We started the expedition off slowly: three 50 minute sessions on the first half day with 5km travelled, then doubling to six sessions on day 2. Following this we added an extra session each of the next three days, until we were travelling nine sessions over the course of each day. We didn’t want to go all-out straight away due to risk of injury and we wanted our bodies to adapt to the demands of the expedition. While we had all been training hard, it was still important to be careful.
At the same time, the terrain of the icefall didn’t allow us to move very fast as we were snaking around and looking for the best ways through for quite some time. Indeed, we took three days to get through this part of the challenge: the ice ridges slowly became less prominent, the chasms became shallower and the crevasses became fewer and farther between. It turned into an undulating landscape of smooth snow and ice in all directions. As the landscape changed, our speed increased: more than doubling from 8km travelled on day 3 to 18km on day 4 and increasing up to 24km by day 6.
It would be easy to describe the terrain as featureless but that would be unfair: the glorious weather and the sun sheds all sorts of characteristics to the ice that help catch one’s attention. And we had wonderful weather with bright sunshine, clear skies, and temperatures that hovered around -10C for a good week or so. The conditions were so good, we were skiing in our base layers, and even able to have a dinner as a group outside of the tents on one of the nights! In these conditions, the randomly scattered rougher and exposed ice could be clearly seen, making navigation straightforward as we could use them as reference points for our headings. At the same time, the eyes could play tricks: we could see what looked to be steep snow walls in distant hills though as we got closer, the slopes were barely noticeable. As an added bonus – we even saw a flock of geese migrating west on one of the earlier days. Just imagine the distance they have to travel!
It was quite amazing and a privilege being in the middle of all this; the serene and pristine environment that just took our breath away. Being here and the mind also goes on its own journeys as we listened to the sound of our breathing and the skis. It’s tough, but it’s all so peaceful at the same time.