Day 34–Land!

June 14, 2010 6:20pm

Looking at the mountains after 30 days of just ice

N77°57.844 W66°42.035 Elevation 4578 Feet

“An hour and a half?”, Eric asked almost mechanically.

“Yep”. That was short hand for the length of a run until our next break. And an exchange we have had perhaps a hundred time since we started. With that, we each gave a tug at our lines, and watched the kites slowly lift from the ground, pulling us and the sledges away from the campsite. It was 4 PM. The night had been dead calm, and the day proved equally still. As the afternoon wore on, the wind manifested just enough zeal to get us going, but took a pass on glory. Still, we availed ourselves of its low octane and got on our way. The weather was pleasantly warm, and the ice quite soft. This was going to be a day of relaxed travel, listening to music, and chipping away at the remaining eighty miles or so of kiting distance, before switching to skis to tackle the crevasses.

The tenor of the day, however, would be different; and we both knew it. Today would break from the glorious visual monotony of the last thirty days, and cast a new, almost forgotten dimension to our travel. And it did not take long to manifest.

First it was one; then two peaks. And suddenly, like a cloak being lifted from the horizon, a whole mountain range appeared to the west of us, a welcoming committee to the final phase of our journey. We had not seen land for over a month. And the sight of those peaks slowly pulling upwards as we rode up a hill brought a mix of joy and nostalgia. Weeks of staring at the purest split between two elemental dimensions (water–in frozen form–and air) gives you a taste for deciphering the subtlest details of color, shade and form–especially when they all blend in together! With it comes a new understanding of the infinite realm of possibility within these two registers. It’s like learning a new language, while attending a course in Zen philosophy. Now don’t get me wrong: this is not a vapid crack at some bargain basement spirituality. Pealing off the layers of apparent visual simplicity, into its multitude of components gives a new appreciation for the complexity of the world that surrounds us.
To bring us in easy, the patchy clouds that sprinkled the deep blue sky started mixing with the range in the distance. And the familiar strips of sun light racing across the ice added multi layers to the horizon line. And pretty soon the mountains were absorbed by the sky in an abstract blend that gave us just a few more moments of privileged isolation. Just enough to say our farewells. From this day forth, we will slowly reintegrate to a world dominated by land, and the social intricacies that come with it. In the distance, more peaks started rising from the horizon line, and I remembered from the map that this was likely the coastline to the south of the bay of Qaanaaq. These had to be both tall and distant as we are still close to 1300 meters: there is a lot of land that is hidden by the ice sheet, and we will need to further drop in elevation before uncovering it.

After barely an hour and a half, the wind shut off completely. We covered just about thirty kilometers, leaving us fifty kilometers of kiting distance, and about twenty of skiing. A boat will pick us up in seven days, if the water is indeed free of ice–which is unclear at this point. We will call in a helicopter if it isn’t. Meanwhile and for today, I will look out to the ice, and away from the mountains, to hold on one more day to the complex simplicity of void.

By tomorrow, I will start to think of a bath!

PS My grandmother turns 96 today! She has a better memory than mine and she is fully self sufficient! Happy birthday, Grandma!

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