The Captain’s Log Round-Up #7 – Spectre Expedition

No light, cannot kite

Date = 1/1/2018

Day 42 (Expedition) Day 48 (Antarctica)

Location = No man’s land

Coordinates – S86 28.559’, W88 31.867’

Altitude = 1920m

Temperature = -20C

Wind speed / direction = 6-10 knot ESE

Windchill = – 20C

Distance travelled = 20km

Distance remaining = 795km

New Year’s Day, not quite escaped No man’s land.

We weren’t expecting much for today, based on the forecast, so we’re kind of pleased with the 20km we managed to grab first thing at the limit of the wind direction we can use.
Low expectations, high hopes for this leg of the journey and the year ahead!!

The visibility started poor and deteriorated to the point where you wouldn’t be able to see a man eating crevasse right in front of you so we stopped.

It’s very strange kiting in bad visibility. With flat light and no surface contrast you can’t tell which way is up. All you can see is the pretty, colourful kite dancing through the grey and white. At one point I couldn’t tell if I was moving or not, until I hit a bump and fell over.

Thankfully it appears tomorrow the wind finally swings in our favour and for few days we have SE/ SSE wind. Although it’s due to be very light, so perhaps not the gallop we want to be able finally break out from no man’s land.

This is day 42 in the deep field, and although we’re in good shape and spirits, we’re ready to see that checkered flag appear over the ever shifting horizon. We still have 500 miles to go! And if / when the conditions line up, we are excited for some quality kiting and a little more of what has been rare type 1 fun.

But with so much down time in the last week, confined to clothes, sleeping bag and now tent, we are permanently permeated with the slightly sickening odour of post-digestion dehy; one can’t help pondering some the delights the near future holds.

The remote outpost of Union Glacier is an emerald city in my imagination.

The food there is genuinely delicious and all you can eat. Currently the thought of the hot cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner is actually making my mouth water. And beer and wine… so close but so far… and seats and tables and heated spaces. Then there are the hot showers fed by giant snow melters. And a set of clean clothes. And a real toilet with a seat that’s not windy or -30C.

When we get back to Punta Arenas it’s going to be a giant meat fest. Steak and lamb from the Asado. Those amazing burgers from Lomitos, my gosh they are good, stuffed with Avacado and chill sauce.

After an hour of scrubbing in a hot power shower with luck they’ll be a sauna and a hot tub in our hotel and we can sip cold beers as we sweat the last of the dehy from our system. And reminisce with pride and joy about our fraught but funny journey to of the Earth.

And within just a few days we will soon take those luxuries for granted. We will have forgotten the squalor and smell and doldrums of no man’s land and our minds will soon drift back to the golden moments of our most excellent adventure. The camaraderie and challenge. Our 6 weeks away from the rest of humanity, where our entire world and wellbeing lived in a sledge we never left.

And then soon we’ll be home in our respective corners of Earth. Mark returns to true summer in the beautiful sun-blessed playground of Wanaka in New Zealand, where his wife and friends are BBQ-ing on the beach right now.

Jean to his ancient village in the southern Alps. So far it sounds like a good winter with lots of snow down in the valley. I’m sure he can’t wait to play in the snow with his 5 year old son, Malo who is learning to ski.

For me back to the ever green lake district. My two team mates, both being from places with 300 days per year of sunshine, give me lots of grief about living somewhere where it rains so much. We prefer to call it very green.
And I can’t wait to get back to those mossy old walls, old oak forests and comforting colours of home.

But of course what I crave the most is to be with my family and enjoy some of the simple life with the full assistance of all creature comforts and supported all modern conveniences available.

Enjoy what you have. It is not until it is gone you realise its value.


