A month following my last post, and following completion of the trip I now reflect back on the events. We start with the slightly panicked final 24 hours before depature.
Did I pack the extra painkillers? or what about the spare SD card, did I remember to switch to the new 32 gb one? The many uncertainties swirled around my head as I clipped shut my rucksack and zipped up my sled for what I had hoped would be the last time. As meticulous as my kit preparations had been, the last thing I wanted was to be stuck without a small but vital item when I most needed it. So reluctantly I again opened up my sled and began checking everything, for what must have been the third, or fourth, or fifth time…(note to self, take the full day off of work the day before departure next time).
You see as obsessive as my aforementioned packing quandary sounds, the tiny details really do matter when you are heading into a cold environment. Minor oversights can snowball into issues that can at the least provide an unwanted headache, and at the worst the end of an expedition. Let me give you a personal example that unfolded on the trip to illustrate this point. Your sleeping bag is one of your lifelines as you bed down at night. I was lucky enough to be loaned the best bag there is, with an extreme rating of around -50c , no messing around with that one eh! Forced into a strong stuff bag my sleeping bag could be rolled up inside my roll mat (the foam mat that goes directly on the ground) to create a seat when in the tent (getting off of the snow floor means you get into the hotter air in the lofty upper atmosphere of the tent, which can be up to 40c – no joke), or to be stored neatly in the sled for hauling during the day.
So there’s my nice sleeping bag, my warm cuddly friend, all safely housed in it’s protective bag. However, we had failed to check the toggle on this bag before packing, so slowly but surely after a day or so of use it was failing, and the bag would billow out from its protective home. Now, my sleeping bag, my nightly saviour, was touching the snow when sitting on it in the tent (we camped directly onto the snow, no groundsheet), and picking up snow in the sled. Surely things are going to get covered in snow in the arctic I hear you cry, so why worry? Well, when heated in the tent near the stove or by my body heat that snow turns to water and pretty soon you can have a wet, damp and heavy sleeping bag.Day after day the bag will take on moisture, freezing and thawing, giving a miserable nights sleep and not being able to provide adequate protection if the temperature really dropped. What a f****** pain, this small plastic toggle was. When your life revolves around the primeval stressors of food, warmth and water, the small issues appear ever more magnified. A little disenchating if that’s a daily occurrence, and possibly serious if you were on a long haul expedition. So in my infinite wisdom I tried a double safety pin bodge job to try and stop the sleeping bags break for freedom, but alas that led to ripping the outer bag, ruining the pull cord and much swearing from me. Eventually the day was saved by a few hours sewing (Thanks Mike and Phil) and the 2 metres of 4mm spare nylon cord that I had double and triple checked was coming with me. The devil truly is in the detail.
As I packed my kit for what was the last time, and glanced out of the window at the grey morose sheet enveloping the skyline of Cambridge I wondered what would be in store for me. Would I like the realities of a cold environment expedition? was I up to it? would I get on with my new teammates? Undeterred I packed the gear into my trust Honda Civic, and my girlfriend and I began the drive to London Heathrow. The day of reckoning was almost here.