Day 77-78–Smooth and Rough

January 21, 2012 8:00pm

January 20-21, 2012

S83°15.111 W080°02.357

Elevation 3712 feet

We waited all night; and waited all day. By late afternoon, the ceiling of white clouds that had been over us for the past three days opened up, and patches of blue sky brought new details to the surroundings. The visibility was back, revealing the Thiel mountain range behind us. But the winds were timid. We tested the kites for flight, got dressed and ready to go, only to return to the tent as they were faltering. A slight flutter of the tent’s walls motivated another try and we made a go for it. With the mountains as vivid backdrop, we were finally on the move. The southerly winds put us on a straight downwind tack. The terrain was smooth, and soft. The wind at the surface was very weak, but fifty meters above, it was strong enough, and so long as we did not drop too low, the long lines on the Yakuza’s propelled us forward at a pretty good click. The soft snow made for smooth, long “S” turns; the temperature was pleasant. In this way, the day was shaping up to deliver some of the best, most enjoyable rides we have had perhaps the entire trip. And we were gaining efficient, easy miles. A civilized way to reward us for the closing of this expedition. It wasn’t long, however, before the terrain started roughening up. After four hours of some of the very best snow and flat terrain Antarctica had delivered, the ground begun hardening, and the sastrugi increased in size and volume. Within less than thirty minutes after the smoothest rides of the trip, we found ourselves in the densest, most shredded terrain we have experienced, with dips as great as a meter deep and large, hard sastrugi heads, all this over terrain that reminded me of over sized cheese grate! The wind had built through the day, and flying over this may well have loosened some of my fillings, and made my brain rattle! We switched to the thirteen meters, for easier maneuvering around the broken up grounds, while reducing our speed. On one occasion, my sledge wedged to a violent stop against a sastrugi head, from a twenty kilometers per hour speed. The force was such, that it ripped the leash attachment off my harness and tore the back of it completely. I was launched in the air by the newly released and powered up kite and landed squarely on my shoulder, on the hard ice. I had maneuvered around a sastrugi formation, but the sledge had slipped and collided head on with a four foot head. No break, luckily–neither for me nor the sledge. But I am not sure why. I rigged a different attachment on the harness, and we were back at it, with extra caution! Eventually, we came upon a road, or as much as what can be called a road out here, which amounts to a vehicle track over which at least three expedition recently added their own. Out here, it is the equivalent of a highway! The road leads to Hercules Inlet; from this location, any track would. We jumped on it. While still hard and cheese grate-like, it was clear of the large sastrugi dips and head, and removed navigation from the equation. But the winds soon dropped, and we had trouble keeping the thirteen’s in the air. Travel slowed to a crawl, and we packed the kites up, and set up the tent. We had been on the trail for ten hours and felt pretty worked. Once the tent was up, however, the wind seem to come up a little. Eric and I looked at each other, and without saying much, quickly agreed to break it down, set up the big kites, and keep going. This time, we were in for a white knuckled adrenaline fueled ride down that yellow brick road! The winds quickly built up again, and over that hard ice, with little friction, our speed was almost out of control–reaching fifty kilometers per hour over terrain that I would not speed over with a 4X4! We pushed for thirty minutes, but decided to switch down again: it would be a shame to get injured this close from the end, and there were definitely times when the kite would pull us off the “road” for some rough riding. We rigged the thirteen’s again, but within forty five minutes, we were down to a crawl. The winds had just shut off. The sun was bright. The temperature reasonably warm at about 15C below. We had been on the trail for twelve hours, and had put a good dent into the remainder of miles separating us from the finish line. We traveled 233.6 kilometers–three kilometers from our personal best of the trip–which puts us 363 kilometers from target. We have four days to complete mission. Things are looking hopeful.

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