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
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.