Posts Tagged ‘ice’

By the frozen river, Haerbin, northern China - hoarfrost clings to the trees as warm vapour freezes over night onto their branches. The river to the side is frozen solid in the -40C environment.

By the frozen river, Haerbin, northern China – hoarfrost clings to the trees as warm vapour freezes over night onto their branches. The river to the side is frozen solid in the -40C environment.

The Cairngorms await us

The Cairngorms await us in the distance

From Blairgowrie into the Cairngorm mountains in what may have been the toughest full day of cycling. This was the day which I was probably most worried about, with 100km or so of cycling planned, of which most would be going up hill. Not just up hill, but up hill in to the Scottish highlands which, as we could clearly see in the distance on the previous day, were well and truly snow-covered.

Brian cycled out with us in the morning, in spite of it being cold and, for want of a better description, darn miserable. There was low cloud and drizzle, and it just wasn’t very nice to go riding through. It was straight forward enough at first, going from Blairgowrie in a westerly direction to join the A9, the main north-south trunk road, connecting Edinburgh with Inverness. Though it was drizzle, it was still lovely country side, passing Loch of Drumelli, Clunie and Loch of Lowes before reaching Dunkeld. There, we said goodbye to Brian, and he pointed us to the cycle path that ran along the A9, and said that it really would be better to go along that instead of the main road which is the centre of a debate about whether or not it should be re-classified as a motorway and is accident prone…

Detour at BallinluigWe took his advice, though it got a little a confusing south of Pitlochry about where the actual path ran. We ended up asking a couple of people about how to get to the path, and we ended up going what seemed to be all around the sun to meet the moon to continue along it in the hills above the main road. Indeed, taking the cycle path as a whole along the route probably increased our total journey by about 10km or so. If it was summer and if we didn’t have pretty heavy panniers it would have been great – it was a lovely, desolate kind of beauty going over those hills; however, occuring on an already challenging day going up into the Cairngorms, the detours weren’t always particularly welcome…

It is worth remembering that on the preceeding day, coming up to Blairgowrie, I mentioned that my bike was making strange clunking noises. Brian had a quick check in the morning as well, though wasn’t able to see what the issue was, though certainly recommended that we get it checked out once we got back to Brazil. As with me, he thought that it should be okay to get up to John O’Groats. However, the noise from the bike gradually got worse and worse, and much more constant (though still on a kind of random basis). So it was with relief that when the cycle path eventually came down from the hills and we got to Pitlochry. There we were able to find a  bike shop, and not just a bike shop that sells, but also repaired bikes. They had a look at it while we had lunch and when we got back, the guy said that some of the ball bearings in the back hub had broken and replaced them – had they gone unchanged, it would indeed have got worse and worse, until the wheel would have pretty much broken completely. So I was very happy testing the bike again and not hearing or feeling any noises at all.

Tricky conditions

Tricky conditions along the A9 cycle track

With time ticking on and us being quite significantly delayed with this problem and the cycle path taking longer than we wanted, we were thinking of continuing along the A9. The guys at the shop, however, advised us to keep going along the cycle path that went alongside it, and also suggested that we stop earlier. Unfortunately, not many other places were open to stay, or had any vacancies, so we had to keep with plans to proceed to Newtonmore. We continued along the cycle path for a while, and it was good for a whole 25km or so, however, with it being a cycle path / B-road, it had not received any salt from the gritters that pass along the A9, and as we got higher, the amount of snow and ice in our way increased, making life harder for us. We eventually gave in as the amount of daylight we had left was quickly running out, and we just wanted to get to Newtonmore, so on to the A9 it was.

It was surprisingly easy and not as terrifying as we were preparing ourselves for. Okay, there was steady traffic, and that traffic was fast, though just about everyone gave us a nice wide berth – am absolutely certain that our good Hi-Vis jackets and multiple back and front lights helped with this. For me the important thing is always to be as visible as possible even during the day. Furthermore, the remaining uphill was extremely gradual and we hardly noticed it, then, with 26km remaining it was just a nice gradual downhill – not too steep to cause us to worry about losing control, though with a nice gradient which allowed us to cruise at a good 25-30km per hour with no problem at all. In spite of all the delays and everything, we still managed to get to our guest house in Newtonmore for 6pm, just as it turned pitch-black outside.

So yes, instead of hiking to just camp I (about a five hour walk away, at around 5,000 metres), it was decided that we would go straight past that to high camp (another couple of hours hike/climb at around 5,400 metres); get there for around mid-afternoon, rest and get up at about midnight for an attempt at the summit of Illimani (just under 6,500 metres). Altitude gain of about 2,000 metres in less than 24 hours. Something I wasn’t quite sure I was ready for. Apparently there was no water at camp I, and no snow to melt there. José, who had climbed the mountain a number of times, was to stay with Natalia, whilst Caleb, who had not climbed the mountain before, would go up with me. The one good thing was that we had porters to carry our heavier bags so we were able to go with lighter rucksacks with extra layers in case the cold got to us.

