Brian Newham #1Tales from the Ops Team – by Tris Kaye

Blue ice: mile-long sheets of exposed, frictionless, traction-less icy hell. I hate it. Every time I hear over the sat-phone that the team is approaching another patch of the stuff, my heart sinks and I hate it a little more.

Besides crevasse fields, blue ice is probably the worst sort of terrain to stifle progress. In the persistent winds, cold enough to burn your skin, the snow has been scoured from the landscape to leave these Bristol-sized patches of ice so hard that even my late great-uncle Edward, a hardened Geordie miner, would have had to break a sweat just to make a dimple in the surface. Even the colossal weight of the 25t CATs bearing down on the tempered alloy snow spikes bristling along each set of tracks has little impact and – as you will have seen from one of Ian’s videos – they end up “wheel-spinning” on the ice. I want to say that the sort of blue ice the team have been encountering is as hard as steel, but the studies I’ve found can’t support that – but only just!

Anyway, sitting in the Ops Room we hear the ever-professional voice of Brian describing the approaching fields of ice. We know that our fuel calculations have a contingency, but if progress is too slow for too long, we will begin to eat into our margin for error. Difficult ice and tough terrain means that our boys are having to ferry loads in relays, burning even more precious fuel. It can’t be avoided, but we are waiting for some good news. The latest from Brian is that after a 20km stretch of favourable terrain the team will hit another huge patch of blue ice and the slow and meticulous process of ferrying the loads will take over again; but beyond that the terrain will improve again as the team makes its way further into the heart of the continent and onto the plateau.

With the good weather windows in short supply, please share our hopes that we get a decent break. After the valuable maintenance and servicing carried out over the past couple of days we need to make another good push to get us back on schedule.

Carefully does it.