Ant and Louis are regularly contacting the team back at home via satellite phone. This blog was sent back to England, 20 words at a time by Ant. You can’t question their dedication!
We have continued to inch our way painstakingly towards the Isurtuq River, constantly battling our way through avalanche prone channelled valleys and gully’s waist to chest high in creamy soft snow. At times we have had to take it in turn to break trail and then pull our pulks together 100m at a time.
It is no way to cover 600k in 35 days. Our route to the Isurtuq has focused on a long linear unnamed river valley that we have dubbed Larry.
“It’ll be all good once we’re at Larry, he’ll take care of us.”
There are a few issues with Larry, we should tell you about, however.
Most importantly Larry is a prick (but more on that later.)
Larry is a steep, cliffed, deep gorge that offers no protection of a shoreline either side. Larry can be seen quite easily on satellite imagery as a long straight scar on the land that heads directly to the Isurtuq, no bending or messing around. Which meant once we were at Larry we were locked in until the Isurtuq, no escaping onto a shore or any other such luxury.
We reached Larry midday on day 9, already at least 3 days behind our anticipated schedule. All hopes of Larry being a welcoming host providing us with a quick, direct route to our goal were soon dispelled when we were faced with the steepest ground we had encountered so far. Our worst leg up Larry was counted at about 400m in 50 minutes. All whilst becoming more and more fatigued as the ever-softening snow leeched us of all our strength and energy.
Eventually, we reached a levelling out of sorts where blue ice was present in place of snow, ideal for us to skate on like Torvil and Deene and be home for medals and cake in a couple of weeks.
I did mention how unnaturally warm the past few days have been didn’t I?
Yep, soon after we hit the ice, we began to break through the overflow sections. Water and ice freezing to our skis, pulks, boots, asscracks etc. At this point we forced our hand to stop and give switching to skiing at night a go to try and be hitting the snow and ice at a point when it would be its hardest.
Just to compound our difficulties even further, a fresh avalanche barred our way from continuing any further up Larry that evening, so we were forced to turn back and try and pick up the Isurtuq further south. During the day we sat in the tent and discussed the actual reality we had of now ever seeing the Penny icecap given the multitude of delays we were facing on a near daily basis. As it stands, we have enough supplies to reach the ice cap and make one mad dash over the top should we hit optimal conditions and distances each day.
However, that’s when Larry showed why he’s never invited to any of the family BBQs.
It was midnight in the Arctic at about -28 degrees after a day of unnatural spring, and rushing water filled our souls with the incoming dread of what was to come. Dragging our pulks as fast as we could through the second overflow, our skis dipping to about 10cm beneath the surface, not too much to worry about.
Then we heard the stomach-churning sound of cracking.
With us 5k away from safety, Larry decided to start breaking up. It started with a soft cracking of the layers of ice, putting us up to our stomachs in freezing cold water. With nothing but cliffs for 5k we were forced to wade our way downstream until we managed to get onto some harder ice. At the coldest point of the night, soaked to the skin, skis and pulks both freezing solid to the ground we were stood on, we couldn’t (as much as we wanted to) just stand still and wallow in the misery consuming us. Hot water out of our Thermos flasks freed us from our ice prison and we set to work chipping all the ice from our skis, boots and the bottoms of our pulks that were now solidly stuck and encrusted in ice.
After what seemed hours of near hypothermic ice cleaning, we set back off and now the low temps had provided the snow with the course conditions I had mentioned in our last blog. Frozen boots and trousers limited our movement, so we resembled something of two geriatric pigeons as we desperately hobbled our way away from Larry’s despicable hospitality.
At 4 am, cold to the soul we decided to call it a night
It took hours for us to reheat and we have decided the admin of doing a night shift simply is not worth it. Soft snow is replaced by coarse snow, every condition is challenging especially given the terrain we have opted to try and navigate. Our hopes to reach the Penny Ice Cap have all but been dashed by Larry’s shenanigans, and what has started as an expedition is slowly beginning to turn into a survival situation.
We still have a good deal of supplies and options open to us but trying to navigate further up an unexplored river on hope alone seems at best a fool’s errand. We’re both pretty unanimous on the decision that we don’t want to die for the sake of someone naming their scotch or wool wear brand after us in hundred years’ time. Fuck that.
As we sit in our tent and thaw our boots over our stove, inspecting the various patches of frostbite that speckle our cadavers we ask you one request. If you are enjoying reading ( if you enjoy reading this you need to seek professional help immediately) and following our story we’d ask you to donate to the Royal Marines Charity by clicking the button below and ‘Chucking us a Fiver’.
All funds go to mental health initiatives provided by the charity.