Friday 27 April 2018

Iceman Ski Tour Challange Event

The Iceman ski challenge has finished this week. It's a 70km tour over 4 days taking all your equipment, food and fuel by Pulk sledge. There were about 14 people taking part in four teams, including a film crew to film the event. Everyone got to the end of the trip, which was a first, so a really good effort by everyone with some very painful blisters to show for it. I was overall in charge of the safety and logistics of the event with a team of skidoo drivers in support, the base camp manager in charge of equipment and facilities and a communications person at base.

Roping up the skidoos for the recce of the glacier section.
The first thing wee had to do was a full recce of the whole route to make sure there were no unforeseen hazards and the route was possible. I put one Neil in charge of leading the recce, which was a tall order as he had never been on the route before and there were some difficult route choices on the glacier over convex slopes. (Slopes you can't see over to find your route)

Two routes over the convex steep bit
Neil did a fantastic job leading the route and there was some great learning for all of us
on the steepest part of the glacier. In the picture above, the left hand route (looking up) is much less steep than the right hand route, but it s difficult to see this from above.

Neil committed his roped pair of skidoos over the slope brow to the right hand route. It was steeper than expected and Karl following, had trouble keeping his speed down and so was catching up with the link rope. He drove to one side to avoid running it over and a snow lump caught the link rope between them and flipped him over! All were OK, but a good lesson in committing to convex slopes. My own learning was, that although Niel and Karl had recced the route from and view point above, I had not clarified with them that they had selected the best route.

Freeing melted brakes
The next drama was a few kilometers on. The brakes sized on Karl's skidoo, probably from all the use and corrosion in the pistons. Karl managed to free them, but the pistons had meted and the skidoo now had no brakes, with one last slope to descend. With some careful driving from Niel and Karl, we made it.

Chipping ice out of the Weather Haven porch
With a day to go before the event and good weather, we had time to make final preparations, keeping the porch floor clear of ice, final Iceman kit packing and emptying the loos.

Crevasse rescue practice, Karl holding on tight, whilst making a snow anchor
I also had time to run some training using a wind lip by the containers, so that people had a chance to hold a simulated crevasse fall, construct an anchor and pull them back out again.

Polar Bear practice!

The Storm - broken tent poles
The Iceman clients arrived and then the storm came that night! Poor things. For most, the first camping they had ever done in the Arctic. With strong winds forecast, we had built a wall to protect the tents, but this was not successful, as it drifted some tents and not others. It was a torrid night for some and all hands were needed to help first thing in the morning to move drifted tents and replace one with broken poles - all in high winds and freezing temperatures.

Digging out the worst drifted tents
Re-pitching tents and trying not to let them blow away!
Clearing the containers so people could get out

One slight mishap happened at about 11.00pm when we were informed that the client's toilet poo bag had toppled over! Poo everywhere. (no pictures) We had to shovel it all up, disinfect and rinse, without the water freezing again. That was fun.

The morning of the race start
We had to also try and run some basic training in the storm as well as sort everyone's tents out, which was challenging. After a couple of days the winds dropped and we used the first day of good weather to let everyone practice with their Pulk sleds, skis and sort themselves out from the storm chaos.

First day start form Constable Point
The actual event was done in generally fine and sunny weather with light winds. The main hazard being heat and sun burn.

Crossing Hurry Fjord
The Tangent team all took turns to camp out with the group and I got the job of camping out twice.

The first steep slope to gain the entrance of Kalkdal, an impressive valley
Snow blindness
As well as sunburn and blisters, snow blindness was also a significant hazard. One person did not wear his sunglasses for two days and paid the extremely painful price.

Waiting for the teams to arrive.
There were 3 pairs of skidoo drivers supporting the ski event. One to put in a track and set up the camp bear fence and toilet, one to shadow the groups in case of any assistance required and the last pair to take anyone back to base if they wanted to drop out. At times there was allot of waiting around.

Glacier Camp on the 3rd day at the East end of Kalkdal
Early morning at Glacier camp
There were fairly recent bear tracks by this camp. A mother and smaller tracks, her cub.

