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Saturday, 27 April 2013

Comments

Apparently it is pretty tricky to post comments on this blog - it is not just that no one can be bothered to which is a great relief!
You need to get a google identity apparently - this can be done by chosing the google line from the profile box and then following the onscreen instructions.
Sorry about this and the delay in posts from the North Pole - just need to find some time - but they should be coming soon.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

North Pole

Despite my best efforts it has just been to cold and too damp in the tent to dry my liners properly but they are at least warm so I decide to chance them - they should be fine as long as we don't spend too much time standing around!

We make good time for the first few hours and then spot some tents up ahead. They seem too close to be at the pole or to have drifted away overnight but so near to it as to make no sense stopping there so something must be up. It turns out that one of the Chinese team was fiddling with their bindings whilst standing on a frozen over lead - not always the best of ideas! The inevitable happened and he too took a dip and so they had to stop to get him dry and warm.
We greet the Chinese team and then shoot on for the last two nautical miles and get to the pole. It turns out to be a pretty comical finish as it is difficult to find an exact spot via GPS and so there was a few minutes of walking in circles over a 10m squared patch of ice until the coordinates converged to cheers and photographs.

 
 

Very shortly after, and this is a matter of minutes, we started getting cold and then a couple of minutes later really cold and it only got worse whilst we put the tents up. This was a mixture of the temperature dropping down to -35c, a strong icy wind that had built up and the number of stops we had over the last hour or so.
I tried to light our stove but needed to refill the fuel which was neither fun nor easy with my hands in such a state and managed to get a couple of ice burns for my troubles. It also took quite a time to get my boots off as given all the stops, my liners has started to freeze solid. Just a couple of examples of how tough things can suddenly get in this environment when you switch off!


Even once we were all in our tents it was still so cold that some people ended up getting into their sleeping bags. Finally, this and a hot dinner did the trick and some life came back to the camp and we went outside to celebrate when the Chinese team arrived - a crate with some wine and vodka had been dropped nearby by a helicopter from Barneo!








From then on it was back to our tent for Usukhu's birthday party and further celebrations with a wide range of drinks, music and conversations. Guy excelled yet again by whipping up pizza bagels and tortillas for everyone. We had the whole of our group and various guests in our tent which meant lying on top of each other but that just made it more convivial and perhaps more importantly warm!



A cracking night was had by all but judging by the state of our tent (I am impressed it is still standing given the number of less than graceful entrances and exits it suffered during the course of the evening) and the silence from the rest of the camp given that I am writing this at 10am on the morning after, today could be a low key affair.




The plan is to head back to Barneo once the dog sled team arrives and then back to Longyearbyen if the plane is available or stay another night there if not and back tomorrow for our last night before heading home.

We take a few photos on short forays from the warmth of the tents and play a bit of frisbee



but the afternoon brings on the same cold spell as yesterday and we retreat to sleeping bags to keep warm.

The dog team finally come in at about 6pm and so the choppers are to come at about 8 to take us to Barneo.



Good fun loading the chopper with the dogs and then sharing the cramped space with them again. All sorts of drinks being passed round on the trip back - especially Aquavit. It turns out that Barneo has been pretty much dismantled so no food, mess tent or sleeping tents await us. However, even though we are about 80miles from the pole it is significantly warmer here so spirits are raised. Have a quick drink with the Russian pilots in the only tent remaining.

Obviously, next am a large storm has come in and although it is not that cold (only -25 or so) it is very windy so there is concern as to whether the plane will be able to land or not. However all the Russians are heading out today - quite a few will be on our plane - so they are almost certain to land and take off. Not too sure if that is a good thing!

