Day 44: A Strange Object Flies Overhead
Today we can see the hazards. We went around this hole.
Sorry about the ice on the lens. What looks like a rising sun, is not the sun. The sun is at the top of the photo. The false sun is equally bright, and is a product of light refracting through the ice crystals in the air just above the ground. In the days and weeks to come, we saw this phenomenon several more times, yet strangely we haven't found many other accounts on the internet.
Large sastrugi. We have seen them up to 10-foot high and more.
Today we had light winds from the NE (!) and a mixed sky with some snow. And sastrugi? But of course.
Despite temperatures in the minus 15 to 20 range, when there is no wind, say, less than 2 mph, we overheat. Our first method of cooling off is to push back the hood of the ski jacket. It is amazing how much heat the hoods hold in.
Our second method is to remove the neck gaiters. These are simple fleece tubes. In windy conditions they are absolutely essential.
Our third method is to remove the ski parka. This is a drastic measure because the ski parka and pants are our only defense against the wind.
We had been skiing for three hours and lost our wind, and I began to overheat. To remove the parka requires a minute or so, and for Jenny that was enough time to cool down without removing her jacket. She has lost a lot of weight on this trip, so she cools down faster.
When I took my parka off, I found it coated white with frost and some ice on the inside. My outer shirt was frosty too. Although this does not sound like overheating, that was the case. The reason is, the body heat does not travel more than a 32nd of an inch away from the skin before it cools to the freezing point.
Ironically, this frost on the inside of the clothes increases the insulation by blocking the wind, what little wind there may be, and that reduces the breathability of the garments. So then the sweat cannot evaporate.
I stuffed the parka into the sled and we proceeded on. For the next two hours I was perfectly comfortable until the wind started to blow a bit, at which time I put the parka back on, put the hood up, and was comfortable again.
The point is, the average person would become very disturbed if they found ice and frost inside their garments. But down here it is pretty much a fact of life. It is not so cold as it sounds, once you get used to it. And as long as you are fit, well fed, and working hard.
The false sun is back again.
For the first time on the trip we saw an aircraft. It flew directly overhead, above the low and broken clouds. I spent a long time trying to focus my eyes on it, but I could not. I could see something up there moving steadily across the sky, and it sounded like a plane. But my eyes saw two objects, far from each other, and neither one was in focus, nor could my brain snap the two together. I seemed to have lost my ability to focus my eyes on a moving object, and this was a very strange feeling.
The plane was headed due south and left a big contrail, which drifted quickly west. Because it flew directly overhead, the pilot was probably watching for us. Every 24 hours we report our position to Patriot Hills Base Camp. But it was very strange to also see something unnatural, such as a contrail, in this environment.
Near day's end we found something else unnatural. Ski and sled tracks, not more than a day or two old. We followed them a hundred yards, and deduced they were probably made during flat light, for the terrain was much better for skiing a short ways to the east. Which is why we did not follow them for long.
The ski and sled tracks are something of mystery to this day. At first we thought that they might have been made by the Kiwis, who subsequently reached the Pole Jan 2 (52 days travel). They would have been 100 miles ahead of us on this day. But there were too many tracks for only two people. The four-man RAF team would have been 80 miles ahead of us. The other four-man group, "Polar Quest" the British Royal Navy & Marines, would have been 150 miles ahead of us. Maybe these tracks are older than they look, but I really don't think so. I think a 4-man group was a day ahead of us, at the most, and I have no idea who they were.
The evening is rather cold in the tent because of a lack of sun. Amazingly however, the solar panel works on cloudy days, even in a white out; not much, but enough to keep our update gear going and enough to slow charge one mini-disc player during the night.
Its Christmas Eve, and Santa's helpers brought a package of cookies and a small bag of carameled peanuts for us to enjoy. The freight charges would have been too high, apparently, for a roast turkey dinner, or even a pizza. Nevertheless we wish everyone a white Christmas ...without the sastrugi.
Evening camp: S 87° 27.306' W 86° 34.952'
Today's mileage: 13.3 mi. in 10.25 hrs
Altitude: 7820 ft.