The Captain’s Log Round Up #2 – Spectre Expedition

When possible, Leo has been in contact with updates, stories and thoughts of how the Spectre Expedition is unfolding.

This second weekly update sees the team go from the Antarctic blizzard at the ‘point of no return’ to what could be the final approach to the Spectre.

A more detailed account and a real-time map of the team can be found at spectreexpedition.com

Expedition day 4: We’re still here…

Date = 23/11/2017
Day 4 (Expedition) – Day 9 (Antarctica)
Location = middle of nowhere

Temperature = -30C
Windchill = -40C
Distance travelled = 25m Distance remaining = 2000 km

a.m.

Still here! The wind was quite alarming through yesterday afternoon and evening. You wouldn’t survive for long outside. But inside this sturdy little tent we are safe and warm.

The wind has abated a lot but the visibility is still very bad so doesn’t look like we’ll be moving today. I reviewed some of the footage we shot outside during the storm and am cursing that I didn’t shoot more. It looks exactly as you’d imagine a South Pole blizzard would! Very impactful! But it was brutal outside! I had the most unpleasant toilet experience shortly before bed. Doing ones business with -60C wind chill is terrible. Any worse and we’ll have to dig a hole in the tent porch, which is also the kitchen! Oh the glamour of a polar expedition.

We just slept for 12 hours! Surprisingly warm inside layers of down and fleece. Too warm in fact, I had to strip off a layer early this morning.

Starting to get a little stagnant. It isn’t great for motivation to get shut down at 0km. Still, so many questions that need answering, will we be able to move these huge pulks? Are they going to tip over on the bumpy surface all the time? How the heck will we right them? Can we travel 50km in a day or 150km? I hope the latter!

Our Berghaus down suits are awesome outside in the savage cold. Really make you feel invulnerable. My main concerns when we come to kite are glove and face systems. It’s really hard to make any adjustments once you’ve launched the kite and started moving meaning a simple glove change or balaclava adjustment could require the whole team stopping and losing valuable kms.

Another catch with being tent bound is the mind has time to wander. Loved ones are missed more acutely. At home Jackson is saying his first words, “duck quack, quack” and linking his first steps. Freya slept in her own bed for the first time last night. Precious moments, painful to miss. But apparently, the Lakeland winter rains are in full force and it’s not much nicer outside there than it is here!

p.m.

Pitched the other tent to allow Mark some room to sort tech. He’s trying to back up the footage we have shot but unsurprisingly the laptop won’t turn on… we do have another backup system that doesn’t require the laptop but only half as much data storage on that system.

Had a good play with Kiting set up and reasonably happy with everything. Trying to find the balance between cold spots in face and steamed up goggles is tricky.

Everybody is in good spirits despite our false date but we a raring to go! Realistically the day after tomorrow. Now it’s getting cold. Time to get back in sleeping bag and savour simple warmth!

A different middle of nowhere

Date = 24/11/2017
Day 5 (Expedition), Day 10 (Antarctica)
Location = different middle of nowhere
Windchill = -40C
Distance travelled = 32km Distance remaining = 1968 km

Yes, it worked! 32kms in little over 2 hours on a late night session! It’s 1.30am and we are just bedding down after our fairly epic first session.

It was windy and poor visibility this morning and the forecast was not good, with no clear improvement until the 27th. In the afternoon the visibility improved and we started toying with the idea of moving. Even just 1km, just to see if the pulks would actually move, and to begin the journey. It took at least 2 hours to pack up the camp, leaving the tent until last.

We had a few teething problems. My radio didn’t seem to be sending, and the crackled transmission over the wind was barely audible. So I took the lead and navigated with some trouble as we were heading directly into the sun and the scratched face of my GPS was difficult to see on my arm whilst maintaining the flight of the kite and charging across uneven terrain at 10-15kmph. Then gradually all of our goggles started to ice up until I could only see out of 1/4 of one eye. So after 32kms we made camp.

Now that we’ve got the maiden flight out the way we can begin to focus on all our other objectives. This is such a giant challenge in so many ways, but we are moving in the right direction. An awesome first session and a long way to go, but at least so far, our strategy seems viable.

