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28 June 2012

Journey 2012-Part 5

Unfortunately, the polar expedition world is still lumbered with inadequate equipment in the guise of (to name a few) solar panels, satellite telephones, ski bindings and so-called expedition foods.

An independent power source for electronic devices was packed for the journey and was faultless primarily because I do not use solar panels that fold. They are useless. Panels are made that way because they are cheap to make but are very easy to break. They are also heavy. I use a pliable solar panel that is still going strong even after a decade of use. Unfortunately this model is no longer made.

I added a device that shortened the time it took to charge my 12 volt gel cell battery. The efficiency prevented current leakage and enabled me to run the system without a blocking diode. I have a technical support team whose brains understand what mine does not (thank you Doug in Canada and Carl in Munich) and they keep me abreast of what's new and will work for my specific needs. My advice is don't go for the so-called expedition solar power packages. They are so expensive and making your own solar panel outfit is easy. To share this knowledge I wrote a how-to called Remote Control published in the BMC's Summit issue 35.

                 My independent power source     Photo: Gary Rolfe
Little has changed since I wrote Remote Control a few years ago except I have developed a deep hatred of satellite telephones.

Every night I called home with our position and those I planned to reach the following day. The Iridium satellite phone was its usual barely audible chronic self and being cut-off in mid-sentence was always to be expected. I hate the damned things, reception can never be relied upon even in bright sunshine and with a clear view of the sky. On top of that the call charges are outrageous (for a what amounts to a pathetic service). And because I never, ever trust satellite phones I carried my ACR ResQLink PLB (personal location beacon) on my belt kit at all times. It is always pre-arranged that if I do not phone in on time best to consider me safe unless I flip my PLB.

  With my ACR ResQLink PLB     Photo: Gary Rolfe
Generally it is snow and ice conditions that dictate daily journey distances. We were lucky. Compared to 2010 this latest journey was a pleasure. On the rare occasions that a trail was broken in front of the dogs, the conditions did not remain unfavourable for long. In all, just over three days were spent breaking trail in front of Loads, my lead dog.

Breaking trail               Photo: Gary Rolfe
I enjoy making things to save money. And because I have been disappointed by commercially made bindings I make my own free-heel ski bindings out of strips of 4 mm thick UHMW (ultra-high modular weight) plastic and dog harness webbing to fit my mukluks (soft footwear made from moose hide or seal skin). UHMW is easily available. Here we use it as sled runner plastic. My bindings were made all the more comfortable because I used Sorbothane insoles.

Mukluk compatible ski bindings that work  Photo: Gary Rolfe
I vacuum pack my food because I wish it to remain undetected (from polar bears) and intact in the depots I set. I dehydrate my own journey food using a machine from UK Juicers. I care a great deal about eating healthy food which is why I have a very low regard for commercially made expedition dry foods. One company even admits that..."although there are a lot of calories in our polar diet, there is very little nutrition. Therefore, it is imperative to your health that you use a good supplement.” Hmm.

For more about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com

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