Nevertheless we pack up to make sure that we are ready to go - especially if there is only a short weather window. The wind has abated a bit by the time the plane comes in and many of us lend a hand to the packing effort of getting 20 sledges, 3 large dog sleds, 18 dogs and a whole heap of Barneo kit into the plane as quickly as possible. Almost typically, just as we have finished one of the Russians turns up with a tractor pulling a large amount of stuff which he wants loaded - a large row breaks out as he is both insistent and also unconcerned by the fact that the plane is already full. Eventually we are asked to get on and so it is not quite clear what happened...
There aren't enough seats on the plans but from somewhere a couple of camp chairs appear and then a few of Barneo staff join us in the back of the plane as the cockpit and tiny passage to the main door are full of people and gear. With all of this the crew don't even bother with the cursory and comical safety instructions as on the way up.
Back to Longyearbyen for a last group meal and then off to the airport in the morning to catch flights home.



Friday, 19 April 2013

Penultimte Day

We have been making very good progress and will hopefully get to the pole (tomorrow) a day early including making up for the lost day at the beginning. This will also be in time for Osuuku's birthday at the pole - although we have not been able to bring much drink with us as you need a boarding pass to but and in Longyerarbyen.

We are very close to the international date line now and it is quite amusing to think that a few hundred metres that way lies yesterday. I think that Douglas Adams would have enjoyed the space / time conundrum possibilities arising from that thought - and the ability to travel through time zones when you get close to the pole.

Had a go at leading today - very enjoyable and with clear blue skies it is not difficult to navigate using the sun and some larger than ordinary blocks of ice. Best part is finding a way through the pressure ridges, leading the clamber over blocks and leads.

All going well until we come to a wide lead with ice too fresh to cross. We follow it for a while and come across some tracks going in (and coming out the other side!) but these are from a day or two ago when the led was narrower and the ice more solid. We then follow it for another couple of km but there is no sign of it narrowing. We find a large chunk of ice in the middle and contemplate whether we can use this or not.




Eventually we have a plan to step onto it over the short gap on our side and then jump over the longer gap on the far side and then fill in that larger gap with the large chunks of ice on the far side - our fearless leader Keith and I are the keenest to go. He goes first and lands majestically / in a heap on the far side. I go to jump and just as I do, the part I am standing on crumbles and my jump doesn't take me quite as far as I anticipated and so land on the very edge of the far side. This doesn't take my weight and I slide into the water up to my waist before scrambling out. Bloody global warming!!



But the damage is done, both to our plan as the ice block isn't stable enough and to my boots which are not full of water. I jump back onto the block and then back to the original side to whip of my boots and socks and put on new socks and boot liners before my feet freeze. In fact, and with significant thanks to Keith again for the assistance, in no time at all my feet are dry and warm and I am ready to travel again. Most fun of the trip so far!!

Below is how one of my trip mates described the event - see his updates for some amusing commentary on the expedition (Carl Roland's NP diary).

"Luckily the incident today with Sebastian falling through the ice turned out OK, thanks to him being so tough!!! We had to cross a number of ice bergs today. One of the bergs collapsed under Sebastian and he went through the ice. He was submerged about three quarters before he managed to get out. We had to roll him around in the snow to help him get dry...which sounds pretty bizarre, but actually it is the best thing to do because the snow is "dry" here in the North Pole and this helps to soak up all the wet. We replaced Sebastian's boot liners with a spare pair of fresh dry liners to prevent his feet getting frost bite, and it was important to get him moving again as quickly as possible so that his body would generate heat and disperse all the moisture away from his body and dry out his clothing. Sebastian was up and trekking again in no time and it was business as usual for him - the guy is as hard as nails!"

We spend about another hour following the lead to find and get over a new crossing. But this is really not much of a crossing and we end up using a couple of the sleds to provide some added security!



From there it is another power hour or two to leave us just 6 miles south of the pole - very doable on the morrow. The main consequence of my little dip is that my socks and good boot liners are frozen solid. Much of the evening is spent trying to thaw and then dry these out.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Some Highlights

Pressure Ridges
We have to deal with these on a very frequent basis. In fact, they are good fun and break up be monotony of just skiing on the ice. Some are easy with just a small amount of manoeuvering round football size blocks of ice, others are much more challenging requiring us to take off our skiis to clamber through or over the ice. 



