Day 15: Coldest and Windiest Place on Earth
Welcome to Antarctica - coldest and windiest place on Earth.
Sledging in very strong headwinds
The winds are katabatic and flow down and away from the pole. Today the wind is especially strong, and the wind chill is off the charts. Base Camp is reporting gusts of 55 knots.
The ground blizzard consists of blowing ice crystals, not snow. These crystals are quite heavy, compared to snow, so they don't rise above the surface more than a few inches. They make the ground look blurry. And the horizon too.
Notice the wake behind my sled and Jenny's.
Partly cloudy, cold, and 10 knots more wind than we had yesterday. Welcome to Antarctica - the coldest and windiest place on Earth.
We bundled up in second shirts and pants, and set off at 8:30, half an hour later than usual. In the strong winds, packing up camp takes us longer.
In wind this strong Jenny prefers to ski alongside me. This helps me too, because it means the leader can keep much better tabs on the other person without having to turn around frequently, which in high winds is more difficult than it sounds.
"Welcome to Antarctica - the coldest and windiest place on Earth."
Also it is much safer that way, because we can render help to the other at short notice when needed. In wind chill this low, our margins run pretty thin. So we keep a close eye on each other. A few times a day one of us will need help immediately, for example where the face mask is iced and pressing against the nose, or cold air is getting in around the neck. The other person can identify and fix the problem quickly.
All was proceeding slowly until we reached the hill. It did not look like much, and in good weather it is probably not. But as the hours passed, it started to feel like Everest to us. We had been skiing on iced sastrugi all morning, but this was iced sastrugi on an incline. And not only that, but the fierce wind was doing its best to try and blow us back down the hill. It was very hard work for not much progress.
Finally with our energy starting to flag, and no end of the hill in sight, we started looking for a place to camp. In the morning we had passed plenty of good places to camp - flat, level, and hard snow, not ice. But here on the hill, we had just the opposite. Finally we found a suitable spot.
Jenny has unzipped her ski jacket to get at the wind meter.
We have stopped to make camp. Time to put on the insulated jacket because the body is no longer generating enough metabolic warmth when not sledging.
Taking a wind reading.
We prefer to camp on hard snow because with our snow shovel we can cover the tent's snow skirt with hefty chunks of snow. And we can chop pot-size chunks of snow for melting.
After safely pitching the tent, it took us another 45 minutes to sweep out the snow and ice from the tent, brush the spindrift from our gear bags, and make the tent comfortable inside.
Finally a hot cuppa, and it sure tasted good.
Note: PH is reporting gusts of 55 knots.
Hours traveled: 8.5, today's mileage: 10.3.