PC2 to the middle of the glacier
Team Four Continents were finally gaining some headway! From dead last at the beginning of the race (after the flat tire) we moved to 8th place. We had an enormous ice field to cross and a gigantic will to do so. Stjepan Pavicic, race director, was at PC2. He gave us a huge smile, laughed with us at our 57 seconds closed call at PC1 and gave us the good-to-go authorization if we happen to miss the PC3 cut off at 11 pm. I put on my ToeSox liners, waterproof socks and crampons. Sam and Tom also crampon-up. Taz felt there was no need to do so. After all to make it to PC2 we walked on the glacier crampon-less for a while. We said our goodbyes and headed onto the ice.
Soon we were jumping and skipping crevices. Taz decided to crampon-up while we waited on ice. What was supposed to be 10 km of glacier walk turned to be about 20 km. Walking on a glacier, filled with crevasses, is the equivalent of walking on a huge and cold labyrinth. We walked back and forth for hours making slow progress.
It was my very first time walking on ice, using crampons, and even seeing a crevasse! My first jumps were unimpressive. Tom and Sam had to help me cross and gave me a crash course on crampon use. I was so grateful to have the easy to use Kahtoola Crampons and my super light Leki poles! After a few steps I forgot I even had them on. Little by little I gained confidence and started to make some progress. By the end of the glacier crossing I felt pretty confident. After all I had about 20 km of experience!
The Tyndall Glacier is part of the Campo de Hielo Sur (Southern Ice Fields). The section we were on has big crevasse fields on either side with a river running down the middle flanked by flatter ice. Needless to say that was the easier terrain to travel. But we didn’t know that! We only realized that after experiencing it during the race and after seeing our track on the DeLorme inReach site with their excellent detailed aerial imagery. Had we seen this before hand the story to follow would have been very different. After about 2.5 hrs of crevasse dodging and jumping we found the flat grounds. But we didn’t know we should have follow it until we were almost parallel to PC3 and then move parallel to the crevasses off of the glacier. Instead we keep trying to go more directly towards the checkpoint at an angle; finding in this way even bigger crevasses and iceberg-like formations.
Nighttime came and with it a huge storm. Darkness made navigating even more challenging and the rain and the wind made it colder and scarier to walk around or jump the huge crevasses. By then we had joined in with one of the Chilean Teams: Kaweskar. The other Chilean Team: Yagan, was also on the ice, but took a route that brought them to the edge of the ice early on.
Team Kaweskar and us happen to come together in the ice and started heading in the same direction. Soon we were blocked from forward travel. We came to an area of huge ice formations, too tall and steep to climb or to jump around. After a number of futile attempts to find a path through the crevasse maze team Kaweskar decided to make camp on the ice. They had ice screws and a tent that would withstand winds. Our tent in the other hand would require 6 ice screws (that we didn’t have) and would not withstand the winds. We had a decision to make: continue on our own or stay with the Chilean team.
If we continued without finding a way off the ice, it meant not having a tent to pass the night. We were already in survival mode. It also meant ‘leaving them behind’ and even thought this was a race, human nature always points us to stay together in dangerous situations. So we did.
After searching for a while we found a place that was sheltered from the wind, somewhat level, and not completely flooded (we were in a world of melting ice in a rainstorm after all). A few feet from where we planned to set the tent there was a hole where melt water disappeared into the glacier. We made an attempt at leveling and trenching a platform by scraping off the ice with our Kahtoola Crampons and set up and anchored the tent. We used the Jet Boil to heat water for some very appreciated dehydrated AlpineAire meals and all eight of us – got into a 4 person tent, ate some food, shared some stories, and tried to sleep. It was very cramped to say the least. To fit 8 people in a 4 person tent meant trying to sleep sitting up or lying knees bent on top of another person. We did both.
Sleeping with your body all tight-up after cycling 108 kms, trekking 21 plus kms and walking on a glacier for at least 20 kms was not really pleasant. During the night you could hear random wines, cries and complaints whenever someone tried to move or stretch.
Morning came and both teams continue walking towards PC3. All of us wanted to continue the race. After several attempts in the direction of PC3, we back tracked to the smoother ice and headed down the glacier. Wind gusts were still about 85 km/h, but there was light and the rain had subsided. We were moving fast.
In the direction to PC3 we saw a person. Yes! We are in the right place! Then another, and another, and another. The other Chilean team and a group of photographers and race personnel were heading back to PC1. PC3 was closed. The race was over for all of us.