A cloud bank engulfed us an hour before the plane banked over us. We thought we were condemned to the ice for another week as the forecast was for continued bad weather and watched from a pressure ridge as Troy the pilot made at least ten passes in the distance before finally landing. We packed quickly and skied 45 minutes to the plane. Bengt was on board, collected at 88 degrees after abandoning his attempt to ski to Canada. The flight over the frozen ocean is always so captivating, pondering how we could ever live on it, travel over it, abide by it. And of course the final sector, that of the Canadian coastline with its colossal pressure ridges, is a bitter-sweet pill to swallow.
We stopped at Cape Discovery for refuelling and I now send this from my room at the Eureka weather station on Ellesmere Island. Canada! Land! Shower! People! Food! Beer! It can only but herald the end of another journey, and perhaps the start of another.
Pic of us on the plane.
Yes, we have been forced to make the decision to abandon our attempt to reach Canada. Ken Borek Air’s deadline of latest landing on the sea ice has arrived, May 12, and we cannot guarantee reaching Canada with our remaining food, which means in effect we would be stranded if we didn’t make it to land. The distance remaining, average daily distance to date and food in reserve just doesn’t add up. From my respect as a polar guide it’s an easy decision to make, and Martin too who has been here many times before. In fact the decision was made for us. But for Bernice it’s a dream crushed. This was her baby and she is feeling the hopelessness acutely. But we continue to ski south as we await better weather for a plane to land. With the pressure off we are enjoying these unfettered days immensely, seeing the polar sea with new eyes, despite our 11th consecutive day of poor visibility. Today we skied 6km in poor light but no wind.
Pic of my goggle-eyed perspective of the route ahead.
We were warned by Trudy from the Canadian Ice Service about a 10km band of rubble and pressure seen by satellite. We are in the thick of it now. At least it seems we managed to avoid some big leads.
Only 2km for an afternoon’s work, the morning spent on the phone to the outside world, and filming interviews.
Happy Mother’s Day!!!
Pic of the indomitable Martin Hartley during yesterday’s blizzard, camera at the ready, indelible smile.
Ditto, all of the above, etcetera, Groundhog Day….. Ho hum, today was just like the previous week – blizzarding, poor visibility, pressure ice, soft leads. Ho hum! 6km today. Ho hum!
With this run of bad luck since resupply I am beginning to ponder the future of this expedition.
Pic negotiating a lead full of barely-frozen rubble. These are often treacherous as each weighted block is a time bomb waiting to dislodge and disappear into the drink, followed by a boot and perhaps the hapless soul attached to it.
The blizzard has been unrelenting. It blew all night but the morning was full of promise with a hopeful sun peeking through the cloud. But an hour after kick-off a black ball swept across from the SW and before long we were in a snow dome. All visibility had gone, again. I am so accustomed to skiing blind that any kind of resolution on the horizon seems like such a luxury. Wind forecast to continue tomorrow but easing Sunday. Hallelujah!
A good surface mostly and we claimed 10km from the ocean, but camped next to a lead that we were too exhausted to find a way across.
Pic of my sled – Josephine – with Bernice and Martin approaching.
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.
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.
Terrible visibility again this morning and straight into a massive pressure ridge. The volume of snow that has fallen in the last week has formed bridges over cracks and leads not unlike those over crevasses on a glacier. We spent three hours crossing the pressure ridge and it was riddled with treacherous deep traps, of which both Martin and I fell into on different occasions. Some narrow leads are also almost completely hidden and the snow pack inside collapses when skiing over them. As I sat during a snack break on the other side looking at the jagged ridge I was reminded of my time on the South Patagonian Icecap, looking at the range to the east that includes Cerro Torre and FitzRoy. A nice little escape from our toil.
The afternoon was spent negotiating multiple leads, ridges and rubble fields in worsening light. 3km for the day. Heartbreaking. But it’s also what makes the Arctic Ocean special. Nothing is predictable here.
Pic of Martin in one of the canyons of the huge pressure ridge.
The dry snow on the ground and dull sky above reminds me of skiing in Hokkaido. Only we are skiing at less than 2km/h with loaded sleds behind, and there is no sake!
Mixed fortunes today. The sun emerged from time to time, and with it vision for good route finding. We sped across big flat pans, crossed deceptive leads awaiting a wrong foot or ski placement, rumbled across rubble fields and were stopped in our tracks by a colossal ice canyon. All the while thoughts of the mega lead ahead brewed as a stern wind blew on our right cheeks. An abysmal 10km for 8 hours of toil.
Pic of Martin preparing images which have been Bluetoothed from his camera to his iPhone.
Despite drifting backward 2km overnight the day started full of promise with the sun emerging for the first time in three days. But we were quickly into a large rubble field covered in fresh snow in the middle of which the sun hid behind thick clouds again, playing havoc with contrast and definition. No sooner had we cleared the field and a long and wide lead diverted us east until we found banks on either side conducive to rafting. I swam across in the drysuit then hauled first Bernice and then Martin across on a raft of two sleds. We have noticed an increase in snow cover and sastrugi and snow dunes are starting to crop up. When I skied this route three years ago the snow dunes started 100km further south.
During the final hour the sun emerged again and our surroundings sprang to life. By days end we were all exhausted and considered it if not our toughest, our most frustrating day. The tally of 8km confirms it.
Pic of me with the Yellowbrick tracker from G-Layer.