I spent yesterday evening talking to the on-site doctor, Hans Christian, about the psychology of Antarctic expeditions, in particular sledge hauls to the South Pole (approximately 1100km) and climbs to the summit of Vinson (the highest peak in Antarctica at approximately 4900m). His answer follows on nicely from yesterday’s update, as the key factor determining an expeditioner's mood state is the weather.
If the weather is good then things tend to go as well as your training allows. If the weather is bad then you struggle more, you’re in more pain, you don’t do the distances/height gains that you need and you start to think that you might not make the Pole/summit. Other factors that also affect mood are your food, any injuries you have and how your kit is performing.
Even on our relatively tame trip we certainly experienced a lot of what Hans Christian talked about.
- When the weather was bad we were confined to tents which rapidly caused frustration, particularly towards the end when we were racing against the calendar (and the weather) to get back to Patriot Hills. To try and release that tension we tended to do something active and fun after our periods of lie-up (kite sledging and ice climbing being the best).
- Days when you didn’t like the evening meal (chilli con carne) were difficult and days when you had tortillas, fish and a nice evening meal were definitely better. The major problem is that no matter how nice your diet (Jordan’s luxury cereal, Dairy Milk, etc) after 20 days you start to despise it.
- Our mood started to sink on the ski back due to blisters forming. During the final 17 hours of hauling the mood fell as the mountaineering boots we had to wear started to create large blisters. It improved again when the surface allowed us to change into our mukluk boots which are far more comfortable and didn’t aggravate existing blisters.
- We had no problems with equipment breaking, but when the comms equipment wouldn’t let us send dispatches or make telephone calls it caused a degree of friction.
The bad weather that we are currently experiencing is causing problems with both the climbers and the people heading to the Pole. The people hauling sledges are struggling to make the distances they want as the snow has caused a layer of powder, which increases friction and makes crevasses harder to see. The climbers are finding strong winds and poor visibility difficult.