I might have complained once or twice about … you guessed it… the sastrugi. I might have mentioned it on occasion and of course, it is not at all an obsession. Really, I swear to you, I am not obsessed!
Sastrugi Hell on Earth
But today… oh jeez! Oh wow! I really have never seen anything like it! I have had days of just whiteouts before; days taken by storms… but to have just pure sastrugi, from start to finish, and the biggest sastrugi I have ever seen… was impressing, if not exhausting! It reminded me of rough sea ice in the Canadian Arctic!
I could rant, really I could! When I had my scheduled comms call with ALE earlier, my immediate reply to their questions about conditions was “hell on earth!” Okay, it could have been worse; there could have been a whiteout, so again I was lucky with the visibility… but this was insane; a complete labyrinth of grooves and channels between the ice formations. Snow so compact it was becoming as slippy as ice. Sir Sledmund wanting to go down channels one way when I wanted to go another, becoming a battle of strength and obstinacy to see which direction we’d end up going. And again. And again.
Finding a place to camp
I camped half an hour earlier than intended: I was getting pretty tired (not helped by a night during which I kept waking up with neck and shoulder spasms), I had fallen over a couple of times as the sastrugi had gotten worse, and it was getting cloudy. It was very hard to find a place to camp in this mess and the cloud would have made it so much harder (well it would have made it so that it was luck of the draw!) so when I stumbled on a spot, I gratefully accepted.
But despite my complaining… I still managed 23.5km… not my best day, but up there with the best of them. I have no idea how!! At the beginning of the day iI would have taken 20, so getting that far was again pleasing.
Setting up camp
Not quite so simple as just putting the tent up! I always anchor the tent immediately to the sled before doing anything else – a habit as if it’s windy, that’s security. Then it’s a matter of getting the poles in. The poles have been modified so they are now just two sections (taped the poles in each section together), with one always remaining in the fabric of the tent. So this is the easy part- always working from the wind-facing side first and downwards otherwise you risk losing control of the tent to the wind. Though on that note, the wind can be a helpful assistant sometimes even when it comes to getting it all upright once the poles are in!
14 guys and snow anchors
Once up, then the guy lines and snow pegs need seeing to… I have doubled up on these so there are 14 guys, for added strength in storms. Then it’s shovelling the snow on the snow flaps; all around the tent – extra stability and helps reduce draft! But still more to do: I have an extended vestibule which I use for cooking. Between the inner tent and the end of the vestibule, I always dig a deep pit: it lets me sit in the inner tent, dangling my legs down with the stove on the other side… much more comfy! Also carbon monoxide sinks into the hole so further reduces chances of poisoning (of course you need to make sure all the vent channels are open though).
Setting up ‘home’
Not done yet! Then you need to get the bags you need from the sled. The kitchen box with the stove, kettle and other items; a tent gear bag so can change out of those skiing clothes. The electronics bag – you need to warm up the satellite phone batteries before making any calls. The right food bags. The sleeping bag and bedding system. Med kit. And any other bags of items that you might need. Oh and today, I needed to bring in the fuel can as I need to fill up the fuel bottles. Once everything is out of the sled, then you can put things you don’t need (skis and poles for example) into that – you don’t leave them exposed as if it is windy or snows a lot, they soon get covered! Get everything into the tent and it’s open for business and you can relax a little…just a little though as there’s plenty more to do!
Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1