Day 38: Warm weather and sleds are dragging hard
We wake up at 6:00 am and look out the doorway - can't see nuthin'. Rub the eyes and try again. Still nothing. Looks like more playing in the junkyard for today.
By the time we had our skis on, sled traces attached to our harnesses, over-mitts clipped to our ski poles and put on, the time was 7:30 and the white out had downgraded to flat light. We were on our way.
Fifteen minutes later we were sweating and had to stop to shed a few clothes. Never mind the snow falling. The temperature had risen to -4 C.
The wind was very light and the sastrugi has eased up, for now, and we had little trouble finding our way though.
But the sleds were dragging hard, as if the brakes were on. I went the first hour wondering if it was me having a low energy day, or if the sleds were having a problem. Finally it donned on me that we were climbing. And so it went most of the day.
There seems to be two kinds of hills on our route to the South Pole: those that look like hills, and those that look flat. Then, there are two types of flat ground: ground that looks flat, and ground that looks like a hill. After so much time spent looking at the landscape, with nothing for reference, you lose touch of what is what. I have yet to figure out a technique for judging slope on this trip.
We were dressed lightly; only one thermal undershirt and our ski parkas. No neck gaiters (I usually wear two), no neck scarves, and the hoods of our parkas were down, leaving just the fleece face masks. In these warm temperatures, fogging of the goggles is a problem. So at the rest stops we take off the goggles to prevent serious fogging, although we always ski with the goggles on (actually, Jenny wore her dark glasses today). But to leave the eyes exposed for very long is very dangerous. Sure enough, by late afternoon my eyes began to hurt. I took this as a shot over the bow; a reminder to not remove the eye protection for more than a few moments. I changed my goggles for the heavy-duty, silver-mirror versions, and also went back to wearing my scarf over my face mask. Fortunately within a couple hours my eyes no longer hurt.
The sky started to clear just a bit, the snowfall stopped, and the temperature went back down and stayed there. Then the clouds moved back and the light went flat. Another hour of this and it was time to find a campsite.
In a white out you can only find a camp by feel. In flat light you can find a campsite visually, but you really can't see the surface that well to see how smooth it is, or how sloped. So we used our technique of pitching the tent, then looking under it and moving it as many times as necessary. This only takes a few minutes, and so far it has worked.
Backing up to yesterday, we are carrying five 1-liter cans of fuel, and also three 1-gallon cans. It was time to fill the bottles, and so we made a fuel filter out of a piece of mesh and a length of elastic over our funnel. Then it was time to check the contents of the nearly empty bottles to see what kind of debris they contained. Note: these were new bottles at the start of the trip.
Two bottles were clean, but the other three - I couldn't believe what I found. No wonder the stove had been acting up. In one bottle, which contained half an inch of fuel, there was quite a bit of debris of all sizes that looked like black sand, but it was not sitting on the bottom, nor was it floating. There also was a small amount of what looked like water.
That is the good part. The bad part - there was a thing sitting on the bottom that looked like a polliwog. It was cream-colored and about 7/8 inch long. Another bottle had much the same thing but the cream-colored whatever (not shaped like anything) was smaller. I absolutely could not believe my eyes. [Probably frozen water]
We decanted the fuel remaining, emptied the bottles of the debris, and then with our make-shift filter we opened a gallon can and filled all the bottles. Sure enough, there was debris in that can also (and also rust on the outside top of the can).
Evening camp: S 86° 21.539' W 86° 48.853'
Today's mileage: 12.7 in 10 hrs
Altitude: 6230 ft., Temperature: -18 C