Tuesday, February 28, 2006

This week on Crazy Arctic Guy...

Tue, 21 Feb 2006 // 20:42

Latest position: N84°00'17' E103°57'
Distance to go: 667km
Wind: Southerly wind
Ice drift: Northwards
Conditions: Poor visibility

'After a challenging day of heavy southerly wind, we've reached N84°00'17' E103°57', that is 300km away from our starting point at Cape Artichesky. We have had a 10 metre per hour wind in our back the entire day and because of very thick cloud have also had very poor visibility, seeing only 2-5 metres ahead of us. It's a strain on your eyes in this darkness and also very tiring mentally, because you are constantly trying to distinguish features in the ice.

The ice today has been like rubble - and loads of it! We have also crossed a lot of frozen leads being careful not to fall through. It is very deceiving because of the quantity of blown snow that settles on the thin ice and sometimes on water. For now we're once again on older ice, a safe place to camp for the evening!

We are very tired after walking almost blindly for 9.5 hours. Now we're looking forward to a good night's sleep.

Wed, 22 Feb 2006 // 18:54

Latest position: N84°10'01' E103°46'
Distance to go: 650km
Ice drift: Northwest

'After another 9.5 hours walking we are 20kms further north, that is 650kms away from the Pole. Things are looking good. With 32 days done and another 38 days to go until the end of the winter we are feeling positive that we will make it.

We drifted south 2kms during the night but now the ice drift is in a NW direction. It's strange that as soon as the drift is in our favour the wind suddenly dies down to nothing. We are wondering if this might not be the calm before the storm. We think the bad weather will effect us tomorrow or perhaps Friday. We are expecting winds of 15 metres per second (33mph) and very cold temperatures once again. The problem with strong wind is that waves are formed on the ocean creating pressure under the ice and causing it to break up. Water becomes exposed and huge blocks of ice are pushed up onto the surface creating more obstacles for us to get over.

The ice conditions were great today. There were still a lot of leads to get over but we were lucky to find a path most times and only needed to swim once.

For now we'll carry on as usual and stick to the same routine. When we leave the tent in the morning we walk 2.5 hours without stopping to put a bit of distance behind us and while our oatmeal breakfast is still giving us lots of energy. After that we take turns leading, switching every 80 minutes, so in the course of the day we have five breaks.

The sledges are gradually getting lighter. We are strong and our equipment is working well. Things must continue like this and we'll soon be at the Pole!

Thu, 23 Feb 2006 // 17:21

Latest position: N84°17'41' E102°49'09'
Distance to go: 637km
Temperature: -15°C (without windchill)

'We didn't stop early because of the wind. We were forced to stop because I fell in the water - not once, but twice!!! We left the tent early this morning and walked a half hour in very strong northwesterly winds. As we expected these strong winds are breaking the ice and many openings are appearing. The snow is flying in all directions and the visibility is so bad that you cannot even see the front of your skis.

The first lead we came across, my foot broke through the ice. I quickly corrected myself but my foot was wet. We had no choice but to pitch the tent and get the cooker alight to dry out my shoe before I froze my toes. This held us back this morning but as soon as my shoe was dry and I had changed my sock we decided to get going again. I was fine.

We walked 11 - 12 kms and came across another lead. This time Borge had found a nice passage to cross or at least this is what we thought! He walked first with no problem and then it was my turn. The ice was fine but when I took my next step and I saw the ice start cracking underneath me. The ice started splitting and this time I was unable to correct myself. The crack between my legs was getting wider and wider and then I fell in. I fell in the water up to my waist and managed to pull myself out by getting a grip on the ice edge. I immediately rolled myself in the snow. The snow sticks to my clothing and has the effect of soaking up the water, which then immediately freezes and I can brush off. This takes away a large proportion of the outside moisture but does not help for the moisture in my underwear. Borge, in the meantime was already pitching the tent. This time we had a big drying job to do!

I am fine now. The cooker is still going. We have extra reserves of fuel for this reason. We have managed to dry the clothing out 80%. I think that it'll be fine by tomorrow and we will be able to walk again as usual.

I was fortunate that the temperatures had risen to about -15° today (without wind). We'll have to be very careful the next few days. That's enough swimming for the meantime!

