Tuesday, 19 May 2009

MURRAY: DAY 25, 17th MAY - Mission Accomplished!

“6km, easy, a couple of hours”, we thought to ourselves as we settled in to the last night situated in a sea of beautiful but daunting blue boulders. I mention to Niall that after traveling so hard for so long to make it back in time for his friends wedding, and now so close, that we could have a cheeky and well deserved lie in. But as I half expected (and anybody that knows Niall, being so focused and wise) met the reply “nah, don’t be silly I won’t be able to sleep, we should get up earlier and get the job done”. I didn’t take this notion well and to illustrate this I woke up at 5am and fetched the rifle and a well crafted snowball, which proved an extremely effective alarm clock. Bang! As a shot thundered into the air “wakey wakey rise and shine, it’s hauling time”. Smack! As the snowball creams him in the face. All sounds a little harsh but it was all done in the highest of spirits.
So we were now both wide awake at silly o’clock, might as well take the last few lazy steps to where we could call for a pickup which, being a Sunday, was unlikely to come till the next day. The ice had hardened with the cooler evening temperatures, and the with it the chance of me falling into very very deep snow covered hole were minimized. But unfortunately it still looked and felt as though someone had taken a sledge hammer to my feet. Every step was agonizing, “but only a couple of hours”, I cheerfully thought to myself!
Within 10 minutes we had already hauled our pulks over many ice boulders and up to a ridge. WOW! The sea of ice no longer stretched as far as the eye could see. Nope, it met land. A dusty gravelly landscape in the far distance, that was it. The end looked so easy. Spirits soaring and many a cheer and high five later we discovered a couple of steep slopes that we could sit on our pulks and slide down. This day was getting better and better. The next thing that stopped us in our tracks was a man made feature - skidoo tracks (a form of snow quad bike) and they appeared to be going where we had to go.
3km in and the ice boulders became the size of houses. The skidoo in out and over what can only be described as ice valley boulders until we were stopped yet again in our tracks. Altitude 700meters and the ice was melting, and fast, and the tracks were now covered in feet of water. Wading was no option - the kit and us would get wet as proved when one of my pulks accidentally slid into one of these pools and sank. We detached from our pulks and crawled on all 4’s up a house sized boulder on our left to find that there was no feasible way round and that the only option was to individually, one by one, lift and slide each pulk up the side and over the very steep sheer ice valley, made even trickier now that the soles of our shoes had become separated from our boots. Niall controlled the front and I controlled the back. One slip or mistake would see us and the pulks slide 20ft into the icy cold water.
Nearly 5 hours passed. We were 3 x slower then what it would usually take to cover that distance but inch by inch we edged and limped our way down and off the spectacular icy feature. “We’re off!!!”, indicated by Niall as he bent down and tenderly patted the first rock he found. “What’s that? Dude, people.’’ 3 figures appeared on the hillside. I jokingly shouted to Niall that maybe we could hitch a lift with them. The figures proceeded to scramble down the hill and greeted us. Hans Christian, a Danish carpenter, and his 2 colleagues had coincidentally come to see the ice. They couldn’t believe there eyes to see 2 tiny red, heavily bearded and burdened specks weave their way towards them. They had extremely kindly hung around to see if we needed a lift. Result! Call it fate or call it being jammy, either way A JOB WELL DONE.
During the drive back I saw some of the most beautiful countryside in all my life. Wild deer roaming free, stunning ice formations and a car stuck in ice blocking the road. The gathering crowd took great pleasure at mine and Niall’s appearances, especially our hobbling walk. Needless to say, yet another hurdle jumped. We’re now based in the very small town of Kangerlussuaq, population 700, but being on an ex-American air base there’s a bowling alley and a small shed here we consumed two long dreamt of family sized pizzas. Taking a shower and putting on clean clothes resulted in a shock as we realised how much weight we have lost. Although eating really well I’m going to say that I’ve lost over a stone and a half and Niall equally as much. Our heads with big hair and beards look ridiculous compared to our bodies. We fly back soon and have hundreds of photos of heads and beards for you guys so the shows not over yet. Just like to say thank you again for all of the support and I couldn’t have done it without you. And our position is nice warm bed stuffing mouths with Twix and Mars.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