[Leo]

P.S I cracked the screen on my kindle last night. Doh! Thankfully I have one book on my iPhone – War & Peace! Should keep me going!

On The Road

Date = 25/11/2017
Day 6 (Expedition), Day 11 (Antarctica)
Location = different middle of nowhere
Temperature = -30C
Windchill = -45C
Distance travelled = 60km Distance remaining = 1908 km

A rather subdued start to the day.

The wind had dropped to a less intimidating 15knts, visibility pretty good and decent surface contrast, but cold -30C.

Launch went smoothly, but the surface we were traveling over was brutally bumpy and hard. We entered a region known as ‘the sastrugi national park’.

The wind-blown snow sculptures are quite beautiful, but are a real nightmare to kite over. Total concentration is required at all times and some of the bumps were big enough to stop the pulk dead, requiring vicious kite loops and a bit of airtime to get them going again.

With less wind than yesterday and a slightly different heading I was really struggling to find enough power to weave through the awful mess. I crashed hard a couple of times with the skis caught in sastrugi traps or the pulk stopping suddenly. We made continuous progress for almost 4 hours and were a little disheartened to have only travelled 30km.

Soon after we spotted the flags that mark the line of Mcmurdo – South Pole traverse. Basically a bulldozed road that is used to supply the massive American science base at the South Pole with fuel. There wasn’t much evidence of passage other than the flags which made navigation much easier.

Then on the horizon we spotted the convoy, which looks very much like something from Mad Max, on its way to pole for the first time this season.

As we got closer it was quite the sight. About 10 massive caterpillar tracked bulldozers each towing fuel bladders containing 240,000 gallons of Jet fuel. There were also all kinds of strange containers on skis that must be the cabins, workshops and a kitchen to service the 25 support staff on their 30 day journey each way. We stopped and had a brief chat before continuing.

Then the fun really began! The thousands of tons of heavy machinery left a soft, relatively smooth trail in their wake and we were able to open up the kites and remember how much fun traveling at pace can be! We covered the next 30kms in an hour and half!

Finally we stopped at 8.30pm to make our important ‘Sched’ call to ALE (our logistics provider) to let them know where and how we are. This is very important as if you miss the call they are in standby for a rescue and if you miss the next call 24 hours later they will launch a rescue. It’s a very considered system to keep us and the other expeditions out here safe.

It was good timing as it’s not until you stop you realise how tired you are; Legs, knees and arms, but also the brain is drained from so much concentration. Now it’s midnight and we’re bedding down.

Frustration and Elation

Date = 26/11/2017
Day 7 Expedition, Day 12 Antarctica
Location = about to leave the ‘road’
Temperature = -28C
Windchill = -38c
Distance travelled = 28.5km Distance remaining = 1878.5 km

“Nothing’s easy out here” said our pilot struggling to remove the cap from a fuel drum as we refuelled at Theil ski-way. My word was he right. In fact everything is really hard from going to the toilet to clipping a buckle to turning on your phone! This place is relentlessly demanding.

Today was a mixed day! Conditions were the best so far and our heading to wind direction was perfect along the kind surface of the ‘road’ (the McMurdo–South Pole supply route).

Today, we decided to put some serious effort into filming to try and get a few minutes of good kite footage to create a sequence. It was a nightmare and we only got about 30 seconds of usable content in three hours of painstaking, infuriating effort.

It’s difficult to describe just how taxing filming Antarctic kiting, whilst on an expedition, really is. In a nutshell; the kites we have are awesome, but only happy when they are flying and they are very powerful. However, when stationary there is a large amount of potential energy waiting to be unleashed by a careless moment. Lines can catch on sastugi, the kite can spin and turn in on itself, creating a bow tie. All these things take large amounts of time to resolve.

Filming requires at least one person to be operating a camera. Doing that whilst flying a kite is very difficult unless the terrain and heading are perfect. Stopping to film the others coming past requires landing the kite and the associated risks of a tangle..

Wearing polarised googles means you can’t see the camera screen at all and big mitts must be removed giving you a few minutes in thin liners until fingers are frozen.

