Day 79–Tough Working Day

January 22, 2012 11:17pm

January 22, 2012

S82°02.720 W079°57.185

Elevation 2763 feet

At the beginning of The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler talks about “those crazy winds, that make normal people do crazy things.” In the book, he refers to the Santa Ana winds, the powerful desert winds that descend on southern California during the winter months and reap havoc with their powerful gusts. But Chandler could well have been describing the Katabatic winds in this area of Antarctica, as yesterday proved to be the toughest, most frustrating day of the entire trip. And the winds, at least in the second half of our long day, had a lot to do with it.

At this stage of the expedition, the challenge is acute; bodies are worn out; nerves are frayed; and the proximity of the finish line adds an elevated tension–it feels like we’re there, but anything could happen with conditions, equipment or injury to rob the laurels and compromise our closing. Getting out in the morning is more difficult by the day. Focus, in these last days, is critical.

After yesterday’s long day, and given the weak morning conditions, we were slow out of the tent. We set off on what begun as a long shlog, moving downwind still, while the terrain proved soft and relatively friendly. As the day wore on, the wind picked up little by little, and our speed accelerated accordingly. The sun was in hiding for most of the morning, but a patch of blue on the horizon held promise for later in the day. In the distance, we could make out a grey shift in the lanscape that was so notable that it looked like the sea. Evidently, that was not it, but the distinction in shading had us wonder what this could be. By the time we reached it, the sun pierced through the clouds and exploded onto the ice. What it revealed was the most tightly woven sastrugi shredded area that we were about to enter. At the speed were now traveling, this meant another serious rodeo. The sastrugi was not high, save for some sporadic spots to be avoided at all cost, but there was literally no flat area to set a tent should we have chosen to do so. We still followed the “road”, but our straight downwind bearing made it challenge to stay on it at all times. In between, the accelerations over this terrain were intense. The shaking that goes on, both on the limbs and in the sledge, is hard to describe. Now that the sledge is half empty, things fly all over the place in there.

Early in the day, my water bottle, filled with what precious chocolate and protein mix I had left over, bursted in the sledge, soaking–then quickly freezing–all the nearby items. This is especially frustrating as that sweet chocolate solution has been a favored item of mine, especially since the petrol leak which contaminated my reserves, and forced me to ditch a couple of bags. I am now left with drinking warm water on the trail!

After flipping the sledge a couple of times–the reduced weight at this stage of the trip makes flips virtually impossible to prevent–I inspected the crack on the ski bed. In the last few days, given the harder ice we have been skiing over, the crack has been noticeably worsening. By now, it was beginning to shred, and the stoewaway snow inside was out of control. I have concerns over whether it will finish the trip. I have given the heavier items to Eric, to reduce the pounding, and starting today, I will actually pull the sledge backwards, which should reduce the impact on that front crack.

We had been making good distance, but eventually, the wind proved too strong for the big guns. This I realized when, after stopping to flip my sledge back, I could not prevent the kite, while resting on the ground, from pulling the sledge which made it virtually impossible to get my skis on! Blowing snow was now kicking hard; in a matter of minutes, conditions had gone from fifteen knots to twenty five. After wrestling with the kite to fold it, and coiling the long lines, I launched the nine meter Frenzy. It was perfect for the conditions. Except that five minutes into it, the blowing snow was gone, and the wind had dropped to under ten knots! We went back to the Yakuza’s, but twenty minutes in, after wrestling with what quickly became overpowered conditions, we were forced to put down again, and wrap the kite. We set up the nine’s once again, but by the time they were up and ready to go, the wind had dropped! We waited and decided for the thirteens. This begun a back and forth circus that lasted another three hours. We opted against rigging and re-rigging and simply sat on the sledges during the lulls which happened every few minutes. We had covered 122 kilometers in the first seven hours out on the trail; during the following three, we managed only 12 kilometers given the twitchy conditions. Our hopes to close another two hundred kilometer day were shattered; and mostly out of frustration, we chose to set up camp. Of course, the minute we were set up, the wind came back, and stayed until we fell asleep. I cursed more on that day alone than I have the entire trip!

Before shutting down, we heard the sound of an engine approaching the tent. It was the six wheel mega van from ALE’s South Pole base. The chaps driving it stopped by for a moment, and gave us a beer. Ooops! Does that actually make us re-supplied…! In the end we covered a total of 134 kilometers. We are 230 kilometers from Hercules Inlet, a distance we could cover in a day… if the winds would hold. This morning as I write this, they are kicking and blowind snow. It is promising. For the record, we have covered a total of 3622 kilometers so far. Adjusted miles are about 3900 kilometers given the many downwind tacks and the imposed detour approaching the South Pole and the Clean Air Sector. We are closing in. It may be a photo finish, but we’re going to do this!

7 Responses to “Day 79–Tough Working Day”

  1. Fred says:

    That made my day: your words about Chandler’s writing in ‘The Big Sleep’, all from the bottom of the world and even more relevant to those fortunate enough to have lived in Southern California. You two deserve the just rewards and then some. We’re all with you ’til the end.

  2. Tmac says:

    as we greet you in the flesh soon i hope……..your daily blogs will be missed, truly an out standing performance, jacklyn tells me you made your destination…….congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!mega proud of you Tmac

  3. Harald Golbach says:

    Wow it’s amazing! I’ll Miss your Blog very soon it seems. Go for it!
    Looking foreward to talk you soon for sure.
    May The Wind Blow you home…..
    All my Love harry

  4. Stephan says:

    Hey Sebastian hope you are tasting this rich feat on all your taste buds. You have done an inspired piece of living and as one of you vicarious friends I am richer for it in my own endeavor.
    So proud to be blood with you and share your conviction to
    be fully awake.
    Much love brother

  5. BASILE says:

    Now it’s done!!!! Again: congratulations Sebastian and Eric,,, You are incredible.
    And YES your blog will be missed me
    I enjoy to read it every day or almost
    It is a part of our life, now.

  6. Penelope Casadesus says:

    The best phone call in all time! I’m so proud that you made it – and early too! Too bad that you have to sit on the ice for two days because you were early! But I’m sure that the days you spend in Chile will be full of showers and great meals – plus doctor’s visits for those poor toes—whoo-hoo! It’s over! so glad! So proud of my son! my love xxx – m xxx

  7. joe robinson says:

    So excited and happy for you my friend. What a tremendous adventure. What an amazing accomplishment.
    Reading your daily blogs has been like a slowly evolving adventure mystery. Gripping and exciting.

    Make sure you take good care getting off the ice and making you way home. Will probably fly out to LA shortly after you get back to say hello.

    Miss you tons and cant wait for a long sit down in front of the fire to hear all about it.



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