Navigating
I became pretty uneasy shortly after we started skiing at the pole as we seemed to be walking towards the sun in general. When you are in the Northern hemispere, the sun is always to the South of you swinging from East to West during the course of the day and pretty much due South at midday. I was therefore expecting that we would have the sun at our backs as we were walking showing that we were heading North.
It turns out that in fact the helicopter drop off had not only taken us South but also around the world as we were now on the same longtitude as Australia and so we were actually walking at night local time but seeing the daytime sun over Europe - ie looking North up to the Pole and then past it South to see the sun.

Tough Day
Day 3 was a much colder and windier day and despite us all putting an extra layer on we were all struggling with the cold. The best way to deal with the cold is to simply keep walking and so we had a long day covering 12 nautical miles. It later turns out that Keith, our guide who has skied to the North Pole 11 times, put this in his toughest 5 days ever at the Pole.



The downside of layering up is the risk of sweating whilst dragging the sleds and warming up from the exercise and quite a few of the guys had problems with wet gear by the end of the day. Part of the evening is spent drying gear over the cooker - makes the whole tent pretty warm and a bit like a sauna!


Landscape
The polar landscape is at times beautiful and at others apocalyptical. There is broken ice everwhere with the larger pieces looking like collapsed buildings.




A decent sun dog







Food
Perhaps nowhere is it truer that we eat to live rather than eat to live than on expedtions - calorie count rather than flavour is the key attribute. But at the same time, a treat can make a big difference. Guy proved himself to be an excellent polar chef and prodeced superb tortillas and bagels and made excellent use of your dried meats to boost those dishes further for tough days.




Keiths' mum made a superb banana cake which weighed a ton whilst frozen (this provided stability for the sled) but came to life when heated with a bit of butter in a pan. The sugar caramelised, the flavour was released - ah, happy memories from cold, dark nights. Actually, the nights were very bright but very cold; at least you get my drift.
However, best of all was the tiffin that I brought along. Basically, chocolate with bisuits, dried fruit and brown sugar mixed in. Delicious and just what you need after cold day when smelly, wet gear is drying close to your head! Thank you very much Mumple for taking the time to make these for us!




Friday, 12 April 2013

Daily Routine

The days skiing to the pole are very alike so I will give an overview of the typical day and then some highlights in later posts. Nowhere is it more true that time is relative. You can cross time zones here in a matter of minutes and the sun remains at about the same height in the sky the whole time. Teams therefore stay on the same time as where they were before they enter the pole regardless of what longtitude they are actually at and therefore what the time actually is.

Wake up at about 07:30am and whoever is up first puts on the stove to get the water going for tea, drinking water for the day. While the water is heating and continuing over breakfast we pack our camping gear and load the sleds. Breakfast is a hot drink, serving of oatmeal and a tortilla with cheese - there were also freeze dried 'breakfast skillets' (scrambled egg, onion, bacon etc) - apparently with a few extra steps these can be made to be pretty tasty but without those and especially if you add even slightly too much or too little water, they can be tough to stomach.

Each night mositure from our breath and drying gear condenses and freezes on the inside roof of the tents - this has only a tentative hold and the slightest motion of the material will cause parts to detach and fall (with unnerving accuracy) onto any exposed parts of your skin! Last to come down is the tent which we take in turns to carry each day, before heading off at about 10am.

Despite the cold, the effort of pulling the sleds mean that you generate a lot of body heat and as such wear relativlely light clothes during the day. I generally wore a thick base layer and waterproof shell on my legs; thin base layer, light mid-wight layer and windproof anorak on my top half topped off with a light hat, hood from my mid-weight layer and anorak hood if required. Apart from the head layers this would not be excessive for Winter walking in Scotland. Oddly, the main concern during the day is not getting to hot rather than getting to cold. If you get hot, you sweat and with an outside waterproof layer it is hard for this moisture to escape. You then spend the rest of the day keeping this moisture warm which is a real energy drain and once you stop this layer becomes very cold very quickly which can be dangerous.
On my face, I would alternate between just a buff (thin stretchy layer) or buff plus face mask - rotating depending on weather and the amount of ice that has built up on my face mask:



For the eyes it would be nothing or goggles. The sun is pretty low so there is no real risk of sun blindness but when it is cold or windy some physical protection is helpful. The problem then is that goggles tend to fog up and then freeze up when worn with a face mask.

