White on White

April 20, 2009 4:08am

88.638N, 52.212W

Another day of high adventure and epic traveling for an exhausting
14 hours of wildly changing conditions. We started our day in what
amounts to a whiteout blizzard. No actual snow was falling of course,
but the wind was drifting light flakes through the air which could have
fooled me. The winds were strong out of the south east, the sun covered
by a deep cloud cover, whilst we were shrouded in fog! The result was
white on white conditions with visibility often reduced to less than
fifty feet.

As with yesterday, all detail was gone from the terrain of course,
which required a high level of concentration to navigate. The drifts
again covered all thinly frozen leads, making them precarious to cross.
My GPS was strapped in front of me with a waist tool as the only
directional reference, save for short visual point bearings–generally
less than 20 feet–when I could actually find one. I invariably plowed
in powdery mounds, and route selection was virtually impossible. But we
lucked out as we benefited–as would seem, since we could not
see!–from somewhat flat pans that enabled us to travel relatively
fast, even under the circumstances. Within two hours, the clouds
lifted, the wind dropped to 5 knots out of the west, and the fog was

The terrain was mostly flat and we were fast. We skied through a
series of extraordinarily beautiful areas which proved one more time
that just as you think you’ve gotten the gyst of variety around here,
the landscape hits you with another stunner–visuals reserved as the
high privilege of the committed Arctic traveler. We came upon two vast
recently frozen leads areas, flat as a salt lake, surrounded on either
side by jagged, pressure ridge-ridden terrain which emphasized the vast
openness of the flat area. They spread for miles. One felt like the
high plains of a Gobi desert. The other was a south/north lead which
had to have frozen over the last week or so. This one was enormous,
stretching for miles, two of which we were able to ski its impecably
flat surface. The lead was a quarter mile wide. As we progressed, we
noticed increasing areas of weak freeze, and small slivers of open
water. This lead us into an enormous, complex system of broken, jagged
and cracked terrain that spread over for miles–surely the result of
the last week of strong winds. Most of the leads were thinly frozen
which facilitated crosses for us, even while the ice was often flexing
under our skis! But the visual impact was unlike anything else:like the
aftermath of a natural nuclear explosion; that something of tremendous
force had literally obliterated any unity in terrain. Lots of fun to
ski around, but a real maze to get out of. We were stuck in it for over
three hours. The frozen sections were getting progressively and
un-mistakenly thinner as we as we headed north. In the distance a thick
ice fog cloud signaled some large open water systems, directly in our
path. The wind had been picking up, and grew to a steady 25 mph from
the north, directly in our face.

The obvious impact of cold, humid and strong Arctic headwind is
fatigue. It beat us up! We skied long and hard all day, but were
stunned that our stats showed only 10 nautical miles! How could that be?
Terrain today was friendly for the most part giving us 1.3 mph average;
leads were generally friendly; we skied long hours… In fact, over our
14 hours of travel, we calculated that we lost 5 miles to the dreaded
south drift, now increased by the north winds! Over our short night of
sleep, we will lose an estimated 3 to 4 miles on top of it…

Under those circumstances, our stopping stats are somewhat moot but
here they are anyway: N88°38.302 and W52°12.727–still also drifting
east, hard. Temperatures are noticeably warmer–around minus 18F
degrees–but you wouldn’t know it for the wind. Our mood is still
positive, and the scope and scale of the sights we are witnessing far
outweighs the challenges they brings. I am left to ponder in amazement
at the power of the nature that surrounds us, and to appreciate the
freedom we are afforded to journey unrestricted through it. What an
adventure! Good night.

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