Day 27: Low Margins of Safety in Strong Winds
We were up early this morning and off by 7:30. The sky was clear, the air was cold, of course, and the wind was whipping the spindrift into a fast-flowing river 6" deep.
In a ground blizzard, the snow's surface looks blurry except for the down-wind wake of my sled. In real life, the blurriness looks like a fast-flowing river.
Within the first half hour, instead of my face mask freezing to my beard and chin, as it usually does, it froze to my upper lip. My reaction when something freezes to my skin, is to pull it off immediately. Unfortunately a dime-sized scab came off my lip with the mask, so I was tasting blood for the next 15 minutes. This is just to say that we are having problems with our lips. Sunburn and frost nip, even though we try to cover them, they are having trouble healing because the scabs are always getting torn off. This is a minor infirmity though.
Another very minor infirmity, which is healing nicely, happened on Day 2, which we wrote about previously. We were caught in a terrific windstorm, in extremely cold temperatures. We should have made camp, but there was no place to camp because we were climbing a never-ending slope up to a pass. Hour after hour, until we finally found a place to camp at 9:00 p.m. This was the same wind storm in which I temporarily lost my overmitt.
As the result of that cold wind, we each got frostbite blisters on the front of our thighs. This is actually common with people in polar regions, especially in Antarctica where they are constantly dealing with headwinds.
We didn't notice it initially, but a few days later we had purple splotches that within a few days turned to white, dime-sized blisters. I had about a dozen, and Jenny had twice as many. The skin turned purple around the blisters, and then red. The camp doctor, Martin, carefully monitored our situation over the satellite phone to help ensure that the damaged areas did not become infected.
Mid-day, Jenny pulls out some cookie bars for lunch.
He also advised us to wear an extra layer of clothing on the thighs, which we have been doing since. In fact, with these cold winds of late, we have been wearing four layers: ski pants, 2 pair of thermal pants, and a thigh-sized layer of fleece sandwiched between the two layers of thermal pants. The affected skin is healing nicely but slowly; the blisters have turned to thick scabs that are sensitive to the touch.
As usual this morning, the terrain was quite challenging and the cold wind was so intense that it had us feeling that our margins were quite low. By that I mean, if anything happened out of the ordinary, we would have very little time to deal with it.
For example, Jenny's sled sliced one of her traces again, and it took both of us working furiously, wearing our thin liner gloves, to make a replacement piece, especially tying the knots. With stiff, cold fingers, it is very hard to do. One would not think this is such an emergency, but anything that requires stopping and taking off the overmitts is a big problem because we rely on the constant moving to generate warmth, and we rely on our ultra-thick overmitts to preserve warmth in our fingers.
The light is playing tricks again. Those mountains don't appear in any other photos taken that day.
This is not to say that the day was an epic, by any means. As long as there are no hang-ups with the gear, we are quite happy.
In fact, after climbing a long hill in the afternoon, we came to a plateau and we enjoyed a few hours of easier going.
The best time of day for us is when we haul into camp, pitch the tent and crawl in. It is very warm and relaxing in here.
Evening camp: S 84° 28.969' W 84° 54.892'
Today's mileage: 13.0 in 9.25 hrs.