We would head off at about 10am and walk for 1.5 to 2 hour blocks and have a 10 minute rest for drinks and snacks before the next push. The breaks are short as whilst you can generally keep warm when pulling the sled, the cold hits you very quickly when you stop. The first thing you do when stopping is to put on your down jacket to conserve your body warmth whilst at rest; taking it off and repacking it in the sled is the last thing you do before restarting. Even so, it takes a good 15 mins or more to get warm again after the stops and often longer for hands which aren't working so hard.
For the first few days we did 4 sets of these to ensure that we made good progress into the time that we had to catch up, but later only needed to do 3 given the progress that we had made.

This would get us into camp at around 7 or 8. Again, first action is to put on the down jacket and insulated trousers (if required) to maintain body warmth whilst doing the various chores to get the camp set up. This was mainly erecting the tents, getting our gear stowed inside the tent and stoves started as well as chatting to rest of the team. After that it was supper - hot drink, soup, packet of freeze dried food and bagel with cheese.
Again, simplicity in the freeze dried food tended to give the best results. Mince rehydrates well as does pasta so dishes like Chilli Mac (chilli and macarone) and lasange (small chunks of it) were good. Rice dishes are very dependent on the correct proportion of water which is hard to get right with no equipment (and US measurements required). A crucial additive is a bottle of chilli sauce or tabasco which you can thaw by putting in the kettle for a few minutes. Last thing it to fill water bottles with hot water and pop them into the sleeping bags. This warms the bags up before you get in, keeps your feet warm throughout the night, helps dry out your wet gear and also provides water to go into the kettle the following morning which is much quicker and so uses less gas than having to melt snow or ice
After dinner would be reading, chatting or visiting other tents and then to bed at about 10 to get ready to do it all again the next day.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Take 2

Bad weather at Barneo again left us waiting in the hotel but all of a sudden the call came through to get to the airport in 10mins! I had been attempting to shave but the razor in the hotel’s complementary female hygiene kit was no match for my beard - not that evident in my final photo before departure:



There was no time for security today so we just walked onto the runway via a side gate, on to the waiting Antonov



and then off to Barneo with an absolute minimum of fuss – amazing how quick these things can be when Health & Safety doesn’t get in the way!

The flight was pretty calm and by the time we got to Barneo it was bathed in sunlight with no sign of the recent storm – this was our first taste of polar conditions and even though the sun was up it was down into the mid -20s. The North Pole is also quite a humid place and it is interesting to see how much of an impact that has on how cold it actually feels. There was a very welcome heated mess tented where we were given some warm beef stew and a short presentation about Barneo including its facilities.

 

Then it was time to load the helicopters with our gear and the dogs who were now out of their kennels and itching to get going - made for a very warm and pungent ride to our starting point which was back at 89'.


 
We walked for an hour or so to get the blood flowing before camp as well as to re-check our gear in action and get our first taste of moving at the pole. All was going well until I managed to take a nasty fall just before camp.  The others had swept all but a last covering snow off from a sheet of steep ice so when I got on it my skis shot down the short slope but my sled held my hips back and so my feet shot up in air and I landed pretty hard on my elbow - I was a bit concerned as to what I had done to, especially once it started to swell but it seems to be manageable...

