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  • Fly to: Santiago, Chile

  • Internal Transfer: Santiago - Cohaique

  • Visa required: Not if British

  • Currency:Chilean Peso

  • Time Zone:-3hrs GMT

  • Journal:Click here

Day 31, 03/12/07 - Patagonia Northern Icecap

In the early hours, probably about 4:00am; it was my turn to dig out, all's I could do was sit up and comment (rather vocally) that I couldn't face going back out; couldn't face putting on the wet, stiff goretex & picking up that cold shovel in an attempt to throw snow over what seemed like a skyscraper only to have the damn stuff get blown straight back in my eyes!!

Then, (once again verbally) I went through the motions of: I'm doing it, nobody else is doing it for me (I don't think anyone else had muttered a word, this was all me talking to me...out loud! Ian & Nic had probably thought I'd gone senile); I'm getting up...putting on my headtorch...unzipping the...oh no I can't put on that coat...putting on the coat...I'm out, out of the tent...

As I made my way around the snow kept coming & coming; probably because I kept throwing it into the wind! I remember shouting 'Stop Snowing!' (Obviously I was under the impression I'd said this in my head but oh no it'd once again loudly popped out!) Ha, I can clearly recall hearing Nic shout from inside the tent, 'You tell them Em!' When I heard that I felt like such a knob, but man did it lift my spirits - simple things make all the difference in those situations I guess.

I think that moment stands out as being particularly special; one of those 'f*ck haven't we come along way!' After my hour digging I'd offered to cover Nicki's slot (only because I now felt pretty good and I was already up & out), but unsurprisingly she was having none of it (I know if the situation was reversed I wouldn't have let her do it for me either). Out she got with shovel poised!

It was Evans' day in charge; our tent team was exhausted having gone through the entire night on continuous rotation. We were also slightly pissed off that Ben & Jaya had bailed out of their tent and joined the boy's in the night. We later discovered they didn't do this by choice but that they had fallen asleep for 20 minutes and this had resulted in their tent becoming buried and the main pole snapping. I think everyone in our tent was just relieved that it was them that had fallen asleep and not us! Jeez I can almost hear the lecture we'd be getting now; blood curdling volume with the occasional swear word for good measure.

After Nic had spent her hour digging out & bringing the news of the 'changing rooms' tent (minus Carol Smilie of course!); she began cooking breakfast. By the time she had finished cooking and we'd started eating the poor girl was freezing; I think once you've been outside you need to get dry and straight into your sleeping bag let the rest sort itself.

We were all absolutely shattered at this point and it was Ian's turn to dig out, a task none of us welcomed. Out of nowhere appeared Dale; our savour because their tent hadn't been too bad during the night he'd offered to dig ours out while we ate. Eternally grateful to the lad because it gave us the break we needed. Discussions amongst the group involved the option of maybe building a snow hole. When Ian got back into the tent after his digging session he seemed quite chirpy, telling us how he'd favour the snow cave option, then all of a sudden he said, 'excuse me I'm just going to have a bit of a cry'. Man was I shocked, that was so out of the blue!

Ben then took back control and announced his decision to lead us off the icecap (in a white-out). Everyone got to work packing and taking down the wounded tents, we were all motivated by the thought of 'getting the hell out of there'; nothing else mattered we just wanted 'off' that icecap! The exit rope teams were Ben (1), Dale (2 sled), Evans (3 sled) & Ian (4); Jaya (1 sled), Me (2 sled) & Nic (3). Walking out in a white-out felt strange, it didn't feel as if we were walking along the same route as we came in on, it felt completely different. There were a couple of moments when the sun tried to break through, lighting up the snow & highlighting (for a brief moment) everyone on the ropes. I turned around to Nic a couple of times to say, 'wow look at that', it was awesome, beautiful, surreal & it felt for the 1st time as if we were on a proper expedition; it was almost like watching Sir R Fiennes cross the poles - AVE IT!

The group walked till after 9pm and it soon became apparent that we weren't going to get off the icecap tonight - devastating. I'm sure each and every one of us would have walked all night to ensure that we'd get off, but it wasn't to be. Ben picked a spot to probe for a camp and as he did so the cloud lifted for a brief minute and we all saw how close we were to the peaks! A bit too close! Suddenly we heard the familiar, thunderous sound of an icefall; the avalanche was pretty big & we all stood watching, bottom jaws on the floor; then someone said, 'is that coming towards us?'

Untying the knots and coiling the ropes was an arduous task and we were all freezing; mood & spirits were low. Nic's face was an unbelievable shade of purple, quite surreal but she then informed me that mine was the same! Once again the shovels were off the packs and we all chipped in to begin digging our camp, for some reason I couldn't extend my shovel above midget height. It probably took a good two hours to pitch camp, but what an amazing camp it was. Brilliant everyone pulled their weight and the finished wall was our best to date. Nic, Ian & myself went to bed without eating, we were simply too shattered to eat & the time had just past midnight; I still couldn't find my camera which was griping me (as everyone was well aware!).