Ask yourself how often am I uncomfortable, cold, dirty and tired in my daily life? I can hazard a guess that the answer is not very often. We all enjoy our warm bed, daily shower, fresh food and media entertainment on tap. That is quite simply the minimum standard of comfort we in contemporary urban society demand. Going away on any trip to open outdoor places requires to some degree divorcing oneself from the creature comforts of home for a certain amount of time. It is this removal process, a return to simplicity, that often forms the greatest learning point and barrier to success for those who embark on expeditions or dirt bag travel journeys for the first time.
Thinking back to our journey across Finnmark, the simple tent routine which we sampled for a few days, was one of the most enjoyable parts. Physically tired and cognitively dampened after a long day skiing and shovelling snow, your tent is a welcome refuge – It might not be everyone’s cup of tea however. Climbing through the opening on your knees, you have to be careful not to shower yourself in ice, which will later turn into water. Right, so you’re in the tent, it’s time to find your spot and take your seat on your rolled up sleeping bag/roll mat. On come the two MSR stoves, roaring like a jet engine. At your feet its around 0 degrees, at your head 20, and at the top of the tent around 40 – yes that is degrees celcius!
Tent heated up and it’s off with boots, vapour barrier liners, socks, hat, gloves and any other damp kit. These are hung up to dry, and they do quite quickly with two stoves on the go. Soon enough a mug of boiling soup (0.5l) is shoved in your face and the race to get it down you and ready for your rehydrated bag meal begins. A good quality of an arctic goer is the ability to drink hot fluid fast, a Teflon mouth helps. In the morning and evening we were drinking a minimum of 1.5l of hot fluid; easier said than done. All the while you are perched on your sleeping gear. You don’t take anything other than this and a basic tent bag (toiletries, spare food, book etc.) into the tent, the rest stays outside in your sled.
So you’ve got in the tent around 4pm, drank and eaten a load. Now you’ve got to pee. Good job you brought that handy pee bottle. You turn your back to your tent mates, aim, fill it up and pour the hot pee straight into the snow, where it drills a clean hole. You see, we camped straight onto a snow floor, it’s cleaner and just as warm as having a groundsheet. It also means multiple toilet breaks can be made without leaving the tent. Some nights that was as many as three or four times. Unfortunately pooing requires a trip outside, digging a hole and being as quick as you can. Back in the tent, you might eat some leftover chocolate, write your diary, chat, and listen to a story or two. Then it’s lights out around 8pm, and a free for all to fight for sleeping space.
As the stoves go out the temperature soon drops, and you tuck yourself into your sleeping bag, you are in total blackness, without a sound other than your tent mates breathing. Time to shutout the cold and reenergise for the day ahead. Just imagine yourself going through the tent life I described in brief above. A proper South Pole trip would entail around 50 days or so of tent life. Fitness, motivation, the right clothing etc are obviously important, but it strikes me that the ability to endure the mundane, a little time without home comforts, a more simple existence, would be the biggest hurdle for most of us who live a safe, comfortable urban life.
As Yvon Chounaird (the climber, conservationist and founder of Patagonia outdoor company) nicely puts it:
The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life; it’s so easy to make it complex