Fri, 24 Feb 2006 // 20:04

Latest position: N84°20'12' E101°30'
Distance to go: 632km
Wind: Strong NW winds 20-26mph
Conditions: Snowing, poor visibility

Today started with a comical accident with the pepper spray, as Borge explains, 'Mike was a tad bit careless and released pepper spray, which gave us a rather hilarious start! Pepper spray is intended as a defence or last resort when you're standing eye to eye with a polar bear, and it's extremely effective. Well, it worked. Shortly after breakfast, our tent was suddenly full of it, and we could hardly breathe - we lay next to each of our vents gasping for air, struggling to catch our breath. That episode certainly did get our blood circulation going!'

The weather conditions were borderline this morning, with 20-26mph northeast winds and almost zero visibility in the snow, so Mike and Borge decided to stay in the tent to see how things developed, Mike listened to his music and Borge listened to the Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. Throughout the morning conditions outside the tent seemed to be improving slightly:

'Around noon the wind had abated a bit, so we packed our equipment and broke camp. It was still a miserable day. Even so, it did us good to get out of the tent. It is so easy to just remain there once you've settled into your sleeping bag. Hence it feels like an even greater victory when you get it together and brave the elements.

In difficult conditions and reduced visibility, we crossed an average of one lead of seawater every hour. When they're covered with snow, they can be deadly. We have to always be scanning, looking left or right, trying to read the terrain. Sometimes a snowdrift will run straight across the water. But we managed to cross each lead safely.

At the end of our day, we came to a huge lead that was newly frozen and started walking. We were fine, but discovered that the ice was very varied, with patches of very thin, dangerous ice that looked almost the same as the thicker ice. Here and there the ice had cracked, and was obviously moving, forming pack ice a number of places.'

At this point, Mike and Borge decided it was best to withdraw, retreating several hundred metres on to solid ice, as Borge explains: 'By tomorrow we expect the lead to have frozen, so that we can continue without taking undue risks. The wind is supposed to come from a more southerly direction tomorrow, and the weather forecast calls for good weather the next few days. We don't mind it so much when the wind is at our backs.

We're in the tent once again and our dinner is waiting for us. Tomorrow we're going to cross that lead.'

Mike and Borge battled in these difficult conditions today, and coupled with the southwards drift only managed to walk 4km in 6 hours, leaving them 632km to go. Hopefully tomorrow the southerly winds will return, and help them progress north.

DAY 35: 35 DAYS DONE - 35 TO GO!
Sat, 25 Feb 2006 // 19:44

Latest position: N84°34' E101°00'
Distance to go: 600km
Temperature: -20°C (without windchill)
Wind: Light easterly
Ice drift: Slight northwesterly

'The ice was fabulous today! The winds are now easterly and have calmed down considerably. The ice has flattened out and the occasional patches of rubble that we came across were also quite flat because they had filled up with snow. We decided to charge ahead while the going was good. We continued for 11 hours and covered a distance of 25kms!

First thing this morning we had to tackle the 400m wide lead that we camped beside last night. There were no risks taken. We put on our swimsuits before leaving the tent and literally crawled across on the thin ice. Thank goodness for the suits! We both fell through the ice into the water but this time we remained completely dry. The sledges are specially designed to float so our equipment fortunately stays dry. We crossed a second lead in the day but that didn't cause us any problems.

The temperatures are -20° today (without the wind factor) and the ice drift is slightly northwesterly. There was a little light around midday. The little bit of light and the better ice conditions really gave us the lift that we needed. We were in need of a good day!!!

Borge and I are living in harmony in the tent. We hope from now on the ice will stay like this and we can steam ahead to the North Pole. I'm now waiting for the water to boil. Dinner in the tent is always a great moment of the day!

Sun, 26 Feb 2006 // 17:54

Latest position: N84°52' E100°01'
Distance to go: 574km
Wind: Strong southeast 18mph
Ice drift: Northeast 0.5km/hr

'We did 30kms today! Conditions were great so we walked almost 11 hours to get a bit of distance behind us. If we look at the food supplies we have an average of 19kms to do each day before we go hungry. It's a bit touch and go so we prefer to move while the going is good. It's important to get all the chances on our side.

