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!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

April 23rd

April 23rd (Day 22)

Current position
75 00 N
88 30 W
By the time we finished dinner and looked after our various ailments it was about 10.30 and we were still tired when we woke up in the morning. We were also pretty dehydrated from the efforts yesterday and Ian and I really suffered for the first session.

By the afternoon we had recovered but began hitting more consistent rubble. We are still a little north of the position where the ice should clear but are still surprised by the incredible density of the rubble. We'll call the Warden again tomorrow morning to clarify the situation ahead.

To allow for an early night we stopped after 12 miles. Our goal tomorrow is nearly 15 miles away –it will be incredibly tough to achieve this if the conditions don’t improve.

April 22nd

April 22nd (Day 21)

We entered Jones Sound today - the piece of sea that we will cross for remainder of our journey.

Just to our north is the Fram Sound which offers a route to the main Arctic Ocean. The strong currents here mean that areas of the sea never freeze despite the cold temperatures. The result of this and the tidal movements is a big spear of ice rubble extending out into Jones Sound; cutting right across our direct route to Grise Fiord.

We know that the rubble is too deep to cross so we put in a call to the Warden at Grise Fiord for satellite information on the state of the ice. He told us it looks like the ice extends about 15 miles south from where we camped last night and we spent the day drifting south while trying to maintain progress towards Grise.

The Warden gave us permission to burn some rubbish which we have been carrying – this instantly shed about 20kg from the team’s pulks. We marked the site of the burnt rubbish with a broken ski.

While walking we saw a couple of birds - some sort of finch and a crow. These looked really out of place in these conditions.

The sun was out and we got really hot as we moved; I was down to my base layers but still sweating. The base layer bottoms I was wearing chaffed quite badly and gave me something else to powder in the evening.

My left foot hurt again all day but no worse than yesterday. I broke another binding and tried to ski on but found it impossible to keep the skis apart. I bodged another repair so now have home-made bindings on both feet – still, only 110 miles to go!

We managed to hit a bit of rubble towards the end of the day but having committed to making 14 miles we pushed on. We made camp at about 7.30pm tired but satisfied.

April 21st

(April 21st) Day 20
Current position
76' 01 N
90' 04 W

I was woken up last night by my feet hitting the floor. A couple of seconds later my legs were lifted off the floor again. Very weird. In a daze I realized that the wind had moved one of the pulks we had tethered the tent to and it was now lifting the end of the tent off the ground with me and Phil in it. We managed to secure the tent again but repeatedly during the night the walls of the tent were pushed against us by the force of the wind. Not a good night’s sleep.

This wind continued throughout the whole day. It was exhausting as we spent ten hours walking into the wind. However the pace we have achieved over the last four days has been excellent and we have achieved 51 miles in this time alone. Now, just 120 miles of sea ice lie between us and Grise Fiord.

April 20th

(April 20th) Day 19
It was windy when we took down the tents so when the wind died down we took the opportunity to repack our pulks without fear of our kit blowing away.

We skied down Viks Fiord which was absolutely stunning; as good as anything I have seen in the Highlands or British Columbia. Great rows of hills, 3 or 4 deep, lined the Fiord all day and there was not a single sign of human life to detract from the beautiful landscape.

We have now crossed Devon Island and will be on sea ice for the remainder of the trip. This should make the going much easier.

Camp life continues to be interesting; Phil cut his hair last night – using the tiny scissors on his Swiss army knife. As we don’t have a mirror he got Ian to tell him when the scissors where in the right place and then … snip! It won’t win awards or set any trends but it might be enough to make Toni & Guy weep.

I haven't had a chance to send the blog updates for a few days as we have been so busy. And when I went to fire up the pda, the battery was flat and the charger we’d brought wasn’t working. A bit of investigation and I found that a fuse inside the charger had blown. As we didn't know there was a fuse we hadn't brought a spare and a quick scan of the bleak ice filled horizon suggested just how difficult it would be to find a Maplins nearby. But those who know me know I love a challenge. I found that by squeezing the fuse into the middle of a safety pin I could bypass the break and get the charger working - so we're back in action!

