Distance – 54km
Total distance – 201km
Again the forecast was for good weather. Gale-force winds are a regular occurrence around Schirmacher Oasis/Novo so we were lucky to have the forces of nature on our side.
As I was planning to do a longer day today to reach the finish, I decided to break my day into 12km stints to mentally cover the distance. The first 24km was a continuation of the previous day – soft, heavy-going but slightly better because of the weather. As I gradually descended, the surface became a little firmer, and my progress faster, though hitting the bumps harder.
Nearer to Novo Runway, the landscape flattened out and I started hitting large patches of ice. These ice fields have an irregularly dimpled surface, often sculptured into waves and points. I was again very nervous but tried to relax my shoulders as much as possible so not to over-react if a wheel slipped. I didn’t measure exactly how much ice I had to traverse but estimate it was probably around 7-8km. It felt like an eternity!
I fought to keep full concentration, gently pedalling from snow patch to snow patch (which is easier to grip). Novo Runway is maintained by the Russian base Novolazarevskaya, also situated on Schirmacher Oasis. We were not permitted to cross the runway and so my nervous adventure across the ice was extended to going around the airstrip.
From there we picked up an ice road that descended almost 500m to Schirmacher Oasis. I again had to hold my nerve on the first part of the descent as the track was almost pure ice apart from tiny strips of snow, which I clung to. I could only brake gently on the snowy patches to control the speed. After that, White Desert had made a beautifully groomed piste down a spectacular descent, leading all the way to Whichaway Camp and the finish. The final 250m was treacherous and I slipped one more time on the ice before walking the bike into camp.
The group of White Desert employees and three Indian Antarctic expeditioners who ventured across from Maitri, the Indian base also on the Oasis, were waiting, and greeted me with applause and hand shakes – and champagne! I was made feel really welcome and we celebrated together.
This may have only been a short expedition, but still a really great adventure. I had to push my boundaries and dig extremely deep as the conditions and terrain presented all sorts of challenges. It may have been extremely physical, but more so, it was the power of the mind that carried me to the finish.
Around Whichaway Camp were some incredible sights.
Whichaway Camp was about to close the next day and the team was packed up and ready to leave.
The camp is a collection of dome shaped fibreglass pods; weatherproof on the outside and fitted out in luxury on the inside. Like with all three White Desert camps, there is a leave nothing behind policy. Everything can be dismantled and removed so the environment is left in its natural state. All human waste (toilet systems, grey water, etc is removed).
It is an impressive operation and my mind boggles at the sheer lengths they go to to uphold its sustainable practices. The concept and the logistics that make White Desert operational come from the vision of true explorers – dreaming big and making it happen.
I had most of the next day at Whichaway to explore a little and relax before travelling with the last group of employees back to Wolf’s Fang courtesy of a brilliant flight in a Basler, bike, equipment, left over supplies and people all fitting neatly into the ski plane.
Back at Wolf’s Fang, the WD team worked tirelessly to pack everything up for the winter.
A big thank you to White Desert, particularly Luke and my very accomplished support team, Oleg and Sergei. I was in very experienced hands.
Of course, another big thank you to my sponsors whose logos are visible in the Blog emails.