Below are excerpts from my expedition log. These brief notes, written (or often scrawled) in my notebook, describe a rather unusual daily routine. As we huddled in the tent and the stove hissed and murmured, trying to melt enough snow to make our soup, I had time to make some observations.

The log was devoted to technical information: distances, altitude, our situation, etc. All those vital things essential to our survival. Thierry also kept a Daynal–it was our nod to intimacy, our secret gardens in our shared adventure.

I hope you will find it interesting.

01.07.95 - THE COUNTDOWN

Here we go. The countdown has started. In four months, we'll be off on a mad adventure in the greatest desert of ice on Earth, the Antarctic!

My great dream is about to come true. I'll be sharing it with my friend Jean Castonguay. But it won't just be two explorers alone in the Antarctic. It will take dozens of people like you to support us in this great polar adventure: sponsors, Daynalists, craftspeople, scientists, friends... So I thought that I should keep all of you, who give us extra energy and encouragement, informed of our preparations. I hope this bi-monthly newsletter will bring a blizzard of information and take us all one step closer to the axis of rotation of the Earth, at the South Pole.


01.08.95 - OUF...

Welcome to issue No. 2 of the Polar Gazette. Can you feel the tension mounting? The sun is sinking, the days are getting shorter, the cold is getting nearer. There's still lots of work to be done. Hundreds of telephone calls, kilometres of faxes, agreements to be signed, interviews, not to mention complicated air routes, Chilean customs, insurance... whew! Our team is working hard to get everything wrapped up for our deadline of October 1. We are receiving letters from international correspondents concerning our scientific program, our satellite communications or simply to find out what is driving us to go to such a cold place. I sometimes wonder whether it actually takes more energy to prepare for this kind of expedition than it does to ski all the way to the South Pole pulling a 145 kg sled. I'll find out in a few weeks!



A few weeks from departure time, I now have a new companion in adventure, a partner ready to take the risk and make it to the final goal.

When I'm getting ready for an expedition I often have to confront my past and my difficult memories of cold, my fears and my deepest motivations. That's when I remember my swollen lips, my stiff fingers, the pains in my feet and my burning cheeks, the endless distances... I need energy and I find it in the challenges facing me and the desire to succeed. I need to share these feelings with my expedition partner and make him understand. Whom can I talk to about all this? Who will want to gaze out at the same horizon, at the same time? What will he expect of me? Will I be up to it?

Confiding your dreams, your goals and your life to someone else over a period of months means all kinds of feelings that are difficult to describe, impossible to identify. Just thinking about it isn't enough, you have to hope and believe. I am holding my decision in my hands to really feel it; I put it in my pocket so that it will always be with me.



Yes, we're really leaving, but I admit, I'm afraid. In the past few days all the events have been piling up, my garage is full of gear, plane tickets are sitting on the corner of my desk with the departure date marked on them: October 24. But that's only a few days away! That's when I'll be making a great leap into reality and touching the Antarctic. The cold will take me by the hand and welcome me... I hope. I realize that soon I won't have to call all the suppliers whom I've been asking for assistance any more. I'll be able to put aside the expedition budget I've been carrying around to explain and justify and sell myself. I'll leave the fax machine and the telephone behind, along with the photocopier and fast food. I've been eating to fatten myself up. I've intentionally put on 8kg as extra energy that I'll be shedding along the way. I'm tired. I look at the maps of Antarctica I've spread all over the walls of my office, and it frightens me. I will never have to pull such a heavy load again, never go farther than this. Even though everything is ready, I'm afraid. But the urge to get on my way is ber.



Punta Arenas, Chile. The city of Punta Arenas is located on the northwest shore of the Strait of Magellan, separating Chile from the Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point of the Americas. From there it is another 1 000km to Antarctica.

After a few days checking our gear, everything is loaded onto a big Hercules aircraft. But we run into technical problems at the end of the runway. Everybody out... What a way to start!



A night-time flight to the most beautiful continent... with my forehead glued to the cockpit window, I wait for daybreak. The first glow soon reveals the icebergs forming a protective belt all around the Antarctic.

The plane touches down on the free ice in the midst of the Ellsworth mountain range. It's like something out of a fairy tale. Everything is unloaded and then loaded again right away into a Twin Otter. Takeoff from Patriot Hills at 20:49 UTC heading for Berkner Island, trapped and buried beneath the huge Filchner ice shelf on the edge of the Weddell Sea.


