Though days for Ben…

Published on 23.03.2011 - North 3

For the present time, Ben Saunders is still waiting for a Twin Otter to take him on his starting point, Cape Discovery up in Ellesmere Island. But with the days passing by, the time to complete the trek in time becomes shorter and shorter.

To understand better the situation Ben Saunders is living right now up there (waiting for days and days for a good weather window to fly) and to feel the most intensively possible what the british explorer is feeling, we have chosen to simply paste and copy the entire content of his update of the Monday 21 March. 

" I thought today would be the day. The forecast last night suggested a brief weather window for a drop-off flight this morning and the pilot sounded optimistic when we spoke yesterday evening. Once again, I packed the belongings I wouldn’t be needing -my laptop, passport, jeans, t-shirts- into a holdall for Andy to bring back to the UK, once again I laid out my expedition clothing on the floor by my bed, and once again I had a stilted ‘goodbye’ conversation with my mum. I set my alarm early but hardly slept. The phone rang at 6am.

" Troy sounded hesitant. “Eureka are showing three miles”, he started. (I’m getting quite good at pilot-speak by now; this meant good visibility at a weather station half-way between here and my Cape Discovery start point.) “And it’s fifteen knots at Alert.” (Windspeed this time. So far, so good.) “Right now it looks like there’s a window to twenty-one or twenty-two zed, when a new low comes in, but I’m not sure about vis at the north coast. I’d like to check with Polar Shelf and get back to you.” (It looks good for flying until 9 or 10pm UTC, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to see a landing spot. Let me call you back once I’ve spoken to people with better satellite images.)

" Troy’s hesitancy didn’t fill me with confidence. He’s renowned as one of the finest polar pilots in the business, and a man who’s often eager (and skilled enough) to fly when others won’t. Peering into the abyss of self-pity, I dug my jogging bottoms and a t-shirt out of the holdall and shuffled down to breakfast. Troy called back at 7.30am. “I’ve had a look at some better images and there’s a definite obscuration.” An unfamiliar bit of pilot-speak. I wasn’t sure if this was good or bad. “Which means blowing snow and poor visibility at the landing spot, and,” he paused, “I’m afraid no flight today.”

" I wanted to roar like a mountain gorilla, to smash a fist through the puny desk, to burst out of my t-shirt like the Incredible Hulk and to hurl the telephone across the room. Instead, from somewhere distant, I heard myself say “Thanks Troy. Keep me posted, and I guess we’ll speak this afternoon”.

" Working to the schedule we’ve drawn up, Wednesday is the latest it makes sense for me to start, and it’s now Monday evening. If I’m not on the ice by the day after tomorrow then I’ll almost certainly miss the chance for a flight home via the temporary Russian base near the North Pole, Borneo. There’s still scope to charter a fixed-wing plane to pick me up from Canada, but this comes with a six-figure price tag (as opposed to five with a shared flight from Borneo – this is not a cheap way to go camping). Interestingly, Borneo has yet to be established due to bad weather (quelle surprise) and this would appear to be an exceptionally harsh spring on the Arctic Ocean.

" It’s hard to put this intractable frustration into words. This should be my year. I’ve been doing this for a decade now, and I came here fitter than ever, earlier then ever, and with what I’m convinced is better clothing, better gear and better nutrition than any North Pole expedition in history. At a speaking engagement a few months ago I quipped that getting ready for a long-distance, unsupported polar expedition was like training for the Olympics while simultaneously fundraising for and project-managing the building of your own stadium. I’ve done all that, and now I find myself locked in the changing rooms...."

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