18.11.2019

POLAR NIGHT EXPEDITION LAPONIA - INTRODUCTION (1)

The „Les Engages (French for the „dedicated“ or the “commited”) are 3 guys from France and Argentina working as entrepreneurs and adventurers. Most notably there Greenland crossing and ascending the Aconcagua in the past.

Now the Les Engagés are preparing for their next polar challenge, at night. That means they will travel during total darkness of the Polar Night around the change of the year, illuminated only by Northern Lights, the Moon (hopefully) and their own head torches.

How crazy is that?

To do this, they first dare, then commit and finally build the team to show that extreme adventures are not inaccessible. The plan is to reach the North Cap under own power by ski, pulka and packraft. To built confidence the training phase is under go, especially for the night paddling.

See their test on the Loire river and the Atlantic ocean in the next post. Follow first their impression and thoughts of the equipment in this post.

Instagram: @les.engages
Von: Valentin Drouillard

We have just received three packrafts: two Anfibio Delta MX packrafts and one MRS Adventure X2 packraft. These atypical boats are the key element of our next expedition.

Indeed, in January 2020 we will have to trust them to cross a 3km stretch of sea in northern Norway. It will be cold, -20°C. It will be night, a polar night during which the sun never rises. We will each transport 90kg of material loaded into a pulka: food, gasoline, batteries, clothing, etc. Everything you need to progress independently in a polar environment.



What is a packraft? 

A packraft is an inflatable boat. It provides amphibious capability for any adventure. Some models are designed for calm water, others for rapids.

Lightweight. 1.6kg for Anfibio and 3.2kg for MRS.

Not very large. It fits in a backpack. Its volume is comparable to that of a tent. 30x20cm for the Anfibio and 50x20cm for the MRS.

Can support a heavy load. 180kg for Anfibio and 250kg for MRS.

Inflatable.

Before launching, the packraft is inflated with a simple bag. He takes the walker, his bag and possibly his bike with him!

As you can see, packraft makes new adventures possible. Simply cross a river or lake that blocks your way or design an amphibious walking and boating trip. You can already imagine hiking up the Cévennes gorges and then sailing down the river or boarding an isolated cove and throwing your packraft into the sea to stroll along the paradisiac bays.

We are preparing to use our packraft in extreme conditions. In northern Norway, the freezing water temperature combined with the polar cold makes there is a risk of a shipwreck or fatal fall. This risk is aggravated by our heavy load, the darkness of the polar night, our thick clothing that would soak up water before freezing, a potentially rough sea, etc.

Given the stakes, we are conducting a rigorous test of our three boats. We chose Lake Emosson, which culminates in the Swiss Alps at an altitude of 1800m. The water is cool despite the month of July. But we're not here to admire the scenery. Our questions are many. They are concrete and we are here to respond to them.


The inflation time?

The packrafts are inflated with a bag that acts as an inflator. We capture the air by leaning on the wind and then close the bag. By rolling it on itself we chase the air out into the single strut of the packraft. A tedious but simple operation. We finish the inflation by mouth. Finally, in a few breaths, we inflate the seats. Over and out. Assessment of the races, between 5 to 10 minutes depending on the models, stopwatch in hand. The operation is effective. Good, because we won't have time to waste when the time comes.

Is the water infiltrating?

The packrafts are easy to handle. Very handy. So easy to handle that we have to paddle near the sausage so as not to zigzag. The result: more splashes. Many drops reach us. Today they refresh us, tomorrow they may freeze us. What is the answer to this problem? Put on a raincoat? A waterproof poncho? Equip our paddles with washers to avoid runoff? To be tested.

The speed of navigation

In 10 minutes, we cross 500m. Without forcing. This means that we can hope to cross our inlet within an hour, in the dark of course. Maybe a little more due to the current and the effect of the load. This will be a long time.

Transport of the load

We quickly notice that the space inside the packraft is still small, too small to carry a 90kg pulka*. We will therefore have to stow our pulka on the back of the packraft, make them float and drag them behind us. Pulling a 90kg pulka over the water seems daring. What if the pulka sinks and takes us to the bottom? This prospect is chilling us in the back.


Reaction of the packraft when towing a load

We attach one packraft to the other. One of us paddles, the other one lets himself be shot. We thus simulate a load of about 80kg. The head packraft reacts well. We were concerned that the rear of the latter would sink into the water under the effect of traction and the front would rise. This would have destabilized the boat and increased its vulnerability. This phenomenon does not occur and the boat remains stable, barely slowed down by the dead weight. That's a good point.

Setting sail and docking

We never want to be in contact with freezing water. We cannot put one foot in the water to get on or off the ship. It would be frostbite for sure. So we practice boarding directly from a shoreline. From a hospitable shoreline (a beach) and from a hostile shoreline (a steep rock). The operation is difficult because the packraft tends to slip away. We will need the help of a comrade or packraft already in the water to stabilize the boat. It's possible but dangerous. We'll have to practice.

The puncture

We check the repair kit. It's a patch and glue. In case of impact, the supplier recommends using heavy tape. Scotch, the faithful ally of adventurers. We find this useful and reliable remedy: a proven D system.



Man Overboard

The nightmare. And if one of us falls into the sea. Shocked by a freezing cold, weighed down by his soaked clothes, will he be able to climb up on his own? Will he need the help of others? What if his packraft capsizes? If the terrible accident occurs, it will be necessary to get out of the water in record time, undress on the packraft and change clothes before reaching the nearest shore. We are causing a capsize. The fresh water gives us a real boost. We join the packraft in two movements, grab it and hoist ourselves on board. The packraft remains stable. The operation is easy with a minimum of agility. Will it be the same with our gloves, clothes and heavy shoes? And in much colder water? You have to test it. Test again.

This packraft test has taught us a lot. New questions have also emerged. We will have to provide an answer before leaving on an expedition. With this in mind, we are planning a new packraft test in November. This time on the sea, with our pulkas and polar gear.

*This is used by polar hiking expeditions and, once harnessed to the walker, allows all his equipment to be dragged on snow or ice.

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