DINING IN A WAR BUNKER23rd May – Day 10 on Terrain.
Altitude: 6649 ft
Mileage: 103 km
Position: 68º00’36”N, 45º44’27”W
I had just been pulled backwards over my sled, dragged like a ragdoll 30 metres downwind, skis flaying madly, not looking like a seasoned explorer at all. I pulled my safety line, which is meant to collapse the mad kite and nothing happened. I continued on my unsolicited and ungraceful mad drag downwind. Over the wind a light “pop” could be heard as the kite burst a hole in its mid section. It then did what it was told and I managed to suppress the kite, dust myself off and check that I did indeed still have two cruciate ligaments intact. I slowly made my way upwind back to Simon’s position, now 200 metres away trying all the while to regain my composure.
Simon had landed his kite and was trying with great effort to keep the over eager, massive piece of canvas snowbound whilst the wind tried to rip it skyward from his grasp. I was about 20 metres away from his kite lines, when I heard him yell – the yell saved us probably 10 days out here. He had lost the kite and it now tore downwind madly on the surface of the ice, at wind speed of 15knots (approximately 35 km/hr.) Much faster than even Usain Bolt in heavy ski boots through deep snow. I madly ran to intersect the kite as it raced past, jumping on the bar and rolling it over to find the safety line, knowing if I grabbed the bar alone, it would likely loft itself and take off, with me in tow skyward or rip shoulders from sockets with the force this great scary kite has. By some fortune (unlike my kite) the safety line collapsed the kite enough for Simon to sprint and lay in an exhausted heap upon the mass of orange canvas whipping madly about his face.
In the tent that night over our weak Milo (missing Toohey’s Extra Dry terribly) we reviewed our wind cut offs for that big mad kite and also our safety protocols for landing two large kites in close proximity. We were relieved to be all well, bar some sewing needed when the next windless day arrived. That big kite despite being a finicky and at times cantankerous beast, allows us to travel when otherwise we would be man hauling or tent bound. With that kite lost, we would have been resolved to hauling in deep wet warm snow (currently very warm in Greenland +2 C at midday) and conservatively it would have added 10 days to our journey, 10 days that we don’t have the food for. Simon’s yell and my mad leap has saved the expedition.
We set tent and entered our bags at 1 am at –15C, just 37 km shy of DYE 2 Station. An abandoned Russian Missile Early Warning Bunker built in the peak of the Cold War. For some reason I felt a sadness that our kite adventure had stopped us making it there that evening (21 May), I couldn’t shake it as I slipped off and went to sleep, the urgency to get there was some inner voice, I was unsure of its source.
The next day after a rough, cold 5 hours sleep; we melted ice for the day’s water, ate a million calories and broke camp. In just an hour an odd little white nipple appeared on the northern horizon. This nipple over the next half hour developed into an opaque egg, then finally a gothic or almost evil looking bunker with white globes and dishes mounted all over it. From some distance away I could see tents and the odd person. My heart sank with that same odd feeling I had when approaching the South Pole. You get so task focused, pushing to the extremes and a lot of the battle being mental. Controlling thoughts of home, loved ones, of softness, of beds, warmth, sheets, lattes, then suddenly its possible. After 8 or 9 days you manage to reach a mental plateau where self control and a steel-trap mind is possible. The little ants I saw on the horizon near DYE 2 threatened this mental stability; I feared we’d be reset back to day 1 by human interaction.
We approached the monolith almost as if approaching a landed spaceship with alien life on board. Warily we dropped the kites, grabbed our stove, some food and torches and went to explore the abandoned station. After finding a doorway half iced in, we crawled through into the dark recess and corridors beyond. The base was huge and it was largely ice filled and eerie to the extreme. It was as if the staff had been given a half hour warning, “Cold War over comrade, we go now!” and they had left. Beds in place, leg of frozen ham on a bench, beers, sauces, salad bowl with frozen salad still within it – frozen and left like a museum exhibit for 30 years?
A genuine pleasure to meet him, I grinned amiably, happy to reset the mental trap as payment for meeting so great a man as him. As I turned to go, he said another Aussie had been there and just left that very morning. Eric Phillips guiding a 15-year-old Aussie female had left that very morning. Eric was my mentor and advisor for my Antarctic crossing journey and when I realized I had only missed him by 4 hours, I finally understood my odd feelings and instincts the night before. He was walking east to west and it was so crazy to miss him so far from home by so small a margin in the most isolated place imaginable!
We clicked our skis on, lofted the kites and hauled the sledges northwards giving Bjorn a warm farewell as we left. Stopping briefly for an American air force plane to land behind the station, we then pointed our noses northwards back into the vast white expanse.