Posts Tagged ‘PolarIce’

Meanwhile…. back at base!


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


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.

A Viking thrashing


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.


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… 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


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.