Day 36–A Day Without Mercy

December 10, 2011 12:42pm

December 10, 2011

S79°24.532 E032°37.736

Elevation 11428 feet

Any story about traveling across the Antarctica ice cap will begin and end with the sastrugi. Those ice features sculpted by the wind will break bones, equipment and sometimes your spirit. They cover the surface of the ice as if the later had been shredded by shrapnel. And today, we got another giant serving of it in a way that I was not particularly ready for.

Two weeks ago, I busted my big right toe nail, and since then, it has swollen and filled with liquid. I have been dressing it with antibiotic cream and medical tape morning and night, but the discoloration has me concerned. Additionally, during yesterday’s marathon session, the moisture on my face mask froze on my chin, trapped by facial hair. The comic part of this is I had my face mask hanging from my chin for a good twenty minutes after getting into the tent and ended getting the partial equivalent of an ice waxing when I finally pried the ice off it. The less funny part is that hours of that state on the trail resulted in a cold injury on the chin, and having to devise a different facial system. Those two were on my mind getting out of the tent this morning. When an injury develops out here, all types of concerns start brewing in your mind, factoring the worse case scenario, and its consequences, and you quickly feel vulnerable. Which is why when we got hit by the most vicious sastrugi-ridden terrain, five minutes into our first session, I realized I was going to have a bad day. I did not understand how bad it was going to be until one hour before it ended.

The wind was there, consistent in direction with prior days, and capitalizing–in the first half of the day, anyway–on yesterday’s system. But our theory of good and bad ice alternating every thirty kilometers or so quickly vanished as we bucked and bounced over the nastiest, unrelenting ice conditions over eighty of the 94.34 kilometers we covered in the day. My brain is still rattling as I write this and I may have loosened all my fillings from the shaking that went on all day. It was not fun. Seeing the shredded ice stretch without mercy in all direction actually made me question what I was doing out here. I saw Eric get bounced around as if riding a bull and thought: “Any time now, that binding repair job is going to go, and we’ll be marooned in this hellish ice!” Meanwhile I was thrown around myself like a pantomime, begging for some smooth terrain. For kilometers on end, the ice was so bad that I could not see a spot where we could have set up a tent had we wanted to. It turns out the smoother terrain never came, though the severity mellowed out somewhat in the last hour. Luckily, we were traveling in a straight downwinder for most of the afternoon, which meant moving in the direction–and not across–the sastrugi, and with less pull on the lines. We miraculously managed a good distance nonetheless, which brings us to 497 kilometers from the POI and has dropped our daily average requirements to 41 kilometers for the next 33 days until the South Pole. However, the afternoon warmed up, and the wind died again around 17:30, which seems to mean that we are back to the old system and probably weaker winds ahead. The tension remains…

2 Responses to “Day 36–A Day Without Mercy”

  1. BASILE says:

    Please take care even it is difficult in this environment

  2. Penelope Casadesus says:

    This looks HORRENDOUS – I can hardly see the beauty in it when I think how hard it must be to pull those sleds over all this bumpy ice! And your toe—ugh! SOOO painful! Take care. We’re all rooting for you two
    your loving mother xxx

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