A full moon has a huge effect on bodies of water like oceans and lakes but here where the Arctic Ocean is frozen solid, the sounds of a roaring sea are muffled into winter still, even here at 88 degrees of latitude the full moon has impact. Three days before, the ice starts cracking due to the gravitational pull of the moon and forms into pressure ridges, tucks and pulls and leads are formed. Since the start of our expedition we cross maybe on or two a day but today we crossed a dozen because of the full moon. We are lucky because the majority of the leads are frozen and we can walk across them but if the temperatures would have been a little higher, the crossings would be challenging and very time consuming. The leads may stay open a few more days and then close again as ice will push it together. The storm has abated finally and high pressure is building. Wind has shifted to the North and we skied 21 km today with the wind in our back, a record. A nice chance from last week’s painful experience of skiing in the wind. As we sleep, the drift will take us further south and hopefully soon we gain some more west. A. Very inspiring and optimistic day indeed, lets hope there are more on the way.
Happy birthday Mark! Mark de Vries is the engine behind our blogsite. Without his dedication and behind the scene work it would have been difficult to report from the ice as we are currently doing. We are thankful and thinking of you today!
How quickly storms move in and out of the Arctic. Only 12 hours ago we were tent bound because of a blizzard, today we skied over scoured wind packed terrain that had iced up and provided us with a smooth surface. This morning we had for the first time a 360 view of the Arctic. Incredible, all the ice is just one year old and flat as a pancake. You can really see now that we are walking over frozen water and just in a few months this will be water. It warmed up to a pleasant temperature (-21C) and with great speed we logged 17 km today in an effort to make up for the 60 km (!) we drifted to the east which brings us now directly over west Greenland. We pray for a southeast drift from now on! Replace this text with your blog of the day
- remark from Mark – Love the fact that the picture is on its side…
When Eric turned on his GPS this morning, he stated in disbelief that we had drifted back 11 km to the east overnight. “We need to have a talk” he said seriously as he lit the stove for breakfast.
The wind rattled the fabric of our tent all night long and our mats and sleeping bags are covered with snow from the blowing drift finding a way through the zippers of our tent. “It is miserable outside, and if there is no visibility, I am not keen on going out given yesterdays experience”.
We all know what we are up against: a tent day means further away from progress to Cape Discovery and we need every single day to make the required km. We have been drifting east and north and in the 10 days we are on the ice we are not further to our end goal because we lose all progress at night. So we are getting concerned not making enough km per day. Martin went outside. He reported nil visibility and drifting snow blowing horizontally. It is official, we are caught in a blizzard. The barometric pressure dropped to below 900 bars and keeps on dropping. Cully reports a giant storm covering all of the Arctic. The storm is moving towards Russia but winds of 30 to 56 km/hr are reported everywhere on the Arctic ocean. My nose and fingers are still recovering from frost nip and I am not particularly interested in more exposure and risk serious frostbite if we need to ski in this freezing wind. In the meantime, the odometer on the GPS reads a drift of 1 km to the east per hour: that is 24 km overnight! We are now at same longitude as when we started 10 days ago, which is starting to be a concern. Pray for a wind shift in the eastern and southern direction.
Too much to our chagrin we call in a tent day. We catch up on filming sequences inside the tent which we haven’t been able to do, write emails, in dairies and had a second cup of coffee. Eric read from his previous dairy and reported swimming leads on day 2 in 2011 and a positive drift of 21 km in the southern direction. We haven’t seen open water yet and there is much more snow on the ground then in previous years probably related to unusual precipitation of last summer and its cloud coverage. Drifting in a sleeping bag in a tent is more comfortable then trying to ski out today with the exact same results at the end of the day, at least a positive spin to this experience.
