Living on Borrowed Warmth

We have at last acquired a stove for our tent. It is not the one we ordered (DHL claims delivery is quite impossible but appear to be wilting under a tide of angry emails) but the Red Cross has kindly lent us a burner to expunge the Arctic from our canvas home. What a difference it has made! The heat warms the paraffin in our oil lamps and allows them to burn brighter and more cleanly. We can dry our clothes and sleeping bags. Previously taking a shower would have meant bringing back a sodden towel which then freezes into a solid board, but no longer. Now our things are warm and dry and it is a pleasure to be able to sit in an envirnoment without huddling into a sleeping bag.

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Cees updating his journal, clothes drying above and stovepipe to the left

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Freehand writing this fine has not be practised since the dissolution of the monasteries

The first night it arrived we had something of an impromptu celebration, getting extremely high on nothing more than warmth (and maybe a little wine). At one point, we began to cackle with faux-laughter at somebody’s bad joke (I can’t remember whose but I suspect Cees) and rapidly found we couldn’t stop. For some minutes we howled uncontrollably for the sheer pleasure of having the chill lifted.

The arrival of the stove precipiated a burst of enthusiasm for improving our new home. Cees constructed an enormous snow-wall to shelter us from the wind and provide us with an area to chop wood. In fact, it was quite hard to make him stop. Someday soon we may find that our bear-flares are only a secondary line of defence in case anything breaches the ice-fortress that is being constructed around them.

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One corner of our tripwire system, Cees’ snow-wall standing proud behind

The flares themselves have been overhauled. Having accidentally set off 5 of our supply of 16 in a single day, we needed a long term replacement for our limited stock and have resorted to removing the lead from shot-gun cartridges – a tactic that works very well. Returning to our tent yesterday, we found 5 of our 8 flares had been detonated by someone (or something) walking through the trip-wires. What it was remains a mystery – there are no prints on the wind-packed snow.

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Polar bear defence is being taken seriously. Centre is my links 30-06, with Cees’ WWII Mauser to the right. On the left is Morten’s cannon – a massive .338 caliber Ruger

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The tent with in-tact snow wall

Sadly the hours Cees has put into his snow wall have been undone by a brutal storm that blew up last night. In the darkness, tons of snow were shifted onto our campsite, burying our tent and much of our equipment. The snow-wall now looks as though it has been blown apart by canon-fire and the wind was fierce enough to make us fear for the integrity of our tent. Today has therefore been spent on reconstruction, as well as the usual business of charging the oil lamps, chopping firewood and melting snow for cooking.

The storm has been a small blip in otherwise extremely forgiving weather thus far, with the temperature generally hovering around -5C. We have even had clear enough skies for me to practice some Northern Lights photography with the new camera. It’s not going so well – I always seem to be too late and capture the tail-end of the display.

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One of the better Northern Lights pictures

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A poor photo of a truly spectacular display; it looked as though the mountain was on fire

Tomorrow I continue with my work for my new company, Basecamp Spitsbergen. I’m helping to guide a group on a round-trip dogsledding to some ice-caves; an exciting prospect. So far my work for them has consisted of helping to train the yearling dogs, who are complete maniacs. The idea of pulling a sledge is utterly baffling to them and they are as strong as they are excitable. It is no easy task to wrestle them into exhaustion before forcing a harness over their heads and then persuading them to pull a sledge, rather than play with each other. Dealing with experienced huskies for our trip to the caves will therefore be a relief. I daresay you’ll hear all about it in the next update, you lucky people. Until then.

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