 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Off to the Pole

The first day of the expedition proper is a relaxed start with us needing to be at the airport at 10am and having packed and sent our sleds and equipment to the airport yesterday afternoon. However, as the morning progresses, concerns rise over the bad conditions at Barneo and after waiting for an hour or so at the airport we are eventually told that the pilots have called off the flight for the day. Apparently it is quite mild up there but very windy so the snow is being blown up into the air cfiticaly reducing the visibility - if Russian polar pilots say it is too dangerous to fly, you know that the conditions are terrible!!

This gives us an unexpected additional day in Longyearbyen together with nerves as to the implications for our likelihood of reaching the pole. The guides seem pretty calm about this but don’t provide the greatest reassurance by going on to say that they have never not reached the pole and on prior trips the helicopter has picked them up on the last day and flown them the rest of the way to the pole before heading back to Barneo. I commented that I, and perhaps others although I wasn’t presuming to speak for them, was really rather keen that we reached the Pole under our own steam rather than via the helicopter and that one option would be to do an extra hour or two each day to catch up the time we missed. Luckily, my rather British way of phrasing things had been laughed at and commented on enough on the trip so far that I was comfortable that the meaning would not get lost in the translation.

 
This extra day was a good opportunity to join the local Liverpool fan club in their corner of the largest bar in town for the game against Reading.



Typical Liverpool - should have scored 7 or 8 but in fact managed none and yet another keeper had the game of their lives against them!

The rest of the day was pretty quiet and an early night in preparation for the big day. There was time to get very annoyed by a TV program about 2 Brits who were driving all the way to the South Pole in a world record attempt and managed to heavily over-dramatise every challenge they faced - everything was life threatening and potentially disastrous including the fact that it was -30c outside despite that fact that they were driving in a heated 4x4. Perhaps I need to make my expeditions sound a bit more death defying...

Monday, 8 April 2013

Back to Longyearbyen

After the training it is back to Longyearbyen for a couple of days. The training has been useful and a fair bit of Krona is spent in the various outdoor shops to ensure that we are as well-equipped as possible for the Pole. I also managed to eat at the most NortherlyThai restaurant in the world and use the most Northerly cash machine!



Whilst we were on our training, the North Pole marathon has taken place and we meet a number of the participants and organisational team when we gate-crash their after party. The marathon is 9 laps of a track marked out around Barneo with the competitors having to run through a heated tent on each circuit for a break, refuelling or check-up by the medical team - including a rather lovely young lady called Beth.

 

We learn later that the only medical issue of any severity was some chap who got fairly badly frostbitten toes when he went for a barefoot run! It is not clear how much of the original incident or the retelling of it were fuelled by alcohol.

The following day is a struggle to get up (must have been a good party!) but we then hear about a nearby ice cave. Along with some vague directions, we receive a few warnings about the inherent dangers combined with a very strong recommendation that this trip should never be done alone. It won’t come as much of a surprise to any of you to discover that these warnings were roundly ignored – apart from the one about the polar bears and the need to carry a gun with you when leaving the town. Luckily, Guy, our Aussie / American friend, had been in the US army for a few years and felt more confident than the rest of us that he would not shoot either himself or anyone else in the group whilst carrying the gun and, perhaps more importantly, that he could shoot a bear if absolutely required rather than feeling sorry for the poor animal as it attacked me as I would no doubt have done!

We have a very enjoyable 1.5 hour hike up the steep valley that Longyearbyen is in with great views and an enjoyable mix of terrain.



The entrance is actually a bit of a surprise in that it is only a small hole in the ground which is just marked by two poles forming an ‘X’. 





I had to crawl in whilst lying flat on the floor and found a sharply inclined drop to the right which opens out into a series of small chambers that are connected by small passages that twist, turn and drop. The fact that we don’t have a guide means that there is a much greater sense of exploration as we progress through the cave – especially for me as quite luckily none of the others were keen to go first.