* we are not getting all emails or text messages on our iridium phone for some reason. We asked iridium to look into this but no result yet. The best way to contact us is either by sending a text message on the iridium website or use email*
Before 6 pm we put our tent up because we were DONE. The wind is hauling from the south about 15 km/hr which puts another -10 degrees to our already frigid temperatures of – 35C. Because we drifted 3 km overnight to the east again, we need to gain west in a hurry before it becomes a problem. So due to our drift and wind situation, we decided to go straight west. Cully who is giving us weather forecasts warned us about a shift in winds from the west to the southwest which means we likely drift back to the north pole. It is the big picture we need to focus on, the 653 km we still need to ski to Cape Discovery, the meals and fuel we carry in our sleds that will dictate how far we can go until our resupply. By the second break, neither one of us could warm their fingers. We just ate snacks, drank hot water, talked minimum, put back our down coats and kept going. We break zippers on our jackets and pants because they are frozen shut. Any skin exposed in the wind chill will freeze immediately. Our facemasks are completely iced up and between the fur liner and the face mask is just room for a pair of eyes finding a route through the rubble. By the third break, I asked Eric and Martin who invited them on this trip. “Not a friend” Martin laughed. It is good to keep a sense of humour when the situation is so dire like today. Not even 15 min after our break, my nose turned white from frostbite. Eric had to put two scarfs over my face to prevent further exposure. We kept going for another hour but the wind was biting too hard and we were spend. Lets hope for better conditions tomorrow.
The dream of centuries to stand at the North Pole. But those who did the standing were not those who did the dreaming. I cant say that is true for me. Ever since I skied to the North Pole in 2007, I dreamt of going back on a pole to land expedition, one you only want to do once in your life because of its hardship. And today we reached a first milestone of the expedition, we passed 88 degrees. But our expedition is very different then in the 1800′s. If you were ‘t crippled by scurvy, severely frostbitten, or survived mutiny by your crew, only then did you have a chance to make it a couple of degrees north. Most didn’t make it past 83 degrees except Nansen who turned around at 86 degrees. The Italian duke of Abruzzi make it half a degree further but survived by pure luck since the only person who could read a sextant was snow blind.
Only Peary claimed to have stand at the North Pole in 1902, a claim that most dispute. Nevertheless, the north pole attracts people even today. Expeditions in the Arctic remain real adventures and the one we are doing at the moment can rival with the experiences all explorers that have gone before us
Seven days on ice. Seven days and a steep learning curve for polar exploration. It has been exceptionally cold the past three days, we keep on drifting to the east which is hard on the mental attitude, and martin and I can not get warm hands. The filming in these conditions also proves challenging. Batteries last only minutes, the shutter doesn’t close of the camera and all the cables have become stiff and brake easily. But nothing was worse then the reality of pulling our heavy sleds over the rubble on day one. It seemed such a daunting task on exercise muscles you normally never use, worried about getting knocked down by your own sled on the descend . The biting wind in your face at the beginning was frightening now we pull our fur ruff a little closer around our cheeks. Did we need 4 hours in the first two days to get ready in the morning, now we can do it in 3 hours. The longer the expedition last, the more efficient we will become. It is astonishing how the human body can adapt to the most extreme conditions on earth. We deal with the wind, isolation, cold and rubble as our new norm. Seven days of pure isolation, we are our own company. The only contact with the south is with our satellite phone and our emails. Today we saw a sign of civilization: a vapour trail from a jet above us. Martin looked up and said “Here is the captain speaking.On your left side, you have the North Pole and on the right 3 crazy people pulling sleds”. Indeed why suffer like do if you can see it from the air with peanuts and a cocktail in hand?
