It is finished.
I’d just taken 13 gruelling hours to get through the mountain region below Thorshammer, dropping from 9,000 feet to 4,500 feet over 56km.
I set camp at 6pm. Did the blog, ate, rested my feet and occasionally checked my windsock outside. Northeast, this is what had stopped me in my tracks rather than press on to Novo 103km away. My route was bound by crevassing and the known crevasse free path was to the Northeast. I needed a wind shift.
I called Sarah and while we connected I casually checked my windsock once more. 8pm and there had been another miracle. Southeast. My body screamed "no" but my mind sensed an urgency for me to go immediately. Sarah agreed saying my catlike 6th sense for these things was generally right.
By 10pm I was moving, big kite, slowly bearing me northeast on a hard upwind tack with two heavy sleds and now some deep snow. It was left foot dominant for 35km. The foot was excruciatingly painful but I had to tack upwind and there was no easy way to do it. My map review in the tent had showed a three leg course to Novo. Simply a 35km upwind NE beat, then 45km dream run due north, then just under 30km final killer upwind beat NE to the base.
The wind remained light for the entire first upwind leg, despite Slava from Novo Runway (who I’d called on the Sat phone to let know I was moving and get their local condition report) saying they had strong wind on the runway.
The dream northerly run was such a relief but the entire time I was mentally shying away from the last upwind beat. I realised that if I turned for Novo at 30km rather than 40km it would be a better angle and therefore less pressure on my outside (left) foot. I wasn’t sure my foot could handle the angle or further damage in any case. The only issue was the route would not be crevasse tested. I elected to trust my route finding abilities and turned for Novo early. It was a terrific angle as it turned out, upwind enough for the kite to speed up (apparent wind for the sailors) but not a leg jamming debacle that I couldn’t handle with the injured left foot.
The wind grew in intensity and at times I felt out of control, ripping along too fast especially when I had to scout for crevasses, cliffs, and drop offs at the same time. However it was now 2:30am and Slava had warned me “Fastman, get here before 4am as wind gets very strong from wrong direction”. So I was pushing for time and it forced me to run the big kite for too long. I came over a ridge to the right of some horrible bent and crevassed ice and got hit by a terrific gust of cold wind. The kite “lofted” or took off vertically, snapping the sled trace attachment to my harness and as soon as I landed from outer space I hit my safety. I collected myself quickly as I knew I still had 30km to go, with just over an hour till the predicted wind shift.
I raced to get the 11 metre out and exactly the same cycle occurred. Stronger and stronger wind as we got closer to Novo. We were screaming along weaving between ice falls, blue ice, nunataks and hills, at one point on a long descent the sleds and I clocked 48.7 km/hr, I was simply hanging on for grim death. Topping another rise, the wind was so strong that the air was just full of spindrift and screaming! I looked at my Gps, 3:30 am with 14 km to go. Novo was obscured by a large hill or small mountain but I knew I was close, I elected to try and hold the 11m and just get there. I was Inching through this wild wind band then bang, the same sequence again. Whip, bang, safety pulled, another kite mess ball of string.
Stuffing the kite into the sled, I grabbed the 6 m storm kite, this was the best decision of the night. The last 14km of the trip were hairy. As soon as I passed the small mountain I could see the dots of Novo some 500 feet lower in altitude below me. The waves of relief were hard to describe, emotionally and physically I was done in after pushing for 24 hours straight now to cover the final 153km from Thorshammer to Novo. I could see no more obstacles bar the mad wind, 30 knots and rising. Even the six was totally over powered and when we hit the blue ice runway it was almost impossible to steer there was no grip for the skis. I managed the mad descent, then kited straight into the heart of the asleep base and dropped the kite, 4:10 am.
I was thrilled to be alive, overjoyed to be done and waves of relief washed over me as I stood almost stunned in a colourful isolated Russian outpost, the wind screaming through it.
The final mileage was 5,306 km. This sets a new Solo Unsupported Polar record. The expedition also completed the first and only summit of Dome Argus by ski, and placed the first Aussie at the Pole Of Inaccessibility by ski.
All this rattled about my head, I stood in the rising blizzard called home to speak to family so elated to be unharmed and complete. The sound of their voices brought me to tears.
As I collapsed in cabin D on a bed beautifully made for me, I realised our real achievement has been in showing what a family can achieve when they dream big, plan well, back each other wholeheartedly, never take “No” for an answer and love with an openness and passion that refuses to ever give up.
The faith, the prayers, the thoughts have been answered and I’ll never forget everyone’s support, humbly, thank you all.
POSTNOTE The Russians have been incredibly praising and supportive of the expedition, have fed me, watered me, allowed me a hot shower and spoilt me with a traditional Russian Banya (sauna). A huge storm has locked the base down, a cyclone coming off the sea to the east. My tent was not in good shape by the end of the expedition, I’m not certain it wouldn’t have failed under the sort of winds that are hitting us now (well over 100 km/hr). Sitting in my little cabin, it’s walls shaking last night, I was overjoyed not to be fighting for my life somewhere on the plateau.