Longest unsupported crossing bid on hold

31/05/2010 by

We’ve come to a tough decision.  As soon as we say that, it’s pretty much guaranteed you all know what we’re talking about; we’re going to have to put the world record attempt on the longest unsupported crossing of Antarctica on hold.

Now that we have had time to digest the lessons learned from our Greenland training trip and take stock of our financial position we have had to come to the conclusion that attempting the crossing this season is simply neither possible nor wise.  We’re now only 5 months away from our proposed departure date, and we don’t have a core backer.  Given that we need to be buying the equipment and sending it off to South Africa in a couple of weeks, it’s reached the point where we have to acknowledge that it’s too late even if we found a backer tomorrow.  Added to that is the kiting factor: as a team we are firmly of the opinion that there is no reason to go to Antarctica if we are not 100% confident that we can complete the crossing and set a new world record.  Not having the kites we needed in Greenland as Tim mentioned in his previous blog, meant that we were simply unable to make use of the conditions to make a crossing, and that meant we weren’t able to hone our skills as much as we would ideally like.  For any normal kiting expedition this wouldn’t be disastrous.  But this is not a normal expedition, and the risks we are exposing ourselves to if we aren’t bloody good by the time we get to Antarctica are more than it’s worth putting our loved ones through.

So!  What’s ahead?  Well, the next plan clearly!  We’ve learnt a hell of a lot of lessons from this attempt; whether the lack of a backer was down to our inexperience or the past year’s financial climate is a tough one to call, but there’s no doubt that we’re a lot clearer on what needs to be done next time around.  The expedition logistics plan and administrative details are well and truly hammered out and ready to go; we know exactly what kit we require, and we have all the contacts we could possibly need (thank you very much indeed to everyone who has helped us, you are too numerous to mention, but we will speak to you soon).  So the only thing there is to work on for PolarIce take 2, is publicity and a backer.  Clearly that isn’t as easy as I’ve made it sound, but we know what we need to do, and that’s a good place to start.

Clearly we’d all rather it had worked out this year, and we were on track to have the record by March 2011; but what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and we have no intention of letting Antarctica kill us! We’ll get a plan together over the coming months, and rest assured if you keep reading our updates and checking the site, you’ll be the first to hear about it.  Actually, when we do have a plan, you’ll know about it even if you don’t check back; we intend to let the whole world know!

See you soon!

“Guys… It’s a bear!”

11/05/2010 by

It wasn’t.  A whole damn month on the ice and not a single footprint of a Polar Bear, never mind an actual sighting.  Not that the rest of the team reacted much to their colleague’s (I won’t embarrass him by naming names…) frantic whisper in the middle of our second night on the icecap, someone grumbled something about the wind and the snow blowing, and we slept on.  In the morning (after checking for footprints) we took the p**s as much as we could, and there were no more midnight awakenings.  We did see Arctic Fox prints, but that was much later on in the trip.

Our lack of kites proved disastrous for a crossing attempt.  We had 4 x 8m Mantas (the only kite we had one of each), 3 x 6.8m Yakuzas, and 2 x 14m Yakuzas.   We then lost one of the 14m Yaks immediately, as we discovered that the plywood cooking board we bought in Tasilaq had had something corrosive on it, which had literally dissolved the material of Mike’s jeans, and a couple of feet of the leading edge of the kite.  In truth, we could probably have repaired it, but with only 2 kites, it was debatable whether we could ever have made use of them as a team of four.  So anything below a 10-15kt wind was pretty un-kiteable with 70kg pulks.  We were also missing our Parasails, an 8m and 14m one each, which had somehow got lost in the post, and at the time of departure were somewhere in Belgium…  So we couldn’t cope with winds higher than 20-25kts.  That left us with a pretty narrow wind window.  So, early on, having got just 80kms inland onto the icecap, we decided to revert to our original, pre-Norway plan of parking ourselves on the top of the Hann Glacier at the edge of the icecap and becoming bloody good kite-skiers.