NIALL: DAY 24, 16th MAY

The end is nigh, or so the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been telling us for some time, with no basis in reality whatsoever. But in this instance the end of our expedition is nigh for we are a mere 6.5km from the finish. We are camped in the most remarkable place, a huge boulder field of blue ice - the world’s largest crystal maze that we have been negotiating since before 2 o’clock this afternoon. We set off at 8am this morning with high hopes of finishing the day at Point 660. We made good time for the first 4hrs travelling over familiar terrain and then came the first blue ice groves that multiplied and multiplied and soon they were everywhere. Towers of rock hard ice as big as a bus barred our passage as we zigzagged through the labyrinth. Crevasses litter the area. I went thigh deep into one, which upon extrication and subsequent analysis appeared to be bottomless. For hours we dodged crevasses, pulling over increasingly disturbed terrain. Every few minutes being knocked over as our pulks crashed into our heels from behind.
The majority of this trip has been purely physical - put one leg in front of the other as many times as you can in a day and you will go far. Now, in it’s final stages, the trip is strangely cranial, each of us scanning the horizon for the best route through the minefield. And so, at a little before 8pm this evening, we chose a suitable campsite free of crevasses and pitched our tent one final time. Our position is 67 08.046’N, 49 53.519’W we are at 701m altitude, leaving us 41m to drop to Point 660, our finishing point, which we aim to reach by midday tomorrow. This trip has had a bit of everything - breakages, blisters, sunburn, snowblindness, frostbite (just a little bit, not to panic anyone at home), falling into crevasses and now at the very end this wonderful natural spectacle is providing one final obstacle. As Muzz and I sit here puffing on his Grandfathers pipe we are both filled with a great sense of satisfaction at what we’ve achieved these past 23 days. And it is with great pleasure that I can say tomorrow, day 24, we will take one final pained step and step off the ice and back onto land once more. Until next time my friends, adieu.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

MURRAY, DAY 23, 15th MAY

Excruciating! This is a word that I very, very, very rarely use but today is the day that I will officially use it. Needless to say that it’s not in the context of ‘I’ve had an excruciatingly nice day’, on the contrary, I have had the most excruciatingly painful day of my life. We all know that I’ve had an assortment of feet related issues over the course of the expedition - blisters, bruising, etc. All were a manageable amount of pain. However since my last binding disintegrated yesterday I’ve been left skiless and have had to start walking the last 70km. This morning I discovered that my feet wouldn’t go into my boots. Usually I put this down to frozen boots but after thawing them over the stove still no luck. I examined my feet and discovered that my heels had doubled in size, however we still need to get out of here so with an agonizing squeeze I got the boots on. “Hardest part done”, I thought to myself. But no, with every step came the sharpest of pains, as if I’d stepped on a knife. This is supposed to be the easiest and most enjoyable part of the expedition - blue skies, hard snow, downhill and light sleds. And the prospect of finishing and a hot shower and clean dry bed, I kept thinking to myself as the crusty ice collapsed under my weight, sending me off balance and making me shout obscenities to the high heavens. Today turned out to be a mixture of two ‘Last Man Standing’ episodes. Running in Siberia and climbing a mountain with a 25kg rock in Nepal. Only the snow gives way here and the rocks are twice the size. Even so we still bashed out 31.4km, leaving us at a position of 67 07.403’N, 49 15.450’W, altitude 1102m. Resting our feet, as Niall has equally bad problems with his feet, we’ve come to the conclusion that we’re going to run the gauntlet tomorrow and try and complete the 35km to the finish. We’re pencilled in to fly back to the UK on Wednesday so be prepared to crack out the finest Jaffa cakes in celebration because the boys will be back in town.

