The Captain’s Log Round Up #3 – Spectre Expedition

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

This third weekly update sees the team go from 100km from the Spectre tower to base camp!

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

What did they say?

Date = 30/11/2017
Day 11 Expedition – Day 16 Antarctica
Location = Graves Nunatuks
Temperature = -28C
Wind speed / direction = 20 – 25 knt, gusting 30knt Windchill = -38C
Distance travelled = 0km Distance remaining = 1831 km

Stable high pressure. they said. Cold but sunny. they said. Warm in the tent. they said. Big kites with long lines. they said. 200km a day, they said…

Or was it my research that led me to say all that??

I always knew that we must try to expect the unexpected, and it seems that about this, at least, I was very much correct!

We are still below the Graves Nunatuks. Marginal conditions this morning.

They are the worst. Good or bad conditions make for easy decisions. Quite a strong and gusty wind, changeable visibility from poor to fair and fairly flat light. We could dig deep and go for it, but we are pretty drained from so much difficult kiting and I would prefer good viz and light as we begin our descent down the Robison glacier so we are able to see the hazards that it may present.

The last kite session was actually pretty damn full on, and I will not be sorry if we face nothing more serious for the rest of the trip. We have decided not to move. Which according to sod’s law means the conditions will likely improve.

We are off schedule, as so far 5 out of 11 days have been no travel days.
Then on the travel days we are only averaging 35km, half our intended target of 70km requiring twice the effort.

But conditions have been poor. We haven’t had any friendly weather at all since we left Union glacier. I wasn’t anticipating such relentlessly strong wind. In fact I was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough wind to move with our big loads. We were expecting to mostly be using our big 15m kites on double length line sets. But we have been blasted, overpowered on our smallest wings every session.

We allowed 10 days to reach the Spectre, but I honestly thought we would do it in 6 or 7. Today is day 11 and we are 100kms short and now beginning to break into our 20 days food supply meant for climbing.

Just one stellar day and we could be at the Sanctuary glacier below the Spectre. And dare I say that tomorrow looks like it may be that day!

Scott Glacier

Date = 1/12/2017
Day = Day 12 (Expedition) – Day 17 (Antarctica)
Location = Scott Glacier
Temperature = -25C
Wind speed / direction = 10 – 20knots
Distance travelled = 68km Distance remaining = 1773km

At last a good session! And believe it or not it was 10C in the tent this morning! Started in familiar string gusty wind, horribly over powered on poor surface, not what we’d hoped for but we had to get moving. Within 5 kms our persistence paid off and for a short while we hit snow-kite perfection! Across the California plateau and down the Robison glacier was just dreamy. Smooth surface, perfect blue sky, light wind on an easy cross/down wind tack. Did 53 km in 2.5hours and was reminded why we came here with this ludicrous plan in the first place!

Stopped for a break and I cursed us by saying “at this rate we’ll be camped below the Spectre tonight!”

As we joined the Scott glacier the snow ran out and we started kiting on white ice. Nowhere near as sublime but not too bad and still quick if a lot scratchy and hard on the knees.

Then we entered a heavily crevassed area. Most of the holes are filled in with snow and are quite visible. But there are lots and lots so we have had no choice but to kite straight over them at speed with the pulks racing along behind. Seems to working fine! There are also pressure ridge bollards all over the place which make for nasty hazards. The wind built and built until it was too dangerous and we had to abort.

On releasing the kite things calmed down a little. It’s quite hostile out here in the middle of this massive glacier in 25+knots. We managed to find a small area of snow and popped up the tent. A huge bonus as camping on ice is grim. You can secure the tent with ice screws but the wind gets under the fly and isn’t at all relaxing. I really like this little tunnel tent. Our portable safe haven that gives us space to survive and escape the magnificent but savage wilderness outside. Mind you not much space for 3 with full winter kit!

And magnificent this place is! The mountains lining each side of the Scott Glacier are formidable! Some edging towards 4000m there are some mighty battlements and some serious alpine objectives for those who wish to go one step further. Far away we can see Mount Grizzly, it is a beast! Must rise for 2000m above the glacier and steep as the Grand Jorrasse.

Remarkably Mugs & Edmund Stump climbed several big mountains out here that are much bigger than they appeared in the photos!

I think the Spectre is just out of sight! 35km away we could’ve been there in 2 hours! Now it all depends on what tomorrow brings! Could be 2 days!

Also we just had a poke around in a crevasse and the snow bridge wasn’t quite as strong as we thought. And it’s really, really deep. May have to devise a different strategy to get out of here in the morning???

Did somebody say they were looking for an adventure? I think I know where you can find one…

We made it… just…

Date = 2/12/2017
Day 13 Expedition, Day 18 Antarctica
Location = Spectre low camp
Temperature = -15C
Wind speed / direction = 0 – 15knots Windchill = -20C
Distance travelled = 34km Distance remaining = 1739km

Relentless! Another full value day and we have completed the first leg of our journey. The spires of the Organ pipe peaks tower above us, the twin face of the Spectre centre stage. One face, inviting, sun-kissed and beautiful. The other, foreboding, hostile and chilling. The same aspect, different weather…

We started at 5am, beached in the ugly centre of the Scott Glacier.

Once again misled by Antarctic scale it took several more hours of knee wrecking ice kiting before a final technical descent through pressure ridges and crevasses led to clear snowy run and the Spectre glacier.

Mark went ahead over a kilometre to get set up for the money shot of our glorious kite arrival to our sacred destination. Jean was a little ahead as we looped the again underpowered kites towards victory.

