Day 45–Storm, Speed and a Broken Binding

December 20, 2011 12:28pm

December 19, 2011

S81°18.637 E048°17.162

Elevation 12040 feet

This morning held promise with a steady whistle outside, and a healthy amount of hissing from blowing snow hitting the side of the tent. A visual check outside confirmed that this would be a great day for speed. But by the time we were dressed, packed and ready to go, the wind had strengthened considerably. We chose to wait and see where this was going. Given the last two days, it seemed unlikely that a storm system would still be holding on. And yet, within thirty minutes the conditions were pumping thirty five knots gust, covering the ice with racing snow, and it was clear we were not going anywhere. The sun was in and out of a complex cloud system, and a storm was very much upon us.

We settled in the tent again, had some food and pulled out the chess board. On a long trip like this, our Hilleberg tent is like the third member of the expedition. It will act as home, temporary shelter, and beacon of solace at the end of a long and cold day. It is remarkable how well we adapt and how little we need. One can only marvel at humans’ ability to survive in such a harsh and antagonistic environment. The way a tent is designed and constructed plays a key role in that equation.

By mid afternoon the wind abated enough to make a go of it. At 16:00 our smallest kites, the six meter Access’ launched in the air like a rocket ships. The smaller the kite, the twitchier it gets. Designed for high winds, they cut through the sky at impressive speed, and amidst the blowing snow, propelled us further south.

Within half an hour, however, the wind dropped and we were struggling to make distance. Cloud banks still hugged the horizon, and given the up and down nature of the day we were hesitant to rig up. Still, we put up the thirteen meter Frenzy’s. After an hour averaging at twenty kilometers per hour, it seemed the wind was again suddenly coming down. “Let’s pull up the big gun before we get shut down,” I suggested. It was 18:30, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. The terrain had mellowed out some, and given our broad reach tack and fifteen knot winds, the fourteen meter Yakuza’s would deliver speed and distance. We agreed to go straight to 20:15. Ten minutes into the section, the wind grew again. The up and down nature of the conditions, along with cloud formations is something that we have not experienced for most of the trip, where sun, weaker winds and a clockwork afternoon shut down has been the norm. But today, at 19:00 the wind was steady and strong. The pull and adrenaline was intense. Like speed demons, we flew over the ice and, diving the kite in gusts, we easily reached forty kilometers per hour. The speed rush reminded me of Greenland last year, where we experienced remarkably smooth snow conditions and reached upwards of sixty kilometers per hour. But the terrain out here has limited our chance to move fast–until this evening! I had some concerns over the crack in the sledge, as it bounced and occasionally flew behind me, loyal to the death, like a dog on a leash! But this was the time to make up the mileage we had lost to the morning storm. And close the gap to the POI.

Something remarkable happened during today’s riding, the likes of which we had not experienced thus far. In fact, the first time it happened it pretty much freaked us out! The usual sound of the skis scratching the ice’ surface and the low decibel pounding of the sledge in tow was suddenly, and for a brief moment, over taken by what seemed like a low sounding, but concentrically spreading sonic boom! It felt like a thunder roll surrounded us as we sped through! All we could conclude–and I would love to get confirmation from our friends at the NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado–is that ice crystals below the surface of the ice form large hollow areas that get covered with blowing snow which freezes over. This creates pockets of air. The disturbance of running weight over it, as we speed through, settles the ground which spreads and results in creating that sound. The first time it happened, I thought a jet fighter was flying over head! But realizing that this was no fly path for any plane, I then thought that my hearing was being affected by some internal brain disturbance! Did not sound reassuring! When we shared our experience at the next break, we actually looked forward to encountering these strange but distracting events, with happened again, with different intensity throughout the day.

We’ve had two more mechanical failures today: the other Diamir binding which I have been wearing on Eric’s ski and boot, also broke in the last five minutes of the day. It failed in exactly the same way as the other one, conclusively proving that these are not the right binding for this environment. Given the success–so far–in fixing the other one with line and wire, we have some confidence in getting it to hold, at least until the South Pole, twenty three days from now. Additionally, it seems as though one of my Canon bodies has had it with being jerked around, bouncing all over the sledge. It has finally given up. Thanks to redundancy, I have a back up, but this one will be treated with extra care…

The wind was coming down when we called it a day, but by the time we were settled in the tent, it started howling again! The temperature has dropped down to 35C below again., and last night I was too cold and tired to write this update. We did cover 74 kilometers for the day which brings us to 140 kilometers from the POI. Perhaps two days if we’re lucky!

2 Responses to “Day 45–Storm, Speed and a Broken Binding”

  1. Fred says:

    Hello Sebastian! Incredible, intense and impressive to say the least. Started catching the action last week and now it is mandatory reading. You and Eric are doing something special indeed. Also very refreshing to see one realizing their potential. But was there really ever any doubt in your case? Best always and hope to see you in L.A.

  2. BASILE says:

    Be extra careful with everything!!!
    Always fascinating,,,

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