Friday, 15 May 2009

NIALL: DAY 22, 14th MAY

DON'T FORGET TO MAKE A DONATION TO HELP FOR HEROES AT www.justgiving.com/epicgreenland

Be sure to learn your left from your right for an error in this most simple of tasks may one day prove fatal. So it was this morning for one unfortunate little bird. Wheatears are a common migratory bird who over winter in North Africa and spend their summers frolicking in northern Europe. They fly over the Sahara to Morocco and then over the straights of Gibraltar and onto mainland Spain. Once there they turn right and head for Europe. Unfortunately for Willy the Wheatear he turned left. He must have thought it odd, heading back out to sea again rather than gliding over the plains of Spain. But, ever confident in his sense of direction, he ventured onwards, 4000 miles over the North Atlantic to Greenland. He finally spotted somewhere to shelter, our tent as it happens, and settled down for the night. Unfortunately for Willy, wheatears aren’t adapted to -25C and he never woke up. But one person’s loss is another person’s gain and wheatear shish kebab made a fine change from the normal dehydrated rubbish.
Muzz and I flew out of the blocks today, taking advantage of perfect hauling conditions, nothing up 18.1km on the first two shifts. I tore away on the 3rd shift and really got into the zone. So much so that I only turned around to check Muzz was upright after 25mins, rather than 5 or 10 or so as usual. Unfortunately Muzz wasn’t very close. In fact he was over 2km away, walking in the opposite direction. I unhooked from my pulks and skied back to see what was up. “I’ve lost those RAB mittens,” said Murray, very forlorn and rather upset as they retail for about £200, “unless they’re in my bag.” “Muzz, if they’re in your bag I’m going to punch you in the jaw,” I said, as we’d used up two hours of searching. And guess what, they were in his bag. Poor Muzz looked so relieved that I spared him the concussion and we motored on. I stopped after another 9km shift to wait for Muzz to join me. As he arrived 25mins later he looked at me and said “uh oh”. And I was like, “oh no, what have you done this time, what have you lost, what have you broken.” But his beautifully working ski bindings had sheared in two. So we pulled for two hours with Muzz walking and me hauling 3 pulks. Tomorrow we’re going to screw his boot into the ski and continue on our way. We saw a remarkable thing today – distinctly coastal clouds. We are camped at 67 05.393’N, 48 32.398’W, altitude 1418m, a mere 65km from Point 660 – our official finish line. And we can see the clouds hovering where the sea must meet the land. Tomorrow we will keep our eyes peeled for anything that isn’t white, it may just be the sea. We hauled into a beautiful evening light today, the sun casting shadows over the ice. Murray commented how it made the ice look just like cooled down lava. “Nah mate, looks much more like granite to me”.
Right, I’m just going to go and pick some bits out of my teeth using Willy’s claw and put my head down for the night. Next time I write, well who knows where we’ll be.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

MURRAY: DAY 21, 13th MAY

DON'T FORGET TO MAKE A DONATION OUR CHOSEN CHARITY FOR EPIC GREENLAND, HELP FOR HEROES, AT www.justgiving.com/epicgreenland

Don’t think about time, don’t think about exhaustion, don’t think about pain. Bob’s Big Boy Burger, a sizeable mouth watering feast, only available at the one and only Kendricks restaurant in Dartmouth. I spent most of the day thinking about this almighty culinary experience - the hustle and bustle of the chaotic restaurant, the anticipation after ordering, the exciting first glimpses as the waiter brings it over, and then the blissful first bite. Hot digidy, that’s one tasty burger! Yes, the power of daydreaming is extraordinary but I sense all is about to become a reality as we now officially have under 100km to the finish. Our position is 67 01.222’N, 47 47.554’W, altitude 1606m.
I’m sure everyone at home (including myself) thought “oh, they’ve made it to the summit it should be easy, a case of sit on the sledge and slide all the way down hill and straight into the bar”. We couldn’t be more wrong. Since the summit we’ve had the coldest weather yet, below -30C, and as today proved we still have to fight for every inch. The day kicked off with some fresh snow and a whiteout. With lots of drag on the pulks and no horizon it gave the illusion that we were heading steeply uphill. We also weaved wildly the conditions made us take a bit of a zig zag route when it came to navigation. My heels had taken a literal beating on the previous day’s hard ice and had swollen and bruised and by early afternoon had become uncomfortable. So a combo of walking for 1hr, which is a tad more comfortable, and then skiing for 1hr was introduced. Our powers of British grit and determination and thoughts of the Bob’s Big Boy burger saw us complete our 30km quota.