The wind is strong and coming from the southeast at 8 metres per second (18mph). The ice drift is northeasterly at about 0.5 km/hr. The sky was clear today with the occasional cloud and a lot of blowing snow. It was great to be able to turn off our headlamps for about three hours today and to still be able to see where we were placing our feet. We only had a couple of leads to cross today but no swimming was done!!! It would be great if conditions stay like this!!

The tent poles are causing us a lot of worry. This time it was Borge that had the mishap - the pole broke in his hand. We have fixed it again and are hoping they will last another month of these conditions. They just do not withstand the extreme cold.

We are now 400kms away from Cape Artichesky and we have 574 kms to go to the pole. It was around about here where I was picked up after freezing my fingers during my first attempt of the North Pole. I can tell you it feels great to be passing this point and to know that everything is just fine. Will try and get some new photos to you tomorrow but for now I need to sleep!

Mon, 27 Feb 2006 // 18:29

Latest position: N85°08'07' E98°56'09'
Distance to go: 543km
Wind: Strong easterly 18mph
Ice drift: Easterly
Temperature: -40°C (with windchill)

Mike and Borge have made excellent progress over the last few days, breaking their record for distance covered in one day which now stands at 30km after 10 hours walking. On Saturday they reached the halfway mark in the expedition, in terms of days on the ice (37 out of an estimated 70) and are now nearly half way in distance covered (457km done with 543km to go). As a result their sledges are becoming noticeable lighter as the days go by with the more food and fuel they burn.

Now in the 85th degree of latitude, the ice conditions are noticeably improving too as they move on to the older, thicker and more stable ice (100-150cm). Even at this stage, there is still a chance the ice can break up and form open leads but this is less likely to form troublesome pack ice. Although donning their survival suits to swim across these leads is unlikely to be a thing of the past.

The easterly winds and ice drift are currently going in their favour, and helping them accelerate north. These all round excellent conditions they are experiencing, helped them advance an impressive 58km over the weekend.

The duo are hoping the current easterly wind will shift to a southerly. This will cause the ice cap to drift north speeding up their progress towards the North Pole. This direction of wind also means it would come from behind them not only helping to push them along, but also creating safer walking conditions. A week ago, Mike and Borge were really suffering the effects of the harsh freezing cold head-on winds, causing Mike's nose to turn black on the tip and Borge was also suffering with a swollen face- the first signs of frostbite. However, today's latest update from Mike (see below) demonstrates how they are still battling with freezing conditions: 'We are fighting against very strong winds and very cold temperatures of around -40° (with windchill)...'

The main preoccupation now, apart from looking after their bodies and having enough food to get them to the Pole, is also their equipment that is still being affected by the freezing cold temperature, which caused another tent pole to snap. From now on they need to continue averaging 19km a day to get them to the North Pole before running out of food! They have saved an extra three days of rations to allow them a safety margin of a few extra days - this would allow the average daily distance to drop to 17km.Mike and Borge have decided to walk at least 10 hours each day, which is less tiring on the good ice they are now experiencing, and they are both feeling positive they will make it to the North Pole in time to become the first men to walk do the North Pole unassisted in the Arctic winter.

'It was another great day. We encountered a lot of broken ice and patches of water, but we managed to get across on skis or otherwise found an alternative passage. We are fighting against very strong winds and very cold temperatures of around -40° (with windchill). Only one thing to do when it\'s cold like this and that is to move, move, move! You do not stop moving at all during the day otherwise you freeze on the spot!"

It's amazing how much more light we get day by day. We left the tent early this morning and after one hour of walking we were able to turn off our headlamps already. We walked virtually all day with no extra light and only needed to turn our headlamps on again two hours prior to pitching tent. Having light during the day makes a huge difference to our progress. We are also noticing polar bear tracks more regularly. Seems as though there are not so far away but at least now we might be able to spot them before they spot us!

The easterly drift added an extra 3km on to our 27km today so all in all we advanced 30kms!!

Our position tonight is N85°08'07' E98°56'09' - that is 543km from the Pole. It interesting to note that the longitudes are changing quickly now, because they are getting closer and closer as we approach the North Pole.

No problems with tent poles tonight so that is good. I have an infection under my nail, which is quite sore. I hope that the antibiotics in my pharmacy will soon sort that out!!!


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