Day 69–Strong Winds and Sastrugi

January 13, 2012 8:44pm

January 12, 2012

S86°56.704 W093°11.593

Elevation 7184 feet

We were bracing ourselves for this day. Covering two degrees from the South Pole means that today we would enter eighty seven. The eighty seven degree latitude south, between seventy and ninety west has a reputation for some of the worst sastrugi in all of Antarctica. It is a well traveled route, linking the coast to the South Pole, one which the majority of skiers use, as well as vehicles providing logistical support for the ALE South Pole base. Sastrugi heads there have been reported to reach up to two meters in height. With notoriously strong winds in that region, the combination makes for challenging kiting conditions. The ride can be hellish, requiring minute maneuvering at high speeds, challenging terrain for a sledge prone to tipping and flipping, and guaranteed headaches for the lines when landing the kite. This section suddenly appears while descending the South Pole plateau, the result of powerful and consistent katabatic winds.
We had camped at the edge of eighty seven last night. Already, large sastrugi heads were becoming more and more commonplace, a shape very different from what we had experienced thus far.

Since we rolled the clock, and are now traveling at night, we set off around midnight UTC. The wind was light, and we flew the large kites. Maneuvering through the rough patches was both exhilarating and stunning to look at. In the haze and dimmed sunlight, this made for remarkably beautiful and different terrain. The ground looked like a battle field that had suffered a fierce bombing campaign. The sastrugi shapes were pretty random, and did not seem to follow a specific wind direction. As we weaved a path through this mangled terrain, we were on alert for what was sure be getting a lot worse. This made for a heightened level of tension as we carefully progressed amidst the strengthening wind. Our growing speeds in this rough environment had the sledge flip over one too many times; we chose to down size to the thirteen meter Frenzy’s. Within half an hour, the wind had built further, and the gusts created powerful and precarious accelerations in the rough ice. At each break we said: “Well, it’s about to get a lot worse!” And we’d set off again. The wind today was uncharacteristically in the East, and the growing conditions made it difficult to beat an angle against it; we were being pushed downwind, and losing ground to our tack. The wind kept building, blowing snow and dropping the visibility down. At times, Eric and I could not see each other but for our kites in the air. We were forced to downsize again, to the nine meters this time, and before long, even those were making it tough to beat upwind. But the legendary terrain we anticipated all day with anxiety never materialized. “We’ve been ripped off!”, said Eric. “Where is that sastrugi?” It was true. By now, we were closing in on eighty seven, and the worse was allegedly behind us; we never saw a head reach even a meter, and while we did encounter some very rough patches, none of them lived up to the reputation! The wind, however, did: it was now blowing twenty five knots with gusts pushing thirty, but the direction was making it hard for us to push east. At the angle we kept, we would end smack into the Thiels mountain range, about two degrees down from us. It was cold, we had covered another degree through the day. After six hours on the trail, we decided to set up camp. No point in killing ourselves at this stage: we are ahead of my scheduled assumptions.

The other good news is that my toes have not been cold for the last few days; looks like I will be keeping them after all! This unfortunate chapter of the trip, which has constantly been on my mind, seems to be behind us.

We traveled 115 kilometers today, which puts us 792 kilometers from target. Perhaps seven days…

6 Responses to “Day 69–Strong Winds and Sastrugi”

  1. Matt says:

    YIKE, those toes look terrible…glad its not worse!!!

  2. Gord Lang says:

    thankfully, i had already eaten dinner before reading this post!….take care of those puppies

  3. Tmac says:

    Hope the toes are not as painful as they look………..thats pretty messed up…….super trooper, not far to go now, just make it back safe…… T

  4. BASILE says:

    Yes Your toes look bad,,, but You are on your way maybe to reach your goal with advance… Fancy that!
    All the best for you both
    You are really excellent

  5. Penelope Casadesus says:

    OMG Bast! Did we have to look at a close-up of your toes??! I think I would have preferred a photo of the terrible sastrugi !! At least you have wind now! It’s fascinating to read a day to day account of this trip, although I’m glad it’s you and not me! I seem to remember it wasn’t so long ago that you were both stranded in the tent for a couple of days because of the lack of wind—
    All love – your Mother xxx

  6. Alexandra says:

    Glad you won’t be loosing your toes, they really look beat up (sending healing on them). And the wind is on your side, that’s good news too. Keep up the joy of the adventure, it is a wonderful one.

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