Hot drinks at 7am, though we left at 9am. The sun was still behind the mountain so it was still quite cool and a bit breezy. The walk was quite easy at first; steadily increasing in altitude along a reasonably well trodden path, going up around and over lateral moraines, down again into carved out glacial valleys, and back up over the moraine on the other side. We could see small streams with ice on the surface, with water running underneath, and in one of the small sub-valleys, there was a glacial stream running quite strongly – strongly enough that we were able to re-fill our bottles with it. We made such good progress that we completed the apparently five-hour hike in less than three hours, as we passed a small plateau where wind walls had been built from rocks to protect tents which had been encamped there. The tents had gone, and as we though, there was no water or snow to melt. So  passing that, and upwards.

Which was when the hiking turned into effective climbing and scrambling over scree, and steep, loose, rock surfaces. It was a struggle, that was for sure. We had to be very careful with our footing with the scree and the angles of the falls to our side gradually increased meaning that any loss of balance could have led to bad injury or worse. The fact that we had porters was even more gratefully received as had I had to keep my pack on going up those rocks, I would have … let’s say, had difficulties. Then when we got to parts where we had to cross over ice with steep falls to the side, I was even more grateful as I took step, then a breath, and further steps forward. Painfully uncomfortable for me.

It was more or less consistently like this for the entire two hours we took to complete the trek to high camp. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure: as well as the struggle over the scree  and rocks, the altitude certainly took its effect on me as well, and I gradually became slightly more breathless with the steps I took.  It was great to finally get there, above the snow line, on a small platform of ice, looking down over the valley of base camp and with amazing views of the various summits of Illimani. The porters had set the tent up for us which was even better, as I was able to move in and rest almost immediately. It looked like we would be the only ones attempting the summit in the early morning, as the only other climbers there were going back down to base camp.

Caleb later radioed to José to say we were okay. I could hear him outside the tent talking with him, and I heard him say that he didn’t think it was possible for me to speak with Nat. I guess this was because I was in the tent and he was outside. I didn’t say anything at the time, though I was a bit annoyed about that. I later asked if possible to radio back to them though he said that the radio at the bottom would have been switched off for the night. Definitely would have liked to have spoken with her before I went up the mountain, and I went to bed with slightly negative thoughts about the climb.

Andrew Dare on the high seas...
Photography (C) Andrew Dare

Andrew Dare's yacht resting at the Antarctic
(Photography (C) Andrew Dare)

A couple of months or so ago, we received an email from a chap who wanted to talk about the helping us with the “boaty parts” of the journey. And there will be plenty of these parts for us to navigate on the journey, that’s for sure – coming back down to Northern Europe from the North Pole; getting to the Antarctic continent is quite a journey… and the relatively short journey between Indonesia and Australia is actually quite difficult; from what I have seen in research to date is that it is quite hard to find a boat to take you, and people trying this can wait for months.

So we were quite lucky when Andrew Dare (or “The Wandering Bear”) introduced himself to us. He is a yacht skipper who has been sailing for 22 years and over 150,000 nautical miles, including a number of journeys to the Antarctica. He is also a great photographer with excellent albums of his journeys. With his amazing experiences, it was great to be able to speak with him the other day.

We spoke with him about the journey and the general plans and how ideally we would love to sail in to the Antarctic, though the point we would like to arrive at the continent (McMurdo) is frozen up for much of the year – at other times, as Andy said, it would be wise to follow an ice-breaking ship. If we did this, however, we would arrive too late in the year to be able to traverse the continent before winter closes in and would need to settle down for the winter in McMurdo to await the next season… adding further time to the whole project. A possibility…? Maybe. An exciting thought really, though would have to be discussed with the team. All the old explorers before air travel grew would have had to hunker down for the winter…

Other options would be sailing to Antarctica directly south of Africa… The ice here doesn’t remain so long because of the wind blowing it through the channel between the two continents. A longer journey, though also a possibility that can be examined (permits as well would have to be looked into – it won’t be quite as simple as saying… oh look, here’s a nice place, let’s build a hut here…). Or the worst alternative which we may eventually have to face: flying. Definitely something we really want to avoid, and for me personally, I would prefer to spend a few months shacked up in an ice hut for the winter than doing this… But again, we shall have to see exactly.

Our conversation went on for a good couple of hours or so and was very productive. Plenty more information regarding both the Poles and the possibility of working with each other in getting to them, so we will be keeping in touch over the next few months to discuss in further details about everything.

Andy in cold waters...
(Photography (C) Andrew Dare)