Day 5–Going Up and up…and up

May 18, 2010 9:14pm

N61:21.447 W46:46.910 Elevation:1289 meters

“Bitch of a hill”, I ventured.
“Yeah. It keeps going up…”, Eric replied.
And like that, we fell back into another hour of the silence that has come to characterize our travel. There isn’t much you’re in the mood to discuss under the strain of the effort, anymore than you would talk while running a marathon. In reality we have been ascending the ice sheet for the last four days and it doesn’t seem to let up. Its crest is forever teasing ahead of us, rolling up further when it feels like we are within reach. Of course we know the deal: we have now climbed almost 1300 meters (4260 feet) in elevation since we started at sea level, and this type of effort will carry on for another 500 meters or so, unless of course the winds turn, and we can switch to kites. If Sisyphus had been dealt his punishment on the ice, he might well have been forced to pull two heavy sledges up the ice sheet forever!
The mental cycle goes something like this: first you pump yourself and fix an objective, in this case six hours of night travel. After filling up on carbs and liquids, and while the cooling temperatures are still manageable, you set off gingerly, convinced that today you will fall into your rhythm. Pretty soon, your breath shortens, and you are chasing the negative thoughts that creep inside your head (Why am I doing this? I’m too old for this @#%*! I’m not in as good a shape as I thought! I will never last through the night…). At the first break, the sweat that invariably builds on your back and stomach instantly chills from the freezing wind, and your core drops to a deep chill. The outer layer you will now put on will come off again ten minutes or so into the next cycle. By then, the blood will leave you extremities to process the food you’ve just ingested and your fingers will go numb from the cold! Time to layer up there too, for ten or fifteen minutes, until the hands get TOO warm: layer down! Meanwhile your mental resources are playing tricks on you again. Upon setting off from the break, the cold dictates the pace in order to warm up quick; and for a brief moment, you feel good! But soon, a temporary shift in the slope’s grade will rob that gait and challenge your thoughts again (I choose to be here! This kid is twenty years younger than me! Dig deep! “There’s no crying in baseball…”) In the end, the mental resources are your own; to find the reasons to push forward has a lot to do with why you’re there in the first place. Modern exploration, or extreme adventure, has mostly to do with pushing your own limits, and stretching the capabilities of the human spirit. To be cold can sometimes be reduced to a state of mind; and made abstraction of. And it doesn’t hurt that I have a little angel sitting on my shoulder!
We pushed through to our 4AM target, covering 14.6 kilometers and set up camp. Outside, the thermometer registers minus 10C degrees without wind-chill. The sun is peaking on the horizon and soon our freezing tent will turn into a sweat lodge! But for now, it’s a quick meal and the eye mask: it has never fully gotten dark and it is about to get really bright!

Sebastian sending daily blogs using an HP smart phone and iridium technology

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