The wind appeared from nowhere
With two really tough days just passed, 5 hours to cover 2km and 15 hours that nearly broke me to make just 10 km, it was little wonder that I was fearful of failure on the night of the 36th expedition day.
It wasn’t that I wanted to quit, but if the next 118 km drew as much blood as the deep snows of the Dome had already, I would make it eventually but I’d be in no fit state to do the 2,400 km required to get home.
The Russian support team had made it plain at the outset that rescue from Dome Argus would be very difficult, expensive and would stretch their SAR network beyond capacity.
With this in mind, I zipped up the sleeping bag, buried my nose and tried to blockout the invading frost. The sled splitting was what was wearing me down physically, besides the fact it was dangerous continually having to be separated from my gear.
Wind. Beautiful Wind. Prayers were going up all over the globe but most of all from a little red tent high up on Dome Argus.
5 am “flit flit”, I rolled over and checked my makeshift windsock. I noticed two things immediately, the end of the windsock was off the ice, (ie wind pressure), that’d never happened since I began to climb the Dome. Second it had come round 20 degrees in my favour, meaning I might make the bearing for Kunlun.
I moved like a mad cat, ate, packed, kite run out, ready.
On ground level there still was insufficient wind power to haul two sleds through deep snow upwind, but on a hunch I reconnected the sleds and launched the kite. It struggled off the ground, then hit fast moving cold air about 50 metres of the ice and I was nearly pulled out of my boots. Solo caravan with 2 happy sleds in tow racing towards Kunlun, easily making the bearing. Viscously cold, as always, but miracle wind that we just haven’t seen carrying me straight up the Dome.
I blessed Celene my Irish wind guru in Southern Ireland, all the prayer warriors back home but most of all I thanked God for this wonder and held my breath hoping it would last to the summit.
56.5 km in the wind died, still 64 km out I tried not to curse too much and set the tent in reality convinced it would come back when the heat of the day passed (-28 C was the high point!) as katabatic air is driven by temperature gradient.
Sure enough by 8 Pm I was rocketing along, covering the final distance in just under 4 hours. Arriving at Kunlun station at 11:45 pm on the 14th of December.
No words can describe the joy I felt as the black dot of Kunlun station appeared out of the fog on the horizon. The last 9 km crawled as the wind threatened to die. Inching, limping in we arrived at the abandoned (just this season) Polar Station and I parked out the front like a boss, set my tent and collapsed.
It’s actually very eerie, all the flags are out from last summer, it’s all tidy and last night I was sure I heard a woman scream, then two bell or gong clangs immediately after. I checked this morning, not a footprint, not a soul. Weird?
Rest and repair day here today, one ear out for the “screamer”. I spoke to my mentor Eric Phillips in Tasmania and he was so excited from an Australian and Global Polar history point of view but advised I get to the ridge behind the station to cross all T’s as it was technically the summit ridge.
I strapped on my skis and travelled just under 9 km to the ridgetop behind the Station, as it is 2 metres higher and technically the highest point of the Dome. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know the exact height (4,100 m or approx 14,000 ft)
Tomorrow the journey home begins…yeeha!