Eric Philips looking a bit epic after the strain of days of relentless hauling through a blank white canvas begin to show
Today was a real mood buster. Again a day with the same. Dim, gloomy and zero visibility. We also got into areas of pressure ridges again, ice blocks now covered with snow for the extra challenge. Between the ice blocks is slushy half frozen water of a brilliant blue colour and easily mistaken for sturdy ice until you step on it. Since the 84th latitude the pressure ridges have increased in size and in frequency. The flat pans are getting smaller and that is where you usually can speed up to get some distance. But not today. The predominant Southwest winds have formed frozen sand dunes perpendicular to our ski direction which means you have to negotiate many bumps in flat light. Good news about today is we didn’t have to swim or raft a lead in this nasty weather that doesn’t know when to stop. We all feel frustrated. We make no progress, the mixture of pressure ridges and the many leads in flat light makes not only challenging but dangerous. The Arctic is a grim place when it is like this and offer no solace for the mind or soul. It loses all its attractiveness and turns hostile if you let it get to you. No wonder early explorers suffered from bouts of depression when they had to deal with conditions like these. I wonder if a doses of prozac will make it better out here if you need to get rid of the polar blues for a day.
Then in the midst of a pressure ridge you find an amazing piece of multiyear ice, with different bands of colour, algae and icicles. This piece is at least a few years old and hopefully will survive this summer melt. The block of ice reminds me of a humpback whale when it emerges from the water, and you see the baleen hanging of it. That was all I needed today, a reminder how precious The Arctic really is.
Ditto, all of the above, etcetera, Groundhog Day….. Ho hum, today was just like the previous week – blizzarding, poor visibility, pressure ice, soft leads. Ho hum! 6km today. Ho hum!
With this run of bad luck since resupply I am beginning to ponder the future of this expedition.
Pic negotiating a lead full of barely-frozen rubble. These are often treacherous as each weighted block is a time bomb waiting to dislodge and disappear into the drink, followed by a boot and perhaps the hapless soul attached to it.
The blizzard has been unrelenting. It blew all night but the morning was full of promise with a hopeful sun peeking through the cloud. But an hour after kick-off a black ball swept across from the SW and before long we were in a snow dome. All visibility had gone, again. I am so accustomed to skiing blind that any kind of resolution on the horizon seems like such a luxury. Wind forecast to continue tomorrow but easing Sunday. Hallelujah!
A good surface mostly and we claimed 10km from the ocean, but camped next to a lead that we were too exhausted to find a way across.
Pic of my sled – Josephine – with Bernice and Martin approaching.
Spent whole day falling over things! Zero contrast & strong winds in the face all day!
The feverish temperature rise in the Arctic has puzzled scientists: The most up-to-date climate models, such as those in the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fail to reproduce the rapid warming seen in the Arctic.
Researchers see a link between tropical sea-surface temperatures and the North Atlantic Oscillation, a climate pattern that dominates Arctic weather. Since the 1990s, warm sea-surface temperatures in the western Pacific and cool waters in the eastern Pacific have pushed the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) into a pattern that allows high pressure above Greenland and the Canadian Arctic. (High atmospheric pressure leads to warmer temperatures.) The NAO was in a negative fase in march and april hence the violent storm and cold weather we were experiencing in April and we are now again since the last 12 days in another cycle of west winds (drifting again to the east) and lots of snowfall. With predominant high pressure systems in the Arctic, storms usually come and go but we notice that they linger and come with lots of wind and moisture.
Definitely a better day although we skied in zero visibility all day. Not sure if you get used to it or we have forgotten what sunshine was all about. Goggles, face masks, hats, and many layers in the frigid blasting winds today, a classic north pole day. Hit the 200 km mark – if we are not drifting back tonight (4 km to the east last night).
Eric hauls his sledge out of a lead of ‘slush puppy’ ice, a short but necessary swim…just after breakfast too!
