<![CDATA[Day 14 & 15: Good Times. Not So Good Times.]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262231 In places like the Greenland ice cap and Antarctica, I've often said that the best hour is one that drifts by effortlessly and your mind wanders in and out of thoughts with hardly a care in the world. With little scenery but an endless expanse of white (on a clear day at least) good hours are not always easy to come by.<br /> <br /> In crossing the Greenland ice cap our route has taken us from roughly sea level to our current elevation of nearly 8,000 feet. Most of our journey has been into a headwind and a large portion of the aforementioned wind has been fairly robust (to put it mildly). There have been only a few rare moment where skiing and pulling our sleds has felt easy. Most times, the sled feels like an anchor tied to our waists and the effort required to pull it forward, great. <br /> <br /> Needless to say, many of the hours skiing have been not-so-good-times where too often I look down at my Citizen Promaster thinking that an hour has passed only to find a fraction of that time has elapsed. As physical as this journey is, the mental aspect can be equally taxing.<br /> <br /> I describe these expeditions as endeavors of the mind, body and heart. Each playing a vital role and each connected to the others inexorably. To achieve difficult endeavors (like skiing across Greenland) requires passion. One of my favorite quotes is 'thrown your heart over the fence and the rest will follow'. Of course, enthusiasm alone is not enough here and we need equal parts mental fortitude (and thoughtfulness) and physical stamina. I am always amazed at how each of these things ebb and flow over the course of an expedition, or more realistically, one hour. Yet all are connected. Fail in one area and you will fail altogether.<br /> <br /> We are at the point of the journey where our systems are fairly dialed and we can handle nearly any obstacle in our path. Unfortunately, our motors (bodies) are slowly wearing down. Therefore, I have been encouraging the group to have a quick snack readily available while skiing. That way, when they feel their energy wavering (I thought it was spelled waivering, but my phone says otherwise) they can eat something and get their blood sugar back up. Almost instantly the body feels better and the mind clears. <br /> <br /> Yesterday was easy time. Hard skiing but Dean, Kat and Diogo have been at this long enough now that they are all performing like a well-oiled machine. We are up at six, melting snow and eating breakfast. Then, out of the tents by 7:45 and packed up and skiing by 8:15 or so. (Today, there was a bit of a delay as I set up a bowling tournament using snow blocks for both pins and a ball.) We divide our day into skiing shifts of an hour or hour and a half and short 10 minute breaks. Half way through the day is soup break where we chug hot soup from insulated Stanley flasks. <br /> <br /> Dean commented today, 'if I ate soup like this at a restaurant, I'd get kicked out.' Food is fuel, and in below zero wind chills, nothing that needs to be savored.<br /> <br /> Yesterday was windy but a constant 16 mph. Today, once again, the Garmin inReach saved our lives. The weather forecasts, crazily accurate for such a remote location, predicted near gale winds by the late afternoon. <br /> <br /> Around four pm, we realized our any forward progress was futile and we needed to fortify a camp as quickly as possible - just to be able to set up the tents.<br /> <br /> If we hadn't already done this two times prior, we would have thought that our lives were on the line. Instead, we methodically and carefully built snow walls and erected our MSR tents in the extreme wind and nearly zero visibility. Then, we climbed inside for a relaxing dinner while the wind howled incessantly.<br /> <br /> Good times.&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262231'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Sat, 26 May 2018 04:23:02 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262231 66.0052 -44.0125 <![CDATA[Day 12 & 13: Really Cold War]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262230 Nearly a month ago I put a waypoint in both my Garmin GPS and inReach: Dye 2.<br /> <br /> Dye 2 is part of a chain of DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line stations scattered across the Arctic. Relics from the Cold War, these remote stations were designed to be manned by a small crew whose sole purpose was detecting an incoming nuclear attack.<br /> <br /> We spotted the station from 13 miles away -although it disappeared for a while in a ground blizzard as we approached. When the wind dropped, it reappeared again alien-like, perched on the horizon.<br /> <br /> As we neared, two kite skiers zeroed in on the satiation simultaneously. When the lead kiter breezed next to me, I was surprised to find out that it was an old friend of mine who I'd worked in Antarctica with nearly 10 years ago, Carl Alvey. We laughed at the coincidence since we could have very easily missed each other.