Day 37–Life

June 17, 2010 3:01pm

This is after the remodeling…

N77°44.458 W69°21.449 Elevation 2176 Feet

I woke up to the buzzing sound of a fly; a bird was chirping nearby; and under the thin layer of granular snow below our camp, I could make out the tinkering sound of a stream. What a difference a day–and about a thousand meter drop in elevation–makes. Amidst the lichen, the soaked moss, and the small patches of thawing tundra, the bustling cycle of life is underway in ways that we are rediscovering after our stretch of isolation on the ice. I generally don’t give much thought to bugs flying by, other than a source of nuisance. But as we wearily sat on a rock to prepare our nine AM dinner, I observed in wonder the fly that landed on my hand as it explored it for microscopic bits of nourishment. While it methodically poked through the creases of my fingers, I contemplated the miracle of life in its remarkably opportunistic way. I also wondered what mix of vintage bacteria it found there and immediately concluded that this fly must have an appreciation for nuts, dry fruit and cheese, which is what I snacked on since my last hand sanitizer cleanse!
It was nice to have a rock–something!–to sit on. And as we ate our meal, soaking the warm rays of the high morning sun (we are four days from the summer solstice), I replayed in my mind the extraordinary transition that happened over the last eight hours of travel: from approaching land, to now being immersed in it, and the dramatic shift that came with it. Simply put: it feels like re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, after a walk on the moon!
We eventually received word last night that, given the thinly frozen state of the sea ice, neither dogsleds, nor skidoos can pick us up at the bottom. It will have to be helicopter; and the date is two days from no–on the 19th.
With that, we elected to make our way down to sea level, to bookend our trip. This left about twenty four kilometers of distance. With the vast amount of icepack, and the cool temperatures of night travel, we decided to push on with the kites as far as the terrain would allow. The wet snow of day hours freezes at night; this would strengthen the bridges over crevasses, and judging from the ones we had already crossed, this felt like a safe bet.
The wind had come up to a reasonable breeze, and we set out at one AM on the big kites.
The terrain was exhilarating: the rolling hills that had stretched over many miles on the ice sheet, were now compressed over a few hundred meters, and we flew up and down over them with ease, against the arresting backdrop of the mountain ranges that framed the fogged bay, some four thousand feet below.
We struggled for a while to find a path amidst the rolling hills of ice, and the precipitous cliffs that surrounded them. As the night wore on, and we progressively dropped in elevation, temperatures rose and we downsized to the smaller Mantas to give us more control maneuvering around the many crevasse fields.
We eventually found a way up and around the glacier. It was framed by black cliffs on either side, and we came to reach the last uninterrupted snow slope. The surface condition was crusty, and given the steep angle of the hill, we struggled to keep the sledges from barreling past us. We were making long “S” turns down the face with the kites, but the winds were now quite light, especially in the shadow of those hills. After flipping one sledge one too many times, I folded my kite, grabbed a hold of the sledges’ leash, picked a straight line and fired straight down! This would be the last time on this trip that I would feel the ice fly below my skis, and as we rapidly dropped in elevation, I would relish every moment of it! I could see the terrain leveling off ahead of me. And a new feature appeared: the patchy protrusion of rocks, breaking the ice’s surface, and a small frozen lake that gathered at the foot of the hill. I generated all the speed I could muster to carry me farthest on the leveling ground; after squeezing the very last inch of distance, I slowly came to a stop.
We had reached the base of the glacier, and for the most part, the end of the ice. The temperature had warmed up considerably to five degrees above freezing; the sky was clear; the sun baking; and we changed into shorts! After pulling the sledges along the last few sliver of snow, we settled on what is now an oasis of white amidst a sea of rocks, and set up camp.
Eric pulled the stoves out, and set them on the rocks. This, too, was a novel idea: eating outside! After dinner, I went for a hike–again, something new! The setting is arresting. We still have almost 2200 feet to descend to reach ocean level, over what looks like about a kilometer and half. All of that will be done dragging the sledges over rocks! We have forty hours to do it in before our helicopter pick up. As I reached a hilltop overlooking the bay below, I took in the majestic splendor of the surrounding mountains, and the frozen sea below. And I thanked the little angel on my shoulder that secured a safe passage. The fog that shrouded the bay this morning is dissipating. Hopefully it will hold back until our pick up: from what heard, fog can sometimes settle for days. That would compromise our helicopter pick. But then, maybe we’d get a chance to see bear…

2 Responses to “Day 37–Life”

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