Day 23: The otherworldly Glowing Blue Light
The first we do in morning, after using the peeing cups, is to light the stove and melt more snow for drinking water. Typically, in the evening we had melted eight liters, including hot cuppas and dinner. Then at night we drink a great deal to help rehydrate. So by morning we have run out of water, and have to melt four more liters to meet our needs throughout the day.
We are presently using 425 ml of stove fuel per day, for two people. (212.5 ml per person, per day.)
So this morning we rose at 6:00 am and started melting snow, and mopping the tent walls. The condensation wasn't too bad this morning. We are having less condensation in the tent all the time. No more morning showers, as long as we are careful.
It takes us 2.5 hours from rising to skiing, including an hour melting snow. Meanwhile we are getting dressed, with an additional 45 minutes to finish dressing and putting things away. Then another 45 minutes to load the sleds and pack away the tent.
The only problem we have, and it isn't much of a problem, but it happens every day while pitching the tent in the evening and un-pitching it the next morning, is that a certain two tent pole segments freeze together. It happens on the same two pole segments above where we use the stove. To unfreeze them, we have to rub them vigorously with our gloves on, to create thawing friction.
We pack the tent away without removing the poles from the sleeves. This makes a five-foot long sausage that fits nicely in my sled. This greatly facilitates pitching it again the following evening.
As we gain altitude, the temperature is dropping. Tonight we are at almost 4,800 feet, and the temperature is -26 degrees C. The temperature doesn't vary from night to day because the sun stays above the horizon 24 hours.
Today the sun was shining, and the wind was 15 out of the SSE. We spent the day galumphing through the sastrugi which makes skiing and sledging twice as difficult. Added to that, the cold temperature increased the friction of the sled runners on the snow, making it often feel like we were dragging in sand.
Thankfully we are not playing in the junkyard today, because some of the sastrugi is quite large.
In a white out, getting through something like that would require a great deal of time and effort. You can't see the way around, so you have to go through. But sometimes that doesn't work, and you have to find a way around - by feel.
Again the skiing looks pretty straightforward, until you look at my tracks. What appears to be somewhat flat ground is actually a series of ridges and deep cleavages. My skis and sled runners are hitting only the high points, what few they are. It's like skiing over a cattle guard that has 18 inch spacing between the rails.
We were sledging along and suddenly saw something glowing in the distance. It was so odd that we had to make a bee-line for it, to see what it was. It looked otherworldly, like something from outer space. We wondered how could something be glowing like that. As we drew near, we could now see what it was, a sastrugi with the sunlight playing through at just the right angle. But we still couldn't quite grasp it. This was the first color in the natural world we had seen since starting the trip 23 days ago. We just stood there staring at it for several minutes. Talk about sensory deprivation, when something like that can draw us in, like a magnet. Like flying insects are drawn to a street lamp.
We alternated leads for an hour each. In the afternoon the wind increased to 20, so we couldn't take a sit-down break all day because of the wind-chill factor.
After 10 hours we were glad to stop for the day, and to take welcome shelter inside the tent.
The inside my face mask, covered in ice. To take the mask off, I have to kneel over the stove with my face just above the stove, to melt enough ice to permit removal. The ice doesn't touch my skin, but my hair and beard are firmly embedded.
A crown popped out this evening. With no access to a dentist, I will have to wait. Fortunately, it didn't cause any pain, but I will have to be careful with the chewing.
Evening camp: S 83° 47.633' W 83° 58.4944'
Today's mileage: 13.9 in 10 hrs
Altitude: 4,797'; Temperature: -26C