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“Guys… It’s a bear!”

11/05/2010

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.

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Getting techy with it…

11/04/2010

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

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.

Final hours before we leave for Greenland…

03/04/2010

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

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

Welcome to PolarIce

11/02/2010

PolarIce consists of four men, although muppets might be a more apt description, who have set themselves the challenge of completing the world’s longest Antarctic crossing unsupported.  We will be travelling from the Russian base camp at Novolazarevskaya up the glaciers onto the ice cap (about 1,500m climb), then getting the kites out of our 240kg pulks (sleds), and kite skiing from there to the Pole of Inaccessibility (centre of the Antarctic continent), then on to the South Pole, before finally turning towards Patriot Hills, and heading out over West Antarctica till we hit the Bellinghausen Sea, about 3,100 miles from our start point.

The winds should be with us most of the way (roughly speaking), and it will be daylight 24 hours a day so hopefully the conditions will help us achieve our aim.  The earliest we can get onto the continent is the start of November, and if we don’t make it to our pick up point in West Antarctica by the end of January, we’re going to have a long, cold winter, so we’ll need to push pretty hard to succeed! Wish us luck!