An ice report from Trudy Wohlleben at the Canadian Ice Service indicates a massive open lead spanning west longitudes 76 to 80. 5km wide in places, we will try and outflank it, aiming for the termination of it’s northwesterly branch. Another day of flat and murky light with waves of frozen leads pressure ridges, the latter will increase as we approach Canada. Slow yes, but we also paused to film and admire the destruction. Fractured, blocky, angular, and glowing cyan in the eerie light, we were mesmerised by the brutal beauty if it all. Ten km only but hard fought and in awe.
Pic of Bernice crossing a crack.
Try as we may to get our sleds to follow a good line, today just wasn’t the day for it – they seemed to find every piece of wayward ice on our route. Contrast and definition were dismal which made route finding through the pressure ridges and sastrugi like navigating a boulder-strewn maze with a blindfold. I went by intuition today, using 12 years of memory mapping to predict what might lie ahead of that I felt beneath my skis. Mostly it worked but not without battle scars. The strain of 10km of working my sled through the mess, and occasionally those of Martin and Bernice as I would unclip and return to help, left me with claw hands, swollen knuckles, bloodied toes (from a renegade toenail), a twisted knee and strained eyes. To boot I swam a lead just before lunch. The Arctic Ocean is a place like no other that so perfectly blends everything required in a day of high adventure.
Pic of our camp under a bleak sky.
Another 16km day. We are like clockwork. The first and fourth 2-hour sessions were flat and fast but the two either side of lunch we marred by pressure ridges. A large one, 12m high, was almost entirely covered in drift snow, and this will become the norm as we approach Canada. Around 150km from the coast we will start experiencing large snow dunes and now that the sun is really starting to warm up the surface crust will become breakable. We are starting to see that already.
The afternoon break was on a lead that had been recently pressurised while it still had some elasticity from the salt, creating a series of frozen waves. Any thicker and the ice would have cracked and drafted as is more commonly seen.
261km to Canada.
Since the resupply I have been growling at every lump and ridge that my sled gets caught on. 16km of them today. Our sleds are heavier than they should be. Bernice prepared the food for the resupply and, bless her merino socks, made the snack and lunch bags chockablock full of goodies. Sure it’s nice to be able to eat more but the consequences are heavier sleds and slower pace. The preferred solution is the appropriatet number of calories – around 6000 per person per day for this kind of trip – condensed into around 1100g maximum. We are carrying around 1700g per day with the same calorific intake, making each sled around 15kg heavier than it should be. Polar expeditioning is based around a very finite formula that includes many elements including energy, weight, duration and distance. If any element is too imbalanced the formula breaks and the expedition is in jeopardy. I’ll ponder the consequences of this as I delve into my snack bag for another chocolate bar!
Pic of our afternoon break on a frozen lead.
Eight hours in the harness gave us a bounty of 16km, and that with heavy loads. The surface is perfect and with the superior glide of our plastic sleds we have been remarkably swift. However the slightest bump can have us heaving and grinding in our harnesses. A slight easterly helped to keep us cool. We are recording zero drift.
Pic of our team basking in the arctic sunshine.
The plane arrived around 8.30pm and we received our barrels of food and fuel. Spent some time packing the sleds while the pilot gave the co-pilot a little lesson on drilling for ice thickness.
An hour flight south west took us to N85.53 W79.23. We flew over mostly flat ice but a large open water area in the last few minutes made us thankful the pilot flew us over it.
In bed by 2am, slept in, distributed food and fuel and skied almost 9km in the afternoon with heavy sleds again. Great to be on the move after 2 days hiatus, particularly as the day was windless and blue. Pic of selfie with Bernice and Martin in the distance. Martin carries an electric shaver so the beard is gone as of 2 hours ago.
Today we have been filming interviews and cleaning out our sleds ready for resupply. The plane is due here in 90 minutes (8pm) and will take 40 minutes to refuel during which we sort and pack food and fuel for 25 days. We will also give the pilots and redundant equipment and clothing all our rubbish. Then they fly us 150km west to N86 W78 where we will camp.
I’m all fired up to resume our trek tomorrow, and feel rejuvenated after staying on a full 6000 calorie diet during 2 days of rest.
Pic of our camp
This morning we had a lively debate in the tent over the pros and cons of staying camped next to a solid lead suitable as a landing site. It is a day premature but a sure and safe place for the Twin Otter to land. Ahead looks like rubble for quite a distance and we can’t chance the plane not landing as we need to be relocated to around 78 west. We are still drifting east at over 12km per day and need to get back on line if we have any chance of reaching Canada within our food and fuel reserves. Unfortunate but we are pragmatic about it.
So the pros won out and we spent the day filming and paring down our equipment. Tomorrow we get a coveted sleep-in and expect the plane around 7pm. Zzzzzzzzz!
Our current position is N86.50 W53.05.
Pic of some of the electronics that keeps us in touch with you. Eric
The highlight of the day came early with a swim across a 30m lead, the one we were unable to cross yesterday due to it widening before our eyes. Using the drysuit and my sled as a barge, I pushed and swam across the lead breaking the 2cm ice as I went. I don’t think we have yet used the same technique to cross any of the leads, there are many variations. Later a narrow lead was crossable by simply pushing the raft back and forth with passengers.
Now camped next to a frozen lead but with a large pressure field to the horizon. Tomorrow will be interesting, looking for a suitable landing place for the Twin Otter that will come to resupply us on the 27th. We are also considering being relocated to 78 west as we are continuing to drift up to 10km east every day.
Today – 16km
Total skied – 304km
Distance to Cape Discovery – 478km
Days since start – 22
Record day 22km
Coldest temperature -38C
Easterly drift from intended route – 142km
Pic of our lunch break.
A south westerly wind blew on our right cheek keeping us chilled all day. During the second session we came across polar bear tracks imprinted in the frost flowers of a frozen lead, heading towards a large area of open water we discovered later. A huge lead many km long and 400m wide at its widest gave us some grief – an aborted attempt to raft it saw us flanking it’s edge for a km before finding a crossing. Here the ice was cracking, buckling and rafting as we clambered over it.
A second lead 500m wide followed but thankfully it was frozen and we slogged across its salt-encrusted meniscus. A third narrow lead was open and while preparing to raft it it widened very quickly. We followed its bank for awhile before deciding to camp. A swing in wind direction might close it tonight.
Camping next to open water, with seals aplenty (I saw one earlier), is not ideal with polar bears lurking nearby.