Day 4–Nightshift

May 17, 2010 9:18pm

Greenland hints at its extremes as the stillness and thawing daytime temperatures fluidly roll into night and the cutting wind drop the air down to twenty below. During the day, the sun relentlessly beats down on the ice’ surface, turning the night’s hard crust into wet snow. This makes impractical daytime travel: the sledges and our skis sink into the slush, adding prohibitive drag to the loads. Consequently, we have turned the clock and set off when the sun hugs the horizon ending its apex, and the air temperature plummets. This makes for a vertiginous range in conditions: under the midday sun, inside the tent is like a baking oven! But upon setting off for our nightime sojourn, we brace ourselves for the piercing cold of the headwinds.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon resting and reading. Stepping outside the tent, I took in the fading mountain range to the south, and the way the haze diffused the multiple layers of ridges and peaks. With the domineering white ice in the foreground, it looked like a water color of itself. Soon, and for the next forty days, we will see no such features: the only shapes will be those made by clouds, or the way the wind and the melt defines the ice’ surface (the “sastrugi”).

By 9PM, we broke camp, strapped on our skis and begun making miles. Cold at first, the body quickly heats up under the strain of the effort: we are still pulling uphill, and will be doing so for a while. On breaks, the sweat instantly cools down, and the freezing wind sets a deep chill that will stay with me all night. Pulling the sledges in this condition reminds me of the North Pole, and sets the tone for the South Pole. It is hard work! At this latitude and at this time of the year, the night no longer goes totally dark, and long after it has set, the sun’s glow meekly hangs below the horizon. Breaks offer brief interludes to the intense effort, their length dictated by the cold that sets in almost immediately. A few dry fruits and nuts and a swig of protein and we set off again in the silence that characterizes this type of travel.

By 3:30AM we call it a night. I am especially tired, having not adjusted yet to the night schedule, and miscalcullated my fuel intake. A quick dinner and I crawl inside my sleeping bag, bundled up from the deep chill that has been with me all night. In a couple of hours, I will wake up wet with sweat as the sun will reverse this vicious cycle…

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