Gone with the wind

Date = 3/1/2018

Day 43 (Expedition) Day 50 (Antarctica)

Location = Thieil plateau

Coordinates – S84 24.895’, W80 35.513’

Altitude = 1920m

Temperature = -14C

Wind speed / direction = 15-20 knot SSE

Windchill = – 24C

Distance travelled = 180km (plus 55km from 02/01/18) Distance remaining = 560km

The promised wind…

Finally, our wind arrived and took us not, just out of no man’s land, but well past the Thiel mountains.

Type 1 fun! High speed, low drag, for miles across a creamy smooth surface.
So much fun and just what the doctor ordered after our extended spell in the doldrums.

We’ve been searching for this blooming trade wind for 43 days and finally we found it. We have done precious little downwind kiting on this trip, so much so, I had forgotten how easy and relaxed it is, even when massively overpowered.

Today was awesome: perfect sun, surface and finally WIND! We covered 180km with a top speed of 40kmph and an average of 27kmph, pulling 120kgs each, now that’s what I’m talking about!!!

A few more days like that and we’re out of here. We were cruising towards 200km until I lost concentration for a second and ‘bow tied’ my kite. Still on our biggest 15m kites the wind must’ve built to 20knots. A big bow tied kite in a 20 knot wind is game over. We could’ve downsized and continued but it’s been so much fun to make some really meaningful progress, we stopped early with another big day tomorrow in mind.

At one point today, the wind was blowing channels of snow crystals across the textured ground. Then, with the sun reflecting off these crystals, it created the most splendid effect of riding over a river of dancing jewels.
It was so beautiful, travelling at downhill biking speed with a carpet of sequins flowing under foot.

Looping the big kite, downwind on extra-long lines generates the kind of power and acceleration normally associated with an engine. We were almost literally flying all day. The main problem was losing excess speed and trying not to go too fast.

Probably best we stopped when we did. Almost too much fun! Anything can happen and we are certainly not complacent, but we are now north of the Thiel Mountains, on the classic South Pole route. That means the next 420km leg of our route is exposed to a much more favourable wind direction and, dare I say it, it is very likely we can expect more quality kiting to ride home in style. It is hard to believe that, just yesterday, we were hopelessly becalmed, despairing, with almost 800km to go. Now we’re smiling with just over 500km!

We have been tried and tested and teased at every turn on this trip. After much effort, we a reaping some memorable returns. Bring me more!!!!



Getting there

Date = 4/1/2018

Day 44 (Expedition) Day 51 (Antarctica)

Location = Thiel plateau

Coordinates – S83 25.875’, W80 21.200’

Altitude = 1650m

Temperature = -14C

Wind speed / direction = 15-20 knot SSE

Windchill = – 23C

Distance travelled = 110km

Distance remaining = 450km

It doesn’t get any better than perfect, so yesterday was an impossible act to follow. But today was a good attempt. Immediately after setting off, our silky smooth soft surface deteriorated into sastrugi and soon became really quite messy.

We started off on our medium 12m kites with 25m lines. Trying to loop the kite downwind is difficult as it soon crashes into the ground because of the short lines, so Jean is busy modifying line sets to optimise performance for tomorrow.

The wind eased and we switched to the big 15m Chrono’s on 65m lines. Right on cue, the surface smoothed up and we enjoyed a relaxed final few miles before she dropped to zero.

Today the sequins were shimmering in the sky – Ice crystals on the wind, sparkling like glitter catching the sun.

We are happy to be making meaningful progress on a fun ride. There is no rush for this to be over, but at the same time I can almost taste the fresh food and beer waiting for us 420km away in Union Glacier.

Our time out from that other world, from our other lives, is drawing to a close. Post-Spectre Exped thoughts are starting to enter my mind for the first time in months, years even. There’ll be a massive amount of follow up to deal with, but I’m thinking more about fun activities and micro adventures at home with the kids.

But for now, and the foreseeable future, we must stay focused on this mega-adventure. A momentary lapse of concentration is all it takes whilst kiting to drastically change the situation. Especially when travelling at the kind of speeds we’re getting used to.

So, steady as she goes and who knows, maybe there be beers and medals before the end of next week?




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