The Great Escape

(Benno)

Finally back on the sea ice, our mid-way point and resupply location lay ahead, invisible to us. However, rather than being frustrated at feeling like you aren't getting any closer this was a welcome sight compared to the hills, rough terrain, false summits and rocks which prevent us from taking the most direct path. With the edge of an island set as our target there was a renewed vigour in our steps. We bolted out of this imaginary start gate. It felt amazing to be sliding along, not worrying about rocks, and just enjoying the tugging on the lines rather than feeling like you're horizontal and trying to pull some monumental object like in a strong man competition. Our pace naturally slowed as the ice undulated along in its never-flat state. Despite the improvement, we still dreamed of pancake flat ice with a dusting of snow. Our search for perfect ice continued.

We have been ticking off the kilometers since leaving the headland. Our initial plan had been to head overland for the final leg into Clyde. Due to our last experience this was out of the question, we thought far better to take our chances with the ice gods and their beautiful whites and blues rather than the ones controlling the barren and stark land routes. We were making fantastic progress towards our headland with a band of ice appearing on the horizon. As we came closer these towering blocks broke through the surface creating an almost impenetrable wall of ice. It was the worst ice we had seen all trip. Fortunately we spotted a way round. A glimmer of hope. Thoughts of “have we chosen the right route?” started to eek into our minds as we closed in on the second headland and the possibility of a hut for the night. As the wind picked up we arrived at this remote and desolate hut with a strange and small lookout post on roof. It was possibly a whaling station in the summer as it overlooked two bays. After clearing the snow, piled as high as the door, we staggered in. Typical for the larger huts it was colder than outside. The main benefit was we were out of the wind and a rickety bunk bed sat in the corner, which very quickly we were tucked up inside. Stoves burned gently next to us still in a bid to warm the place up.

We were awoken to Tala licking my face and jumping up towards Jamie’s bunk above me. We lay in our bags drinking hot tea, cradling a hot bottle and discussing options if the ice ahead resembled what we had seen the night before. The options weren't great; head back down the coast to another route overland or cut across from near our current position. This would slow us down considerably and possibly provide another torturous set of days. We decided to climb a nearby hill for a better view. Reaching the top having been crossing fingers, toes and anything else flexible we looked up the coast. There was a slither of "flat" ice. It was fantastic news, we could head up using our route.

Pulks ready, dogs in position we headed north again in beautiful sunshine and a sharp breeze that cut through any chink in our armour of clothing. We walked past huge explosions of ice that looked like giant marshmallows that the sea had forced to the surface in a mess of blue and white. They are an incredible sight and demonstration of nature's brutal power as we weaved between them on our way up the coast towards our next stop. With forecasts of 30mph and higher winds we dug in, digging a small hole for the tent behind a slight hill in this tundra coastline. Guy lines were all out and the sleds tied on for extra stability. We headed to bed wishing for soft winds and a good night's sleep.

Waking the next morning to gentle flapping wasn't what we expected but it was a bitterly cold day. When the sun finally poked its head out we could begin to see just how flat and barren the landscape was as sea and land flowed into one another under a blanket of snow and ice. It was here the troubles began. Colin, who was attached to the sled, launched a cunning ploy create chaos with his lines and Jamie’s harness. As Jamie scrambled about on the ground with the line all of a sudden he was holding both ends. His line had broken. Colin, who is usually not too switched on, spotted his chance and made a bid for freedom. He spent the rest of the afternoon sprinting about with Tala just out of our reach. You can imagine him screaming "freedom" (obviously in a Scottish accent despite his Inuit upbringing) on every pass as part of his hedonistic and wild afternoon antics continued until the end of the day where he collapsed in a ball. Trying to catch him was futile as he waited till you got close and then got up and trotted off. Maybe food will bring him closer! The morning brought strong winds; Tala was coated in a layer of snow, as was the entire tent, with one side building up quite a large drift. We thought it was too strong to ski in but it had brought Mr Colin in for food and capture. It was a stroke of fortune before turning our attention to securing the tent more and building a snow wall to sit out the weather and wait for more favourable conditions for our approach to Clyde River.

gaby woodComment