April 19th

(April 19th) Day 18
We decided to really make a big push today to try and reach the end of the valley leading to Viks Fiord, 14 miles away.

The first 6 miles went well until I broke my modified binding so I decided to walk for the next couple of miles until the next rest stop. However Mark persuaded me to try and ski with just the toe loop. Despite having to make comical limping movements – a lot like Herr Flick from ‘Allo Allo’ – it was easier than walking much of the time.

Noses are understandably a weak point out here being fairly prominent and much more exposed than much of the rest of our bodies. Ian has been having occasional nose bleeds caused by the cold dry air – and he had another today but struggled on through it. Phil’s nose lost all circulation and turned porcelain white - as we caught it in time it was easy to keep it warm which prevented it becoming a serious problem – but we do have to be really careful and watch out for each other.

But for me it was my left foot which gave me trouble today - it was painful from the very first step. When I got the chance to look at it I found that the sole was red and puffy but not blistered. I think this was caused by the vapor barrier liners we wear in our boots. These are basically plastic bags which stop sweat going into our boots and turning them into blocks of ice when it freezes. I think my foot got too sweaty in the warm weather yesterday so I am trying to dry it out – easier said than done!

Tonight we camp on the banks of Viks Fiord and tomorrow we will finish our crossing of Devon Island!

April 18th

(April 18th) Day 17
Becks did her interview and we made it away by 10am. The weather was fantastic and I wore just base layers to keep cool while pulling the sledge.

In terms of navigation we had two options: a direct but more difficult route across the rolling high ground or a longer flatter option following the river beds. Mark and I decided the team would do better on the flatter sections so we skied in the river system all day.

In the afternoon we passed a pair of arctic hares - the first I had seen. They were making a life in amongst a section of bare rocks. I find it amazing to see life out here in such a barren place with such little apparent food or shelter – I can’t see how they manage to find enough to eat under the blanket of snow.

Towards the end of the day we past some bizarre rock formations; cliffs built of huge perfectly square blocks of rock, pushed out from the hillside. Quite spectacular - it reminded me of Norwich University's architecture. I could see Phil, who is a climber, picking out routes as he skied in front of me.

April 17th

(April 17th) Day 16
We had a late start, perhaps because we had another disturbed night’s sleep. As we put up the tents last night it felt like there was a storm brewing and it was very windy all night which kept us awake a bit. We woke in the morning to very low visibility and winds possibly as high as 40mph (not great when you’re in a tent).

As we got on to the land of Devon Island the wind was driving the snow horizontally at us – this made navigation very difficult. It was almost impossible to keep perspective and judge distances and we fell plenty of times whenever the ground level changed unexpectedly. This actually was all really brilliant fun!

Despite the conditions we decided to continue which proved to be the right choice as in the afternoon the weather brightened and we made good progress. We camped in a valley after completing about 8 miles.

We'll have a later start tomorrow as Becks is doing an interview via sat phone first thing. It'll be nice to have a lie in!

Friday, 17 April 2009

April 16th

April 16th (Day 15)
We are definitely clear of the worst of the rubble. We have pulled the equivalent of London to Brighton and across the English channel – twice. And with it covered in chunks of ice the size of washing machines ...

Our route today skirted along the coast line of Devon Island. The peaks look clear of snow, but we intend to stay in the valleys so hopefully all will be well; but given our luck so far I am not making any bets! Today, while we pulled, I had an hour of really low spirits and I felt like giving up. At the rest stop I ate some sweets while Mark took the ‘p’ out of me and I was ok again after that!

Pulling the pulk pulls my shoulders together so the top of my back has been aching each day. I'll need to look at a way to relieve the pressure or take something to relieve the pain as it’s really getting on my nerves.

The modified binding held up, but we have a serious shortage now, with Ian breaking another right at the end of the day. At this rate it could be the littlest thing that causes us the biggest problems.

Update to Day 15
We had a bear in camp last night. Becks was outside when she saw a large male bear near the tents. Way too close for comfort. She did the right thing and acted quickly to alert everyone.

