Sleds, Kites, and Everything 63 Degrees Longitude

A week of learning about polar life and travel has already passed and tomorrow we head out to test our new skills and knowledge for real on a seven-day expedition in minus 30 C temperatures. During our initiation phase, we’ve had the luxury of a warm place to dry out and eat most of our meals. After one last warm breakfast, we head out across Frobisher Bay into the wild and white Arctic world.

Not long into our program we were out skiing with pulks. We first tried to drag the training sleds of two men who are going to the North Pole unsupported. Their sleds weighed nearly 300 pounds. I was pleased that I could move it over flat terrain. Any slight hill, however, left me pulling for all that I was worth. I’ll need to spend much more time in training to go to Santa’s place unsupported.

Given our neophyte status, Matty McNair, our Polar Mentor, heaved two 20 kg bags of dog food into our sleds and told us to “have at ‘er.” She started us off easy with level terrain but soon had us learning the finer points of coaxing (i.e. pulling with all our might) our pulks through pressure ridges. On one exercise, I likened the ice maze we were traversing as a “Horizontal Khumbu.” The colors and shapes of the tumbled ice transported me right back to Nepal.

We also began to learn to fly large kites that with enough practice, could eventually pull our pulks and us across ice caps. Matty’s two kids, Sarah and Eric, kite skied the length of Greenland north to south. They were helping us with the training before they left to run Matty’s dogs up north for two weeks (this was their idea of vacation). After teaching us about one method of skiing along side the dog sleds a la Amundsen, they shared their experience with expedition sponsorship, electronics, photography and videography.

We started with one metre kites and moved gradually to three metre wings. When I hit the technique just right, the kite would drag me across the snow on my butt. I loved the deep meditation and focus that flying the kites required. Along with lots of skills, we’ve had time to try out our sleeping and clothing systems. We’ve been out sleeping in tents since we arrived at Matty’s. The coldest temperature thus far at night has been minus 32 C. I’m pleased to report that my sleeping system has been keeping me quite snug at happy all night!

During the day, the deep cold has been teaching me about impermanence. I notice that when hands start to chill down, it’s tempting to panic and assume that they will never be warm again. They can go from feeling fine to near freezing in the blink of an eyelash. We’ve been learning to find the perfect balance between warmth and not-sweating. As Matty reminds us often, “If you sweat, you die.” When my core temperature is warm, hands are warm. If my core temp begins to drop, my hands begin to exit stage right. Luckily thus far, toes have been very happy all week.

I’ve had my hands go from freezing to warm enough this week to begin to trust that cold can impermanent (at least with some action on my part…eating, moving, changing gloves, putting on more clothing). It’s not that I didn’t know this before but haven’t known it at this level of cold. Another lesson I will take to back to Everest is the value of “shakedown.” Matty suggests that all expeditions have their gear, clothing, and sleeping systems decided, tested, modified, and wired at least one year out. I’ve watched how my confidence varies with how “together” my systems feel. When I have my systems down, I feel very confident and competent. When I don’t, both C’s take a dive. So I can see choosing some climbs/experiences that will allow me to shakedown my systems several times before going back to the Big E so I can go into the experience will all of my confidence and competence in full view.

I’ve spent much of the week fighting off a bad cold/bronchitis and I’m pleased to think that I might just be winning. I know my cold has impacted my energy somewhat but I’ve hung with it and been able to participate in all parts of the program. Once again, it gave me pause for reflection about how it must have been for me to start my Everest expedition off with bronchitis just days after arriving at base camp.

So, as intended, the week has provided some opportunity to look forward and back, learn some new skills and knowledge and meet some great folks from around the world. We have a woman who has been driving a tractor from Holland to South Africa and will now take it to the South Pole, a British polar explorer who is linking with schools, a Turkish scientist…in all six nations are represented in our ten member team. I suspect the next seven days will provide loads of day dreaming/moving meditation on the life, love, and the pursuit of high or cold or both places.

Think warm thoughts for me for another week!

Off to the wonderful late afternoon Arctic light!

TA

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