09.11.95 - Day 1            

Our starting co-ordinates: 78°35’S 49°16’W. Altitude 250 m. That means 1500 km to ski, 2550 m to climb and 170 kg each to pull to reach the South Pole!

Today we skied four hours. We put 3.5km behind us, now there are 1,496.5 to go...


12.11.95 - Day 4            

Hurray! We travelled 10.5 km today. Already we're having to make some adjustments in our gear. The sun is shining around the clock. The pulkas are heavy, terribly heavy. We did six stages of 45 minutes.


13.11.95 - Day 5            

We have decided to set our watches to Montreal time, to simplify all our satellite communication schedules. The land is flat, but covered with small sastrugis, a Russian word that refers to mounds of snow hardened by the wind; when they aren't too high it looks like corrugated sheet metal. The land is white all the way out to the horizon, and we're looking forward to seeing the mountains, but the Pensacola range is at least ten days away. Still, our morale is good, despite the pulkas, which remain very heavy. Each day is divided up into six stages of 45 minutes, with breaks of 15 minutes. We're making slow but steady progress (13 km)... giving us lots of time to think. Thierry is wondering who won the elections for the Mayor of Gaspé, and whether the hay for his animals has been brought in for the winter!


14.11.95 - Day 6

A storm. The tent is shaken by winds of at least 100km/h from the SE. It's –11°C inside the tent. I take the chance to call my friend Joël Le Bigot. Nathalie manages to talk to me for a few minutes and get a fix on my position. Everyone laughs when Joël says "But what's he doing lying down?!"


16.11.95 - Day 8

Very poor visibility. I'm worried about the condition of the satellite telephone batteries. I'm afraid I won't be able to talk with my love any more. 15.5km.


17.11.95 - Day 9

A whiteout today (a "Day blanc," as we say in French). It's a frequent weather condition in the Antarctic, caused by very thick fog; you can't see anything, not even a metre away. It's the reverse of a pitch-black night---a blinding white day. It's exhausting to find your way with a compass in this infinite whiteness.


19.11.95 - Day 11

79°35’ We've made it past our first degree. Anything is cause for celebration. Whatever keeps our morale up. One degree means 111km. Everything is going as planned. We're maintaining a good pace. We're satisfied with the progress we've made so far. The pace we have settled on, 7 stages of 50 minutes, is right for us. We're racking up short distances every day, but it's what we expected.


20.11.95 - Day 12

The "waves" of snow are higher all the time. The winds are violent, the sky is overcast. The tent is holding up all right. We had to anchor it with ice screws and add more straps, though. Without our tent, we're dead.


21.11.95 - Day 13

The sastrugis are frequent and huge on the Antarctic continent. Like a wind storm on the ocean that suddenly froze in place. I dream of the mountains, while Thierry is worried about them.


22.11.95 - Day 14

We made record progress today: 17.5 km. We reached the 80th parallel... quite a psychological boost. We laugh, we know where the south is---a long way away!


24.11.95 - Day 16

We're breaking though the snow, the sleds slide badly on the blown snow. It's like powder. I'm losing my motivation. I have to get a grip on myself. In one month it will be Christmas. Keep going, Bernard. The important thing is to keep going forward. Otherwise you die. The Pole won't come to us, we have to go to it.


26.11.95 - Day 18

Whiteout. Impossible to go anywhere. We take a complete inventory of all our gear, down to the smallest spare bolt.


28.11.95 - Day 20

I can see the mountains off in the distance. Finally, a landmark. Finally, a distraction. I was dreaming of this. Now I'm skiing with a visible objective, to reach them.


29.11.95 - Day 21

Thierry skied ahead for one stage. I'm responsible for navigation, using a compass by day and GPS (satellite) by night to calculate our position. We saw the moon in the perfectly clear night.


30.11.95 - Day 22

We have left Berkner Island, we're on the continental ice that separates the island from the continent, 450 metres thick. We have crossed the 81st parallel, and have less than 700km to go.


01.12.95 - Day 23

Another record: 22.2 km today. –12°C. Magnetic declination of 19°East. We stopped to shoot some film. We get up at about 7 a.m. and we go to bed at about 8:30 p.m.

I haven't been talking much about Thierry in this log, yet we're sharing this tremendous adventure. Thierry is a private person. He writes his feelings in his Daynal. We have to keep some secrets from each other, in our Daynals. We're making progres together and together we want to reach the Pole.