We all leapt out of our sleeping bags and formed a tight group, rallying around and firing flares in the bear's direction. This seemed to scare it off but for the next couple of hours we made regular checks to make sure it was gone for good before settling down.

Despite all our Polar Bear practice in Resolute it is really difficult to leap out of a sleeping bag! In fact it all looked ridiculously slapstick with hamstrings being pulled and people tripping over. I’m sure that if I had dropped a bowler hat I would have kicked it trying to pick it up! Still, elegance counts for nothing out here and at least the system worked!

April 15th

April 15th (Day 14)
It looks like we may have cleared the worst of the rubble! We managed to link together a number of flatter pans of ground and make some progress today. Trust me – that’s quite exciting for us!

The flatter sections of ice allowed us to pick up the pace and Becks has started to struggle a little more. Certainly the rest of us have had time to condition more over the last couple of weeks so hopefully she will soon settle into the rhythm. But to make things worse Becks is also having trouble with one of her fillings which is causing her a lot of discomfort. The cold is very unforgiving on fillings!

I broke another binding today. It is becoming a worry as we are running low on spares. The terrain is certainly the root of the problem but it doesn’t help that the bindings are not big enough for my feet - even on full adjustment. Tonight I cut the back off one of my bindings and built a new strap from Velcro – this gives my foot more room. We'll see if it works tomorrow.

April 14th

April 14th (Day 13)
It’s a beautiful bright sunny morning today and I was far too hot pulling the pulk. I guess it was about -15°, maybe colder, but I had to strip down to just my base layers to keep cool. We all have sun burnt faces from the light levels; right now there is 24 hours of daylight so there is no escape!

During the day we had to go to high ground to find the best way through the rubble - but by 4.30 we still could not see the edge of it.

The journey has been tough on us and on our equipment. Ian has frost bite on one of his fingers which is causing him some pain. We have also bent a number of ski poles and broken an alarming number of bindings – it’s a bit of a worry.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

April 13

April 13th (Day 12)
We all managed to get a good night’s sleep despite the eerie and surprisingly loud noise of the ice cracking as the tides and pressure changed. It’s a particularly disturbing sound when you’re sleeping on it!

In the morning we were straight back into the rubble, using the high points to search for open spaces and pick our way through as best we could. But there really isn't an art to this kind of crossing – just brute force and luck. Because of the rough terrain my pulk ended upside down a few times and both Phil and I broke bindings because of the strain of moving our pulks.

Becks has begun really well and is managing to cross the rubble easily with her lighter pulk. We passed more bear tracks all day but still no sightings yet.

We called it a day in a large clearing and set up camp. I am sitting on my pulk in the evening sunshine writing up the blog. Mark is cooking dinner tonight for me and Phil; we'll be having extra sausages in preparation for a big day tomorrow.

April 12th

April 12th (Day 11)
The day began flamboyantly when one of the stoves leaked some fuel and set the tent and my glove on fires. This was particularly annoying as I was wearing my gloves at the time. The one good thing about being surrounded by snow is that it’s very quick to put out a fire, so no harm or injury done. But we did have to apologise to Mark for scorching his tent. After this little drama we packed up an headed out to sea.

Within 2 miles we began seeing polar bear tracks - including those of a mother and cub (probably the most dangerous combination if you get too close). But no sign of the real things yet – don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed about that.

We had good sea ice for about 5 miles and then we came up against a mass of rumble (?rubble?JH) which stretched to the horizon on both sides and as far as we could see. With no way around we began to pick our way through the maze of broken ice. We made camp tonight in amongst the rumble - how long it will take to clear it we don't yet know.

April 11th

April 11th (Day 10)
We started the day 7 miles from the coast heading east. Becks was due to join us this morning but there is a blizzard in Resolute so we set off without her.

Visibility was good and the pulling was ‘easy’ as we were crossing ice lakes. For some reason I was hungry all day and was constantly thinking of cheese burgers as I pulled. It’s a bad idea to drool in the Arctic – it freezes fast.