We were forewarned by the Canadian Ice Survey that there would be many leads developing due to this relentless storm we are having. Day 8 now of no visibility, extreme winds, and snow. It is rare to snow this much in the Arctic as well as these incredible length of storm cycles. At the end of the day, we got stopped once again by a lead. To our north we saw a dark cloud hanging over the horizon, indicating open water and to our south, one big lake. The new leads that are developing are running east- west so on our way south we cross many of those new leads.The last one of today around 6 pm provided us with a real challenge. It was under pressure and just like plate tectonics through friction, ice blocks and rubble will start to move, collide and crumble or pile up. In awe we stood on top of this ridge and watched the other side go by, or was it our side? This movement is all caused by the strong southwest winds we are experiencing for the last week. In the lead itself emerged a massive ice block that rotated when it came in contact with water. Because there was no snow attached to it it must have come from the deep abyss of the ocean. What a spectacle it was. Now we could see hoe tons of ice ends on top of a ridge.by it simply getting pushed up there by power and with the next pressure, it may fall in the lead and disappear in the arctic. It was also our only chance to cross to the other side and we have to be very quick to operate on moving ice. We dragged the sleds across first and then we jumped from the moving ice to another shore that was slowly moving. It felt like jumping from a moving train to another.
Perhaps not the safest we bave done so far but it was our only choice. “And then there is tea” Martin said as we skied away to find a place to camp.
The wind was gusting at 40km/h from the south west, buffeting us as we skied across the pack ice. A good start straight out of camp, the surface hardening slightly from the wind and sastrugi almost aligned with our direction of travel. Spindrift over the ice in the early sun was sublime.
Swam a snow-filled lead, island hopped over another and in the late afternoon crossed a huge fractured and lead-ridden zone by clambering over a giant pressure ridge as it was being born. Two thick plates were grinding into each other and we watched as boulders the size of caravans were calved, uplifted, submerged, overturned and stacked. Phenomenal power, and we chose to dice with it. Timing our run to perfection we hauled arse and sled to the other side as the configuration of boulders below us changed every second. A trapped foot would have upped the ante!
As we camped we heard the plane going to fetch Eric and Ryan. Happy boys I bet,
Pic of camp. Still windy, still snowing. We haven’t seen more than an hour of blue sky for over a week.
We were going so well this morning. A lead right at camp that Eric swam after breakfast, a quick ferry across with the sleds and then endless pans of virgin white snow, flat and infinite.The pressure ridges were all manageable and at around 11 am the sun even came out briefly. We are hoping to really make some miles today after losing so much time negotiating pressure ridges and crossing leads the past five days. I almost took out the GPS to see our progress at lunch but enjoyed the sunshine and being out of the wind instead. We found an sheltering block of ice that looked like a oyster shell, spectacular. Not even 15 minutes after lunch we got stopped by a yet another lead. This one was too wide to swim across (400 meters) and we had no choice to ski the shoreline to search for a way to the other side, even if you have to ski for kilometres. Martin spotted tracks of arctic foxes, and got nervous about polar bears because foxes travel with bears and eat leftover seal. There was only one option to cross and this part of the lead was moving, as there is pressure moving the mobile ice. When you watch it, you don’t know which part is moving, you or the shore. Eric swam through shuga, blender ice, tough slushy ice to get through and hard to pull himself to shore. Martin and I connected the sleds to be rafted with our bodies and skis. While putting them in the water, we stepped through the ice and got our boots wet. Luckily we got out in time because it only takes 4 minutes with full submersion into these arctic waters to die of hypothermia. The other side turns out to be an island and we had no way back. An ice block miraculously lined up with the island, and was just the perfect bridge to get across to yet another block of ice, another lead and eventually the real shoreline. We floated our sleds across while we clamber over the ice cubes. It took all of 5 hours to do this lead, so out the window goes our mileage for the day: 5 kilometres and negative drift to the north. Forecast for the next days: more storm!