A quick message from Niall to his girlfriend:
Congratulations Rachel on winning your canoe race, most impressive darling especially as you haven’t trained in two years.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

NIALL: DAY 20, 12th MAY

DON'T FORGET TO MAKE A DONATION OUR CHOSEN CHARITY FOR EPIC GREENLAND, HELP FOR HEROES, AT www.justgiving.com/epicgreenland

When the end is in sight just make sure you get there. It is true that most expeditions fail in the closing stages and it was just that stage in my Atlantic crossing, with 4-5 days to go, that we were blighted by the weather and forced onto the sea anchor for 75hrs. That is absolutely why Muzz and I need to concentrate fully and not let our guard down. In that way we will ensure that we will have more days like the one we've just had. We set off today at 2093m and descended to 1811m, speeding downhill at an average of well over 4km per hour and notching up 38.3km for the day. The pulks skated over the ice like Torville and Dean and Murray's polar elephants were nowhere to be seen. Tonight's camp at 66 57.449'N, 47 07.183'W sees us 139km from the finish, but we're well aware how cautiously we must proceed from here as both bodies and equipment can still fail.
Two days ago the pump on our stove gave out so we retrieved our spare and low and behold have halved the time it takes us to boil a full pot (which I'm delighted about as it gives me 30mins more sleep in the morning). I made a minor adjustment to my harness recently too. We were advised to wear our hauling harnesses like a belt. But much to Rachels disgust I wear my belts rather like Simon Cowell, up around my belly. Muzz suggested lowering it somewhat to reduce leverage from the pulks and it works a treat. I now look more like 50 Cent than Simon Cowell. Let's see if I return to my old ways upon my return to the UK.
I spent rather a long time today recalling a conversation I had with a drunken Eskimo in the bar in Tasiilaq. He sat next to me at the bar and gazed deeply into my eyes before saying "I can't". Now what he probably meant was "I cant focus on you" but I took it as more of a sentimental reflection on his life and proceeded to tell him about the little train that could, who plucks up the spirit to say "I know I can" when straining greatly to climb up a steep hill. I said all of this, gazing back into the crossed eyes before me, and then paused for a reaction, which was the very same, "I can't". This time he probably meant "I can't understand a word you're saying" or "I can't believe you're speaking philosophically about a childrens story". And indeed it is strange that at 27, and the veteran of several ultra endurance expeditions, I'm drawing strength from the little train who could, but I am. We can succeed on this expedition, I know we can.
As odd as it is for a human to have no horizon, as we have experienced in whiteouts here when your entire world revolves around the front of your skis, it is also rather bizarre, and rather wonderful, to have a 360 degree horizon. Not one blemish for as far as the eye can see, which at sea is approximately 3nm either side of you, so I must assume it's something similar here. At 5pm today our horizon suddenly dipped as the icecap turns towards the coast.
But it's getting late and I've got to read a few pages of Noddy and Big Ears to Muzz before beddy byes. Nighty night all.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Murray: Day 19, 11th of May

18 days of walking, 18 days of freeze dried food, 18 days of varied
weather conditions , 18 days of sleeping in a tent, 18 days of numb
extremities, 18 days of navigating, 18 days of back aches, 18 days of
being woken up by splash of condensation in face, 18 days of having to
get up get to your destination, 18 days of not washing,, 18 days of
the most exposed toilet in planet.
By our calculations there's only another 6 or 7 days to go - so close
to pizza and sausages! An absolute beast of a day today- blue sky,
hard ground, and 32.6km covered. Our ski bindings held together with
bungee cord and luggage straps have held up. Niall has just mentioned
that we are now officially in arctic circle - and the temperature
reflects it our monitor only goes down to -25, and it spends over 5
hours a night below that, rising only to -16C even in the middle of
the day on the sunniest of days. We've been informed on the sat phone
that if the wind picks up we could be in for a wind chill of up to
-70! A big howdy-doody to all those of you following us - keep the
texts and questions coming. We hope the line on google earth is as
close to the west coast as we think it is. Our position is N66
52.295, W46 16.315