We have been waylaid by a hurricane-strength Arctic storm the past 3 days. Passed in a mixture of treacherous conditions, we have avoided outside contact out of a combination of fear of worrying others and of jinxing our safety. Now that the worst may be through, here is the story of our terrifying weekend.
On Saturday the 8th, we awoke and found open water ahead, which we used to turn past Cape Baird. Finding our way blocked by ice at the Pavy river, we turned back and beached our kayaks on the North of its great desolate and windswept alluvial fan, where we prepared grilled cheeses and lolled around in calm 50 degree temperatures. We all reacted with confusion when an alternating warm and cold southerly wind blew our loose bags across the beach. Half an hour later, the sustained wind speeds were 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph, and so we scoured the Martian landscape for places to camp. We have since named this godforsaken place Exposure Beach. Not a single ridge or ravine gave protection from the winds. Absent any other option, we tied the kayaks to a gravel-filled duffel bag and found a shallow ditch just a foot high in which we took our sleeping bags and little else. Laying as flat as possible and packed in like sardines, the wind buffeted us, and we hoped the storm would pass us by.
At 4 am on Sunday the decision was made to leave our wretched bunker. Wind speeds were sustained above 60 mph and gusts were above 100 mph, enough to break the readout of our anemometer. Our ditch offered no protection, and we were scoured by a mist of sleet and dust, turning us into technicolor caricatures of Dorothea Lange photos. In a hurried, stumbling manner, blown over repeatedly, our group moved North, carrying our bags and tent with us. We found no ledge or bench on which to lie safely, and the decision was made to erect our geodesic tent where the wind was at least reduced somewhat and pray that it would weather the storm. The erection of said tent has been captured on video, and is a story in its own right, at the very least a monument to careful teamwork. Once erected, with Bryce and I holding on for dear life to the outside and Mike and Diana weighing it down from the inside, Steve went to work Jerry-rigging two dozen guy wires to hold the windward side of our tent together in the storm. That we are alive is a testament to his quick thinking and engineering skills.
With the tent up, we turned to preventing its flight. For this we can thank the Dillons, who spent much of the subsequent two days seated on the windward side of the tent as it bounced violently. In this “safer” location, wind speeds were sustained over 70 mph, frequently gusting over the the 100 mph maximum of our anemometer. By the kayaks, the torrential speeds were indescribable, and crawling became the only option to reach them on the few trips anyone made. Even at a half ton each and tied off to a ton of gravel, these kayaks strained at their leashes.
The next two days were spent huddled, awaiting any abatement in the storm, hearing the brutal wind howling through and over the tent, nervously looking around during particularly fierce gusts, leaving only to pee, braced against the wind and mostly over ourselves, and hoping against all hope that we had done enough to keep the tent intact. Through myriad anxious moments, we survived, and sit now in the comfort of 30 mph winds that we have celebrated by cooking and leaving our refuge to brush our teeth.
This afternoon, after a challenging hike to the top of Cape Baird, we found the sea ice that had formerly stopped our progress blew North to Cape Distant and clear East to Greenland. To the South there is nothing but ocean ahead. With luck this will become a kayak trip after all