At some point this morning I stepped from land on to the ocean (well, a colossal ice shelf, at least). I was mildly apprehensive about crossing the transition between Berkner Island and the Ronne Ice Shelf, despite anecdotal evidence from the handful of people that have passed this way that it is a safe route, and my concern wasn’t eased by the whiteout conditions this morning.
I cheered up for the first twenty minutes or so as I was definitely skiing downhill, which made hauling 130kg a little more agreeable. Then things flattened out, and I spotted a hole, glowing an ominous blue, a few feet in front of my skis. My body reacts to the concept of crossing crevasses in a whiteout the same way that my dog reacts to fireworks (my legs shake, my eyes go as wide as saucers, I start panting and drooling…) but I edged closer and poked around the edges with a ski pole, trying to see how deep and how wide it was.
To my relief it was all of a foot wide where it was open, and wasn’t at all deep. On reflection I suspect it was some sort of working crack, created by the immense pressure of the slow-moving ice shelf against the land, and I was able to ski right over it. When I recall some of the colossal (and sometimes moving, creaking) pressure ridges I’ve clambered over on the Arctic Ocean, this feels barely worth mentioning, but the little scaled-down JNC chart I have with me says ‘shoreline undetermined’, so it feels good to have done a bit of proper exploration today.
Elsewhere, the visibility has been poor to non-existent, and the surface has been terrible; fresh snow that makes it feel like I’m dragging a washing machine across a ploughed field for eight hours in a day.
There was very little to photograph, so here’s me in my kitchen this evening (thank you Ross Gilmore for the customised MSR XGK stoves – they are working brilliantly!)
Some answers for you:
“1) how do you protect your face while sleeping against the cold weather?”
I’m out of the wind in my tent, and I sleep in a hat, with the hood of my sleeping bag pulled tight. I also sleep with an eye mask as it’s 24-hour daylight here, and kept getting a cold nose on my last expedition, so I’ve sewn some fleece to the bottom of the eye mask.
“2) Can I ask a few geek Qs. Why start at Berkner and not Hercules Inlet? are you actually starting at waters edge? Or is it something like where land meets sea ice, but does Hercules not qualify for this. Also why did you choose Leverett Glacier as the end point? Is this because it was Worsleys route? Is Berkner to Leverett the shortest route for a transcontinent? Also I read somewhere that there is a Polar Road up/down one of the glaciers to the Ross iceshelf will you be ‘riding’ that road? Thanks JB”
Berkner as it was Henry’s route, and it also seemed more interesting. Leverett because I’m on my own and it presents the least crevasse risk (Henry had planed to go down the Shackleton Glacier but I decided against it after the SPEAR17 team found a few holes descending it in January, with one team member falling into a crevasse. The Leverett is the route of the SPOT vehicle traverse to the South Pole, although it’s definitely not a road. Tarka and I spotted a section of it near Ross Island on my last expedition, and the tracks in the snow were harder to ski on than the surrounding terrain.
I’m undertaking this expedition to support The Endeavour Fund, a charity which works to support wounded and vulnerable servicemen and women. If you feel inspired to donate, I’d love your help. http://www.endeavourfund.co.uk