Around mid day we passed some deserted Inuit fishing huts but we didn’t take a detour to investigate as the pulling was going well and we were keen to complete the island crossing before night.

Around 4 o'clock we climbed a final summit and suddenly saw the frozen sea stretched out before us for the first time in 10 days: we had crossed Cornwallis Island. This was a biug moment for us and we were elated. After hugs all round we set up camp on the Northwest Passage!

Despite a storm blowing up around us Becks arrived on the back of a skidoo – it had taken her hours of traveling to catch us up. With the words ‘be careful this is bear country’ the skidoo left and the team was reunited at last - and ready to head out for Devon Island tomorrow.


If you have any questions for Ryan please do email them to me and I will encourage our intrepid explorer to answer them through the blog!

April 10th

April 10th (Day 9)
The beautiful frozen lake we had camped on was so large that it took us 2.5 hours to ski the length of it this morning.

We had good visibility in the morning but later in the day visibility dropped to around 50ft. This made it difficult to pick the best route. As a result we ended up climbing straight over the summit of one of the largest hills in the area; we are almost certainly the first people to have ever climbed over that hill which was some small consolation for the enormous effort it involved - getting down was not easy.

While we were doing this my mind wandered to home (always dangerous) and thinking of all the things I missed (very dangerous). I decided that the two things I miss most are my girlfriend Laura and sitting in pubs.

April 9th

April 9th (Day 8)
The day started with a problem; one of the fuel canisters in my pulk had leaked overnight. Luckily I store the fuel lower than my food so it wasn't affected but it’s a real pain. I had to empty everything out, fill the pulk with snow to soak up the fuel and then repack everything before we could leave.

Although we started the morning with a long climb we soon began crossing frozen inlets. These gave us our first (welcome) taste of moving across ice and a much needed burst of pace.

The weather was cold and overcast to start but in the afternoon a strong wind came up which moved the pulks around behind us. We stopped to put on windproof layers and had to huddle behind the pulks as windbreaks for our rest stops.

We camped on a beautiful frozen lake and I spent the evening patching my jacket after I burnt it on the stove. Doh!

Friday, 10 April 2009

April 8th

April 8th (Day 7)
Current position 75 08N 94 17W
While pulling last night the bird dropped in again - we’re probably the most interesting thing for miles. It paraded up and down in front of us and then flew off - I have no idea what it eats out here!

The day was quite dull. We rest for a few minutes each hour, sitting on our sleds alongside each other so we can chat. Our conversations are therefore entirely random - a collection of our thoughts from the last hour, and how the mind wonders! Today for example, we gave each other super-hero names; tried to work out what Goofy is if Pluto is a dog; and created a list of famous cats. Answers on a postcard please

In the last couple of hours the terrain got much more interesting. We entered a series of gullies and really had to work hard to manhandle the sledges through. Tonight we put some distance between us and the gullies as they are more likely to have bears wandering around in them.

April 7th

April 7th (Day 6)
Big day today; pants and socks changing day! I wouldn't normally bother after just five days but I wanted to treat myself! I won’t go into details but let’s just say the mission was a success.

I was feeling a bit low on the way into camp at the end of the day but I suddenly had a massive sweat and my mood lifted – really weird. I think my body is struggling to acclimatise to the incredibly cold temperatures - but it hasn't happened since.

Last night we had a bird come into the camp – no idea where it came from or why it dropped in. It didn't seem bothered by us at all and walked around the tents having a good look. It may sound like a little thing – but out here that’s quite a big diversion.

The satellite phone has been giving me grief over the last few days. I haven't been able to maintain a signal long enough to send my blog updates. The issue seems to be past so hopefully the next few posts can go out ok.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

April 6th

April 6th (Day 5)
We got up at 5am and were pulling by 8am. It had been a very cold night and I woke up shivering a few times.