<br /> <br /> After setting up camp, we scampered down a large snowdrift, crawled under the actual building of Dye 2 (it was built on pylons to prevent being drifted in) and then crawled through a small opening. Once inside, we were amazed at what we saw. Books, bottles, beds, file cabinets had all been left in place. Abandoned in 1988, the crew had just 36 hours to pack up and leave. It was eery to wonder about life at this remote outpost on the edge of virtually nothing. Positioned in the middle of the Greenland ice cap, Dye 2 gives new meaning to the term 'cold war'.<br /> <br /> In the morning, we packed up quickly and skied away. On the other side of the station, a small group of scientists was packing up and awaiting an incoming Hercules airplane to take them home. After nearly two weeks of not seeing another soul, the kiters and scientists together seemed like the population density of Times Square there were so many people around. We skied through their camp stopping briefly to say hi. Once again, a familiar face. A Boulder, Colorado scientist who I had met at a conference in Denver. Ironically at the time, we had talked about Greenland. Two years later, here we were. Of course, he was flying home and we still have 200 miles to go.<br /> <br /> The rest of the day was uneventful (the best kind of day) and we managed to cover over 16 miles our best distance to date.&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262230'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Thu, 24 May 2018 04:20:02 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262230 66.007 -45.0125 <![CDATA[Day 11: Time]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262229 I spent most of the day hiding behind my goggles and face mask and surrounded by my fur ruff. It's a fairly defined existence- my whole world parsed down to the light that enters the lens. But as restrictive as it may seem, it is the basic system that allows me to ski, all day long, into the wind with a windchill well below zero.<br /> <br /> What else do you want to know? I woke up. Melted snow and ate breakfast and then skied. Every so often we stopped. Ate and drank. Then skied again. At some point, we stopped skiing and set up the tent. <br /> <br /> In reality, our days are a much more choreographed set of actions. We adhere to a very specific schedule, not because of my lack of flexibility (although that could be debated on certain subjects out here) but rather to maximize our biggest asset: efficiency.<br /> <br /> Polar travel is an exercise in maximizing effort on depleting resources. We have a finite amount of food and food as well as a set physical ability. Rather than get stronger as the trip goes on, we generally become more fatigued. <br /> <br /> Therefore, one of my most important pieces of gear is my Citizen Promaster watch. Time is of the essence and it is easy to 'waste' it. I am constantly checking my watch and monitoring the time. For example, if we take 10 minutes extra resting at every break by the end of the day that's nearly and hour of time that we are exposed to the elements and could have been recovering in the tent. After eight or nine days of that same delay, we have lost a whole day of travel time. <br /> <br /> And that's just one facet of many things we do. Setting up camp, melting snow, skiing, navigating... all these things are either opportunities to save time or irreversible energy expenditures.<br /> <br /> On day 11 enough time has passed that we feel a constant weariness which means saving any amount of time - no matter how small - is that much more important.<br /> <br /> The wind seemed to push us backwards today. But still we managed to eke out a little over 13 miles. Our course had us skiing directly into the headwind, so much in fact, that we were able to navigate (and use for reference) clouds that maintained their relative position for the entire shift. Breaks were hurried affairs and our normal chatty group sat quietly during breaks eating and drinking until skiing began again.&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262229'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Tue, 22 May 2018 04:23:02 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262229 66.0096 -46.0124 <![CDATA[Day 10: Death and Lasagna]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262228 Diogo found a small dead bird next to his sled this morning. It must have landed on the the red cover, exhausted from being blown from who-knows-where and then died. Alone. <br /> <br /> At first, I thought it was a nuthatch because of its rust colored breast and black eye band, but upon a closer look, it was some kind of fly catcher, which specific species I had no idea.