Saturday, December 3, 2011

Day 12: First crevasse and I lose my way

84:37.227S 77:59.490W

Only 25.1 kilometres today... Yet 12 hours out there, 10 hours actually 'marching'... Poor productivity, but some sightseeing done and problem solving, both contributing to lost time, but gained life experience! See below:

I've confirmed that the expedition that I saw yesterday was the Norwegians... Not Amundsen though, as he 'has to' get there by the 14th Dec, and it wasn't a South African he was racing! Still good news for me, though, one of the issues of being out here on my own is I don't get any references, eg how tough it is, how cold it is, how easy/bad the terrain is, how well 'we' are doing, etc. So this helped that, and did give me a boost!1 There was a slight disappointment at seeing someone else in this wilderness,, when I thought I was miles away from anyone! (Ruth's team is about 3 days behind me, so I did think I was pretty much alone.)

Today was back to blue sky and pristine white ice, with skiing conditions improving from the soft snow throughout the day. There was a tough 25 knot headwind which made for very cold conditions, and the shortest possible rest times... One just gets freezing cold sitting behind the sled eating and having water.

I came across another nunatak today, similar in size and height... Again very unusual, and beautiful.

Surprise, surprise... CREVASSE! The first warning was a larger than normal sastrugi mound, the perfect beacon glistening in the sun, but a potential death trap in whiteout conditions! As I approached it I sensed it was 'abnormal' and so went around the left side, to find the whole back open, and forming a huge funnel to a deep gaping hole maybe 25 m in diameter. I ventured towards the edge off the funnel lip, but couldn't get closer enough to see the bottom, so it was really deep... Just a blue hole... Hmmm! I good learning lesson from a safe position in good weather, so very useful.

Another kilometre on and running 90 degree to my direction of travel, was this real crevasse, almost a sunken pathway extending as far as the eye could see roughly to east and west. About 15-20m wide, and a step down of about 30cm from the surrounding terrain. In places at this step down I could see the deep ice blue colour showing the discontinuity and the "mind the gap!" I had to cross it, and so tested with my pole in a few places, and whoopsie, my pole went straight through the thin snow cover, creating a peephole to a blue room underneath...... I walked along until I found a more icy, weather beaten hard crust, tested it, it was solid and looked like a good bridge, so took the step down, sled followed, and before I knew it 'we' had crossed safely..... Good first experience on my own, but the scarey thing is, where I was was supposed to be crevasse free, with potential crevasse area about 1-2 days away! I guess if things were all certain, it wouldn't be an adventure!

Yeah, so it's Saturday, and I'm still working... In fact the 'job' requires 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, for 5 weeks... and then no pay! Haha, as I have shared with some of you, these extreme adventures is my 'work', providing me with all the challenge, stimulation, and reward (except the pay!) work used to do... The main difference is it's short-term contract work on my terms, and like one's own business but on steroids! No customers, shareholders, bank, auditors, etc. Just ME and you guys, and me exposed as naked as you can get in front of 'Mother Nature'! So why do I tell you this today? Well, just like work there are day-to-day problems and challenges to be overcome, and today I was presented with a Antarctica 'technology' challenge....No iPad, iphone, nor software problems, just a compass one! Yeah, its basic out here!

My compass has been working fine for 10 days, but yesterday I had the first inkling of a problem, when in the middle of the fog it started becoming unreliable, jumping all over the place and when it did stabilise I was up to 30 degree off course! I was extremely agitated, and saw that there was a new, sizeable air bubble in the sealed housing. So at a rest break I decided to change to the spare. (Which now also had an air bubble, but I sensed the bubble probably wasn't the problem. The new compass was no different, but as I thought through possible causes, the problem went away, and I was back to a reliable compass... Quite an important thing!

