settles to sleep. Dan has changed his sealskin hat for a baseball cap, held in place by his headset. Scott is concerned to know if any of us are feeling the effects of altitude - for we are at the equivalent of 20,000 feet above sea-level, in an unpressurized plane. I sense that I am taking shorter breaths, but apart from that I feel good, bumped by the excitement of my situation from the tired, almost melancholy heaviness I felt as we sat at King's Peak an hour ago.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 140
  • Country/sea: Antarctica
  • Place: Thiel Mountains
  • Book page no: 317

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