Tim and Mike practicing with the Mantas and pulks

Synchronised kiting... on ice

All of us are disappointed not to have made a crossing, and although we haven’t really spoken about it, I think we’re all individually determined that at some point we’re going to go back for a holiday and blitz it.  However, we gained a hell of a lot from the trip.  Our kite handling ability, especially combined with skis, has improved tenfold.  All of us are feeling pretty natural with the Mantas (even Paddy, who managed to let one of them knock him out when the wind was edging up to the 25kt mark…) and are well and truly getting there with the Yaks, although they do require a bit more attention!  The ‘brucey’ bonus of going back to the Hann Glacier was the stunning views.  The mountains around there are huge and jagged – vast outcrops of rock, with couloirs and snowfields sweeping down past a mixture of smooth and fractured rock to a multitude of glaciers flowing off the icecap.  We spent a couple of days towards the end, when there was no wind to put up a kite, sticking our skis on, putting water, warm kit and skins in a daysack, and touring around some of the nearer ones; seeking, and finding, some great off-piste downhills.  That’s when we saw the fox prints, straight down a glacier, heading for the coast.  Touching rock for the first time in 20-odd days was surprisingly poignant for me, so much so I even brought a little bit back for my girlfriend.  Perhaps a pebble isn’t the most glamorous of presents to return with, but I think she gets it.

The mountains at sunset South East of the Hann Glacier

Sun setting on the view from our tent door

We came off the ice a couple of days early in the end.  Air Greenland were worried that the visibility was going to be poor on our scheduled extraction date, so brought it forward by a couple of days (all of this, following our change of plans, was painstakingly organised by Ruth by the way, to whom we are all eternally grateful and cannot say thank you enough).  Turned out to be just as well.  Even Tasilaq, down at sea level, was enclosed in fog and cloud on that day, and besides, we wouldn’t have had our two dinners at the Angmagssalik Hotel if we hadn’t come off early, and believe me, they were worth having!  I won’t go into detail – all I’ll say is meat, a lot of it, and the best chips I’ve ever had.

So, no crossing, but definitely a trip to remember.  If anyone is thinking about going to Greenland, stop thinking about it.  Do it.

Getting techy with it…

11/04/2010 by

Having scared Kevin at Storm PR witless a few days ago by e-mailing him from Mike’s account, I’m now having to pretend to be Mike yet again by blogging using his WordPress login. But to compensate for this blatant lack of technical knowledge in linking myself into the PolarIce blog, I have made a major techy breakthrough in understanding how to plot the boys’ progress using Mike’s ultra-user-unfriendly mapping program. This really is no great shakes in the general scheme of things – and it’s certainly not going to help the boys get across the Greenland ice cap any easier – but it is strangely comforting to those of us left at home to watch a dot move across a map and know both that they’re making progress and someone knows where they are.

I remember exactly the same feeling when the boys took part in the 2006 Sony Polar Challenge. Each day, the teams’ positions were updated on a map, so friends and family could watch as the race progressed. Of course this was all the more exciting as it became clear that the PolarIce team (then ATP), were gaining an unassailable lead (fickle, moi?). When they crossed the finish line, over 15 hours ahead of the team in second place, everyone back at home shared in the jubilation, despite the fact that it was nearly a week before the boys were flown back to civilisation and we were able to talk to them and congratulate them on their achievement.

This time there is no race, other than to make a flight on 4th May. However,  for the other girlfriends, mothers, grandfathers (the list goes on…), I will be plotting PolarIce’s progress as frequently as possible, in order that we can all feel part of the journey. Well, from the comfort of our own homes and in the glorious spring weather we’re enjoying, obviously!  

Each progress point will be dated according to when I received the coordinates from the team out on the ice. I have also added IlulissatKangerlussuaq and Point 660. Ilulissat is the planned finishing point, all being well. However, if the wind conditions do not improve, the current back-up plan is to cut across to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland’s main air transport hub. The ice actually stops approximately 30 km short of Kangerlussuaq, so the boys will need to head to Point 660 – the easiest place to exit the ice sheet as there is a road to Kangerlussuaq, and where the team can be picked up by 4X4.

In the meantime, I will continue to bombard the team’s long-suffering families with daily updates and look forward to when the boys will return to the UK when I shall be cashing in my good girlfriend points…!

Ruth

Meanwhile…. back at base!

08/04/2010 by

I received an email this morning from Mike’s girlfriend Ruth, but she’d sent it from Mike’s account…. When I read the first sentence “Hi Kevin, Quick update now I’m back in Yorkshire….”  I have to confess that my heart missed a beat!!  My word, I thought, that was short and sweet…..!

I’m happy to report, however, that the guys are well and truly underway and the remote parts of Greenland await their patronage!