03.12.95 - Day 25

One of my heels hurts. Each time we stop I take my boot off and put my foot in the snow. I have to be careful; we have to take care of ourselves quickly, because a single twist or tendonitis could put us in a perilous situation. The satellite telephone is becoming more and more tempermental. But we're wondering whether we can continue communicating by telephone. Theoretically, it is impossible to communicate by telephone past the 82nd parallel, according to the experts we consulted before leaving.


05.12.95 - Day 27

We travelled 29 km today. We reached the 82nd parallel. What a day! The telephone is still working. I talked with Nathalie, and told her again how much I love her.


09.12.95 - Day 31

We're at an altitude of 1 200m. That's it, we're really up on the Antarctic Plateau. As well as dealing with crevasses, we ran up against katabatic winds for the first time. They consist of a layer of air about 300m thick, extremely cold, which races down the glaciers, driven by gravity. They are compressed under the relatively warmer air mass, and can reach speeds of 190km/h. Carrying snow along with them, these winds produce terrible blizzards that literally tear up everything in their path and make any progress impossible.


11.12.95 - Day 33

The GPS says we have done 504 km in a straight line, but with all the detours caused by sastrugis, crevasses and the fog, we must have travelled much farther.

I'm very surprised to report that the satellite telephone is still working. Experts in England with the Immarsat satellite network had told us it would be totally impossible to communicate at this latitude.


13.12.95 - Day 35

We're tense and nervous, as we progress across thin layers of ice that can extend for many kilometres, with a layer of air 3 to 6cm thick trapped underneath. When you step on them, they break with a sound of cracking that can go on for nearly a minute, a sort of lighting bolt that sends cracks radiating out for kilometres in all directions.


15.12.95 - Day 37

I wrote my name in the snow. My son, Yoann, is 13 years old today. I'm dedicating this day to him. I'm homesick. It's blowing, blowing, always blowing. Always in our faces. We're far away from everything, far from the Pole. I'm feeling melancholy.


17.12.95 - Day 39

The telephone is very very weak. This may be the last time. If so, we will have surpassed the experts' predictions by far. We're running into the real sastrugis, the big ones. They're impressive, and very hard to get across. We're at 1 400m altitude, 29.9km today, 84°33’.


Press Release:


Quebec is pushing back the limits of satellite technology, thanks to Teleglobe Canada. Bernard Voyer's and Thierry Pétry's expedition has shown that it is now possible to communicate with a portable satellite telephone past 82 south latitude."


20.12.95 - Day 42

An ocean of sastrugis. The Antarctic is revealing its true colours: it is imperturbable, it knows how to raise the stakes and draw out the time. We skied for 9 hours and travelled 32.9km. We have to keep going, we have to forget the pains in our backs, ankles, elbows... I have only one idea: the Pole.


21.12.95 - Day 43

December 21. Hard to believe it's summer... in Antarctica. The distance is weighing on my mind. I wish I were b enough to ski 15, 18 or 20 hours a day. I feel that we have to get out of here. It's so inhospitable. I could never have believed that an expedition could demand such commitment. Thierry is here, we're close to one another. Everything has become mechanical. We've arranged our daily routine so as not to lose any time. To survive in this place you have to be efficient.


24.12.95 - Day 46

We've had fog and whiteouts for a few days. At the start of the expedition, conditions like these would have stopped us, but now we have to keep going. Compass in hand, skiing, I have to check our heading every three strides. There are no landmarks. I sometimes ski straight into a sastrugi without seeing it. Let's hope there are no crevasses. Better not to think about it. It's Christmas.

My first Christmas present is that we reached 86° after skiing 30km. Then some preparations were necessary. Thierry planted his tiny, but real fir tree from Gaspé a few metres away from the tent. He tried to make some Christmas figures out of snow, but with his big mittens he can't. We threw some confetti. We had hidden our Christmas presents for each other in our boot covers. It was a touching moment. After the meal, I roasted a tiny branch of the little fir tree on the stove. It smelled like the forest. It smelled like home. We're so far away from the people we love... The most remote Christmas in the world.


