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
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!
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.
Each time we cross a ‘lead’ we use a new method as all crossings are different. With max speed we try to stay dry.
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.
We are on top of the world, looking down on creation it is the only explanation I can find, Eric sings after The Carpenters, somewhere in the middle of a pressure ridge with no end to which Martin respond with his hindi imitation: “if it was god’s creation, there would only be daisy fields here..”. And so go our edays, finding humour in dire situations. We often belly ache from laughing, feeding on each others wit and corky sense of humour. We create songs with lines we say, and each morning when the alarm goes of, Eric serenades us with random lines from songs on the top of his longs.
Speaking of top of the world. I was quizzing the boys about the 5 poles in the Arctic, something we never think about if we speak about the North Pole. When we say North Pole, we are thinking of the geographical north pole, the absolute fixed cap on the globe but there is the north magnetic pole to which our compass points and which is not stationary but rambles at present northwest of Ellesmere island, the geomagnetic pole, which centres the earth’s magnetic field and sits today over northwest Greenland; the northern pole of inaccessibility, a magnificently named spot in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, which represents the point farthest in all directions from land, currently 1100 km from the nearest coast and there is even a pole in the sky, the north celestial pole, the astronomical extension of a line drawn through the earth’s axis which hits Polaris. Some people have the fantasy to visit those 4 poles but the reality to pull this of is difficult, perhaps that is why it is still not done.
We have gone far enough West now to avoid this giant lead which we expect to see tomorrow (I hope not) And we will cross the 85th degree of latitude, two more to go! Yippie!
Busy day of Arctic obstacles; a newly frozen bit of sea one of them. Nothing to worry about, apart from sea monsters!
The fortune in my cookie this morning reads: resist a temptation to take shortcuts of any kind. How appropriate for today, rubble, leads and pressure ridges as far as the eye could see. We were dying to find a shortcut in this chaos because it will be a time consuming and exhausting day. All favours of the Arctic have once turned against us, negative drift to the north, low visibility, soft snow, and endless vista’s of blocks of ice that want to melt and give way to summer. To add salt to injury, we got a text message from the Canadian Ice Survey reporting a massive lead at the 85 degree of latitude and W078 and guess what?, it is directly in our path south. It is 2 to 5 km wide and 10 km long, an expedition stopper because you can’t swim or float 2 km long. We are trying to get to W080 to skirt around it but the wind drift us back east, what is new! It is strenuous to push and pull your sleds over every single ice block, at awkward angles and if you don’t give it all you got, it slides down the hill and you start all over again. At then after a two hour session we are nagged and ready for a break, food and water. After 6 hours of this, including a swim across a lead, we only logged 5.85 km. How demoralizing and frustrating, every polar traveler done this route will agree.. Luckily for the last two hours of the day, we had some flatter terrain and where able to finish the day off with 8.5 km. After supper, we are turning in early and hope for a more cooperative Arctic tomorrow.
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.