Back on hard ice

I’ve made it off the Dome

The alarm wrenched me from the deepest sleep at 4am and I snoozed it for an hour. I was really fatigued this morning, 95km upwind in deep snow took its toll yesterday.

Just losing 1000ft in altitude yesterday seemed to get rid of oxygen debt and feeling of “night panic” which was awesome.

A wind check showed yet another miraculous wind shift had occurred overnight, allowing me to get going with both sleds and exactly towards the tail end of the “conveyor belt”. I reconfigured the sleds side by side as I was thinking positive, the deep snow has to end totally today. The other benefit of sleds side by side is that every large bump or sastrugi only transfers one jolt to my pelvis via the pulling trace rather than two hits when they are behind one another.

Already a degree or two warmer I risked not wearing the neoprene boot covers (they add significant quadriceps load over 12 hours), it was magic, no foot pain and my feet felt so light.

I tried to kite initially with no over-mitt’s as well and within minutes had to drop the kite and get the silly big oven mitts on as my fingers were screaming for reprieve.

After this rocky start, I started skiing silently on deep snow directly towards my waypoint for the conveyor belt 100 km to the NE. No jolting, gliding effortlessly with no pain anywhere in my body. It was a shock, I’d forgotten how effortless downwind Polar travel can be. The last time I was genuinely pain and frostnip free was day 17. What a glorious day.

I listened to an audiobook and went into a trance, before long I’d covered 50km and dropped the kite for a lunch break. Inexplicably I did something I never have before by preparing a hot high-calorie drink by firing up the stove inside one of the sleds. Pure magic, not sure why we’ve never done that prior!

Straight after lunch I broke free of the snow finally and with a “whoop” welcomed back the sastrugi. Immediately my speed doubled as the hard ice halved the sled friction. The load on my pelvis also halved, my knees groaned as they began to get slammed once more. You can’t keep every body part happy it seems.

I’d been keeping my eyes peeled for any crevasses and the ice ahead looked safe. Then I came over an odd crest and looked into the trough of my first Megadune. Ben Galton-Fenzi had warned me of them. There were 7 in a row. Imagine an enormous sea swell, but it’s all frozen ice. I had to learn how to negotiate these monsters quickly. The downslope was slippery hard ice, no snow, and the sleds and I fast started to overtake the kite. So I learnt to zig zag into the dune’s trough then use the kite to climb out the other side. They were huge with 1-2km downslopes and deep troughs. I have never seen an ice feature like this. Grand and somewhat daunting to negotiate I was glad to see the last just before the wind died and I called it a day 126 km from this mornings camp.

With a grin I pushed a tent peg into firm ice and felt a puff of wind in my right cheek. It was a new wind, a wind pushing north, I had reached the southern end of the conveyor belt that was to take me home.