6633 Arctic Ultra: CP3 to CP4 (Fort McPherson to Mid-Point Peel River)
As we leave CP3 we're told that the weather is quite mild, so we delayer to get ready for the new ice road section of the race. We're guided out of Fort McPherson by Tim, Emily and Mimi and down onto the ice road. This mild weather wasn't quite as mild as we'd been told so we quickly changed back to our warmer clothes and donned our headtorches as the darkness was setting in.
I've mentioned the 'ice road' a few times, so I should really clarify what it actually is. The ice road is a huge frozen river (the Peel River), where the ice is a couple of metres thick, all covered with a few feet of snow. In the winter the municiples of Fort McPherson and Aklavik essentially each drive from 'their' end to meet in the middle (over 150 miles long) with huge snowploughs to create a road that the villages can use to get around a bit easier. This is usually done in the middle of March, but the area supports the 6633 Arctic Ultra race so much, they open the road early especially for us.
As we get onto the ice road we notice the banging and cracking noises from the ice as we move across it. This is quite disconcerting initially, but we soon settle into a rhythm and forget all about it. The start of the ice road is very rough, not the smooth glass-like surface I was expecting, so we grit our teeth and haul our pulks over the rough ice for a few hours.
The rough ice turns into smooth ice and we're able to settle into our routine again of 2 hours on/15min rest, during one of these stops I have to take a look at my left achilles, it's really sore and I'm not sure why. I take off my boot and sure enough I have a small blister appearing, I put a plaster on it and then take a look at my boot, there must be something rubbing? Sure enough, one of the straps from my ice spikes was in the wrong position and was rubbing through my boot, however on looking again, the ice spike was on my foot back to front. In our rush to leave CP3 one of the team put my ice spikes on my boots for me, and I didn't check them, my fault, always check your own kit. Lesson learnt, no big deal, time to crack on with this night section.
The Northern Lights were now bouncing around the sky and the offical photographer, Weronika, stopped us and asked if we wanted a picture. Even though it was quite cold and we didn't want to stop too long, we obliged and she produced the amazing shot below.
It was my turn to suffer from lack of sleep and fatigue the previous night, now it was Neil's turn. He was struggling badly due to having zero sleep at the previous check point. It was quite early after the last check point, however Neil needed to sleep, so we decided that he should bivvy out and that Hayley and I would crack on (as we weren't tired enough to sleep yet) and he'd catch us up when we decided to have our next bivvy (probably a few hours down the road). So three became two, and we continued down the ice road making good ground whilst continuing with our routine of 2 hours on/15min rest.
We were now tiring, it was about 7am, so we decided to grab an hour bivvy and hopefully Neil would be back with us quite soon. I settled down in my sleeping bag, set my alarm for an hour and slept like a baby! On waking it was daylight, and that gave us a real boost; going to sleep in the dark and waking in the daylight was like having an injection of adrenaline, this strategy would certainly be employed again in the next few days.
We set off again, moving along nicely, the scenery is stunning, from the ice road (you can see the thickness of the ice beneath your feet), to the snow covered river banks, to the meandering route with huge sweeping bends that take 30 minutes or more to cover. It doesn't get much more beautiful than this.
We are then joined by one of the support vehicles and Bob and Lisa (from Montana) inform us that Neil has DNF'd behind us. We're absolutely gutted. Like, really gutted. We knew he had a few issues with his achilles (he's due an op on his return to the UK) but we didn't really appreciate how bad it was, and we couldn't help but wonder if he'd have been to push on if we'd still have been a group of three. I guess we'd never know, but after catching up with Neil a few hours later he was fine with his decision and his achilles and a slight chest cold was just too much for him to continue.
We continue on and want to make the next check point before darkness. CP4 was going to be the trailer again, so the plan was to get there, sort out our food and water, and get going quickly, then bivvy up a few hours down the road. As we're about 5 miles from the check point, one of the support team, Tutti, comes out to join us and guide us in.......except something doesn't look quite right. He's pulling a sled! Tutti was crewing for the race, but he was also doing research for a potential film on the 6633 Arctic Ultra, so he decided to really immerse himself in the race and get a true feel for what it's all about (by pulling a 35kg sled along the ice).
We get to CP4 where we're met by Martin (race director), Neil and Joe (support crew), we have a quick catch up on the race, checking how everyone is getting on, sort out our food, drinks and reorganise our pulks and before we know it we're ready to get going towards CP5.
CP3 to CP4 (Fort McPherson to Mid-Point Peel River) 47 miles (total: 160 miles)