Day 2: First Taste of the Wind
The night was very cold. We had cooked dinner in the vestibule, so there was not much heat from the stove coming into the tent. We slept in all of our clothes, including down jackets and insulated pants. During the night the wind picked up, and the ground blizzard made us close the tent door tightly to keep the spindrift out. The condensation inside the tent grew fierce and formed ice and ice crystals on the walls. In retrospect, it was our coldest night on the trip, as we had not learned how to manage our heat.
Yesterday we were going north toward the coast. Our intent was to kite ski to Hercules Inlet, then turn around and ski to the Pole. But this morning the wind was quite strong. Jenny wanted to stick to our original plan, but I now had reservations. I felt that we had our hands full adjusting to the cold and wind, and that if we introduced the additional element of kite skiing we might be in over our heads. As always, my philosophy is to never cross a Rubicon.
Also, I had reservations about continuing even sledging north. Not that it was dangerous. But yesterday it surprised us that we were going so slowly. Now it seemed a waste of time to keep going north when our ultimate goal was to go south to the pole. So with a great deal of reluctance we changed our plans. This camp would have to be our furthest point north.
Plan "B," which we devised on the spot, was to ski back to Patriot Hills and re-sort our gear and resupplies, and head to the Pole. So we broke camp and set our compasses on a reciprocal bearing, because we had long lost sight of Patriot Hills. The wind was now in our faces, and extremely cold.
In the morning, we found that the ground blizzard had covered our campsite with snow.
We have broken camp and packed the sleds.
This is the last photo of the day, because both of our cameras froze and would not work any more. We had not yet learned to keep them warm, or at least above freezing.
When we reached the Base Camp at Patriot Hills, three hours later, I had a lot of ice inside my face mask, and we felt like we had just returned from a severely cold weekend outing, when in fact we were barely getting started with this trip.
The staff welcomed us back and invited us into their little hut for hot soup and tea. We talked to a few of the staff members, and we all agreed that we had just completed a successful shakedown trip, giving us a chance to test gear and ourselves before setting out for the pole.
Back outside, we collected our gear bags containing all of our food and gear, and in the strong wind we re-located into the lee outside of a large tent. For one thing, we were carrying the kiting gear, and we would not need that for the south-bound part of the trip. While Jenny repacked our resupply bags with food and gear, I went to the fuel cache to fill our bottles for the next leg of our journey. Both of us were positively freezing and I was amazed that Jenny managed to sort food and repack our bags successfully. The temptation was to make camp and try again the following morning. But we both knew that we needed to get used to this, and that tomorrow's weather might not be better.
After two hours of resorting, we set off from Patriot Hills with sleds repacked with food and fuel for a month. The sleds were heavy and the day was late, but we wanted to at least ski for an hour before making our next camp. As it turned out, we would ski for much longer than that this evening.
Before heading directly to the pole, we had to go around the Patriot Hills mountain range. The reason for this Base Camp at Patriot Hills was the natural blue ice at the foot of the mountains providing a runway for the Ilyushin. The ice field stretches for miles, and unfortunately it lay in our path. Before long we found ourselves unavoidably skiing on ice, rather than snow. The ice was too slippery for boots, and we had no crampons, so we slowly and gingerly made our way along the base of the hills on skis. Normally the sleds slid on the ice fairly easily. But every now and then they would hang up. When this happened they were very difficult to free because our skis and skins provided almost no traction. We spent hours in this mode, but at least the efforts kept us warm in the rising wind.
The wind is sometimes so strong here that it blows stones off the mountain and onto the ice. In some areas the stones were so prevalent that they were unavoidable. We were very mindful of our hard-plastic sled runners, but we couldn't do much to prevent the rocks from scratching them.
The evening was getting late and very stormy, but we could not find a place to camp on the ice. So we kept going. In retrospect we probably should not have kept going because the wind built into a full-on gale and the temperature plummeted. We had been warned not to be out in such conditions due to the risk of frostbite. But we seemed to be OK for the time being.
At the far end of the hills we were faced with a long, steep ascent to the shoulder. We had been pulling hard and were tired, so when we finally reached a fairly level area, at 9:30 pm, we stopped to make camp. Here we realized how cold we were. We put on all of our jackets and pants, and proceeded to set up the tent. This was a task in the strong wind with stiff and numb fingers. As before, inside the tent was very cold, because we used the stove in the vestibule, not in the body of the tent, with the vestibule door fully open to avoid fumes.
Evening camp: S 80° 21.034' W 81° 13.233'