A philosopher on the ice

Published on 15.12.2011 - The South Pole : Solo but not Alone

South African Howard Fairbank (53) who is going solo from Messner Start (Ronne Iceshef) until SP writes so much every day that at the end of his trip, his SP book will be written ! He wants to be the oldest person to achieve this feat...

Problems with ski poles and compass

Since he left the Ronne Iceshelf on 21 November, H. Fairbank had several major problems. But despite these setbacks he carries on with his real and also inner conquest of the Pole.

First difficulty : he broke three times his ski poles. The first break was on 27 November, the other ones followed. But after having tried to repair them with his razor shaft (wrapped in few layers os stove reflector tin), he made it fianlly with one of the tent.

Second one : his compass was jumping all over the dial, becoming unreliable. On 3 December, he writes : "... Then I had this brainwave (for me at least!) that all my electronics (for this email, satphones, etc) were in a single bag at the top of my backpack, and in there there could be something magnetic causing interference....? Why it had only started interfering now is a mystery, but I'd stop, take out the bag and put it in the sled away from the compass. I sensed I had found the problem, and with both excitement and fear (that it wasn't the problem) I immediately stopped to face the answer. I disconnected myself from the backpack, walked a few metres away, and yippee the compass became a normal compass again! Wass I delighted.... "

Third setback : the philosophical questions he does not stop asking himself every day. The need to share with the outside world his real inner journey, warts and all -"far from the superman Hollywood stuff", he wrote en 15 December. Writing his daily updates are surely a therapy for this 54 years old expeditioner.

Why so many sufferings to do this kind of trek ?

Although these inner thoughts seem quite interesting for the analyst's sofas lovers, we'll quote here the one which is the most interesting for our visitors : "Why does he do such a horrendously thing like walking in nothingness on his own for 35+ days to get to the SP ?"

His two answers are : "...I love exploring, and this is an extreme version of that. I have often quoted the book called The Ulysses Factor, The Human Need to Explore, and I found it rang so many chords for me, it helped me understand me. We all have a need to explore, some small amounts, others huge amounts, and and for the explorer, it's not enough to read about exploration, they have to go and experience it, because it's not just about exploring the physical terrain, it's also about understanding what it REALLY feels like to do it, this is the real exploring. What I am experiencing now is priceless for me, as I'm experiencing what it REALLY takes to walk to the South Pole. Yes, with technology and many before me it's not as severe as the early explorers, but it's close enough for my explorer need to be satisfied. Clearly seeing first hand EXACTLY what Antarctica is all about is another huge explorer need being satisfied.

The second reason is the male competitive thing: Yes, I read about these expeditions and how difficult and demanding they are, and from witthin me comes this call to see how tough you really are and where you rank on the explorer / adventurer tougghness scale. When one reads about these extreme adventures, particularly these days, where drama and toughness are both exaggerated and valued, I want to find out for myself how difficult these things REALLY are, and also rank myself in the process. ..."

At least, we find here an expeditioner who has the courage to highlight this fascinating question. Of course his quest is not over yet with that question. And after 20 days on the ice, the reaches the final/global and metaphysic issue : "What is the purpose of life ?". He resolves (or maybe postpones) the problem saying that there is finally no answer to this big question because if there would be any, living would become meaningless and so boring...

Selected extracts

Be that as it may, Fairbank is another talented story teller (with Sebastian Copeland and Eric Larsen, according to us). Here are some top-notched excerpts. One concerns his vision of the sastrugis (and goodness only knows how important the sastrugis are during this 2011-12 Antarctic season) and the second one is describing a picture when, skiing during the day (it cas on 12 December), he suddenly feel the need to make a pooh along the ski.

The sastrugis (after having found the Sastrugis City!) : "...It's ice that has been eroded into wonderful aerodynamic carvings by the wind, just like sand dunes of the desert, except much smaller. The biggest sastrugi I have seen here so far is probably 0.75m, but most are less than 0.3m high. The ice is really hardened from the wind, and so they are pretty serious obstacles, that force skis and sled over / around them usually. The shapes are amazing, sometimes there is a whole patch that looks like a mini Grand Canyon, then another patch as sharp and mountainous as the Alps, then others just like minatures of the Namib desert sand dunes...All fascinating, but because the wind generally blows from SE the sastrugi furrows run at aboout 70 degrees to my ski course making for very rough, bumpy, and constant obstacle crossing skiing. I'll try send through a photo over the next few days....Sorry, photo's are just very time consuming on the satphone and my sleep hours are vital... I hope you understand?..."

Making a pooh : "... Found it, now the hardwork starts: park the sled, remove and drop my poles, unclip and take off backpack, remove skis, remove outer mitts, so one sort of has fngers again, store mitts, remove hands-free compass from around neck... Oh, it's entangled with the GPS neck chord... Hmm, swearing!

Next it's off with windsuit top, so I can access trouser braces, hmmm, it's quite cold, time to move fast, hope nobody is watching....! Then drop trousers, facing away from the light wind, but right over the chosen sastrugi cavity! Now the easy part: having the pooh! Perfect accuracy, all that remains is to break over the sastrugi so it falls over the now 'spoiled' cavity, and everything looks natural and born here again. Then it's putting all the stuff back on, and some 15 minutes later I'm back skiing! (My pants do have a real access velcro fastened flap, but this isn't good for me.) So, I'll try not have too do that again... Planning the body hey! ..."

Fairbank is also dealing a lot with the 'Solo but not Alone' concept -how else could that be ? The answer will probably follow before the end of his trek...



Contact us

Please feel free to drop us a mail with your comments and suggestions.

Focus on

Expedition website

The Coldest Journey (Sir Ranulph Fiennes & Team)

Antarctic 2012-2013 - ongoing

25.10.2012 -

Sir Ranulph Fiennes is back in the Antarctic for a world first. He will lead a team of explorers to conquer…

Support the IPF

Support us

All donations to the IPF are tax deductible.

Donations can be made by various means, depending if they are made by a company or by individuals.

Support Us

Polar Explorers

3 Random Polar Explorers from our directory. More inside!

Browse all explorers

Keep in Touch

RSS Feeds

Subscribe to our RSS feeds to be warned in real time when the website is updated.