Unable to Leave the New Tent
We tested it and though it’s the best we can have. It’s a one-layer tent made of membrane fabric, it’s light, easy and quick to set up and it’s developed especially for winter use. Rune Gjeldnes, a famous polar explorer, used it at some of his expeditions so it’s not some new and untested kind of tent. Unfortunately, you cannot test it in the very same conditions you will then have on the expedition and we had to reconcile ourselves to the fact that it just doesn’t work properly in the conditions we have here. All vapors we breathed out, froze on the inside walls of the tent so fast that the membrane did not have a chance to work properly - all moisture therefore stayed inside. The walls were covered with a 1 cm (0.5’’) thick layer of frost every morning which kept falling onto us and into our things every time we moved. Other problems followed - as the membrane didn’t work we didn’t have a chance to heat the tent a bit even with a gas stove. The only result was that the layer of frost became icy and we found ourselves sitting in a strange kind of greenhouse which didn’t hold heat but didn’t let any moisture out at the same time. We had to spread our sleeping bags and down jackets over the sleds during the day and try to dry them by freeze...As freeze is one of those things we have plenty :-)
After two days of use we had to turn the tent inside out and remove the layer of frost with a brush. It helped but only for one evening as everything was wet again the following morning. Moreover, it took us an hour to do it...and time is precious here, we could have put on some miles instead of brushing the tent. We started to realize that we were not going to finish the expedition with this particular tent. It culminated yesterday when we made a difficult and painful decision - to give up of the “cherry on top” which would the finishing of the crossing unsupported. We’re no longer unsupported but our goal hasn’t changed - we still want to cross the lake Baikal lengthwise even though we know already that it won’t be by the purest way we originally aimed for
We connected with Tanja, our contact in Irkutsk, via the satellite phone. She works for a travel agency which took care of us when we were in Irkutsk a week ago and in which we’re registered. Tanja is a woman on the spot - Pavel explained her our problems with a tent in English and she replied immediately, “OK, I’ll get you a new one, the model you described me, you’ll have it tonight. I’ll call you later to give me your exact location.” And she did as she said - at half past 9 p.m. we gave her our location and she told us, “I am there in 30 minutes, be ready to guide us with lights. We have an usual vehicle...” We had been wondering about how they’d get to us all day - how would they cross the cracks and fields of toroses?! We still had no idea but we were to learn the answer soon. We were standing outside bundled up in our down jackets with flashlights ready in our hands. Then we saw two rows of lights in a distance swinging above the surface and getting closer to us. We still can’t see them but we hear the roar of engine approaching us...and then we understand! They are coming in a hovercraft! We didn’t expect that...Tanja jumps out of the cabin with a new tent in her hand and Sergej, the driver, gets off to greet us as well. A quick hug, we exchange few words, Tanja hands us the new tent and we give her the old one in return. We wave them goodbye and suddenly we’re on our own again. It’s almost midnight when we set up the new tent...problem solved. Thank you, Tanja! It’s almost 2 p.m. when we’re done with our daily routine and finally go to sleep.
A happy ending, one would like to say. Not quite that. When we woke up at 7 a.m., we found out that a terrible snowstorm and strong gusts of winds were hitting our tent. We’re glad that the tent is held in its place by six strong ice screws. “It’s not gonna be a good day today...” crosses our minds as we get up and set the stove. What a surprise it was when I grabbed for the thermos bottles in the entrance of the tent. They were covered with snow - that “flour” kind which gets even through the seams. We still believe we will be able to go on with the day as usually. We have a breakfast, get dressed and try to get out of the tent. First, we have to use the lids to dig out the shovel which is covered with snow as well, then we use the shovel to dig ourselves out of the tent and only after we can go outside. The gusts of wind are knocking us down to our knees, we can barely hear each other and we cannot see anything because of the whirling snow. And only than we get it - we’re not going anywhere today. We check the ice screws which hold our tent and move the sleds behind our tent where they are sheltered a little bit from the wind. Covered with snow we then get back to the tent to wait for better weather. It’s still the same even after lunchtime so we return to the sleeping bags as it is the only way to stay warm. We sleep for most of the day to build up our energy for tomorrow when we will again fight with the harsh but beautiful Siberia. Pray for better weather so we can move on tomorrow.
We say hi to all of you and thank you for you comments which we receive regularly from Zuzka. We’re sorry if we disappointed someone by breaking the strict rules of unsupported expeditions. Believe us, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But we were in a serious trouble - if for example one of us fell in a crack, in the frozen tent there’d be no chance to dry out. We could’ve remain silent about the few minutes with the hovercraft but we play fair and never in a different way. We’re no longer unsupported but the rest hasn’t changed - we won’t resupply or accept any help along the way and we plan to cross the lake Baikal lengthwise.
PS. As it is end of the month and we have some extra credit left, there’s another video for you today and also a picture Pavel took yesterday.