The Final Captain’s Log Round-Up – Spectre Expedition

Yes Yes Yes! 201km!!!

Date = 5/1/2018
Day 45 (Expedition) Day 52 (Antarctica)
Location = Thiel plateau
Coordinates – S81 38.123’, W80 06.266’
Altitude = 782m
Temperature = -15C
Wind speed / direction = 15-20 knot S
Windchill = – 20C
Distance travelled = 201km
Distance remaining = 250km

We started off in nasty rock hard sastrugi thinking it was going to be a tough day. We battled through and the hit another run of silky smooth perfection. We switched to our beloved big 15m Ozone Chrono’s and the kms started to die. We kited over 5 hours covering 100km+ without stopping! With a 20knot of wind, landing a high aspect ratio 15m kite is no mean feat so we just kept going and kept looping.

We stopped after 160km, and after a drink, we decided to go for one more session, and we are so glad we did. Relaxed, fully powered, perfect surface, glorious sun; Yes, yes, yes!

Nearly 40km an hour, with 100kgs+, whooping all the way – so, so, good.

The belief that this was here is what motivated me to make this expedition happen. The fact it took 40 days to find is a mere detail. Well we finally found it wholeheartedly! Almost 500km in 3 days. We can see the Pirrit Hills on the horizon. My goodness we have come far! We are now just 250km from Union glacier!

We have another 130km across the ice cap and then we will be treated to mountain views as traverse the horse shoe valley. The last 25km is over a mountain pass and down a glacier. It could take a whole day if we can’t kite.

So suddenly the flashes of the checkered flag in the distance! No complacency, we are not there yet! I had a terrible high speed crash today, worst of the trip. Not exactly sure what happened, but suddenly I was 6 metres in the air hurtling forward at 20kmph. Mark got full visuals and tells me my 196cm long skis were wind-milling. I ‘landed’ it, but my skis came off, and I cratered hard, narrowly missed by the speeding pulk behind me! Thankfully it was a soft surface. I was winded, and my unzipped down suit was full of snow, but I walked.

An incident like that on the sastrugi would not end well. One second, that’s all it takes. We’ve been out here pushing hard and getting hammered for 45 days and just one second can decide how it ends!

So we must be safe and steady for the final phase of the final phase, and of course rip as fast as we possibly can, with wide eyes and giant grins all the way.

What a day!

Date = 6/1/2018
Day 46 (Expedition) Day 53 (Antarctica)
Location = Horse Shoe valley
Coordinates – S80 16.485’, W81 14.171’
Altitude = 800m
Temperature = -12C
Wind speed / direction = 15-25 knot S
Windchill = – 20C
Distance travelled = 160km
Distance remaining = 90km

What a day! This morning we did a solid 5 hours session with no break, covering 135km massively overpowered on our Hyperlink 12m kites (with 37.5m lines a modification which completely changed the wing)

100km of that was more of the silky smooth, ultra-perfection surface, we have come to know and love. It just couldn’t be better. Today’s top speed was 45.7km and that was without trying to go fast; in fact for most of the day we were trying to go as slowly as possible!

We had to abort in 25+knot winds, just as we reached the three sail peaks, the entrance to the horse shoe valley and the true home straight of our expedition.

We set up the tent and then a couple of hours later grabbed another 25kms, taking us further into the valley.

Tomorrow, surrounded by stunning mountains, we will try and shoot some more imagery, and then we are out of here!!

The final irony

Date = 7/1/2018
Day 47 (Expedition) Day 54 (Antarctica)
Location = Horse Shoe valley
Coordinates – S80 16.485’, W81 14.171’
Altitude = 800m
Temperature = -15C
Wind speed / direction = 0-5 S. white out Windchill = – 18C Distance travelled = 0km Distance remaining = 90km

Whiteout. After an hour of sun and light wind as we had breakfast, a wall of white approached from the coast and our magnificent scene vanished.

We managed to charge enough camera batteries overnight to be ready to shoot an amazing polar kite sequence. We have a plan and are all set to execute and ride home to glory.

But we can’t see anything. At all, like not even the ground. And there is no wind!

Looks like she’s not finished with us yet! 90km to go, and we are not going anywhere. The forecast is for a couple of days of this.

It has lifted a little and we probably could travel at least some of the way. But we have to go over a mountain col and down the crevassed Henderson glacier to reach Union and for that we will need good visibility.

And we’re super keen to try to capture some of the high speed kite magic on film properly, to be able to share with you all what it’s like to be here doing this. It’s awesome, it feels awesome, and we want to make it look as awesome as it is, to give you a feel for it.

There is no need to sprint blindly for the finish. A few more days out here, away from the other 7.6 billion humans gives us some time to rest, relax and recover before re-entry into reality.

Just over that hill (and past the crevasses)

Date = 8/1/2018
Day 48 (Expedition) Day 55 (Antarctica)
Location = Horse Shoe valley
Coordinates – S80 2.924’, W82 8.526’
Altitude = 1032m
Temperature = -15C
Wind speed / direction = 5-10 S. white out Windchill = – 20C Distance travelled = 31km Distance remaining = 59km

We had our welcome storm, our welcome back storm and then last night our goodbye storm. It was pretty mild but for a while progressed beyond bad weather to what could be called a storm.

40 hours in the tent and it improved slightly. We decided to move and by the time we were set, the wind dropped to zero! But we were patient and managed 3km before the kites withered. Then 9km. Then another 19km. So after 3 hours chilled kiting we are 31km closer.

We have another 25km on the flat, then we enter a high mountain cirque and go over a col and down a glacier. Technical terrain and given our lack of easy experiences out here, we are prepared for the very final stage of our journey to be complex and time consuming. But praying that it’ll be straightforward and fast! Just so long as we don’t have my more crevasse incidents, we’ll be happy.