The pace today was much better and we easily covered 4 miles this morning - this was despite Phil feeling low on energy all day. In the afternoon we hit a series of gorges where navigation was difficult. Crossing the gorges was really slow and hard work; it took all four of us to get each pulk up the sides.
I managed to break a ski binding today - perhaps due to the tough going – but we all have spares so it only took ten minutes to fix.

We saw signs of wildlife throughout the day. But while we crossed arctic fox tracks quite a few times we never actually saw one.

April 4th

April 4th (Day 3)
It was very slow going today. Ian was struggling with the weight of his pulk which carries everything he needs and weighs around 90kg. We had expected to move relatively slowly at first as the pulks are at their heaviest, but the lack of snow on the land crossing has hampered us further. Phil, Mark and I took some of Ian's food but we were on the limit of what we could pull ourselves.

By early afternoon we made the decision to dump some weight and got rid of some of the food we were carrying. It looks like we may get a bit hungry towards the end of the trip! We heard from Becky who is recovering well and is expected to join us in five days. We have told her to dump some food too!

April 2nd & 3rd

April 3rd (Day 2)
Current position 74°45N 94°42N
With Becky still feeling very ill in the morning, and being still very close to Resolute, the decision was made to have Becky picked up by skidoo (a motorized sled). This would take her to the medical centre in Resolute where she could be diagnosed and recover. Once better, Becky would be skidood out to catch us up.

Becky and the skidoo left about 10.30am. We then pulled 6 hours before making camp high up on the plateau. The weather was relatively warm and I tend to get warm anyway, so with the added effort of walking and pulling I spent most of the time in just my base layers to stay cool.

We are camped in a beautiful position tonight and are hoping for good weather again tomorrow.

April 2nd (Day 1)
By chance our expedition began the day after the 10 year anniversary of the creation of Nunavut province. Nunavut, meaning ‘our land’, is an area the size of Western Europe – with a population of under 30,000. It was created for the Inuit people so it was a particularly poignant time to be walking between two of the most significant Inuit communities.

Although we have only been on the expedition for two days now, we have already had our first drama. We left resolute about 9.30 on April 2nd. Walking in two teams I was guiding Ian and Becky while Mark followed with Phil a little later. Everyone was keen to get out of Resolute and get on with expedition - but the initial going was very tough with a climb from sea level up to 800 metres. It was a tough initiation for the guys who hadn't pulled a sled before! It wasn’t helped by having to cross areas of rubble not covered by the snow which really eats into the sledges. But spirits were kept high by singing electric six hits!

However, the drama was beginning to play out. Becky had not felt well the night before we set out but had been very keen to start the expedition. However, towards the end of the first day she began to feel worse and was ill again in the night.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

April 1st

1st April - Resolute Bay
Resolute is the staging post for so many Arctic expeditions that South Camp Inn, our hotel, is absolutely packed at this time of year. You don’t really expect to have to pre-book in the Arctic – but you do.

Polar Race are in town training 13 people for a race to the position of the 1996 Magnetic North Pole (this is continually moving north-west). They are filming the training so watch out for the documentary soon – especially the moment when a competitor had to chase down a Husky puppy that had run off with his glove. Priceless.

On Monday and Tuesday we camped out on the bay. This allowed us to test our tents, stoves and some of the specialist kit we need for the trip. It also gave us the time to perfect our drill for a polar bear attack. This is vital, very serious and happily working very well.

Three of the team are carrying flares and bangers which will hopefully scare off any snooping bears. Mark and I carry shot guns in case they don’t get deterred. If the worst happens and we need to shoot one of the bears we will have to radio the authorities to explain what happened and give its position for collection.

Our planned route has been changed to avoid the open water we had been warned about. We will now cross Cornwallis Island itself rather than going around the island on the sea ice. We have relayed this to the local police so they know where to look for us should they need to. The new route will save about 10 miles in terms of distance but will make the first part of the expedition much harder. We expect the land crossing to take about a week.

I am anxious to get going tomorrow morning. I had a bit of back ache on Monday but this seems much better now and I just want to get under way, hoping that the first few days go smoothly so we can settle into a rhythm. We aim to start pulling around 10.00 – it’s all got very, very real.