When do you stop skiing?

This wasn't originally intended as a metaphorical article title that applies to daily life but if it works in that way, all the better!

This is a subject which is very rarely tackled, yet is fundamentally important to expeditions. The question is of when it's the right thing to do to ski, scramble and haul, or to stop.

On one hand there is always the pressure of racing against the clock. Even on expeditions without ambitions of speed-records, there are deadlines which are unavoidable. Miss them and you'll lose your ride home, run out of supplies...or run out of ice. This means that every moment when I'm sat on the front of my sledge eating the copious calories which keep me going for ten or twelve hours hauling a day, or fixing broken bindings, I could be making precious miles. There's also the macho desire to keep pushing on when the wind is strong, visibility low and sledge feeling even heavier than normal. You think, 'don't stop now. Only the weak stop now and you'll fail.'

On the other hand, the reality of polar expeditions is that the intelligent win and the naive and impulsive lose, or worse, don't come home. There comes a point when the energy expenditure and inaccurate navigation in whiteout conditions or crazy headwinds becomes counterproductive. Also, equal only to the frustration of having to stop and put the tent up when you'd rather be making progress, is the feeling of unadulterated relief when you dive through a tent entrance and escape the violent chaos that is the world outside in a polar storm.

There are a plethora of examples of expeditions which have failed to succeed due to spending too much time sitting in a tent. There are equal numbers which have been thwarted due to an unwillingness to play the long game. Some did not return home. There's no magic formula to making one of the hardest decisions a leader has to take responsibility for - when to move and when to stay put. It's a matter of judgement and often, gut instinct. 

When do you stop skiing?

Alex Hibbert3 Comments