Some sun and a 10knot southerly is our final request. Dare I say this maybe our last night in the wilderness? No I daren’t! 59km through the mountains with 100kg is 2 solid days of hard walking, so surely with kite power we can be there by Wednesday? No! Don’t say it.

Antarctica has a wicked sense of humour and irony…

Spectre Expedition, signing off!

Date = 10/1/2018
Day 50 (Expedition) Day 57 (Antarctica)
Location = UNION GLACIER !!!
Coordinates – S79 45.712, W82 51.383’
Altitude = 715m
Temperature = -15C
Wind speed / direction = 5-10 S. white out Windchill = – 20C Distance travelled = 48km Distance remaining = 0km

True to form our final day of the trip proved to be far from easy!

At 5am it was clear and very cold. Within an hour we were ready to go. We began preparing the big kites, but the wind started to increase drastically.
Mark & Jean launched the smallest kites and we got what we hoped for, some high speed, solid gold kite footage.

We blasted 20km in less than hour into the end of the Horseshoe valley. A jaw of jagged peaks, almost closing the path ahead but for a series of cols between the tooth like peaks. We couldn’t tell, from the line on our GPS, which col we were aiming for as we left the plateau terrain and entered the mountains.

Almost immediately the wind matched the terrain. Plateau wind is good for kiting but Mountain is not. Turbulent, gusty and temperamental, oh and uphill.

We were becalmed for half an hour. We discussed walking the last 5km to the col, still pulling 120kg in 10cm of soft snow. We unanimously decided to wait and pounce on any gust of wind. We changed kites and waited, frustrated!

It took 3 hours to cover 3kms before somebody flicked the switch and the wind turned on and we climbed the last steep section to the col in 10mins.
It was magnificent; the peaks of Horseshoe valley behind, and the great Plateau beyond. In front, the snaking Henderson glacier, flanked by the painted rocky faces of sculpted mountains, spilled down into the vastness of the Ronnie Ice shelf.

The wind funnelled through the col, and distracted by the glorious vista, I crashed my kite resulting in a double bow tie. This is not good, in a steep windy col with a hugely overpowered massive kite wing. Normally you would anchor the kite and walk to it to untie the mess. That is mighty difficult in a precarious place with so much wind.

Thankfully over the course of the last 50 days & 1000miles I have become extremely proficient at untangling kites with the control bar, mainly as I have had much practice! I was quite pleased with myself for managing to intentionally untie the double bow and launch the kite again.

About 500m later I caught up with the guys, and as we crested the col, beginning to descend the wind went nuts, and we immediately all released our kites onto their safety lines, resulting in an epic kite tangle.

At the same time, Jean broke his binding toe piece, 20km from the almost visible finish line. We popped up the tent and before Mark and I had finished our cheese and biscuits, Jean had located the spare and replaced the broken unit.

After lunch Mark, who spent years as a ski patroller, gave me a quick briefing on how to ski downhill with a litter; or a heavy pulk. I was impressed how well it worked and we descended 6km of blue/red run terrain with refreshingly little difficulty. As it flattened out we launched our mid-size kites and began once again battling with erratic mountain air flows.

Once again after a frustrating hour it came good and we blasted the last few kilometres of the glacier and crucially up the short steep hill to the Henderson col leading to Union glacier. Well Jean and I did, Mark ‘kite-mared’ just below the crest and had to walk the last bit.

Meanwhile, Jean and I overlooked our final destination, the ALE Union glacier camp, suddenly visible 6km distant. We regrouped, packed the kites and skied the last 100m to the glacier.

The dangerously crevassed area we were concerned about was a non-issue thanks to the snowmobile track and flags marked by ALE for their Antarctic marathon event a few weeks ago.

With the end in sight, a good, hard surface and no wind; we got the message, popped the skins on the GS skis and began the victory march. It was at least 15C warmer than the morning and we were melting.

A twin otter came in to land and spotted us. It circled us and gave us wing wave before landing. 10 minutes later, Fred arrived on a snowmobile. With just 2kms to go, we decided to pass off the pulks and skate without weight to the end.

A bunch of people came out to give us a warm welcome.

And it suddenly it was done. The toils and troubles, and wonder and joy, of the Spectre Expedition, immediately confined to memory.

50 days self-supported in the deep field – 1600km by kite, less than 100km man-hauling. And we climbed the Spectre.

Best of all Jean, Mark and I had a ball out there at the end of the Earth.

It was really very tough, especially the first 20 days. We are a pretty seasoned crew and we pretty much maxed at the start.

But we kept enough in reserve not only to stay safe but to do everything we set out to do, and to do so smiling.

There are lots of people I’d like to thank: supporters, family, friends, followers… but I’ll spare you.

And without the generous support of sponsors and trust donations, this adventure would never have happened – investing and backing something so uncertain – we hope our efforts have met your expectations.

I must however say:

Jean, Mark – thanks, that was awesome. I couldn’t imagine a better pair of partners, nor a more challenging adventure. The reason we are here safe and successful is because we formed a fantastic team and had a massive laugh overcoming at times overwhelming obstacles.

You are a pair of winners.

OK, so I’d also like to thank all you out there for reading this and following us. I hope you enjoyed the ride and we were able to share something of this savage Antarctic wonderland. We have shot some amazing footage which we will release as a film in the autumn. We’ll post some high res imagery and a few video tasters soon. Please keep your eyes peeled for updates.

It’s been a lot of effort keeping this blog going, and your comments have been both motivating and inspiring – thank you…

So that’s it folks!!!

Leo Houlding aka Captain Faff, Spectre Expedition, signing off.