Life in the deep freeze

Before Leo’s team take a single vertical step in Antarctica, with temperatures often sinking to minus 50 degrees Celsius, and winds that can reach 100mph, they’ll have their work cut out just to stay alive. ‘The rudimentary basics take a massive amount of time out of every day,’ Leo says. ‘However mild the weather, you have to pitch your tent as though you’ll be pinned in a storm for a week, as conditions can change in a heartbeat. This means digging in snow valances and building a snow block wall to deflect wind.’

Having 24-hour daylight means that sleeping masks are a must, and everything that mustn’t freeze has to join the climbers overnight in their sleeping bags – boots, inners, hats, gloves, water bottles, batteries. ‘Even your pee bottle,’ says Leo, ‘or you won’t be able to empty it and might have to boil it up with your morning brew, as my tent-mate Jason did several times in Greenland. Not pleasant.’

Consistently sub-zero temperatures mean that all water must be sourced by melting snow or ice, and a daily, per-head ration of five litres for drinking and cooking equates to around four hours manning MSR® stoves. ‘Because huge stretches of Ulvetanna are dead vertical, much of the time there won’t be any snow to collect as we climb,’ says Leo. ‘So we’ll have to melt enough snow at base camp to fill a 120-litre barrel which we’ll haul up behind us, chipping ice out of it with ice axes every time we cook or make a cup of coffee in wall camp.’

Find out more about Leo Houlding’s Ulvetanna expedition.

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