Using an Iridium 9555 satellite phone PolarIce is able to send back status reports and updates on progress.  Part of this is to do with a desire to tell all those that are interested, via this blog and elsewhere, how PolarIce is getting on and where they are, but it’s also fundamentally important from a safety aspect.  The satellite phone is their only form of communication and should there be an issue it’s vital that we check the systems and ensure that a safe evacuation can be arranged if required.  The text messages that we receive contain vital information:

1. Condition of the team

2. Current position

3. Progress & issues

4. Expected course and mileage for the following 24 hours

5. Weather report and forecast

The first sitrep came in on schedule yesterday evening at 21.39 BST and confirmed that the team are all fit and well.  They were at position 65deg 52′ 23.4″ N; 038deg 49’56.7″ W (which I’ve just plotted on Google Earth!).  Today they plan to bear 284 degrees (just north of west) and although they didn’t give too much weather information, they did state that the distance to be covered will depend on the wind!!

Although PolarIce is on  a training expedition to Greenland, they still expect to be on the ice for a month and this is all part of the major preparations that are well underway to ensure that the team has the best possible opportunity of completing the longest ever unsupported Antarctic crossing, due to get underway in December this year.

The search for a major backer is still a priority for PolarIce but the training that has been given to the team by Ronny Finsaas in Norway recently, this expedition to Greenland and the determination, fortitude and experience that this team has will surely guarantee that their aims will be fulfilled.  The research work that they will conduct, the vital repairs to equipment remotely located in Antarctica that communicates increasingly important data, and the ability to demonstrate the ability of the human body and mind to conquer all before it, are all worthwhile outcomes from the challenge on the longest unsupported crossing of Antarctica.

Should PolarIce also return with a Guinness World Record as well it would be a fitting legacy.

The Adventure begins

07/04/2010 by

When people asked us over the last few months what we were doing, we generally said something along the lines of “well, we’re off to Greenland for April, but it’s only a small training exercise for the main event”.  Now that we’ve landed in Tasilaq, Greenland, and have begun properly sorting out our kit, and preparing to isolate ourselves from humanity for a month, we’re starting to understand their incredulity a little more.  Things are starting to feel real, and it’s bloody great.
Yesterday, we flew by Iceland Express to Reykjavik, and spent the afternoon chilling out in the Blue Lagoon geothermal pools.  Hardly the most adventurous start to a hardcore expedition.
But today we flew first to Kulusuk in Greenland by propeller aircraft, together with a selection of other expeditions and a couple of locals, and then on from there to Tasilaq by Bell Huey helicopter.  Tasilaq reminds us very much of Resolute in northern Canada when we were there back in 2006.  Multi-colourful wood-clad houses, sprinkled across a landscape of snow and rock around a frozen bay.  The difference here is the massive rocky peaks that fill every skyline.  We’ve spent the afternoon putting lines on and checking our Ozone kites, putting up and modifying the tent, testing our Brenig outer layer kit, and getting our solar charging and comms equipment working.  Tomorrow we pick up our Snowsled pulks and food from the post office, pack our kit, and sort out our final admin.  Wednesday we fly up to the Hann Glacier. By Wednesday night, we’re on our own.
The adventure has started.

Final hours before we leave for Greenland…

03/04/2010 by

I’ve got about 4 hours before we need to drive down to Gatwick for the first leg of our flights to Greenland, first stop Reykjavik. We all have a ridiculous amount of equipment for the trip, so the excess luggage allowance charges are going to hurt, hopefully we will get a nice person at check-in who doesn’t charge us through the nose.

After a great deal of hard work over the last week, thankfully everything is now in place. The kites have all arrived safely from Ozone and the Brenig smocks and salopettes have been hand-delivered by Graham. They are incredible and individually made to fit each of us – cheers Graham! They even have the controls for an iPod sewn into the sleeve so that we don’t have to keep messing around in our pockets to change music. When we’re out on the ice, this will be more than just a gimmick – it will be incredibly useful.

Cotswolds has sorted all the tents, ski poles and other bits of random equipment out for us. Paddy has now jammed all this into his bags, so all that remains is for me to go via a DIY shop to get a plug socket to connect to the solar panels, so that we can charge the satellite phone and other essential equipment.

In our absence my girlfriend Ruth is going to update the blog a few times so keep your eyes open for info on our Greenland training over the next 4 weeks.

Wish us luck!

Mike

Preparing for Greenland

21/03/2010 by

Preparations for expedition training in Greenland are well underway, flights are booked, food has been shipped and we are in the process of  packing our bags. I think the whole team would agree that the expedition is basically taking over our lives. Between contacting potential financial backers, organising PR and arranging logistics on top of our normal jobs, there are not many spare hours in a day.

