18 January 2008
South Africans Alex Harris and Sibusiso Vilane made history on Thursday when they became the first South African team to walk unassisted to the South Pole.
The duo set out on their epic 65-day journey on 10 November, dragging 130-kilogram sleds almost 1200 kilometres across some of the most hostile terrain on the planet.
Antarctica generates much of the bad weather in the southern hemisphere, and storms there can be fierce. Temperatures range from an ambient of about -8 degrees to about -40 degrees Celsius.
They completed their journey without the help of support teams putting out food or rigging up tents, and without using wind power or sled dogs, in what Harris described as “the purest form of getting to the South Pole”.
Harris and Vilane are no strangers to extreme feats, with Harris becoming the second South African to summit the highest peak on each of the seven continents, the so-called “seven summits”, in 2005 and Vilane becoming the first black South African to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, in 2003.
The two men spent almost a year training for the trek, dragging tyres requiring a pulling force of 30-40kg every second day, covering a distance of about 17 kilometres per training session.
The trip was premised on covering at least 20 kilometres a day – they carried only an extra five days’ worth of emergency fuel and food – meaning that any mileage lost in a day would have to be made up for, or they would risk running out of supplies.
They just made it, taking exactly five more days than planned – one day more and they’d have been running on empty.
The physical and mental toughness it took to achieve this is hinted at in some of the extracts from Harris’s trip journal …
– extracts from Alex Harris’s journal
21 November 2007
have only covered distance of 45kms so far, but the last 6 days we have been stuck in our tent with high winds, so it is very frustrating
23 November 2007
finally on the move again. whiteout today so tough going. broke a ski in the wind the other day. did a repair job, just hope it lasts
27 November 2007
hi. only managed 14km in 8hrs. weather was perfect but it was the toughest day yet. soft snow made pulling desperate. but we finally made it to 81 degrees!
01 December 2007
at last. day 18 and did 20.48km in 8.5hrs. felt good, weather perfect and snow improving all the time. 42 more days!
02 December 2007
another good day. day 19. did 19.4km. my heel is starting to act up. there is a monster bank of clouds rolling in from the east.
04 December 2007
day 21. i battled today. heel burning like a hot poker. trying different things. sibu is fine
11 December 2007
day 28. last two days have been desperate conditions. zero vizibility and thick snow. only managed 15km today. heaviest the sleds have felt!
13 December 2007
this place deprives us of the luxury of nightime but the gloom of the day robs us of the light. instead we move through a grey twilight that knows not dawn nor dusk. it is fit for neither the living nor the dead. battled for 10hrs in the same conditions just for 15km
04 January 2008
day 52. feel exhausted. did 22.3km but getting colder measured -25.9 in my pocket! done 800km
12 January 2008
day 60 comes at last. perfect weather. still -22. did 25.4km in 10 hrs. tomorrow its on to emergency rations some juicy tidbits not mentioned before for fear of freaking the folks out. in that very windy spell in the first week, i got frostbite on my inside left thigh, about the size of my hand. not serious though as there is nothing to freeze solid and fall off. unless it was higher up my leg! anyway i have had to doctor it every day and make sure it doesnt go septic. but it is finally healing and forming scabs.
14 January 2008
day 62. mon 14th. gloomy day but still did 25.4km. countdown! 3 more days. 67km. unbelieveable! JTB #3. In the first week sibu and i had a huge argument about whether it was acceptable to do a #2 in the bell of the tent if conditions outside warranted it! thankfully it never came to that!
15 January 2008
day 63. JTB #4 We have had no painkillers on this trip. zip! must have fallen out when i was consolidating 2 kits into 1 at home
16 January 2008
day 64. wow, we have only 15km to go. listen to 702 thurs 4to6. you might catch us. i cant believe this day has finally come!