Christmas at the South Pole

Once upon a time, way down south, very very close to the South Pole, there were two courageous explorers who had skied 900 kilometres across Antarctica, the largest desert of ice on Earth. They hadn't met a living soul since leaving on November 9, 1995, because no one and nothing lives in such a cold and hostile environment. It was Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus, far away at the other end of the world, would certainly not be coming to bring them any well-deserved presents. They were sad at being so far away from their loved ones, missing the sound of Christmas carols and all the sparkling Christmas trees.

Bernard told Thierry that what he really missed was a tree. Even just a small one would make him happy. And the ingenious Thierry replied, "Really? Just a little tree four inches high would be enough?" "It really would," said Bernard, "but it's just a dream. There are no trees here." Thierry, with a little grin, told his partner: "Close your eyes. I'm a bit of a magician, you know." And from the very bottom of his sled, hidden away, he drew a Christmas tree so tiny that he had been able to bring it along without Bernard knowing. What a treat for his friend, just a little gesture, but such an important one!

"Now we should decorate it," he suggested. Here, where every object is counted and weighed and anything not absolutely essential is left far away at home, it took a lot of ingenuity to find any ornaments. "Aha," cried Bernard, "we can use the bags our supper came in this evening to make some." "That's right," said Thierry. "Sprinkled with real snow, they'll be just the thing."

Christmas Eve was really starting to look like a holiday, even though it was hard to think of it as being evening when the sun never went down. "We'll just close our eyes for a minute and try to imagine the stars," joked Bernard.

Now it was finally time for their supper. How about a nicely stuffed and roasted turkey? No such luck. No, they would have 6500 calories each, the rations they absolutely had to eat every day, everything freeze-dried and vacuum-packed in little plastic bags. It's no fun mixing melted snow with greasy powder in a little bag. You need lots of imagination. But surprise! All the flavour of the special meal that the chef at the Petit Extra restaurant had prepared for them still came through. They could actually taste the (Shhh! It's a secret!) veal flavoured with sage and bacon, with cake and dried apricots for dessert.

Then Bernard pulled something from his sleeve. Thierry, watching him, was wondering whether his friend had another magic trick for him. To his great surprise, he saw in his friend's weather-reddened palm a tiny walnut. A walnut that opened up to reveal... a lucky ladybug, rocking back and forth on a spring. A strange present, you say? Not really, when you think about it. Like the ladybug, they would need plenty of determination, courage and their fair share of luck to succeed in reaching the South Pole.

And had Thierry thought to bring a Christmas present along for Bernard?

What do you think?



25.12.95 - Day 47

When we got up, we looked outside: the fir tree was still there. Thierry had carefully stored it away in his pulka. As agreed with Nathalie, we changed the battery on the Argos transmitter. And we're off again.


27.12.95 - Day 49

Talked with Thierry about how we could advance even faster. Longer stages, fewer breaks, faster pace...


Press Release:



We have lost contact with the Polar expedition of Bernard Voyer and Thierry Pétry.

After checking with Argos France and the NACLS service in the United States, we can confirm that we have had no news from the expedition since December 27, 1995. This is not an emergency, however, but simply a technical problem. We know that the Argos beacon has failed because the batteries powering the device are too cold.

We were able to track the explorers until December 17 by means of the NEC satellite telephone used to retransmit their voices via the Immarsat M satellite. The last telephone conversation was transmitted from 84°23'00" south latitude and 52°08'77" west longitude. The Argos beacon, which had been retransmitting binary data since the beginning, then took over. At the Montreal base camp, thanks to the Cube Technologie system, we were receiving hourly information on the expedition's position in latitude and longitude, the name of the polar satellite tracking them and its accuracy, the temperature and one of 15 short coded messages established ahead of time. In this way we were able to monitor the expedition's progress, learn about the major difficulties encountered, wind conditions, etc. Most importantly, we could ensure that the expedition was proceeding safely. Pending the resumption of data transmission--soon, we hope--Bernard and Thierry can use a beacon device if they need to transmit emergency messages. We will continue to provide news of the expedition based on our knowledge of the terrain on their route and the average kilometres travelled per day, so as to allow everyone to predict their date and time of arrival at the South Pole.

By the end of today, we assume that they will have travelled more than 1 260km.

Expected date of arrival: January 9, 1996.”


29.12.95 - Day 51

We encountered the largest sastrugis yet today. Some of them are 2m high! Pulling the pulkas in this increasingly rough terrain, the lack of oxygen is taking its toll—not to mention that we are at more than 2 000m altitude.


