Monday, October 11, 2010

Castle Rock Loop Manhaul

September manhaul around Castle Rock Loop, camp overnight at Castle Rock.
Distance: 9.3 miles
Weather: temp average neg 20F, windchill to neg 63F, winds calm to 20-30knots. Condition 2 for return trip.
Equipment: Weight 200-250lbs for 2 haulers. Fiberglass sledge with fabric equipment cover, double-layered scott tent, 2 kiwi sleep kits containing sleeping bag liner, double-layered down sleeping bag, and inflatable insulating sleeping pad, primus stove with compressed liquid fuel, stove kit - 2 mugs, sporks, saucepan, fuel, spill pads, matches, etc., 1.5 gals water (melted snow for refill in the morning), ice axe, shovel, personal kits with spare clothing and pee bottles, etc.
ECW: 5-11 thinsulate boots (and later FDX polar boots when the 5-11s were frozen inthe morning), poly socks, heavy wool socks, 2 sets long underwear- 1 light polypro and 1 heavy, cargo pants, snowpants, sweater, big red down jacket, neck gaiter, face mask, goggles (not needed), hat.
Started from MCM end of Castle Rock trail at 1700. Found hauling harder than anticipated, due to combination of hill and high friction along snow surface. Later we found that even going down on very steep hills friction kept the sledge from building up momentum. Alternated between taking turns hauling and both hauling at once, with both hauling for most of the trip. In The Worst Journey in the World, 1912 Terra Nova Expedition member Apsley Cherry-Gerard describes hauling on winter snow in this area thus:
"In consequence of the lack of high winds the surface of the snow is never swept and hardened and polished as elsewhere: is was now a mass of the smallest and hardest ice crystals, to pull through which in cold temperatures was just like pulling through sand. I have spoken elsewhere of Barrier surfaces, and how, when the cold is very great, sledge runners cannot melt the crystal points but only advance over them by rolling them over and over upon one another. That was the surface we met on this journey, and in soft snow the effect is accentuated..."
Arrive at Castle Rock at 2100 and set up camp. I start to understand a little more about the challenges the old explorers faced. Though we have lighter, simplified gear, it takes up two hours to level out a spot on the slope, wrestle up both layers of frozen synthetic tent material, stake and tie it and clip all the devilish little rock-hard plastic clips, tie down the sledge, unpack the sleeping gear, get out of our ECW, and start up the stove and melt snow for water and cook dinner. We have to pause often to re-warm our hands throughout this process. By 2300 we are bedded down snug in the truly impressive Kiwi sleep bags, and inside the tent is quite a bit warmer than outside. The steam in the tent is so thick I can hardly see my partner. It forms a thin layer of ice on the tent's inner layer, which falls onto us every time the tent is touched. We brush the snow off our gear outside, hang up some of it to thaw out, and stuff the rest down between the sleeping bag layers so it won't freeze solid. I make the mistake of leaving my boots, usually quite cozy, outside the bag. They end up causing me a lot of pain when I stubbornly try to defrost them with body heat when we start out in the morning.
We sleep well during the night and wake to the wind howling. Looking out the door, we can see about 1/4 mile worth of flags along the path. We delay a couple hours, waiting without luck for improving conditions, then strike camp. (this was a good move, as it later deteriorates to Con 1).
Hauling downhill is a bit easier, though it's still work once we get back onto the flat. The weather deteriorates to Con 2, but we are working hard enough to stay warm and comfortable inside our ECW gear. By the time we reach Scott Base we're both pretty knackered, and my legs are starting to cramp, but it's been a great trip.

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