Then suddenly I was yanked backwards. I tried to loop the kite to resist but it was useless. I looked round and my Pulk had vanished and I was being dragged across the snow. Thankfully I stopped after about 10 metres and released the kite. I dug in a ski and wrapped myself around it; then, no doubt rather meek sounding, requested assistance from Jean on the radio.
True to form Jean came gallantly to the Rescue. He secured the load and then together we spent 3 hours retrieving the pulk from the crevasse.

A fairly complex operation. Not a big hole, like hundreds we’ve crossed in last two days but this one decide to swallow my 150kg pulk, at the end of a massive day, just 1 km from our destination, but thankfully not me.

We limped down to Mark walking on skis, no kites, rather bedraggled. Not quite the glorious arrival I had planned! But extremely fortunate in that nothing was lost or damaged and apart from a terrific shock I am unscathed.

We are camped in a magnificent spot! (It’s 2am)

The Spectre briefly showed us her pretty side, basking in sun, flirting almost, she is a prize beauty so tempting to be scaled! Such an immaculate massif, the rock looks outstanding and there are lines everywhere. As good for rock climbing as any granite spires I have seen anywhere. But then the cloud builds, the wind picks up, one remembers where one is and the thought of being up there, even further away than we are here is too much! I think we need a day or three to acquaint ourselves with our new surroundings before committing to anything too tall.

It is much warmer and less hostile than the beastly plateau down here. With kind weather, we have a chance. More harshness and we’ll be looking somewhere less steep!

Truly humbled.

Looking up

Date = 3/12/2017
Day 14 (Expedition), Day 19 (Antarctica)
Location = Spectre low camp
Temperature = -10C
Wind speed / direction = 0 – 10knots Windchill = -10C
Distance travelled = 5km Distance remaining = 1739km

At last magnificent weather! Dead calm, warm sun, almost gloves off at -10C

We have arrived in the Gothic Mountains
Motivation is matching the high pressure, Charming us into a sense of possibility.

This is what we hoped for,
This is what we dreamt of,
This is why we came.

The Spectre is teasing us,
Antarctica plays with us her game.

Situation report…

We noticed last night that one runner on Jean’s pulk had all but ripped off, likely damaged during the spicy descent to Graves Nunataks as the pulks slid violently sideways, and worsened by the miles of hard iced yesterday.

Mark and I went on our walking skis, roped up to recce the route to up to a base camp right below the Spectre. As usual what looks like an hour’s gentle stroll was more likea 2.5 hour uphill grunt. A thoroughly enjoyable and relaxed outing; precisely what was required after yesterday’s hijinks. And we have found one of the most beautiful camps sites on Earth!

After a windy start it has turned into the most perfect day. Our prayers for climbable conditions have been answered. If we get a week or so of this, anything is possible.

Here at the foot of the hill on the edge of the Scott glacier we will leave depot C. All the kiting gear, 12 days food and anything else we can do without. Man-hauling uphill is drastically more difficult than on the flat.

Tomorrow we must ascend about 200m of a moderately steep snow slope. Only about 2.5km but I suspect it will take all of a casual day.

We arrived back at low camp just in time to help triumphant Jean with the final two-man task of reattaching his runner which he had of course fixed.
After converting the tent to a workshop, he had successfully stripped it down using soap and ingenuity , replacing the rivets by sewing with 4mm cord and confident it will be as good as before. Hero! Big shout out to Carl Alvey, who guiding his own full South Pole expedition right now, took the time to respond to Jeans InReach message about pulk maintenance. Another hero!

We have a maximum of two weeks to explore the vertical possibilities of these sacred spires making our choices based on the weather / motivation equilibrium before we begin our long journey home. For now that is the distant future. Just yesterday we woke, freezing stranded in the midst of the Scott, it already seems an age ago! Time and space are bent out here in this endless day of adventure!

Spectre Base Camp!

Date = 4/12/2017
Day 14 (Expedition) – Day 20 (Antarctica)
Location = Spectre Base Camp
Temperature = -10C
Wind speed / direction = 0 – 10knots Windchill = -10C
Distance travelled = 3.2km Distance remaining = 1736km

We are in the most spectacular base camp, encompassed in the cirque of the Spectre, surrounded by the Organ Pipe peaks in the Gothic mountains. Indeed it is a Cathedral created by nature to humble those few, whose pilgrimage brings them this far.

Beneath an almost virgin granite massif; comparable in perfection to the Fitzroy group in Patagonia, some impressive lines lie in wait but we must be careful with our selection and strategy.

We are already very committed and we lie in the safest place for 1000kms around in our sturdy, well equipped base camp. As we venture up in to the vertical realm we enter another level of commitment. The snow couloirs flanking each side of the Spectre, that Mark thought might be skiable, and we all thought would be an easy descent, are in fact 70 degree blue ice. I don’t think we have enough ice screws to ascend them and it would be ice thread rappels the whole way if used as a descent route, not ideal.

Tomorrow we will circumnavigate the mountain to inspect the descent options on the rear, northerly aspect, which look far better.

We have a limited climbing rack and limited time and will not be moving quickly, climbing as a 3 with all that we need to survive out here.

The weather is incredibly calm but dense high cloud has subdued yesterday’s euphoric sun.

It is wonderful to be in the place that I have dreamt of reaching for so long. We have worked hard and well as a team to get this far. Already we have completed more than one ambition. We will think carefully before choosing our next.

More notes from base camp…

Expedition notes – it is always good to partner with accomplished chefs! Marks rest day fresh chicken & asparagus satay followed by shovel cheese cake! Very original and delicious!

Racking up from the pulk. We are well equipped, feasted and rested. Praying for no wind and sun soon…

Don’t forget to visit spectreexpedition.com for more details and a real-time map.