Good progress – by Brian Newham
The weather for the last few days has been the best we have had for many, many months and that has helped us make good progress. The ground penetrating radar has been busy as we check the route ahead and several sections have required a twisting route as we pick our way through crevassed areas. Moving the loads through is a slow process and much of it is done on the winch cable – move the Cat forwards, stop, winch the load forwards, move the Cat forward, and so on. Although slow, it’s effective, and once one load is through we go back for another.
Today the weather hasn’t been quite so good with stronger winds and a lot of drifting snow in the air, so we have missed the wonderful views that we had of the mountains yesterday. Those mountains are definitely getting closer although it is obvious that we are still high on the plateau and the ground drops away from us towards them.
We are now camped, with all our loads, at the base of a small unavoidable hill. Generally, hills suggest bad terrain as the snow/ice will be under tension and that means crevassing. As hills go it’s pretty insignificant but it has long been known to us as “The Hill of Hell” and that tells you all you need to know about it. On our southbound journey it took 3 days to move 500m in this area, but hopefully much of the preparation work that we did then will still be usable. Without doubt this is a key passage for us on our journey north and we will be very glad when it is behind us.
It will be a steady approach and we have a plan of action that will take us 2km up and over the hill. Most of it will be winching, although going down the steepish hill on the far side will require one Cat in front of the load and one Cat behind as a brake. As always it is likely to take eight or more return trips to get everything moved and we will need a transition area on the top of the hill as we switch from uphill to downhill mode. Hopefully we will avoid having to camp on the hill, as we were forced to do southbound, as it’s not very pleasant to have a crevasse literally outside the door – it doesn’t help you sleep well.
This afternoon, having arrived at our new camp, we reconfigured our loads and did a few running repairs – the winch cables in particular are taking a hammering. The winds have risen since we arrived here and at the moment they are a bit too strong to do an effective GPR survey. As always, our moment will come.