20 minutes of happiness

Published on 17.05.2007 - The Arctic Arc

Compression Ridge

Compression Ridge

© International Polar Foundation

Yesterday, Wednesday, the two men saw the sun appear on the horizon. The display lasted all of twenty minutes. "20 minutes of happiness", said Alain Hubert.

Since the battery problem was sorted out, and the expedition has been able to send pictures on a daily basis, one can better appreciate the hellish conditions under which they are having to function.

The first thing that hits you in looking at these pictures is the unforgiving nature of the ice. Who would fail to be daunted by these chaotic and anarchic blocks of ice through which they have to carve their way? Who would not put themselves in their place and think "Good God! How on Earth do they manage?" "Where do they find the strength to go through this, day in day out?" Who would not fear for them? Would not scrutinise each image trying to find the secret of what makes this hell possible to endure?

One pores over the information on the nature of this ice again and again, trying to make sense of it. Since their departure they have only managed to bring out the sails twice, for barely a few meagre hours, which says a lot about the difficult nature of the terrain. Since the Pole they have been using crampons to scale the ice blocks, and it was only on the 15th of May that they were able to bring out the skis again. This chaos has got them tightly in its icy grip.

Another dimension

For a few days now the images also bring home to us the other dimension of this trial: the weather.

Of course we know that until now they have not been particularly pampered in this respect. How many sunny days have they had since the outset, two and a half months, 77 days ago? A grand total of three.... Three out of seventy seven days! And now we begin to understand what is holding them back, and delaying the expedition calendar. The chaos of the ice in conjunction with the poor visibility makes this white-on-white universe of sensory deprivation a playground of pitfalls for the unwary.

Not surprisingly, when Alain exclaimed yesterday: "Today the sun did us the honour of appearing once, and only once, and for barely twenty minutes, these were twenty minutes of sheer happiness...", everyone can understand how he must feel.

Once the sun is there everything changes: they can actually see the obstacles, and can by climbing up onto the piled blocks of ice, plan a route which will avoid the highest ridges, allowing them to go faster. They don't need to worry about maintaining a close distance between them, as the lead man is visible from further away. They are less stressed and can concentrate on moving ahead as the perils are more evident.

A hard day's night

Yesterday was a particularly difficult day. In addition to the poor weather, they were assailed head on by a southerly wind which caused a negative drift effect, forcing the ice northwards, and making them lose part of the hard won ground. The wind-chill also came into play further bringing down the temperatures. And to crown it all, as if more were needed, the barometer began also to drop, from 1012 hP in the morning to 1009 in the evening, announcing more potentially bad weather and wind as the low pressure zone began to move overhead.

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