Day 34: White Out and Mild-Mannered Sastrugi
We are about to set off for the day's skiing
More fun and games at the junk yard. Actually, for the first hour we could see where we were going, and we could see the sastrugi. It wasn't very big, nothing over two feet high. But it was sharp-edged and ubiquitous.
Nolan Pillar recedes in the distance.
As the cloud cover developed, the light slowly started to go flat. In what I call flat light, you think you can see fairly well, but every now and then you are surprised by something you did not see - a ledge, a shelf, or a projection stopping the sled.
The light is progressing from flat to an all-out white out. Looking ahead, this is our last view of the horizon.
Then, as the white out develops you can see virtually nothing. And getting through the sastrugi becomes extremely slow and strenuous. In good visibility you can avoid the worst spots by going around them, but in a white out you can't see the worst spots. You only can feel them, and by then you find yourself caught in the fray.
In a white out, you can't see the ground around you, or the terrain ahead.
When you encounter what feels like a steep ledge, you can side-step and sometimes go around. More often than not though, there is a blockage to either side, so you have to go straight though. This may take up to a minute.
And always there's a projection that stops the sled. This happens 3 or 4 times a minute.
Fortunately the sastrugi today was mild compared to the last two days. A white out there would have reduced our progress to just a few miles a day. As it was today we covered 10.5 miles in 10 hours, almost 1 mile an hour.
Taking a lunch stop (ice on the lens).
In light of the circumstances, we think we did pretty well. Tonight in the tent we are tired but happy.
Also today, the cloud cover brought much warmer temperatures, and there was no wind to speak of. For a few hours, it was the first time we have not worn our face masks. For the last hour, Jenny took off her goggles and ski parka and used her sunglasses. It made me think she'd gone tropo. Except for the falling snow.
Finding a campsite was an interesting challenge. With Jenny ahead of me I could barely make out some terrain features within 2 feet either side of her sled. Finally we came to a small, flat, and level spot. We took off our skis and walked around it to get a feel for it. Also I tested the snow with our shovel to determine how frozen it was. That done, we pitched the tent, and then looked under it - whereupon we were dismayed to see small sastrugi that would have been too uncomfortable to sleep on and to hard to chop. As luck would have it, by moving the tent and looking again, and again, we found a tent-sized place that had sastrugi only in the vestibule.
Here is what our snow skirt looks like, before I cover it with snow.
Most of ground so far is so hard you cannot get a shovel into it. So we have to find soft frozen snow to camp on. With a little effort you can pry out a shovel-sized chunk of soft frozen snow. With these I cover the tent's snow skirt, all around the perimeter.
I also make a big pile at our front door, which Jenny then chops into pot-sized pieces for melting water. These pot-sized pieces she then piles neatly to one side of the vestibule for easy access.
Amazing to think that of this ice, we can make steaming hot cuppas at the end of the day.
Evening camp: S 85° 39.877' W 86° 40.702'
Today's mileage: 10.5 in 10 hrs Temperature: -5 C