Nearly intoxicated!

Published on 10.05.2007 - The Arctic Arc

Hellish conditions

Hellish conditions

© International Polar Foundation

Panic on the pack ice yesterday evening: the two men nearly got intoxicated, because the stove wasn't working properly.

We don't yet have all the necessary information for recounting what occurred in the tent yesterday evening. But it doesn't matter: what Alain was able to tell his wife by satphone around 9 p.m. gives us the creeps...

It had to be somewhere around 20.30. Alain and Dixie had just set up camp and the former was preparing the meal.

The day had once again been pretty terrible: the leads of open water had reappeared, the chaos was more impressive than ever, the compression ridges almost uncrossable and, to sap the morale even further, the weather had been vile with covered skies, threatening clouds, and reduced visibility. In short, a horrible day.

As Alain has written to us (he usually rings us), we're delighted to publish his actual words (NB: we've taken special care of respecting his version as much as possible, only correcting some spelling mistakes or typos here and there): "And then the water returned, the real water, not the water of the frozen leads, the water that surreptitiously conceals itself under the snow, which causes trouble because it can't be seen. And then, as if anything else was needed, the chaos and the stronger compressions have returned. There was also snow up to the top of the boots, infiltrated into the flat areas between the blocks. That's really dangerous, because you can't see what it's covering. You can easily break an ankle in this type of terrain. You fall into these holes, 50 times, 70 times a day, sometimes more. And then afterwards, you have to be pulled out, regain your balance or not lose it, and especially take care not to break your stick. You also have to strain your joints to get out of these traps, which is another way of saying that your knees pay a high price! Yesterday, we got our feet into the water all the way to the calf three times (but with the Velcro system between our trousers and our boots, no problem). In short, it was hell once again. Furthermore, the photographs will give you a better idea of things. As I've always said: degree 88 is a vicious circle..."

"You absolutely must call us every half hour"

So this is what the men endured, at the moment when they were preparing their meal. Suddenly, though he was tired, Alain noticed that the flame of the stove had changed to yellow - it was usually blue. Too exhausted, undoubtedly, he paid no heed to this change in colour until, a few minutes later, he noticed that Dixie, suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, was nodding his head, and feeling unwell. At the same time, he felt a severe pain in his head, as if his skull had been put into a vice.

The two men started to feel nauseous and then understood that things were serious. They succeeded nevertheless in putting the stove outside, without having touched the food. Alain managed to call his wife for help. "This is very serious, we just want to sleep and we feel dizzy. The stove has gone wrong. You absolutely must call us every half hour", he told her, "we really mustn't fall asleep. But we'll get over it, don't worry..."

"That's also what an expedition is all about"

Further in his e-mail of this morning Alain wrote: "As I write, I've come back to myself after yesterday's experience, although my head is still extremely sore. Dixie, for his part, is already asleep. And there's something moving just 20 yards away, muted sounds, and cracking noises. Oh, there's life here, even though there's nobody around. It's the Arctic catacombs waking up. The ice surges up from its great flatness, undoubtedly rising up to see who these lads are who are pitting themselves against it, I don't know. But where are we then? At times I no longer know where I am. We're in the white, the greyish white, with bluish spots, and a world of blocks with a uniform and infinitely deep white sky. That's also what an expedition is all about, the unforeseen, the unknown, the anguish. Especially when you don't know what lies ahead. Nobody indeed has ever been here before. The drift is now westwards: that's OK, the only good thing I keep in mind before going to sleep a little..."

One can therefore deduct that the men will be taking a day or half a day of rest today.

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