The surface is so bumpy that quality footage from any mounted camera needs gimbal stabilisation. Today I had an epic trying to get a 30 second tracking shot. The GoPro and gimbal batteries took it in turns to go flat after less than 5 mins. The kite then tangled culminating in a bit of a sense of humour failure. After sorting the kite we called a halt to shooting and were treated to 15kms of dreamy high speed travel on a perfect tack in less than an hour. With all batteries dead and cameras buried in the pulk I had to just savour the magic for memories sake and let go of the frustration of how awesome it would’ve looked.

Frustrating as is was, it was also a fun day, and we learnt a lot about how not to film kiting!

We arrived at the point where we will leave a depot of food and fuel for our return trip. This is where we leave the ‘road’ and head, not only into sastrugi land, but towards some major crevasse fields.

The warmth has brought the laptop back to life and Mark is busy backing all the data up 3 times. Jean is sewing something, not sure what, he always seems to be sewing or fixing something and he’s very good at it.

We can see the mountains that flank the Scott Glacier and soon will begin our descent from the polar plateau 1500m down the Robison glacier and to the Spectre. Exciting times!

Wally says itctoo windy

Date = 27/11/2017
Day 8 Expedition – Day 13 Antarctica
Location = left the ‘road’, just
Temperature = -28C
Windchill = -38C
Distance travelled = 10km Distance remaining = 1873.5 km

Another difficult day that has seen us travel far less than we would’ve liked.

Today it was Jeans turn for a string of “kite-mares”! It was really windy last night and although we were awake at 7am we decide to stay in bed to see if it calmed down.

We left 10 days of food at depot B (our current camp) this morning. Jean and I both lost 20kgs from our pulks and Mark 10kgs.

Around 2pm we set off in 25 knots perhaps a little beyond the upper limit of our smallest kites. Our planned route was to leave the ‘road’ at this point but that would require travelling directly downwind, which is tricky, so we decided to travel 10km further down the ‘road’ so that we could ease the downwind tack.

Jeans first kitemare began at our first launch. But Mark and I waited with our kites in the air and then we all travelled at full speed on an increasing wind for 10km along the road. I filmed with the hand held GoPro gimbal until its battery died.

We did the 10km in way less than an hour, but the increased speed and our lighter pulks meant we had a few capsizes today.

We weren’t expecting the wind to be so strong out here. We are seriously regretting not bringing our really small kites that we left at Union glacier to save weight. We are also regretting not taking the advice from several seasoned polar kiters who recommended bringing ski sails, a different kind of wind sail that are generally less efficient but better in very strong wind.

The wind has dropped off now and the sun is shining. We are working well as a team and despite the slow, difficult progress, relentless cold and general hardship, we are having a laugh.

I reviewed the footage from the GoPro and thankfully, although more than half of it was actually time lapses (doh!), there were a few minutes of gold that will enable us to share something of the magic and power of the nature we are experiencing out here.

Patience will be our ally, with the whims of the wind, and hopefully soon the conditions will align for a big day of kiting and we could be at Spectre that same day!

Just 100km from the Spectre

Date = 28/11/2017
Day 9 (Expedition) Day 14 (Antarctica)
Location = Graves Nunatuks
Temperature = -28C
Windchill = -38C
Distance travelled = 42.5km Distance remaining = 1831 km

Another hard day!

“Snow kiting ere is so ‘ard!”, said Jean when we finally found a good spot to make camp. This will have to brief because I’m very tired, but in nutshell.

The morning went fairly smoothly on a tricky downwind tack. Then we hit blue ice, through pressure ridges and down a significant descent. Wind compression on the steep descent with a heavy pulk on the blue ice is best described as pretty spicy! We certainly won’t be going back that way.

We made it through after putting the kites down and found a nice camp spot on the snow right below the Graves Nunatuks. Psyched to be with such a string crew.

We are officially off the polar plateau and are entering the trans Antarctic mountain range! Next section looks good as we begin our descent down the Robison Glacier and on to the Scott Glacier Spectacular terrain.

We are less than 100km from the Spectre.

Find more information, full captain log briefings, to send comments to the team and view a real-time map of the crew visit:
SpectreExpedition.com