Monday, 4 May 2009

April 30th

April 30th (Day 29)

We made it! The first British team to manhaul between Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord! We have covered in excess of 300 miles, crossing land and sea. We have seen polar bear, seal and arctic hare. We have bonded as a team and grown fantastic beards … well the men have. Except Phil.

Today we pulled into Grise Fiord at about 5.30pm. We'd been traveling towards it for a number of hours and, as we came within a mile, a skidoo approached and Dwain the RMCP invited us for spaghetti and meatballs in his home. He and his wife had been watching us approach across the ice through his telescope.

Dwain's wife Charla also baked us cakes and their friend brought around cookies! We couldn't have been made to feel more welcome.

As we went to make camp we were surrounded by the village elders, kids on skidoos, the warden who had helped us with the sea ice and the teachers from the local school. It was great - as were the free rooms with hot showers offered to us by the hotel owner Doug.

We all have mixed emotions about the trip being over.

Phil was discussing the option of re-supply so the expedition could continue while Ian, having given it a really good chance, has decided he really doesn't like skiing.

Over the last few days it has been awkward to balance our elated feelings that the end was in sight with staying switched on to the environment we are in and the fact that even in the final days things can go wrong. In 2006 I was stuck in a storm for 2 days just 3km out of Resolute Bay without being able to get back into town.

Mark and I in particular have been keeping each other grounded, not allowing each other to talk as if we had already "made it". Superstition has governed every conversation about the weather - or in my case my bloody ski bindings!

Highs and lows? After the bad luck with the sea ice around Resolute, the long land crossing of Cornwallis Island and the sea rubble across Wellington Channel, I hit my low during the last day in the rubble. I questioned the purpose of the trip and my motivation for doing it. The reasons seemed so selfish and vain. Motivation also became an issue as at the time, it looked as though we would not make Grise Fiord in the time we had left. Yet I could not imagine a scenario where I would let myself give up.

These low moments were fleeting, perhaps for just a couple of hours, but they test your resolve none the less. The next day I shared my concerns with Mark and we re-evaluated the crossing of Devon island and the management of the team over the next stage of the trip. This helped us to complete the crossing in three days rather than the six we had allowed. The credit for this goes to each member of the team who buckled down and did what needed to be done.

Last night we talked about the highs and the lows for the whole team. The guys said the moment we crossed Cornwallis Island and saw the sea for the first time was the high for them. I think it was for me also - although the arrival in Grise Fiord takes some beating!

Well it’s nice to be clean again and I have seriously lost some weight. I might pop down to the medical centre to weigh myself. Tomorrow I shall do some filming around town and maybe get the chance to go and see some of the wildlife on Ellesmere Island. There will be a flight out tomorrow as today's was missed because of a storm in Resolute. We'll try and get our sledges on the plane and fly ourselves on Saturday.

Well off to bed, now for a well earned rest.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

April 29th

April 29th (Day 28)

It snowed last night – but it sounded more like rain falling on the tent. True enough, in the morning we emerged to find our pulks covered in that nasty wet type of snow we expect in the UK – but not in the Arctic.

We skied for the first hour before breaking out into a line again to chat for the rest of the day.
In the morning I noticed black lumps on the ice – from a distance they looked like rocks. But after a couple of minutes I realised that they were seals resting by their breathing holes in the ice. All through the day we saw seals basking on the frozen sea and occasionally dropping back through the ice and into the water below.

Later in the afternoon we passed some huge icebergs. By this time the weather had warmed up and I was getting dehydrated. My water for the day, made from boiling up snow this morning, was quite salty because the sea ice had clearly leeched its salt into the thin snow covering we had to use.

We finished the day just 14 miles from Grise Fiord! With binoculars we can see some outlying buildings but not the town itself - not yet. Tomorrow we hope to cover the final miles and complete our month long journey. Let’s hope for another day of good weather, but even as I write this I can hear that the wind has picked up again...

April 28th

April 28th (Day 27)

It was very windy overnight. Luckily we’d secured the tent well against the possible storm, so we managed to get a good night’s sleep. In fact I was unusually reluctant to get up this morning. I think I’ve softened up a bit with the improving weather.

We’re all finding the terrain a bit tedious so to keep our spirits up we skied next to each other so we could chat. In the afternoon the weather closed in and visibility dropped to a hundred feet or so. But later, in the distance, we saw some grey clouds – a clear indication of open water and that we are nearing Grise Fiord. It will also mean there will be more bears in the area for the next few days.

29.9 miles now to Grise. 15 miles to do tomorrow.

April 27th

April 27th (Day 26)

We got a weather report from the Warden this morning. The next few days are looking windy - with 40 mile an hour gusts. Our biggest concern at the moment is that a storm will delay us getting to Grise - but this doesn't seem likely.

The day started with a strong breeze which made the tents difficult to handle. But we had good ice all day and took the opportunity to have a skiing lesson to help improve our pace.

We achieved 15 miles today, so we are on track for getting to Grise on Thursday evening. At this stage we’re just hoping that the next few days pass uneventfully.

April 26th

April 26th (Day 25)

I began to find the terrain tedious today. I found it difficult to let my mind drift and became frustrated with the pace - although we were actually covering the ground well. I have been thinking much more about the end of the expedition and the re-adjustment to normal life.

Mark and I committed to getting the team within 60 miles of Grise by the end of the day. With 59.9 miles to go we made camp!

April 25th

April 25th (Day 24)

We’ve had a couple of really quiet days. The ice has improved and progress has been easy.

Ian won the day’s best joke competition:

"How do you make a cat woof?"

"Petrol and matches".

April 24th

April 24th (Day 23)

A bright and sunny start this morning. We put another call in to the Warden and we get the same advice - that the ice will clear.

We continued to head east and it’s hard work - I strip down to my base layers to stay cool. My foot is much better - it finally blistered so was much easier to deal with.

Phil and Becks had problems with their ski skins working loose. Both were fixed easily enough but the interruptions broke the rhythm of the day.

In the afternoon we came up against some "big" rubble - lumps of ice the sizes of cars! Crossing the rubble takes some nerve as you are climbing really high onto the slabs of ice.

We continued until 9.30pm and completed 12 miles. This was short of our goal but reasonable for the terrain and we were reluctant to push too far into the night at this stage.

As we neared the site where we camped the ice cleared and we passed some really massive bear prints. We are hoping for a quiet night!