Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Traverse: Days 1-2. Bad light didn't stop play

We are now well into the traverse/raid and making good progress.

Day 1, yesterday 25th, started around the middle of the day. It took most
of the morning to get our frozen food out of storage at Cape Prud'homme and
double haul the last vans up the steepest part of the slope, with some last
minute mechanical repairs thrown in.

The weather was overcast with very poor surface definition, but we made it
to the 60km mark, where we had pre-deployed some sleds on Saturday. We
hitched it all up and fueled, ready for the routine early (scheduled 0800)

By nightfall there was a foreboding dark sky and the odd snowflake, so it
was not really a surprise to wake up to a good amount of fresh snow and
blizzard conditions. This was an interesting way to begin our first full
routine day of traverse.

For those who haven't experienced it, "whiteout" is a real experience of
visual sensory deprivation. The light is so diffused by cloud and reflected
from the snow that there are no shadows or anything at all to give away the
ups and downs in the surface. If you are walking, stumbling is unavoidable,
if you are driving, each bump and hole comes completely unexpected:
necessitating good hand-holds, or risking bumping head on roof, etc.

We had intended to follow the track of the traverse that left last week for
Concordia Station (Dome C), but the visibility was so poor that we gave up
after a while. The lead tractor has a bank of 4 impressive lights (2.5kW
each) to help with visibility in these conditions, but even they weren't
cutting it. So we bumped and chugged along at 6-7km/h most of the day,
hitting the occasional outstanding bump and passing the warning message
back down the traverse using our VHF radios. No such warning for the two of
us in the first tractor!

We had a small breakdown today - an electrical problem, which required a
slick installation of a spare and we were on our way. The traverse has
mechanics and a well stocked workshop.

Later in the day, conditions eased and we found the track reliably, were
able to put the Kassbohrer grooming tractor out the front to groom the
path, and ramped up to 9 km/hr.

All-in-all we have covered around 130km in the two atypical days (one late
start up hill, and one in bad weather), so this is pretty good progress. We
have about 1170km to go, so a couple of weeks more for the journey is
likely - all going well.

Life on traverse is efficient and comfortable. The long days require a fair
degree of cooperation and thinking about clothing, stowing gear, what you
want in the tractor with you etc. The routine at the end of the day is very
methodical - jobs divided up so that refuelling, snow shovelling (for fresh
water), cooking and vehicle maintenance all get done in about an hour. By
the time this is all done, and a meal had, it is approaching 11pm, leaving
just a bit of time for emails, ablutions and then time to hit the hay.

Which, I need to do right now!