Saturday 14 April 2018

Skiing Icebergs

We went to the village about 50kms away to pick up 12 French military people and take them back to Constable Point for their flight the next day..

More snow blowing to get into the containers
A thin ribbon of snow though rocks
An interesting route, because all the sea ice had blown out near the village and we had to get there though the mountains via a complex route. It went up a valley which was barred by rocks, but the track, which had to be dug out, led through up an unlikely band of snow with a steep drop to it's left.

Filling our four 200lt fuel drums to take back for skidoo fuel.
One guy had a frightening crash on the skidoo at the village petrol station. His helmet was in front of him on the seat and got stuck under the throttle lever. He shot forward, missing another skidoo and building by inches until he hit a snow drift and the rolled the machine on top of him. All OK and only a broken mirror, but he was quite shaken and very embarrassed.

Broken sea ice below village - too dangerous to cross by skidoo.
Avoiding action to miss dog team
Returning from the village up the steep hill, we have to go one at a time, full throttle, in order to get the loads up. You tend to loose your steering at that speed on a slope and to meet a dog team coming the other way was not in the plan! They don't have steering either!

Iceberg on way to glacier recce
Various other recces for upcoming client inputs took us past some nice icebergs. Then a 3 day trip to Sydcap to do some activities for the film crew and pick up a German couple. We had a day to get out there, a day for the film guys and then picked up the 2 Germans and their guard dog to come back.

Route to Sydcap - 150kms
Red House
The Red House hut door had been blocked on the inside by snow and on each visit, we had been unable to get in. On this visit, with more time and good weather, Karl managed to dig and push the snow clear to get the door open. The Red House was now functional again as a refuge.

Crossing valleys on Jameson Land to get to Gurreholm. We call this section 'The Big Dipper'
First view into Scorsbysound and Sydkap beyond
The German Igloo
Connie and Dirk, have been coming out here for years and we have got to know them well. They always come out early season when it's cold and ski tour for about 3 weeks, completely unsupported. They rent the same dog each year from the village to keep the bears away. He's huge, old and an absolute sweetie. The dog, not Dirk!

Iceberg on the way to Sydcap
Sydkap house
On the way to Sydkap on the sea ice we saw another polar bear. It was quite a long way away and ran off into the icebergs and sea ice when we approached. However, we saw it's tracks all around Sydkap and all the next day on the sea ice and next to seal holes.

Melting snow inside Sydkap
The house was in good condition although many of the windows had been smashed by bears. There is a heater that runs on aircraft fuel, but it has been broken for years and we have never been able to get it going. However a new fuel valve had appeared and Karl spent the evening taking the whole thing to bits, cleaning all the pipes and by the end it was blazing perfectly. Hot enough to burn his finger on!

Looking for icebergs to climb
The next day we went out to look for icebergs to climb. This one was far too big and scary and had big lumps about to fall off it, but good to look at.

Big iceberg lump about to fall off
Iceberg climbing
I found a good one to climb, which wasn't so good to look at, but wasn't about to fall down. I led up to put a rope up for the cameraman. The others also climbed it and this is the second lead for the camera.

Skiing an iceberg
Finding an iceberg to ski was also challenging. It had to have snow on it, not fall down and  to be able to be climbed in ski boots. A first iceberg ski for me and everyone else who skied it.

The German's guard dog much preferred the box to it's cage
The return from Sydkap was a 9 hour skidoo trip in poor visibility. Poor contrast and white out conditions in fog and wind made following the tracks back very challenging.  I’m making a different person take full responsibility on every trip, which I think is being appreciated. Pete led this trip and went the wrong way at one point and drove straight over a wind tail. He was lucky it wasn’t bigger and the last thing I saw, was him disappearing in front of me and the big black box sledge following and tripping over ejecting the poor dog on it’s lead.

Roping up for glacier travel training
The day after at CNP we recovered from the trip and I ran some roped glacier travel training for folks doing a recce the next day.