Last night I had a call with the mayor of the town Augsburg in Germany. One of the questions he had was if we can see any change in the Arctic due to climate change. Today I am pondering that question. A lead of about 17 km long and running south appeared in front of us early this morning. This lead likely froze a couple of weeks ago and with today’s record cold temps (-40C!) we followed it all the way direction Canada. Here in the high latitudes of the Arctic, there are no real visual clues of climate change. On a bitterly cold day like today ( too cold to have a hand outside a glove for just one minute) the arctic is still in winter mode. But things can change quickly. Last night at the barneo camp, they recorded fog and open water, only 50 km away from us, while we have frigid temps and sunshine. Regardless of the weather, the one thing you notice right away: there is no multi year ice anywhere around. The biggest blogs of ice are less then 177 cm thick, the qualifier for multi year ice. Even strong winter like this will not last for ever by judging the size of the lead we are following. Next week it may be open water again. We broke through the 600 km mark and are now at 89 degrees, 112 km away from the North Pole. Lets hope the conditions stay good, so we can make some time on the ice.
Cold is a strange conundrum. One the one hand you need the cold to function in the Arctic but too cold wears you out and slow you down. Take this morning. As we set out to ski, within minutes we notice that the temperatures were rising and we all stripped down to thinner layers.
Sweating in the Arctic can be deadly, if you sweat too much, you are paying the price during the breaks because you can never get warm again. During our morning session we found a big frozen lead, the first one on our trip. It was over a km long and winding through spectacular ice blocks covered with snow crystals on steroids. The size has to do with salt crystallizing out of the arctic ocean but it has also to do with sheer frigid and dry air, that sucks out all the moisture.
Martin could have stayed the whole day taking pictures of the crystals, beautifully aligned in all sizes. During our break we felt the temperatures drop even further but we didn’t change our clothes. During that ski right before lunch,the temps dropped to below -35C. We felt the blood drain out of our finger, nose and toes and instantly white spots appear on my nose and martin’s cheek. The tricky part is to balance between pulling a heavy sled over the rubble (sweat) and the stretches where the sled slides effortlessly over the ice (regulated). Cold management is crucial but it seems it doesn’t matter what you do, you are either too cold or too hot. So we ended our day with a full face mask on, hand warmers in the mitts and hoping that the weather will get a little warmer as we move south. We still drift to the east and a little south, 1 km overnight. Every little bit helps.
If I was a philosopher, today would have been a day to park yourself on top of a an iceberg and contemplate the meaning of the Arctic. Still, serene and absolutely quiet the arctic is a place of peace. Not a breath of wind today, the sun is here, hanging around 10 degrees in the sky, It gives zero warmth and one of the few places in the world where you
walk all day in the sun and not need your sunglasses or get a sunburn. Occasionally, a block of ice falls over and rumbles like the sound of rockfall and then it settles again for a few minutes. It is amazing to think that this frozen landscape can be so alive. The arctic was on its best behaviour today. The ice was smooth and aside from one lead we pushed our sleds across, it felt as if we were on an icecap instead of on an ocean. Due to great weather, we were able to film a bit as well because if there is a day to show how spectacular the Arctic is, well today should do it. The drift is still pushing us back to the east, so we maintain a westerly route. High pressure has arrived and we are looking forward to gaining some mileage soon on our way south. All we need is help from the wind blowing to the south.
it was a very cold day today because the butter in Eric’s lunch was inedible and hard as a rock. We don’t really know the temperature outside. We know longitude and latitude but we forgot to bring a thermometer and the one on our watches never records accurately. So part of today’s fun is guessing how cold it is. The first clue was right in the first minutes on the ice. Our sleds felt so heavy we thought we were pulling cement. Cold snow creates a lot of friction and it is makes the sleds harder to glide. The second clue was when Martin broke his ski pole during a crawl over a pressure ridge. The metal snapped right in half. Instantly we knew it had to be colder then -20C. The third clue was when during our break, after 10 minutes of a sit down, you want to be going again. When we checked in today at Barneo, the Russians told us it was -30C, a bit chilly but good for the leads in the ice, they don’t like it this cold. Hope we starting to drift south soon. So far the wind been straight from the west, and each day we are making up the time to ski west instead of southwest. Nevertheless, the high pressure and the rotating sun around us makes is really special.
Image is Martin Hartley