BELARE 2006/2007 - A 3 days expedition to the NIPR depot (part 1)

The traverse arrived in the evening bringing the desperately awaited containers with the wind turbine tower and sails. As it has already been reported, the wind turbine is up now and functioning, although the electrical circuitry has still to be completed, and has already fallen once on Bernard's foot. Vincent has promised our first cup of tea on clean energy today. We are eager for this, as the realities of operating in this environment without this source of enegy is that survival depends on fuel, fuel and fuel: diesel, avgas, benzine, petrol, white gas, LPG whatever you call it.

The last three days have meant another field expedition for those of our party who are no longer actively helping to erect the wind power. Alain, the two army mechanics (Philippe and Frank), Benjamin the television cameraman, and I, took two Prinoths and two Lehmann sledges on the road to Seal Nunatak, the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) depot. The going after we crossed Thor's Hammerhallet (the flat plain to the North of Utsteinen) quickly degenerated. The satrugis quickly took on a height and hardness which had us rocking up and down like as if we were on the sea. Which in a way, I suppose we are, a giant ice ocean on which we progress so slowly that it is like an eternity to do the 60 odd kilometres to our destination.

Secretly longing for it, I was thrilled and I admit a little scared when Alain showed me how to operate the Prinoth and let me drive half way to the NIPR Depot at Seal Rock. Finally, I could sit at the wheel of this behemoth, beaming widely like some half wit at being able to command so much power, in my Recaro seat (who but an Italian manufacturer would think to put sports car seating into a tractor), with about eighty buttons to push and fidget with. Now, if the need ever arises to help out a chum with a bit of trimming of the old ski piste, I can always modestly offer my services.

It was touching to see the excitement of the mechanics when we arrived at Seal. They were immediately all over the place calling out excitedly to one another at new bits of treasure. It took them next to no time to fire up the excavator and the back-hoe, build a snow ramp toward the sledge and load the first machine. Benjamin, the TV person, had them undo it because he hadn't caught it the first time. They were too quick, I guess.

In the meantime, Alain and I unearthed the Gomaru field expedition vehicle used by the NIPR. We figured that if we could clean out the snow which had infiltrated it that we could proably sleep in it at night, instead of going through the whomle tent erecting process. With the Prinoth under full couple, the vehicle broke out of its snowy bed and was carried to a relatively flat piece of land. Being the smallest, I clambered in and crawled to the end of the vehicle over the heaped generators and other equipment, and dug free the clasp and opened the door before swinging myself out over the pile of snow. The Gomaru had been breached.

Seal nunatak, may I remind you, is chosen as the NIPR depot as it is extremely, ferociously windy, which keeps the snow moving. As a consequence, it is damn cold. Once we had dug out the ice and snow from the vehicle we fired up a generator to try to heat the thing and to melt the ice which remained coating the bunk beds. It was a case of choosing death by hypothermia or asphyxiation.

Finally, we decided to give up on the heating, and cooked dinner on the two MSR stoves. The five of us squeezed into the Gomaru and had some hot soup and pasta before calling it a day. The night promised to be long, as the wind sqealed and whistled through the cracks in the sealing rubber, eaten through by the cold. It was so cold that I had to crawl to the far end of my sleeping bag to get away from the insistent cold currents pouring in around my head. Alain of course slept unconcernedly as soon as he got into his bunk. Frank and Phil took the Prinoth survival cabin to sleep in, as it has become their home away from home. I quickly commandeered the aluminium foil, I found in the vehicle, to insulate my sleeping bag from the ice. Was it effective? I can't say without having tried without.