Well, from early on today, the games started again, but never went away. I was forced to use the sun and angle of the strong headwind, while I went into serious problem solving. Being so far south has some compass issues, firstly one needs a southern hemisphere compass,, and secondly from my north pole experience I thought maybe because the magnetic fluxes enter the earth not too far from here, there maybe abnormalities. I'd been assured there weren't but now I'm clutching at straws for an explanation of my dilemma. Had I been sold two northern hemisphere ones, even though both suppliers had confirmed they were, I'd just taken their words... And the wild goose chase went on for 3 hours with my navigation confidence waning and disillusionment running high.... Not a good mindset for churning out quality killometres in the bitterly cold headwind conditions. I wondered if the GPS or my camera, which both stay warm in my pants, were causing magnetic interference, but soon tested and ruled them out. It was something that had changed, and that led me to believe it was the mag flux in the area, or I had the wrong compasses, and they were now becoming a problem at this high latitude... While I know I could get to the pole without compass, it would be very taxing, and not something I could easily volunteer for.....

Then I had this brainwave (for me at least!) that all my electronics (for this email, satphones, etc) were in a single bag at the top of my backpack, and in there there could be something magnetic causing interference....? Why it had only started interfering now is a mystery, but I'd stop, take out the bag and put it in the sled away from the compass. I sensed I had found the problem, and with both excitement and fear (that it wasn't the problem) I immediately stopped to face the answer. I disconnected myself from the backpack, walked a few metres away, and yippee the compass became a normal compass again! Wass I delighted.... Yeah, a small simple problem, with an obvious simple solution, but when you are on your own, and in a remote place where few have trodden, where the rules have some quirks, and your 'life' / expedition depends on solving the problem, things take on new meaning. The repair of the pole was the same.... The feeling of accomplishment is very satisfying, and hopefuly one can see the connection to a super steroid work!

For those of you, maybe still at school and developing your life skills, these adventure problem solving realities, can never be replaced by computer games or simulations... You guys should get out there and experience the full on realities, you'll find it makes you so alive and satisfied.

Lastly on photos: SORRY, I'd love to share the occasional photo, but it just takes too much satphone frustration....

Ok, that's it for today....a very interesting one !

Enjoy the warm weekend beach if you are near one!


  1. Howard.
    I've read every single one of your posts. You're doing so well! I get so stressed when I start each post and so uplifted when I finish it. Amazing work! Amazing.

    Looking forward to seeing you and listening to your tales and experiences in person once again.

    All the best.
    Empire Dave

  2. Hi Howard,
    I have been following your adventure every step of the way. You are living life on the absolute edge and solving problems that can easily cost your life. I can't imagine anything more courageous or more real. You are an inspiration to all of us. We are with you all the way.
    All the best,

  3. Hi Howard
    Its good to know that you are managing the problems as they happen.Not the reality of my living room at 22C !
    Hope you enjoy your trip as much as we enjoy reading your experiences.
    Good luck from Portugal!

  4. Hi my brother, I read your reports with bated breath as what you are doing is so scary. I am praying for you. with love J.

  5. Compass problems scared me all the way to here in the San Francisco area. We are glad you solved that one with good Howard logic. Good marching...Jerry

  6. FAIRBANKS, get there safely pal, we have many cycling trips still to do ( and many red wine evenings still to get through)

  7. Howard...WOW...I LOVE reading your are phenom!!!
    Keep it going Janet and Chris xxxxx

  8. Howard I have been reading your blogs with some trepidation with what they might contain. Sounds like you are over coming the challenges. Q how many calories do you think you burn a day and more importantly how do you make sure you eat enough
    Simon P

  9. Hey Howard... Just a quick note to say how much I am enjoying following your epic journey. Glad to see that your razor sharp analytical mind is firing on all eight cylinders out there in the cold. Stay safe and watch those crevasses...
    Cheers George S

  10. Hi Howard,
    Well done on plan ,time on the ice.Distance will come when conditions & situations "get better".How do you know where Ruth is?You are seriously in good mind space.Being so far ahead of Ruth team will you have made arrangements for food etc for the wait till they get there?
    Nice 1 on the bridge crossing.Well done on solving compass issue.
    Beach weather here fantastic (even if bad) compared to your situation.

  11. Wow Howard, you are an inspiration. Your experiences are my experiences .... you share so well. Take care my friend.