The Race is On

April 11, 2009 4:18am

Yesterday I said that the ice on a lead generally doesn’t break at once. Well sometimes it does. Today it did.
were out for 13 hours today, but only managed 10 nautical miles. There
were three reasons for this: 1) I fell in the drink; 2) we had our one
re-supply today 3) we hit a lot of deep powder with the new heavy
loads on the sledges.
First, the bath. We were trying to make time
and had a good start until a small east/west lead blocked our way. A
narrow section looked questionable but doable as it was only about 10
feet wide. I volunteered figuring that we could rush across the lead
and roll the dice. I unhooked from my sledge, stepped carefully on the
flexing ice, took a large step forward, and all at once–the
dreaded–the ice gave from under me and I slowly but inescapably sunk
to my neck in Arctic water. Keith quickly threw me a line and pulled me
out which left me dripping in minus 25F. I quickly rolled in the ice to
let it absorb the excess water before it froze, and stripped to put new
clothes on. It goes without saying that getting down to your skivvies
under these conditions isn’t anyone’s idea of fun–it was most
unpleasant. One of the great lessons of this environment is that there
are no time outs; no quitting and no savior. The mess you’re in is
yours to clean, and this responsibility works anywhere. Once changed we
proceeded to look for another crossing which didn’t, in the end, took
that long. But soon thereafter, we heard the powerful rotors of a
Russian MI8 helicopter, which was our scheduled re-supply drop. There
was much excitement off the chopper with a video camera and a
photographer, big hugs etc. Rick, the head of our logistics team at
Polar Explorers was there to greet us and give us our bags of food and
fuel. Victor who runs Barneo ice station, the floating base which will facilitate
our exit from the pole, gave us big, bear-like Russian hugs. Much as
the direct contact with the outside was warm and comforting, for us the
contrast was almost disconcerting: the temptation to sit longer inside
the warm chopper, to take in the comfort and conversation was a large
window outside of the harsh world we have been laboriously adapting to.
Exposed too long to this other reality, and our morale would suffer.
Besides, we were losing more time. So we rushed our supplies into the
sledges, and set off. Only now, the sledges’ weight of our first days
was there again! That miserable sensation of pulling way more than
seems reasonable, and this for another 170 nautical miles… What’s more the
terrain proved challenging and uneven, with many patches of deep
powder. Everything to make the new weight even more unbearable! The
morale was low, as another reality sunk in: at the rate we have been
going, we will not make the pole in time to exit through Barneo. If
that were the case, I would be looking at enormous costs to evacuate
through Resolute and Canada, funds which are not there…
So the
additional challenge is set; the race against the clock is on. We have
14 days to reach our goal. We need to average 12 nautical miles a day, which
we have not done so far, and not from lack of trying… Besides we are
drifting south–we lost half a mile last night and by the time we wake
up, we will have lost another mile–the drift is taking us backwards,
which is not unusual. We will restrategize. But for now we are dead
tired and will seek sleep for counsel… Temperature today was around
minus 25°F with a razor sharp chilly breeze into our faces from the
north west. Our current position is N87°20.021 and W76°49.910. The
adventure continues–but the pressure is on.
Good night!

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