Showing how to turn on a glacier whilst roped up on skidoos
Karl explaining the use of the electric winch

Saturday 7 April 2018

Polar Training

The Polar Training group came last week and were a really nice group. With Stuart's help we covered all sorts of cold and snowy related stuff and then went up onto the glacier for a 4 day camping, skiing and mountaineering expedition.

Testing the bear fence
I put on my bear hat to make a real life test of the bear alarm system! It's a string on sticks attached to a personal alarm that goes of if the string is disturbed. It was a bit embarrassing when the whole thing failed due to one of the sticks folding in half as it was rusted through!

Teaching glacier rope work
Evening light at camp with moon in background
We took the team, by skidoo to the foot of the Bjering Pederson Glacier to practice cold weather camping skills.

Avalanche transceiver practice
Next morning we went on a ski tour, but first, I needed to make sure everyone knew how to use avalanche transceivers and rescue someone from an avalanche.

Ascending a local hill
Large slab avalanches were seen on most west facing slopes
During our ski tour, we saw numerous slab avalanches. The most recent were on west facing slopes, but we also saw older debris on south and north facing slopes. This was due to the recent storm, with strong winds from the east. We had to be very careful for the trip to not ski any suspect slopes.

Teaching ski anchors for crevasse rescue
Crevasse rescue practice
On the way back down, I found a wind scoop, which made a good 'crevasse'. This made a realistic situation for the team to have a go at holding a fall and pulling someone out. Poor old Stuart was the 'body' and endured sitting at the bottom and getting snow on his head.

Crevasse rescue with pluk sledges
Polar bear paw print
During the morning at camp, we spotted a polar bear on a ridge about 500mts away from us. It could see us and kept on turning round to have a look, but fortunately kept traveling away from us. The track was still visible for several days and a good reminder to be vigilant. The bear had stopped by our people carrier left a kilometer down the valley and smashed the window!

Moving to 2nd camp on the glacier plateau
It was quite a steep pull up the toe of the glacier to its summit and a cold wind kept us wrapped up. Only about 4 hours of traveling, with a late start and plenty of time to establish a good secure camp with snow wall ups wind of the tents.

Building snow walls up wind of the tents
A 'shovelup' snow shelter
In the evening, we made a snow shelter, by shoveling snow into a heap, letting it set and tunneling into it.

Melting snow for drinks and to make dinner
Morning frost on my sleeping bag
The days were cold, but the nights were colder. Down to -25 and every morning, there was a layer of frost on the mouth of your sleeping bag and frost all round the inside of the tent. This all fell on you as a mini snow storm, every time you moved until it warmed up with the stove. Everything has to be in your sleeping bag with you to prevent freezing - cameras, ski boots, gloves, coms kit, clothes, sun cream - the lot!

Evening Sat Phone call
I had to call in each evening to our 'call out' to report that we were OK each day. We had tracking devices as well, but the messages from those were not that reliable.

Bad weather at camp
We had a morning of low cloud wind and snow, but it cleared up by midday for us to venture out.

I found a mountain near camp which had a reasonable slope that was not too avalanche prone and even had good snow to ski back everyone down again.

Me and Stuart  with the mountain in the background - we skied the slope to the right
Snow pit analysis
On the last day we tried another mountain and I wasn't sure about the slope up to it. It made a good lesson in snow pit analysis for the group where we identified weak layers, but not enough for concern.

Summit ridge
After taking off the skis, I broke trail all the way up the ridge, which was exhausting, but was stopped by a steep final section up though rocks. Two of our staff got up this to the top, but it was too dangerous for us to take five clients up, so we turned round.

Last summit with attempted peak in background
As a consolation, we skied up an easier summit next door and had a good ski down in good snow and then breakable crust! We got back to camp and found that the weather was due to deteriorate the next day, so made the decision to strike camp and ski back down the glacier to the skidoos and back to Constable Point.

Iceman Ski Tour Challange Event

The Iceman ski challenge has finished this week. It's a 70km tour over 4 days taking all your equipment, food and fuel by Pulk sledge. T...