Day 24–White Void

June 7, 2010 1:48pm

Victorious Team after covering 595 kilometers in 24 hours

Dramatic skies would soon turn to whiteness

75°51.873 W48°06.979 Elevation 8617 Feet

It’s not good to stay in one spot too long–deliberately. And get too comfortable. Being out on the ice, is not supposed to be comfortable; it keeps you focused. Following our 24 hour run, rewarded by a new world record, we gifted ourselves the luxury of a day off. This was partly out of necessity for physical recovery, partly because we covered almost a quarter of the trip in one day (!), but also as a pat on the back. The trouble is, when you take a day off, it’s hard to go back out!

On the following day, yesterday, we were slow out of the tent. The sun was struggling to peak out of thick clouds, and it had been snowing intermittently for the last 36 hours. In some way, the high point of the trip could appear to now be behind us, affording us to let our guard down. Nothing could be further from the truth. We still have 750 kilometers to cover, and as we head north, we are likely to face changing weather, more night travel, possibly cooling temperatures and the prospect of negotiating some nasty crevasse fields upon approaching land. Not to mention some tough hiking off the glacier which will take a couple of days. In other words, the time to put your guard down is when you buckle the seat belt on the plane back home! And the best way to keep it up is to pull ourselves out of the cozy tent, and face the elements.

Eric and I have had a good moment to savor our accomplishment, and the new world record. Playing back the beats of that day, it is rewarding to come out with the gold. We were fortunate to benefit from good conditions, both on the ground with mostly soft snow, and in the air with winds that started strong and held all day, even if sometimes by a hair. Finally, we were quick to capitalize on those conditions and extract good distance early. The reward is worth every penny of strain on the body and the mind (there is a reason it is called “pushing the limits”!) But it is clear that we were also lucky. And those that preceded us, who punished themselves with the same rigor deserve just as much credit. To get over 500 K in a day is one hell of a feat!

By the time we packed the tent, a snow storm was headed our way. We could see it approaching and decided to make a run for it. Getting caught in it could kill all visibility and force us back in the tent. The sky was spectacular, with dramatic, dark stormy clouds on the horizon, and open patches of blue giving the sun a way to race across the ice amidst puffy white cumulus’ above. The wind was weak, and our speed was slowed by our travel direction: straight downwind, which requires attentive care to keep the kite in the air while negotiating endless “S” turns.

The fresh snow of the last two days covered the ground with almost a foot and a half of fresh powder, which added considerable drag.

If it snows, it means it isn’t cold. Temperatures were hovering just below freezing, which does not bid well for the ice here. Greenland has seen the greatest temperature fluctuation anomalies this year, with the warmest March on record. I don’t know the mean average for now, but this feels unusually warm.
The snow storm eventually spread over us, but thinned out enough to keep us traveling. However, the white clouds above stripped all visible details from the ground and often shielded the horizon. The result was like skiing in white void. It was impossible to determine the features of the ice in front of the skis; it was challenging to decipher the position of the kite relative to the ground; and accordingly, it was difficult to determine our speed of travel! Once, as I leaned against the pull of the kite, I found myself sitting in snow: I had no frame of reference of what was upright! The best analogy is existing inside a film’s special effect blue screen. Very surreal and disorienting! We used the wind for a compass, as the sun was altogether invisible. And chose to bear west somewhat, more on a broad reach, to create more tension in the lines.

The conditions remained bleak all day, even while the wind strengthened. We bounced haphazardly over the featureless terrain, while the light, fluffy powder got into everything; the sledges were covered in white! After seven hours, we packed it in with a very reasonable 131 kilometers of travel distance. We are 623 kilometers from our objective. We get picked up in 14 days…

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