Eric hauls his sledge out of a lead of ‘slush puppy’ ice, a short but necessary swim…just after breakfast too!
We were forewarned by the Canadian Ice Survey that there would be many leads developing due to this relentless storm we are having. Day 8 now of no visibility, extreme winds, and snow. It is rare to snow this much in the Arctic as well as these incredible length of storm cycles. At the end of the day, we got stopped once again by a lead. To our north we saw a dark cloud hanging over the horizon, indicating open water and to our south, one big lake. The new leads that are developing are running east- west so on our way south we cross many of those new leads.The last one of today around 6 pm provided us with a real challenge. It was under pressure and just like plate tectonics through friction, ice blocks and rubble will start to move, collide and crumble or pile up. In awe we stood on top of this ridge and watched the other side go by, or was it our side? This movement is all caused by the strong southwest winds we are experiencing for the last week. In the lead itself emerged a massive ice block that rotated when it came in contact with water. Because there was no snow attached to it it must have come from the deep abyss of the ocean. What a spectacle it was. Now we could see hoe tons of ice ends on top of a ridge.by it simply getting pushed up there by power and with the next pressure, it may fall in the lead and disappear in the arctic. It was also our only chance to cross to the other side and we have to be very quick to operate on moving ice. We dragged the sleds across first and then we jumped from the moving ice to another shore that was slowly moving. It felt like jumping from a moving train to another.
Perhaps not the safest we bave done so far but it was our only choice. “And then there is tea” Martin said as we skied away to find a place to camp.
The wind was gusting at 40km/h from the south west, buffeting us as we skied across the pack ice. A good start straight out of camp, the surface hardening slightly from the wind and sastrugi almost aligned with our direction of travel. Spindrift over the ice in the early sun was sublime.
Swam a snow-filled lead, island hopped over another and in the late afternoon crossed a huge fractured and lead-ridden zone by clambering over a giant pressure ridge as it was being born. Two thick plates were grinding into each other and we watched as boulders the size of caravans were calved, uplifted, submerged, overturned and stacked. Phenomenal power, and we chose to dice with it. Timing our run to perfection we hauled arse and sled to the other side as the configuration of boulders below us changed every second. A trapped foot would have upped the ante!
As we camped we heard the plane going to fetch Eric and Ryan. Happy boys I bet,
Pic of camp. Still windy, still snowing. We haven’t seen more than an hour of blue sky for over a week.
Now, you have heard so many things of the Arctic which might have shown you that there is a need to act to climate change but also you got so fascinated by the Arctic environment, its unique biodiversity and the aurora borealis, that you want to visit and see the Arctic yourself!?
Indeed, there are tour operators with which you can travel to the Arctic. Of course, the question arises if such trips are generally acceptable. Because of that, the WWF, for example, published guidelines to help ensuring that these travels are not endangering the environment of the territories, but that the participants also learn a bit on such trips. Therefore, a list of 10 principles have been established for each, the supplier and user side. These lists include, among others, topics as general waste prevention, support initiatives to protect the environment, support of the local population. It is also important that you choose a tour operator who has also dedicated itself to these goals. Overall, as a tourist destination the Arctic region is more popular than the Antarctic. In the summer of 2012, there were 163,500 tourists in Spitsbergen, of which have been 38,500 crusaders and 125,000 air travelers. Also in 2011 there was a high number of visitors on Greenland, a total of 63,000, of which nearly half were also air travelers. In northern Alaska 31,000 tourists were counted in the summer of 2011.
We were going so well this morning. A lead right at camp that Eric swam after breakfast, a quick ferry across with the sleds and then endless pans of virgin white snow, flat and infinite.The pressure ridges were all manageable and at around 11 am the sun even came out briefly. We are hoping to really make some miles today after losing so much time negotiating pressure ridges and crossing leads the past five days. I almost took out the GPS to see our progress at lunch but enjoyed the sunshine and being out of the wind instead. We found an sheltering block of ice that looked like a oyster shell, spectacular. Not even 15 minutes after lunch we got stopped by a yet another lead. This one was too wide to swim across (400 meters) and we had no choice to ski the shoreline to search for a way to the other side, even if you have to ski for kilometres. Martin spotted tracks of arctic foxes, and got nervous about polar bears because foxes travel with bears and eat leftover seal. There was only one option to cross and this part of the lead was moving, as there is pressure moving the mobile ice. When you watch it, you don’t know which part is moving, you or the shore. Eric swam through shuga, blender ice, tough slushy ice to get through and hard to pull himself to shore. Martin and I connected the sleds to be rafted with our bodies and skis. While putting them in the water, we stepped through the ice and got our boots wet. Luckily we got out in time because it only takes 4 minutes with full submersion into these arctic waters to die of hypothermia. The other side turns out to be an island and we had no way back. An ice block miraculously lined up with the island, and was just the perfect bridge to get across to yet another block of ice, another lead and eventually the real shoreline. We floated our sleds across while we clamber over the ice cubes. It took all of 5 hours to do this lead, so out the window goes our mileage for the day: 5 kilometres and negative drift to the north. Forecast for the next days: more storm!
