Day 13-Styrofoam Snow and Sticky Business

November 18, 2011 10:55am

November 17, 2011

S70°51.212 E010°59.213

Elevation 6580 ft

The sun was hiding behind a white blanket of cloud cover, and a very fine snow was drifting down when we woke. By the time we made it out of the tent, a light fog was obstructing the horizon, and the visibility was mediocre. However, a light breeze was coming from the East, perhaps enough to fly the big guns and point upwind. It was worth a shot, even if to switch boots and unwind the 75 meters of line can be a downer, when it proves futile. With the soft snow, the sledges brought extra drag, and while I managed to get the kite up, moving was laborious, especially upwind. The kite folded a few times before collapsing in a crumpled mess, requiring unclipping, walking the length of the lines, there and back to reset the wing, and giving it another try. Eric, a specialist of light winds was patient with me. This seemed pointless, but for the prospect of hauling instead. By luck, the wind manifested a little, and we were on our way. My ribs were in check with the customized leg straps and Ibuprofen 800’s–felt like a sore lateral muscle. Soon, the wind strengthen some and we were gaining ground. The pull upwind was considerable on the 14 meter Yakuza’s, and required hard and sustained edging with the skis. But the feeling you get from watching the ground fly below your feet after days of pulling is almost magical! Each foot a victory. It was not to last, however. We landed the kites for a short break after an hour, time enough for the wind to drop. The glacier we are presently ascending is squeezed between two mountain ranges, their height noticeably lower as we gain elevation, and the are bottlenecking where we are. This and the foggy weather makes it surprising that we even got some wind to begin with. After an hour of frustrated attempts and unfulfilled promises, we were back to winding the lines, puling the cross country skis and boots out, and switching harnesses… A very fine coating of dry snow would keep falling, while the sun attempted in vain to clear the low clouds. The fresh coating resulted in what we call “styrofoam snow”: the temperature is too low for the snow crystals to bond. The result is snow that sounds and feels like pulling over the plastic foam: it creates extra drag, hampering our progress and speed, not to mention our spirit. In 20C below, we are both in woolen tops, no jacket. The steam instantly turns to white crystals, frosting up the wet wool. The effort is relentless. Sucking on air, a ten foot section can deplete you like a hundred meter sprint. I looked up and saw a white bird–a Tern–barely visible against the white clouds, circling us a few times before disappearing in the white void. Probably an angel, coming down to check on us! After three hours of this, we pack it in. It is 6:30 PM–and tea time. We have managed 15.16 km and 460 feet of elevation. We have traveled almost 125 kilometers since we started, and are two thirds of the way up the glacier. This is painstaking.

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