Onward on thicker ice

Published 29.01 in category North Pole 2006

Our position is now N81?39’20”, E101?52’49”, after walking 14 km today. In addition we drifted 2–3 km last night, which leaves us 932 km from the North Pole. Today a westerly wind has been pushing us eastward. Regrettably, it’s slowly turning, so we’re soon going to be losing some terrain.

The ice is thicker now, 70–80 cm. This is the first day we haven’t encountered any open leads, nor have we been slowed by any walls of screw ice. Thicker ice usually means more stable conditions and less movement.

All day it has been snowing densely. Yesterday too. It’s heavy to pull the pulk through so much loose snow. On the other hand, the snow helps us by filling in gaps in the screw ice, making it easier to cross.

We take turns leading, putting in an hour and twenty minutes before taking a ten-minute break and switching. It’s far easier to walk behind, so we’re both saving a lot of energy in this way. We saw a lot of screw ice today – it isn’t the loose snow that cuts our distance a bit short, just 14 km since this morning, after putting in a good 9.5 hours. That’s a bit of a long day this early in the expedition, but we’re managing ok.

It really works out well with these two pulks that move like a little train through the screw ice. One of the great advantages with the North Pole, where all ice is floating on the sea, is that their are no crevasses – in Antarctica and Patagonia I always had to be on the lookout for that, unless I risk falling into oblivion. So we’re not so handicapped by having our view reduced by darkness and snowfall. We just walk straight ahead, and in the light from our high beams glimpsing features that are at most 200 m ahead, dealing with each challenge as it comes. When we see screw ice, we just have to choose a route. When we come to an open lead that can’t be crossed any other way, we don our suits and swim across. And even in the darkness, it has been fairly easy to navigate – although sometimes we feel that we’re skiing to the North Pole inside a tunnel.

Our life now consists of two parts: tucked in the sleeping bag or out on the ice skiing northwards. The first thing we do in the evening, after pitching our tent, is to melt snow, fill our hot water bottles, and crawl into our sleeping bags. Well, actually we’re each lying inside a huge plastic bag. That takes some getting used to, it’s really clammy. But we’re adapting to that, too, carefully drying them out each morning, making sure no moisture accumulates. That is, in fact, vitally important. So each evening we painstakingly brush all ice from our clothing. There is no possibility of drying out anything up her.

We’re sleeping a bit better now, since we started rigging tripwire to a signal gun and ski pole in front of the tent entrance. And when we pitch camp during the evening, we create an enclosure using rope and pulks. A polar bear usually moves upwind to investigate. If it hits the tripwire, it will hopefully release a signal flare and be frightened enough to run off. I have to admit that I miss the tripwire system that I set around my camps when I was doing solo expeditions. It’s psychologically comforting to be able to make such a protective enclosure. Mentally it gives you a great advantage. We haven’t seen any bear tracks for two days now, and even though we know that there is little risk of unpleasant surprises, there is always a chance of meeting a bear – all the way to the North Pole.

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