The entire team is catching a couple hours of sleep before we make our final push to the pole. I, on the other hand, stupidly volunteered to stay awake so that someone could watch the stove for heat and so someone could wake everyone else up at 4am (it is 3am now).
Our goal is to make it to the pole before 12 noon so we can catch a ride back to Barneo with another team on the helicopter. While it is not a major thing if we miss the ride, as we can camp at the pole until we can arrange another ride, but we have made such good time over the last 150+ miles that it is now a point of pride to have a successful full expedition. Most of the other expeditions that we are aware of had either been delayed due to the weather and bumped via helicopter to the pole or had medical situations that prohibited their completion.
There is a strong possibility that we will have to camp at Barneo until our departure date, but we will cross that bridge when we get to it.
For those that don't know, Barneo is a temporary camp setup by the Russians at the 89 degree mark on the polar ice cap. It is exclusively for supporting North Pole expeditions and it will be torn down the day we leave (it was setup a day before we arrived).
Think of Barneo as a temporary MASH camp. It is far from luxurious but it does have one heated community mess tent. Every night we are required to call Barneo with an update on our position. Our call in time is 9:30. If we miss a call, alarms sound and people will come looking for you. Needless to say, it is important to call Victor every night.
Today was a good respite after the last few days. We were certain that we had at least a week of travel ahead of us when we got stuck in a very active ice field and had to backtrack several times to find a safe way out. I will admit, it was the first time we felt the need to run to safe ice. The open lead we were building a bridge across got very active about 50 yards away and we had to abandon close to an hour of hard work picking our way through. I believe the words spoken were "Run", but don't quote me on that.
Once we finally broke free of the ice field we ran into some flat pan ice, and Maher and CP turned on the after burners. They were machines and were able to crank out close to 30 miles (total) on skis before we stopped for the night. I believe it was CP that said "we have daylight to burn", which is true because it never gets dark here in April.
We debated on charging to the pole tonight since we had sunny but cold weather. But all, including the dogs, were tired and a short rest seemed to be the best idea. Our fear was that when we continue in a few hours, the weather or ice conditions could change. But honestly, we are so close now with close to a week of time yet before Barneo is gone, that we truly have time to burn. It would be nice to finish up early, but not at the expense of safety.
The cold weather with no wind is a huge advantage since the ice does not move around as much and openings in the ice tend to freeze over making them easier to cross with a 600lbs sled. In my opinion it is scary to cross a recently frozen lead regardless of how cold it is.
Speaking of cold, we had a discussion today about how hard it is to explain to anyone about degrees of cold. You can tell someone to turn up the thermostat at home when you are chilly and they basically understand. Living in extreme cold however, as we have, is impossible to explain or put into words effectively. We tried to come up with an understandable concept today but were limited by words that everyone could understand.
Sadly, when in an environment such as this, you find yourself judging cold by moments just past. For example, you will tell someone, "I'm not as cold as this morning" and they will fully understand that you are not saying you are warm, you are just expressing that you don't have every finger and toe tingling as much as this morning. They still tingle, just not as much. When the wind kicks in, you say nothing, you just wait for the moment it is not as cold when the wind blows.
We were laughing about this concept because since Robert was evacuated, we have spent a good deal of time counting our fingers and toes. Not because we thought they would fall off or to pass the time, but because the reality of frostbite really hit home. We counted our fingers and toes because if we could feel them and count them, then we felt safe for the next 10 minutes. Silly I know, but not as bad as the panic we felt when our arms would fall asleep while sleeping.
Well, 4am is here, time to wake everyone up. Going to make the final push.