Monday, October 5, 2009

Flight Preparations

The countdown;

72 days (1,742 hours) till I go to Alaska, and the pressure is beginning to be tangible. I've done so many expeditions now, and so many alone--this will be my sixth alone to the Arctic in Winter--that I know the feeling of 70 days out, of 30 days out, of 10 days out, and so on. 72 is close. I have to close doors, and start retreating from anything not related to survival. There are flight plans to make, charts to prepare, communications to sort out. Ammo to be sent to Alaska in a hazards box, with bear spray, as well as flares and smoke grenades. All the food to plan out and prepare and pack, but not so soon it spoils. Time to make the list of lists.

I need to do checks of every item. Right now I'm starting with my paragliding harness, flying clothes, and helmet. Below, a series of images of late-night inspections and modifications. Don't, Cameron, forget anything! Errors now will be magnified later.

I've just read about a British expedition who've just been rescued off a glacier in Patagonia. On the first week of their expedition a storm came up and ripped their tent, leaving them bare to the storm; then the tent blew away. Looking at their gear selection, I see a terrible choice for their tent, and that they were using standard, rather than reinforced, poles. Somehow, also, they seem to have lost their 60+-day food supply, which is baffling; in that kind of terrain you just can't let your pack--containing a spare stove, fuel, at least a week of rations, matches, candle, space blanket, communications device and so on--out of arm's reach. I mean you just don't do that. All things I've learned, and am still learning. Reminds me how 'thin' a lot of my proposals on the ice actually are. Reminds me to keep doing what I've been doing; my procedures have kept me alive. Every detail will be attended to.

Above, cutting foam block to customize the seat block, a 6-inch thick protection for the pelvis and coccyx.

Above, zipping in the seat block.

Above, preparing a foam-block spinal protection system to insert into my flight harness. Flexible and crushable blocks bend with my back, but protect the spine.

Above, the back protection, bound loosely together with duct tape; it is meant to be flexible, not rigid.

Above, mid-torso (below-ribcage) protection added to sides of the spine protection, and the whole system laid into the harness.

Above, zipping the back protection system into the flying harness.

Above, packing the reserve parachute used to make a safe descent in the event of wing collapse, or other disaster. I need to be at least 300 feet above the ground for this to be any use (it won't deploy fast enough, normally, below 300 feet). The last 100 or so feet of any landing are the most critical because you're too high to survive a fall and too low to expect the reserve to save you; so you set up those landings very, very carefully!

Above, reserve parachute release pin insertion; don't mess this up!

Above, manner of releasing reserve parachute; by forcefully yanking on the pink handle, the holdback pin is removed, allowing the fabric holdback panels to open, releasing the chute.

Above, locking reserve parachute riser with crescent wrench.

Above, reserve parachute riser attachment secured.

Above, harness prepped for flight. I sit in it so that I am facing the camera, with legs through the loops at the bottom. Inset shows buckle marked "Left Leg", as it's easy--especially when at 20 or 40 below, to want to hurry getting set up, and make a fundamental error in the suitup procedure.

Above, crash padding suit. Knees, hips and chest are given a little protection by crushable foam padding sewn into thermal undergarment layer.

Above, back side of crash padding garments.

Above, Tyvek oversuit; th is provides no insulation, but is an effective wind-screen shell layer. In the event of landing near a polar bear, the white color might give me some camouflage. The instrument on my right thigh is a variometer and altimeter--the variometer beeps aloud, the tone indicating the speed and direction of either ascent or descent.

Above, fromt view of flying harness and suit.

Above, right profile view of flying harness and suit. Pink reserve parachute handle is visible on right.

Above, back view of flying harness and suit. Pink reserve parachute handle is visible on right.

Above, this year's helmet. I've done away with the windscreen, replacing it with more versatile goggles (I've removed the windscreen from these goggles to prevent fogging; they still provide eye protection from crosswinds, but on the coldest days I will wear goggles with windscreen to prevent freezing the cornea). The rest of the helmet is just bare-bones now; a camera attachment velcro on the top, and a voice recorder on the side, but I have yet to attach main light and the ground-spotting laser.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Li Po (701-762) grew up in Szechwan and unlike most T'ang poets never held a government position for long; much of his life was spent wandering or in exile. He was a colorful and romantic figure, exultantly celebrating life and wine, whose poems give vivid expression, Watson writes, to "a tireless search for individual spiritual freedom and communion with nature, a lively imagination and a deep sensitivity to the beauties of language." He was recognized immediately ... as a great poet, and legends quickly grew up around him, fostered no doubt by his own exuberant fantasies; thus he was said to have died by falling drunk, from a boat while trying to grasp the reflection of the moon. "The evanescence of the world tormented him, drove him to a frenzy," Robert Payne writes; "he would dam the water and make an everlasting flower of imperishable metal if he could, and yet he knew that the sheer beauty of the world lay in its evanescence." In Conversation in the Mountains, as translated in Payne's The White Pony, Li Po writes:

If you were to ask me why I dwell among green mountains,
I should laugh silently; my soul is serene.
The peach blossom follows the moving water;
There is another heaven and earth beyond the world of men.

-Witter Bynner, Four Poems by Li Po
-from: Encompassing Nature, Nature and Culture from Ancient Times to the Modern World, by Robert Torrance