Before you go on an expedition you are told to get a general health check. Go to the dentist and make sure your appendicitis is in tact, and your ligaments and bones are not bend or broken. No matter how clean your bill of health is, being out here in the arctic environment for weeks at a time will eat away at your body, regardless. Mind you, your body is honed, stomach is a like a cheese grater, biceps like garbage haulers, your ass as hard as steel and you can easily pull and push twice your bodyweight over something. But where it eats away at you is in the extremities; your fingers, nose, ears and toes. Tonight it is the first night we can take inventory of our insults. The storm has passed, it is warmer, almost like spring for us in -18C and we can undress in our tent and feel comfortable. I look at my legs, now half the size of what they use to be and notice an area of red itchy frostbite blisters on my right side, the place where the wind has been pounding me for weeks as it forced in from the west. All fingers are frost-nipped and numb my left cheek has wind burn blisters while the right side of my nose is now white since the skin has peeled of. Miraculously, my toes are good and ears are perfect. It is part of the course and it best to prevent it from getting worse. The mental health check is good. We laugh a lot, sing songs and really yell well as a team. That alone is enough to keep the spirits high. So with the forecast of nice windless weather coming our way and no drifting back to the east, we take our frost-nipping, skin-peeling, blister forming bodies for granted.
As forecast the storm ended today after lunch and we saw the sun for the first time in many days. Wind is now very light and from the North.
Crossed a large fractured area with many open leads but most had easy constrictions or ice bridges.
Pic inspired by the work of my great travelling companion Martin Hartley. Such a privilege to glean photographic tips from him along the way.
Almost my best view of Eric today.. Lots of blinding headwind zero contrast and low low visibility…again.
On a day like today, the last thing you want to do is cross many leads. We have blistery, miserable conditions because we are still in the heart of the blizzard now lasting 3 days thrushes us around and beat us up, as if the Arctic wants to say: GO HOME you don’t belong here. True, humans have nothing to gain from being on the frozen Arctic ocean. Whatever the Arctic is already giving us, we need to proof over and over again we are worthy for being here. That is the case with crossing leads, the most dangerous thing w do on this expedition. If the wind blows freezing air in your face and there is no sunshine you think of all options before you put on a survival suit and swim across. We heard yesterday of a team doing the last degree to the north pole that they followed a lead of open water all day hoping to cross it somewhere and finally camped near it praying for it to freeze overnight. The next day they had to get picked up by helicopter because it was the last day of Barneo being open and they had to get of the ice. We can’t do leads by hope or detours – you need to have a clear action plan. Sometimes you cross more then 20 leads a day and if have to walk an additional 10 km for each one, you never get your target of km in.
Leads form when the ice is under pressure from either wind or current. They can old Then refreeze and open again, like a wound that you continue to bump open against something. Leads are never straight but follow the contour of pressure ridges. Wind will keep the leads from freezing like a current does. Most leads are obvious: open dark canals of water but today we crossed a couple that were mean and extremely dangerous. Ice under pressure had flooded an area that is not visible to the eye because it has a layer of snow on it. Light blue soggy snow is a sign of wet and unstable ice, very tempting to just ski over it if you unaware and deceived by snow as a safe passage.
Pretty soon out of camp we swam one lead and ferried our sleds on another. We are getting more efficient with our lead crossings which is a good plan because the further south we go and the warmer the temperatures, we may have to cross many more leads on our way to Elkesmere
The blizzard continued to rage overnight and still blows
now on our cosy tent after a day in the harness. Three days now we have battled this tempest. In the quagmire we groped forward, stumbling over every bump in our path. Often I would find my skis pointing skyward as a steep sastrugi would suddenly materialise out of the murk, all the while unseen. Not a particularly fun day but often funny.
After lunch I donned the drysuit and swam a sinister lead whose banks were awash with flooding and a deceptive coating of slushy spindrift. After ferrying Martin and Bernice across we were happy to be back skiing into the wind.
Skied 10km today. Our position is N87.40 W52.26. We are 552km from Cape Discovery and 18 days into our trip. We have 10 days food and fuel remaining and are negotiating a resupply for around the 25th or so. Storms and drift have pushed us over 100km to the east of
our intended route. We drank some celebratory vodka tonight and toasted to this crazy place we temporarily call home.
Pic of this morning’s camp.