We are beginning to count down and get last minute details sorted out for the start of the expedition from Eagle, Alaska.
Eagle has no road access in the winter so we are going to sledge from there to Dawson to get to the nearest road. We will then truck everything up to Inuvik for the flight onto the sea ice next to Herschel Island for the start of our 700 mile replication of Amundsens journey.
One problem we have come up against in the last few days is the condition of the Yukon River between Eagle and Dawson.
Unfortunately, the jumble ice is so bad on the river this year that it is impassable between Forty Mile and Dawson. Instead we will have to use the alternative route which is a 20 mile uphill run to 3600ft to get over the mountains. We will need to leave a day earlier as it is going to take us a bit longer! Hopefully the weather will be kind to us. Once you start with a venture like this the timetable soon gets torn up due to weather and ground conditions.
Contingency is a major part of the planning process for an expedition of this complexity. It is always the bits you think won’t be a problem that can easily become one.
I have been asked the question by students taking part in the expedition’s educational programme what food we eat and is our diet carefully worked out.
During the six weeks of the expedition the team will be manoeuvring heavy sleds across difficult terrain in temperatures of -20 to -50 degrees. We will be almost constantly on the move for up to 7 hours and will burn around 5500 – 6000 calories each day. It is difficult to maintain weight on an expedition of this length and food intake is an important part of expedition planning.
In the past, an endurance diet for Arctic expeditions contained 70% of its calories from fat and dried meat and 30% from Carbohydrates in the form of Pemmican (blocks of fat, meat and vegetable) which Amundsen used.
The problem with a Pemmican diet was that fat and meat did not allow the body quick access to the calories contained in it. Carbohydrates on the other hand provide ready energy for exerting muscles. The team will consume a diet in which 65% of calories come from carbohydrates and only 35% from fat.
A carbohydrate diet has drawbacks. It takes approximately twice the amount of carbohydrates to provide the same number of calories found in fat so we must carry a greater volume and weight of food. This problem is mitigated by using light weight dried prepared meals that just need water adding. The meals taste OK but after six weeks we will be looking forward to a regular meal.
We will be really careful to take lots of fluids which is very important in a cold climate as you often don’t feel thirsty. Dehydration exposes you to increased risk of hypothermia and frost bite.
During Amundsens expedition to the South Pole he supplemented his diet with dog meat – we will definitely NOT be doing that!
I cannot end this blog without mentioning the great sadness we all feel at the death of Henry Worsley the Antarctic explorer who died in January. Others have already written more eruditely than I could about his enormous achievements. Our thoughts are with his family.
We will be replicating Amundsens sledging journey starting on the 22nd February and finishing in early April this year. We hope you will follow us on our website which will have a map tracking our progress.