Eric does a spot of ‘gardening’ to make our access to a point of ‘absolutely no return’ slightly safer. A committing & interesting moment in the day.
Started off in a strong SSW headwind and poor visibility and rafted a lead just after de-camping. Thereafter light and terrain improved and we built up a head of steam across some big fields before lunching under sunshine, sheltered from the wind by a large rogue block of blue ice.
But good fortunes are short-lived here and shortly after lunch we hit the first of a number of large leads (400m wide) in our path. Left? Right? Right? Left? Left it was and we were soon rewarded by a series of nudging islands that required swimming, rafting and jumping and a final scramble across a pressured edge around which we could long-haul the sleds, interlinked like a string of ducks, across a miasma of churning blocks. Three hours passed in twenty minutes! Total of 5km in 8 hours of grind and we will likely lose 2 of those to drift.
Blizzard has redeveloped and we are in the thick of it, camped in the lee of a pressure ridge.
Big congrats to Eric and Ryan who arrived at the North Pole after skiing unsupported from Canada. We believe this hasn’t been done since 2002. Bravo guys.
Pic of our raft returning to Martin for his crossing to the first island.
Eric rests for a second at the end of a long day of wind in the face; big ice & water, 8 hours & only 3km gained
Not all ice that can be found in the Arctic is the same. There is drift ice and pack ice. Drift ice can be found in open seas. The ice got lose from glaciers or ice floes. It floats with the ocean current towards the equator which is why it is called drift ice.
For ship traffic the drift ice displays a great danger because especially from April to August in the busy north Atlantic there is a lot of drift ice in form of ice bergs. Pack ice is the most apparent sea ice type of all. When the ocean is covered with 80-100% with ice, we are talking about pack ice but there could be small, free water areas in between the ice. Then the ice is so dense that it displays an obstacle for ships and long walks on the ice are possible. Pack ice can be up to 3.5 m thick and depending on the season it covers 3-15 million km² of the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic ice swims in the water, in contrast to the Greenland ice which lies on land. When the Arctic ice melts the sea level doesn’t rise. It is like a glass of juice with ice cubes inside. When the ice inside the glass melts the juice doesn’t spill over the glass. If the Greenland ice would melt however, the melt water would spill into the ocean and the sea level would rise. About the impact and the Greenland ice in specific, you will learn more next week.
Right out of camp we got to deal with a giant pressure ridge crossing, the biggest one yet. Blocks of ice pressed together and tumbled over each other, thousands of tons of beautiful blue ice covered in a fresh white coating of snow. At first you look at it and wonder how you are going to attack this. Think of an ice cube tray in the freezer that spills on the floor and all the cubes pile on top of each other, refreeze and then sprinkle snow on top of it all. And you are a midget with a sled going through it . It took us all morning to find a safe route over the pressure ridge and it took the three of us to pull the sleds across a mountain of ice and slide it of to the other side. We got discouraged to see more of this on the horizon and wonder if we have the strength to do this all day long. It was exhausting but truly exciting to make the unthinkable possible. It has snowed a couple of centimetres now which makes it difficult to see the cracks between and it makes the ice blocks very slippery, another hazard to add to our long list of unfriendly characteristics of the arctic. On the other side we saw the first evidence of multiyear ice, algae on the bottom of the block and it was at least 5 meters high. We don’t really know how many years the ice is, it doesn’t have rings like trees but it does have bands, each has a significant colour, from blue to light green to white. Underneath the block hang icicles that taste like salt. In the block itself you see streaks, the salt expelling from the ice in vertical columns inside the ice. The most fascinating thing is the size of them. They are humongous, like a small house and I am excited to see a few of these at 85 degrees of latitude. how long will it take for this piece of ice to melt? We all know that it eventually does, especially when it comes in touch with water even multiyear ice will someday melt and be part of the ocean. Crossed may leads again, Martin fell in the water with his right leg (luckily not bis camera) and the visibility went down again in the afternoon. We only did 3 km, our lowest record yet. New storm has moved in with big winds from the south that will drift the mobile ice to the North. Finished the day sith a phone call to the Canadian ice survey in Ottawa. More wind and low visibility on our way, snow and drift to the north. We are in the weather now for a week and can’t make any progress if we can’t see!