After this, we have out last night in civilisation for a while so we head out again to enjoy more of the Longyearbyen nightlife – in fact that is a bit of a misnomer as the sun does not set here and it is pretty strange wandering home from a bar at 3am in the sunlight

Taken at 02:50 am


– and have a really rather amusing night. The evening started out with Bourbon (despite the fact it was pretty expensive and none of us actually like it) and flirting with some masseuses (d'une certaine age) who had come up from Oslo for a conference (!?) and had taken the opportunity of a night out whilst their husbands had gone to bed early. We got some rather disapproving responses early on but by the end (and in no small way aided by alcohol) had managed to turn things around to the extent that I was told that if I was ever in Olso I had to call on one of them to meet her daughter!
From there we went to the 'local' bar in town only usually frequented by miners and the various seasonal staff. As we were to find out, this place is notorious for three reasons (and the combination can make it a pretty rough place to be at times!):
o   There are no windows – whether this is to stop the permanent sunshine or police to look in is not clear;
o   It has a legendary collection of whisky and other spirits – 10 shelves high and about 2 metres in length;
o   The alternative to quality is quantity and their special Longyearbyen Iced Tea is remarkably potent.

We were staying some way out of the centre of town and despite the 2am sunshine, a 30 minute walk home at -15c or so is never fun. Luckily there was a late night pizza / kebab shop nearby and I had the brainwave of ordering some food and getting it delivered with us in the vehicle at the same time – unfortunately the staff did not seem to think it was such a clever idea. My immediate reaction (and I have clearly spent too much time in countries that used to be under the Soviet sphere of influence) was to suggest a ‘delivery fee’ which increased by a few £ each time it was refused – much to the amusement of the rest of the shop but probably less so to the staff themselves. Unfortunately, Norway is a very law abiding and when this routine stopped being first productive and then funny, I apologised at which point they mentioned that they could, and would be happy to, book the Longyearbyen taxi for us!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Training

We meet to discuss the trip and our equipment and then head out for a few days on the snow around Longyearbyen. Luckily, but probably unhelpfully, the weather is in general superb with clear blue skies and sunshine. It does get down into the -20s one evening and so becomes a bit chilly when we are in the big mess tent discussing the expedition that evening. We won’t be taking this to the pole and so will only need to warm our smaller 3 man tents instead.

The most important part of the training is to get used to skiing with the sled and try various systems to cope with the cold and the wind that we are likely to experience at the pole. Unfortunately, sun and blue skies mean that I am mainly skiing in sunglasses and a headband which won’t really work at the pole.

This is also a chance to get to grips with more mundane issues like the cooking with the stoves and putting the tents up – but whilst none of us have used these models before, we are all (save Carl who has decided that the North Pole is a good place to have his first ever go at camping!!) fairly experienced and so adjust with little difficulty.

Food – as expected the food is standard for extreme conditions. Freeze dried food with snacks / energy bars for lunch. I have brought out about 30 or 40 of these bars to have in addition to those provided – I don’t normally eat much lunch on such trips so it will be interesting to see whether I make a net energy bar gain on this expedition.
The US addition here is the importance of bread products. We have bagels and tortillas to fry with butter and then grated mozzarella to melt on top – if you can carry the extra weight they are a superb addition to the diet.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

North Pole Expedition Overview

The expedition consists of an initial training trip for a couple of days near Longyearbyen, a couple of days making final adjustments and preparations before flying up to Barneo which is the temporary camp in the arctic circle from which expeditions to the Pole set out. Barneo is situated at roughly 89’ North but it shifts about as the ice moves at the Pole. There is no land at the North Pole, just floating ice that is continually moved around by the wind and currents which has two main consequences.

1.      Nothing ever stays in the same place for long in terms of its GPS position – so even when we get to the pole (ie 90’ North) we will not be there for long as the ice we are standing on will soon move off the Pole and drift away from it.

2.      The wind blows and currents move differently over the Pole so various areas of ice are moved at different speeds and in different directions. The pressure builds up and the ice finally breaks apart creating leads and pressure ridges. Leads are where the ice is pulled apart revealing the water beneath the ice – this freezes over time creating new ‘young’ ice. Pressure ridges are where the ice is either blown in different directions or together and when the pressure overcomes the resistance large chunks of ice break off, some of which are pushed upwards and create walls of ice that are generally up to 2m high. There are many of these at the Pole and these need to be circumvented or gone over as is most efficient. In fact, they provide a very welcome break and change from the otherwise very monotonous experience of skiing slowly in a straight line whilst pulling a 20kg sled.