Having spent a week kite ski training in Norway with Ronny Finsaas earlier this month, we are confident we can handle the kites and use them to propel us across Antarctica. Greenland should iron out any problems we might have with kiting and gel us together as a group which is obviously very important if we are to spend four months in each others pockets.

Anyway seeing as it is sunday morning, I’m going to have breakfast with my girlfriend and then crack on with kit lists…

Mike

A Viking thrashing

16/03/2010 by

So we’re all safely back from Norway, and I’m finally getting to take 5 minutes to pause, relax, and reflect on what we’ve learnt there, and what we’ve gained in knowledge and training.  A hell of a lot is the quick answer.

We went there having had a couple of kite-surfing lessons each (without much wind, so not actually getting to actually surf…), and played around with our 3.5m Imp trainer kites from Ozone.  Despite the fact that the Imp’s are miniscule in comparison to the big brother’s we were playing with last week, I think training with them was pretty damn invaluable to this last week, it meant that we picked up the big kites with an already inbuilt feel for it.  We trained with I think all three of the top kiting systems: both bar and handle kites from Ozone, and with para-wings or sails, hand-made by a guy called Wolf Beringer in Germany.  I was prepared to be all snobbish about the latter, and be staunchly loyal to long-line kites, but actually, I don’t think I’ve had more fun with wind than when it was howling and Si and I had a couple of hours on the lake jumping a block of ice and occasionally properly taking off.  They are brilliant in really high-wind situations.

Tim and Simon using sails across the lake

Ripping it up

Fitness-wise, I’ve gained two things.  First, a goodly amount of leg-strength and endurance.  I am surprised at how much just one week of kite-skiing has done for me.  The first couple of days were agony going cross-wind (it’s like doing a really hard parallel turn downhill, but instead of changing legs and going the other way, you just have to keep holding it till you get to the other side of the lake…).  By the end of the week, I was loving every second of it, and the more I had to edge the better it felt.  I guess a fair degree of that is a skill gain, becoming more efficient, being a better skier (not hard to be better than my skiing at the start of the week!); but I also think a lot of it was about the body’s ability to adapt to the situation and change the muscles’ energy burn so that less lactic acid is produced, and thus endurance is enhanced.

Tim preparing to stand after yet another wipeout

See? Gods amongst men

The second thing I’ve gained about our fitness, is a good deal more confidence in it.  I was worried before this week that we wouldn’t be able to get to the kind of level that people like Ronny Finsaas (who kite-skis nearly every day there is snow, and some days there isn’t) are at, and that we would always be playing second best.  Now, I think that after a month in Greenland, the issue isn’t going to be about getting fit, it’s going to be about keeping the level of very specialist fitness we’ll have gained by then up over the summer.  However, I know now exactly which muscle groups we need to be focussing on, and I know just how strong and durable they need to be made.

All in all, a fantastically successful week from my perspective; we’ve gained fitness, confidence, and new friends.  We are also now kite-skiing Gods.  (…see what I mean about the confidence bit?)

Update from Finse.

12/03/2010 by

It’s day six here in Finse, Norway, where we have been learning to harness the wind using various forms of kite in order to pull ourselves and our pulks across the snowy, windswept landscape. Well…..at least that’s the idea! There have been a lot of comedy crashes but we are pleased with our progress.

We’ve been a given a (sometimes literally) crash course in parasailing and kite-skiing by Ronny Finsaas, local kite-skiing legend and holder of most polar kiting records that exist. His phlegmatic approach to teaching has been much appreciated by the team; when Paddy’s first attempt to launch a kite resulted in a face plant Ronny just grinned, “well I guess it is a crash course”.

Mike and Si kiting across the lake

Acres of space for the occasional wipeout

Parasails are basically kites with short lines that are controlled via a bar held vertically. They are useful in high winds (and also for going off jumps!) due to their ease of control and the fact that its pretty easy to quickly de-power them in case things get out of control – quite a common occurance for the team!

I won’t insult the reader’s intelligence by describing what a kite is! However, what we are using is slightly different to your average kite. For propulsion in lower wind conditions (below around 40 kph) we are using foil snow kites made by Ozone in various sizes; controlled by handle and bar control systems. The kites range from beginner versions which are fairly easy to handle and stable to more advanced versions which react quickly (sometimes unpredictably) and develop a huge amount of power for their size. The most advanced version we are using is called the Yakuza GT. Being Ronny’s favourite kite he had us trying it on day 2. To a man we were pretty much controlled by it, rather than vice versa, and as such ended up being rescued by Ronny from the downwind end of the lake.