30.12.95 - Day 52

18.2 km. I'm feeling weak. I haven't eaten anything. I'm losing my rhythm. The snow is dryer and dryer, which makes the pulkas considerably harder to pull. Our load is getting lighter every day, as we eat our food and use up the fuel for stoves, but the snow is becoming less slippery all the time. I felt as though I'm pulling just as hard as when we started the expedition almost two months ago.


01.01.96 - Day 54

When we woke up, Thierry said "You know, Bernard, this is the year we'll reach the Pole." Happy New Year. The fine weather is back. It's –22°C, at 2 400m. Thierry seems to be moving more slowly.


03.01.96 - Day 56

We have only 7 litres of fuel left. Have to be careful. It's blowing all the time, hard and constant and glacial. The snow is powdery, our pulkas seem to weigh a tonne. After a day's efforts, 25km, we're exhausted. Thierry seems to be suffering. I see him far behind me whenever we take a break. Something is happening.


04.01.96 - Day 57

I'm taking some of Thierry's load. He has to keep up the pace. I encourage him. He tells me his hands are cold. It seems to me as though he's closing in on himself. All his movements are slower. I have to help him even more. "Thierry," I say, "We're at 88°,only two more degrees to go."


06.01.96 - Day 59

Thierry has frostbite on his face. It takes him a superhuman effort to complete each stage. I know him, he's got a b will, he wants to touch the Pole. In the evening, he just falls into his sleeping bag. He is weakening every day. Hang on, Thierry. I'm afraid. Not much fuel, not much more food, we can't even think of resting for a few days. In any case, he would need a few weeks, not just a few days.


08.01.96 - Day 61            

30.6 km, altitude 2 750m. I have made a nose protector for Thierry. His face is swollen. I help him get his boots on and pull on his ski poles. He can't move his fingers. Every morning, I take a bit of his load. I have to remain b and get us through this. So close to the goal and yet so far. "Thierry, we're starting the last degree, the last one." "We left together, and we'll get there together."


09.01.96 - Day 62            

30.,5 km. 2 80 m. Thierry is exhausted, he can't do any more. I go ahead to set up the tent and ease his load, to keep him going, to keep him alive. "Bernard, it would feel so sweet just to lie down on my pulka and let myself die." "No, Thierry, every step you make is one less step you have to make."


10.01.96 - Day 63            

I lighten Thierry's pulka. We're almost there. The Antarctic doesn't show any quarter, though. Wind, sastrugis, dry snow... no help and no pity. What a continent. I'm starting to hate it.


11.01.96 - Day 64            

The day ends with another climb. We've been climbing for 64 days now. We deserve a bit of flat land, but no, you have to work to get to the Pole. At 17:17 hours, it seems to me that I can see big dark spots on the horizon. I look for my binoculars, but my hands are cold and I can't focus. I can't believe it, I can see the buildings at the Scott-Amundsen scientific base. It's the Pole. I unhitch my pulka and ski as fast as I can to Thierry. He starts crying, he can't believe it. I hold my binoculars up to his eyes. He crumbles and falls against my shoulder.


12.01.96 - Day 65

It is 10:47 hours, 2 835m altitude. Thierry and I put our hands on the axe of rotation of the Earth. 90° South. Thierry just keeps on repeating, crying, 90 degrees, 90 degrees, 90 degrees... WE MADE IT. One more little effort to walk around the metal pole that identifies the geographic South Pole. This time, our steps take us all around the world. We'll never go so far again.


19.01.96 - South Pole

The Twin Otter touched down as the South Pole. As planned, Michel and Lise Perron, our friends and the main sponsors of the expedition, accompanied by Tim and Audrey Kenny and cameraman Vic Pelletier, climb out of the plane. What a delight! Michel says that Nathalie is fine, she's waiting for us at Patriot Hills as planned.

We're all so happy to see each other again. Michel asks me whether I'm ready for a surprise, and I see Nathalie getting out of the plane!


20.01.96 - Patriot Hills

Patriot Hills, the base camp, is our shelter. Between two shooting sessions for the film, Thierry and I retreat to the kerosene stove warming the neighbouring tent. We're lost weight, we're weak, we're just thinking about going home.


07.02.96 - Knowlton, Quebec

It's snowing. Will I feel like setting out again someday? I feel as though I've been all the way to the horizon. I travelled as far within myself as I skied across the Antarctic. I took my dream all the way, and I took myself all the way, too.