From Barneo, we take a helicopter to get to 89’and start our 60 nautical mile (about 70 normal miles see this Wikipedia link for more info) ski to the pole.  In fact we are almost certain to ski a lot more than that. Given the large number of pressure ridges and leads that we will come across, we will very rarely be able to ski very far in a straight line and so will be zig zagging at best and when things get bad going sideways or even backwards. In addition the wind will be moving the ice that we are on – if we are lucky towards the pole and if not away from it – real mental strength is needed when after a very tough day, you wake up the next morning to find that overnight you have been blown back towards or even past where you started the day before!

 There are three trips running concurrently. Us as the lead ski / manhaul team, another going on dogsleds and a Chinese ski team.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Longyearbyen

After a long day travelling via Oslo I arrived in Longyearbyen, the main town in Svalbard, at about 23:30 under the near midnight sun. Actually this is still a couple of weeks early for the sun but you can really see the light in the sky.

Walking from the plane to the airport.

Svalbard is a pretty remote place and holds pretty much every Northernmost record (eg most Northerly hotel, supermarket etc) as it is a fairly civilised place - what else would you expect from the Norwegians! This compass just outsde the airport shows just how far from anywhere else you are - you can also see the sun trying to edge above the horizon at midnight.



The first day or so is just assembling, organising oursleves and seeing a bit of the town. We are actually staying a bit out of town which allows / forces a couple of km walk into town in the chilly am showing Svalbard's setting on the shore of a fjord.

The walk into town
There is even a university complete with student's bikes outside:


In the background you can see the chimney from the coal-fired power station which provides all the island's electricity. Along with tourism and a bit of hunting / fishing the island's main industryis coal mining although not all the mines remain opertational. It also has the Global Seed Vault - hopefully there will be time to visit that.

The maximum temperature here is going to be -10c (good job a couple of Winters in Mongolia have prepared me well for this!) and it will be a lot lower than that when we head North to the pole.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Update

Many of you have noted that things have been a bit quiet hear of late - sometimes accompanied with jokes and, albeit less often, concern as to the various rather nasty predicaments that I may have gotten myself into. As always, the truth is rather less interesting and this has just been a break between expeditions. They tend to be rather boring with a bit of recovery, light training, admin for future trips and shopping for more gear.
I took the time to visit some old school friends in New York over the Paddys weekend which included the rather dismal England performance against Wales - but at least it is clear that our problems came from the refereeing performance from our old friend Steve Walsh! From there it was the Ethan Allen express (train) up to Vermont for some sking.
Despite going business class, we had no seats so spent the entire 5.5 hours in the restauarant car (thinks tiny canteen with a few pic nic tables nearby). This would normally be a bad thing but the company was great (12yrs old Glenlivet and a series of interesting vsitors) which meant that the trip flew by.
This is also the time to introduce a new player to the stage Angus Caithness (LinkedIn ) who supplied the above mentioned bottle of whisky and will be joining me on a number of the upcoming climbs, including Everest itself! No doubt there will be plenty more on him and other bottles of strong spirits over the next year or so!

I head off to the North Pole tomorrow so am in the midst of last minute packing and shopping. If you are interested have a look at the following links:

First, a welcome message from the organising team- Welcome video. This also includes a shot of the beast that I will be dragging round the North Pole for the next few weeks.

Secondly, the link to the blog that the organisers will be running for the trip - Expedition Blog. This blog seems to have a link where you can ask questions to us or the organisers about the trip - apparently this is very popular for kids who are interested in finding out a bit more about the North Pole and survival there.

Anyway, more to come when I get to Longyearbyen in Svalbard.