As a result, the team has developed a healthy respect for the Yakuza GT, in addition to a desire to “master” it. The latter is especially necessary as it will be the principal kite we intend to use in Greenland and Antartica, mainly due to its exceptional power / weight ratio. During a session yesterday with this kite I was practicing with this kite and made the mistake of not de-powering it enough before initiating a turn. As a result the 5.5m2 kite picked me up around 10ft in the air and deposited me in the snow amongst a pretty much unresolvable mess of skis, skis boots, kites lines, handles and the kite itself. And this was in a fairly moderate wind!

Despite the hiccups we are pleased with progress here and feel we have kept up with the steep learning curve. We have learnt to control parasails of various constructions and sizes in addition to many handle-controlled and bar-controlled kites. We have also completed two day trips downwind, during the longest of which we covered 60km in a variety of terrain and wind conditions.

Lastly on this post, I’d like to offer a big thanks to Ronnie Finsaas, who not only has taught us to kite but has also given us a huge amount of indispensable advice on kite travel in Greenland and Antartica. Thanks a lot Ronnie!

Simon, Finse

Keeping the mind alive

20/02/2010 by

For my first post on the PolarIce blog I was going to write about my particular role within the team as Training manager, and how I was going to structure the programme, what parts of the body we’d need to focus on, what type and standard of fitness blah blah.  But to be honest, I’m still writing the training programme, and although some of us are a little more insulated than we really need to be this far ahead of getting to Antarctica, we’re still pretty fit on the whole.

Simon, marching across the Arctic wastelands

This is far more colourful than I remember it

Anyway, I’ll come to the training and the issues it throws up some other time.  For now, I’m trying to find solutions to the bigger issue we had on our last exped.  Mike, Simon and I discovered very quickly on the Sony Polar Challenge 2006 that there is a far bigger threat to success than fitness.  Boredom.  There is nothing quite like a vast sea of white, no visible scenery, and placing one foot after the other for 12 hours a day to inspire deathly boredom in a man.  It’s worse than the normal kind of boredom.  The normal kind of boredom is when one has little to do, so the more creative of us tend to find things to do and get in trouble for it, which at least relieves the boredom.  It’s not possible to relieve this kind.  One can’t do anything other than keep putting one foot in front of the other, second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour.  In the Arctic, Mike was so bored he became convinced that while I was navigating, I was forcing him to climb every single hill we came across.  Simon was making it snow.  Mike was furious with us both.

So, we’re taking two approaches to alleviating the monotony of polar travel.  One: we swore after Polar Challenge that we would never again walk on snow; so we’re kite-skiing.  Having just taken delivery of two trial kites from Ozone, a 9m Frenzy FYX and a 10m Manta M3, I can testify to the fact that these are pretty damn fun to fly even when one is static, never mind when one is skiing fast over sastrugi-strewn Antarctic wastelands.  Having said that, there was nothing static about me yesterday.  Even with a pathetic 10mph wind other walkers on the beach at Branscombe were dodging the pebbles from the wake made by my boots as I powered down the beach howling like a banshee with a maniacal grin (at least that’s how I remember it).  Anyway, the point is that kites are inherently exhilarating, especially the massive beauties that we’re going to be racing under down South.

However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and if it really does take us the whole 3 months that we’ve got available to us, even the buzz of snow-kiting may begin to pale.  So I’m looking into tech solutions.  Back in 2006, we had mini mp3 players that ran off a single AAA battery, and stored about 20 CDs worth of music.  They were great, and saved what was left of Mike’s mind many times over.  But by the end I was starting to find Nickelback, ‘Far away’ a little tedious.  That was only two weeks.  We’re going to need quite a bit more for three months.  Thankfully technology has advanced and ipods and equivalent these days have a few more than the 10MB I think our little players did back in 2006.  What to play on them is still an issue though; I could probably play my entire music collection 5 times over throughout the duration of our journey, and I don’t even like 60% of it.  We did have a bit of a brain-wave a while back though – Audiobooks.  I reckon that if we get the playlist right, by the time we get back, I can be semi-well educated.  But we could do with your help.  We’d be hugely grateful if you could suggest some great books for us that we can get hold of as audiobooks, entertaining over interesting please, and they better be great!  I’m not going to be pleased if I have to listen to drivel for 3 months!

tica, we are all pretty fit to start with.