<br /> <br /> It was a stark (and somewhat tragic) reminder of our tenuous grasp on safety and survival here. That bird and us are in similar situations - both blown way off course to a remote and bleak place. There is nothing to eat here. Nothing to drink. No place to sit or seek shelter. Take away our sleds loaded with gear, fuel and provisions for over three weeks and we would suffer the exact same fate. <br /> <br /> And for whatever reason, this is the life that I have chosen, that I am drawn to. The Greenland ice cap, the Arctic Ocean, Antarctica... I have spent nearly my entire adult life searching for something in all this icy desolation. But it is not my home...<br /> <br /> My dad would have known what kind of bird that was. As the director of a local nature center where I grew up, he possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of nearly all life - animal or vegetable as well as mineral for that matter. He died last fall and the bird and big wide icy horizon extending in all directions around our camp left me in a reflective mood as we started skiing.<br /> <br /> Quite honestly, it's hard not to be reflective in a place like this. I've always said that on an expedition like this you very quickly come up against yourself. Your successes and failures get paraded right in front of you on a daily basis. For my part, I've come to terms with that aspect of polar travel. Of course, that doesn't make missing my dad or Maria and the kids any easier. Little things like a dead bird can set my mind off on tangents of tangents. The lows can be very low at times.<br /> <br /> It was calm but nearly whiteout conditions as we set out and it was difficult to distinguish any unique features in the snow. A couple hours later, small holes in the clouds became larger and with the wind at our backs, we were soon skiing in just base layers. It was so warm at one break, I had to take off an extra layer of long underwear pants. I don't like to be too hot and I don't like to be too cold.<br /> <br /> We have taken to calling Diogo 'Ali G' as he looks like the Sasha Baren Coehn character. Especially, since on warm days he wears big white noise canceling head phones and yellow tinted glasses. After his shift navigating, he danced and cheered at our progress. We all laughed hysterically.<br /> <br /> We are getting to the point in the trip where the topic of food becomes a more frequent (nine days in) conversation point. At one break, Diogo waxed philosophical about our Mountain House freeze dried meals while giving reviews of each one. 'The lasagna,' Diogo observed with a smile, 'has little pieces of cheese hidden inside'.&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262228'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Mon, 21 May 2018 04:00:02 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262228 66.0113 -47.0018 <![CDATA[Day 8:]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262227 It was hard to fall asleep yesterday night after laying in the tent for most of the day. The wind had decreased significantly, and combined with our nearly six foot snow wall, it made for a quiet night - too quiet.<br /> <br /> Somehow, I actually sleep better when the wind is flapping the tent and it's a bit noisier. Which probably comes as a surprise to my wife, Maria. At home, I regularly ask to sleep without the fan (white noise) that soothes her. Sleeping here however, we can hear everything with crystal clarity in both tents when it's calm, so a little breeze is nice to... drown out Dean's snoring - not that I'm accusing him of snoring (It's hard to accuse when you already know the facts, right?). <br /> <br /> Still, if I were to have one super power, it would be that I can sleep anywhere. If I were to have another, it would be eating the same thing every day and loving it - which is exactly what polar travel is. <br /> <br /> Anyway, we were able to dig out and pack up after just an hour bending one shovel and tearing two snow flaps (attachments to tent to help stabilize / secure) in the process. The wind had packed much of the snow cement hard. Walking over the windswept surface to survey the scene, our boots barely left any tracks in the snow.<br /> <br /> The temperature had dropped overnight which made for good skiing. It also makes regulating body temperature much easier as well. <br /> <br /> It was overcast and the light was flat enough that I couldn't distinguish any difference in the terrain. It appeared as a smooth white surface so I had to navigate by sighting on distant clouds versus drifts or shadows. Of course, the clouds are moving so I had to recheck my bearing fairly regularly. We are also traveling in the exact same direction as the last storm and I check my navigation against the angle in which my skis cross (or in this case parallel) the drifts. <br /> <br /> Kat, Diogo and Dean all took turns out front navigating today. All are experienced adventurers in their own right. Dean, a former ski racer, avalanche forecaster and mountaineer has summited a number of notable peaks (including Everest) and now runs a global trekking company. Kat (Katrina) has also summited Everest and skied the 'Messner' route to the South Pole - a 640-mile journey (over twice as long as our Greenland crossing). I call Diogo a Brazilian TV star but really he is a sailor, wind surfer and kite boarder turned polar man. He is here to complete the last in a series of expeditions that he is also filming (and starring in) for a tv show. All together we are a good group and I feel lucky to be traveling with such a competent crew.