Busy day of Arctic obstacles; a newly frozen bit of sea one of them. Nothing to worry about, apart from sea monsters!
The fortune in my cookie this morning reads: resist a temptation to take shortcuts of any kind. How appropriate for today, rubble, leads and pressure ridges as far as the eye could see. We were dying to find a shortcut in this chaos because it will be a time consuming and exhausting day. All favours of the Arctic have once turned against us, negative drift to the north, low visibility, soft snow, and endless vista’s of blocks of ice that want to melt and give way to summer. To add salt to injury, we got a text message from the Canadian Ice Survey reporting a massive lead at the 85 degree of latitude and W078 and guess what?, it is directly in our path south. It is 2 to 5 km wide and 10 km long, an expedition stopper because you can’t swim or float 2 km long. We are trying to get to W080 to skirt around it but the wind drift us back east, what is new! It is strenuous to push and pull your sleds over every single ice block, at awkward angles and if you don’t give it all you got, it slides down the hill and you start all over again. At then after a two hour session we are nagged and ready for a break, food and water. After 6 hours of this, including a swim across a lead, we only logged 5.85 km. How demoralizing and frustrating, every polar traveler done this route will agree.. Luckily for the last two hours of the day, we had some flatter terrain and where able to finish the day off with 8.5 km. After supper, we are turning in early and hope for a more cooperative Arctic tomorrow.
Despite drifting backward 2km overnight the day started full of promise with the sun emerging for the first time in three days. But we were quickly into a large rubble field covered in fresh snow in the middle of which the sun hid behind thick clouds again, playing havoc with contrast and definition. No sooner had we cleared the field and a long and wide lead diverted us east until we found banks on either side conducive to rafting. I swam across in the drysuit then hauled first Bernice and then Martin across on a raft of two sleds. We have noticed an increase in snow cover and sastrugi and snow dunes are starting to crop up. When I skied this route three years ago the snow dunes started 100km further south.
During the final hour the sun emerged again and our surroundings sprang to life. By days end we were all exhausted and considered it if not our toughest, our most frustrating day. The tally of 8km confirms it.
Pic of me with the Yellowbrick tracker from G-Layer.
Eric Phillips looking for a safe way down off a large block of ice, it looks solid enough… But is it???
On March 14 1895, Nansen’s ship Fram of Norway sat very close to the same latitude we are right now, the highest a ship has ever drifted north in the trans polar current. Nansen and Johanssen left the ship for their attempt to reach the ‘North Pole. Nansen was the first one to use skis for his attempt. The ice was good then. In the first week they made 35 km a day and by March 29 they reached a new record at 85.09′N, only 450 km to the pole remained. On April 1 Johanssen’s chronometer stopped and their luck turned against them as the ice was getting rotten, leads were opening up and pressure ridges so high, it stopped the dogs. They were fighting the southerly drift (75 km to to the south) that Nansen wrote in his dairy ‘we seem to toil all we can, but without much progress’. Nansen skied ahead bur reported just leads and ice blocks stretching as far as the horizon. They had reached 86.13’06″N a record by three degrees. They turned around and headed for Franz Joseph land where they were hoping to be picked up by boat
> This very terrain is also troubling us like it did Nansen. Did we cross perfect plains further north, now we only cross pressure ridges and leads, interspersed with wretched snow, uneven ice and hardly any visibility. The Arctic has started to melt: not only because it is May but we are getting closer to the coast. We only did 10 km today, battling the flat light and dozens of pressure ridges that are formed like hedges around a lead and are painfully slow and holding us back.
An ice report from Trudy Wohlleben at the Canadian Ice Service indicates a massive open lead spanning west longitudes 76 to 80. 5km wide in places, we will try and outflank it, aiming for the termination of it’s northwesterly branch. Another day of flat and murky light with waves of frozen leads pressure ridges, the latter will increase as we approach Canada. Slow yes, but we also paused to film and admire the destruction. Fractured, blocky, angular, and glowing cyan in the eerie light, we were mesmerised by the brutal beauty if it all. Ten km only but hard fought and in awe.
Pic of Bernice crossing a crack.