“I can hear the ice breathing…”

Published on 21.03.2010 - One Man Epic Mission North Pole

The Australian Smitheringale is in the process of realising a dream he has entertained for many years (20 in fact). And he is having an interesting dialogue with his friend and webmaster Jim Pizzey back at HQ (with whom he is in daily contact by satellite). While Smitheringale is finding out all about the pack-ice first hand, Pizzey has to be content to experience the thrills and spills vicariously.

This relationship is unusual enough in itself to be worthy of reporting on and throughout our updates on this solo expedition, we will be monitoring the dialogue between Pizzey (34, married and living in the tropical north-west of the huge state of Western Australia at Exmouth) and the Aussie adventurer.

With each of the daily dispatches, we can see not only what Tom is doing on his trek, but through the webmaster, we discover what his friend is having to contend with and what his frame of mind is, miles from anywhere, far out on the ice and alone in a totally different world. Then there's a third character involved in the venture in the person of Trudy Wohleben, whose job is to provide regular information about conditions on the pack-ice and to produce forecasts of what the solo adventurer can expect to encounter on the next day of his trek. Trudy works at the Canadian Ice Service (CIS), which is the leading source of information about ice conditions in Canada. This sometimes results in conversations between Tom and Jim about how to avoid a lead somewhere up ahead that is visible on the satellite forecast charts for the following day.

All of which creates a rather strange atmosphere for monitoring this somewhat unusual expedition. Example: when Tom broke a second ski stick (12th March, on day 12 of the expedition), Jim started wandering whether Tom would be able to continue with his journey -whereas Tom had obviously not even considered this option. The webmaster is also unable to conceal his mental involvement in the adventure, because on 15th March he writes: "The more I become involved in tracking this expedition, the harder it is for me to remain detached from what is happening to Tom..."

It has to be said that so far Lady Luck has smiled down on the beginning of this solo expedition, because the ice has not been too treacherous. Nor has the wind and the temperatures haven't been too bad, either, relatively speaking (averaging minus 30°C). As for the weather, conditions have been fine and set fair virtually every day. Even the drifting movement of the sea-ice, which can be pretty powerful sometimes close to the coast (and which can be a great drain on morale), has been very modest so far this spring and most of the teams out on the ice have not even mentioned it. But in recent days, this sneaky enemy of the explorer has reared its ugly head again and on 20th March for example, Tom woke up 5.3 km further south than where he pitched camp the day before!

But despite that, the only other problem is a rather major one: Tom (who is hauling two sledges) is making very slow progress. In the first two weeks of his trek, he has only advanced 6 km northwards in real terms, whereas he was convinced he had covered nearly twice as much distance in reality... So it was not until 16th March, on day 16 of his expedition that he passed through 84 degrees North.

Another concern is the minor frostbite on Tom's fingers and feet. For a number of days he was obliged to put heat strips in his boots and connect them to a battery that he attached to his chest. But the frostbite appears to have been getting better in recent days and the latest news is that Tom's team is experiencing serious problems with satellite links and batteries. If it's not one thing, it's another...

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