<br /> <br /> We see and hear jets flying over fairly regularly. The great circle route from many European cities takes planes over the southern end of Greenland. So many times I've been on the same path looking down at the ice or tracing the line across the flight map. In a matter of minutes, the plane's are gone.<br /> <br /> I check my Citizen Promaster watch. Two hours left in the day. Funny thing time and space. Our pace is infinitesimal compared to the plane. Yet here we are surrounded by hundreds of miles snow and ice, taking each day as it comes. Dealing with adversity and celebrating small successes.<br /> <br /> But slow and steady is our main strategy and today we covered our best distance 15.4 miles (25 km).&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262227'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Sat, 19 May 2018 04:00:03 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262227 67 -48.0085 <![CDATA[Day 6 & 7. Gale Force Winds]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262226 For a few moments this afternoon, I entertained the thought of packing up and hitting the trail. Then the wind hit (again) pummeling us... again.<br /> <br /> Yesterday, the day started off innocently enough. Clear skies and just a slight breeze. Skiing was nearly effortless (not really but you know what I mean) as we strode steadily over the rolling terrain of the Greenland ice cap. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, the wind started increasing. A strong breeze, then a stiff wind. After lunch a ground blizzard, seemed to push us backward with every step. I wanted to keep skiing on, but there seemed to be a quickening intensity to the storm and I worried we wouldn't be able to put up the tents.<br /> <br /> We stopped at around 3 pm to start build snow walls for camp. Finding a wind packed area of snow, we set about cutting large snow blocks and building a v-shaped snow wall. Hopefully, the wind and spindrift would deflect harmlessly around our camp. Once the wall was four feet high, we set up and guyed one tent. Then more snow blocks, another wall and the second tent. I added several extra guy lines and attached to snow stakes. I was worried that, even with the snow walls, the wind might break a tent pole.<br /> <br /> By this time the wind had increased so much that it was difficult to stand outside the snow wall. There was so much blowing snow that it was almost impossible to see the surface. We threw our gear in the tents and tried to relax which was fairly difficult as the tent walls snapped whip-like constantly. <br /> <br /> An hour later, we were back outside, reinforcing the snow walls and adding an extra 'wing' as the wind had shifted slightly. The windward end of the tents were still getting buried but not nearly as bad as the storm several days prior where we were camped in a small depression in the glacier. <br /> <br /> After a quick dinner, we decided to split up the night into shifts, each person getting out to check on tents and shovel out drifts every two hours. The wind was constant. Dean came back in the tent at midnight after 45 minutes of digging. Still, the tents were fairing better than I had hoped. By 4 a.m. and my turn outside, conditions were just as bad (but luckily not worse). I floundered around in the blowing whiteout for an hour digging out both tents. <br /> <br /> By 7 a.m. the wind had dropped enough for us to all go out and clear snow. The forecast was calling for even stronger winds at noon. By now, the snow walls were almost six feet tall.<br /> <br /> We are behind schedule so any time in the tent not skiing is stressful. Still, we managed to doze off for a couple of hours. Just about the time I was wondering if the forecast might be wrong, another strong series of gusts came up and further pelted us for a couple hours. <br /> <br /> Another lull sent us all outside marveling at how the wind had sculpted the snow around us. Miraculously, we were all intact - gear and people. Just as we were casually talking the wind switched forcing us to scamper to erect another flank to our snow walls - this time on the south side. Once completed, we ran back into our tents, snow packed into every nook and cranny of our clothes.<br /> <br /> And now, it's now. The wind has dropped omg with the temperature. Tomorrow, we will dig out once again and start skiing east (again).&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262226'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Thu, 17 May 2018 16:45:03 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262226 67 -48.0085