20 May Gareth’s Polar Expedition Wrap up and photos
Final pictorial report from Gareth Andrews, Joe’s Basecamps intrepid polar adventurer. We are all very happy and very proud of Gareths awesome achievement. Glad we could help contribute in such a fantastic adventure.
Anyway enough of me, here are Gareths Words.
The final day of the expedition was one that I shall remember for many years to come. We woke to clear skies and temperatures just below freezing.
As soon as we left camp we realised that we were in for a very difficult time. Almost immediately we met our first melt river, knee deep and fast flowing, much wider and faster than we had experienced before. We were starting to worry that eventually we would meet a river that we couldn’t cross or go around and that would leave us stranded. As the morning went on we negotiated river after river eventually reaching the top of the glacier leading to the edge of the ice cap. Rivers gave way to crevasses as we slowly made our way down the ice fall.
We knew were in for a long day but by 5pm the crevasse fields of the ice fall still stretched as far as the eye could see and Hill 660, our final destination, remained a faint line on the horizon. The complete absence of snow on the glacier slowed our progress significantly. It meant we had climb and scramble around every ice mound and ridge, lowering our heavy pulkas before us, with no flat ground to aid our progress. The warm temperatures had also made the snow bridges across the crevasses precariously fragile and the snow would often fall away beneath our feet as we crossed. By 9.30pm we agreed that we all wanted to push on and finish that night, none of us wanted to put our soggy, frozen socks back on the following morning. We cooked dinner on the glacier and after hot soup and a meal we were ready to go on through the night.
None of us quite expected how special that night would be. We trekked on as the temperatures dropped and the light of the polar night dimmed to a soft blue. At 12pm the sun dipped behind a thin band of cloud in the horizon filling the skies with vivid oranges and pinks. At 3am the first sunlight shone over the higher reaches of ice fall turning what was once blue and cold a soft warm pink. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
The hours of intense physical effort and concentration were beginning to take their toll and by 4am with 4km to go we were feeling the strain. We swapped our skis for crampons and continued the process of dragging our heavy pulkas to the top of a ridge then slowly lowering them down the other side. All of the team would frequently fall throughout the ice fall, often pulled over the top of a ridge by the weight of the pulka. It took us 4 and a half hours to travel the final 4km and at 0930 the following morning, 25 hours after we set out battered, bruised and exhausted we finally walked off the glacier into the glacial moraine field of Hill 660.
It was a fitting end to an incredible, arduous adventure. It’s not an adventure if you know what’s going to happen at the end and the ice cap kept us guessing until our final few steps. We were only ever one river, one crevasse, one fall away from not making it across.
I’d like to thank everyone who sent messages of support and who followed online. Many I have only had the chance to read since the end of the expedition but I was touched by your support and words of encouragement.
A big thank you to Joe Bonington at Joe’s Basecamp for developing such a rigorous strength and conditioning program for me. I can tell you I used every step, every lift, every push, every climb of that program. The physicality of this expedition far exceeded my expectations. I couldn’t have been better prepared.
Thanks also to everyone at Joe’s Basecamp for your support and enthusiasm, especially in support of the Puffin Magic Foundation. A special thanks too to all those who joined me for those early mornings dragging tyres on the beach.
A very big thank you to MedRecruit and MedWorld who helped make this expedition a reality for me. I am very proud to represent an organisation that puts the wellbeing of doctors at the forefront of their purpose. On a personal level it is comforting to know that they will continue to help doctors live exceptional, adventurous lives for years to come. The medical world needs more organisations like them.
The final thank you I have saved for my team mates Max, Calvin, John and Matt. Kind, thoughtful, fiercely protective and tough as old boots when it mattered most. A team of the best men I know, thank you.