Blog Posts

Headline Test
Posted by Pen Hadow

Sunday, 15 Feb 2009 00:00

You know you’re making progress North when …


The aeroplanes get smaller with each flight in the sequence from our London HQ to our polar base at Resolute Bay in northernmost Canada, via Ottawa, Iqaluit, and Nanisivik.


This fact is apparent less from the external dimensions of the plane as viewed from outside, as from the experience inside.


Meal plans become more muted in their culinary ambitions.  The range of proffered drinks becomes less comprehensive, with ice soon a distant memory. The washroom/loo/toilet/restroom becomes less a room and more an upright cupboard only to be entered if the occupier is desperate, or bizarrely flexible, as devotees of extreme yoga or pilates might be.


Seats shrink, pre-flight briefings feel increasingly personal, and more and more old acquaintances are bumped into.  The stop-overs shorten from overnighters, to hours, to stay-on-the-planes.  Breathing feels asthmatic as lungs struggle to make the switch from the excessive dry heat of the plane cabin to the shocking cold of the outdoor walks from the plane to the airport terminal. Nostril hairs crinkle on these walks.  Airport buildings, encrusted in frost and snow, emphasise the absolute difference between the heated sanctuary it offers to travellers and the certain outcome if no such building was there.


But the flight sequence to our Survey’s start point out on the Arctic Ocean will not end till we have made three more flights via Roberts Bay and our Floating Support Base.

Category: Preparation

Mission driven
Posted by Pen Hadow

Monday, 02 Feb 2009 00:00

Of a bewildering array of thoughts swimming around in my head today, one has struck for the surface, indicative of the gel that holds us together.


A few months back Chip and I were being given a tour of Pinewood Film Studios in west London by one of our supporters. Located in the grounds of a once-smart country estate, an assemblage of old Nissan huts, vast film-set hangars, higglety-pigglety offices, artisans workshops and editing studios are now the only visible legacy of some of the best-known British films. In a private cinema there we saw a short film about Pinewood.  And in it was one particular interview with a modeler who made buildings a 1/100th scale … and I remember him saying:


“I love working here, it’s been my life.  Pinewood may not look much on the outside, but it’s the people that have made it. We are sometimes given projects to do that are unimaginably ambitious, the film director knows exactly what he needs, but relies 100% on us technicians to create the vision he’s after.  And there’s always a deadline – film day for that bit. And you know what?  Everyone here, EVERYONE is mission driven.  It simply has to work on the day. The day the film crew and actors are scheduled to be on set.  And being a part of that creative energy, that focused commitment, on getting the end-result is what I LOVE.  It’s an unbeatable buzz.”


And I remember thinking at the time, how similar pioneering expeditions are to the film-making industry. It’s the mindset of the team that is one of the defining factors of a successful outcome – not just the more visible team on the ice, but equally, if not more importantly, the team backstage.  And the Catlin Arctic Survey has such a team, which is good to know because we have some hills, and possibly the odd mountain, to climb backstage before Film Day.


The other thought is about how all the bigger projects I’ve been involved with have developed their own catch-phrases, their own jokes, their own ‘language’.  Some corkingly funny ones have sprung up from our escapades in Eureka, Little Cornwallis Island and now Broughton Island.  To be honest, they’re not funny on the page.  It’s all about the timing, the intonation, the mood of the moment.



Category: Preparation Team

Doc Martin
Posted by Dominic Hilton

Thursday, 29 Jan 2009 00:00

The office is a hive of activity today. The Ice Team and the Floating Support Base personnel have assembled for a day of medical training. The training is being conducted by the highly experienced polar and high-altitude medic, Doc Martin.


Resuscitation, life support, fracture and pain management were the main areas of focus, with special attention given to the dangers that extreme cold poses to the human body, namely frostbite and hypothermia.


A banana was the unfortunate victim of Doc Martin’s ‘how to stitch an open wound’ demonstration.

Category: Ops Room Blog Preparation

Posted by Tori Taylor

Monday, 26 Jan 2009 00:00
The clock keeps ticking and with every strike we draw closer to the date when Pen, Ann and Martin will leave 'us' the support team, in the UK to embark on the survey of our lifetimes. The days seem to be flying by as we creep closer to waving them goodbye with the last week being incredibly hectic. Pen, Ann and Martin returned to the UK on Wednesday and dived straight into a busy diary full of interviews, meetings and physical training sessions. The constant development on the website is keeping myself and Dom occupied along with a variety of broader tasks.

It is only over the last few weeks, that I have truly become aware of the extent of the Catlin Arctic Survey; having met the wider support team, along with sponsors and supporters who are working behind the scenes to make the survey happen.

With only a few weeks to go, the clock keeps on ticking...
Category: Ops Room Blog Preparation

Travelling back
Posted by Ann Daniels

Wednesday, 21 Jan 2009 00:00

As I travel back from Qikiqtarjuaq I reflect on another adventure in the magnificent Arctic.  A memory to treasure when I can no longer travel to the ends of the earth!   


It never ceases to amaze me just how wonderful the cold north is, with its frozen landscape and warm generous people. The northern lights as they dance in the dark night make me feel as if I’m in another world, watching a celestial ritual that has been performed long before I came onto the planet and one which will continue long after I have left.  When I leave the north I always feel honoured to have been allowed to visit such a wondrous place and humbled about my own existence.


That said, living, a travelling and camping in the relentless cold can be pure hell.  I had forgotten just how painful frozen fingers can be and how difficult it is to perform and survive at temperatures below -25ºC, where even the smallest of tasks take a mammoth amount of effort and concentration.  The sheer amount of effort in climbing out of a sleeping bag in the early hours to a frozen tent and the arduous task of simply lighting a cooker to make breakfast, where the comforts of everyday life become meaningless and any warmth becomes a luxury beyond compare. 


We spent only 3 days in the cold but it was enough to remind us of what lay ahead and how important it is that we are all on top of our game. 


This is the first time I will be on a major expedition with men rather than women and if I had any doubts they were put to rest on this soiree on the ice.  We each have our place, our jobs and the age old marine ethos of humour in adversity is boundless.  Whilst I know we will experience a living nightmare, it will be a nightmare full of shared companionship, magical moments and this time with the added benefit of feeling I have made a small difference. Being able to help the scientific community to better understand the difficulties our planet is facing will be an achievement that will last a lifetime.  The pain and discomfort will be momentary in the great scheme of things.


I am often asked why I do what I do.  How could I not do it, would be a more appropriate question.

Category: Preparation

6 weeks to go
Posted by Chip Cunliffe

Tuesday, 20 Jan 2009 00:00

Did I say we were busy?


With under 6 weeks to go, operationally this is probably the busiest time for us. It’s a case of pulling all the strands together, having all the questions answered and making sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed. Mind you, this will go on until Pen, Ann and Martin are on the ice.


My current focus is tying up the loose ends of the air support being undertaken by Kenn Borek Air (KBA) who have a crew that work out of Resolute Bay. They are a fantastic team who are world renowned for their flying skills over the polar ice, both in the Arctic and Antarctic. A little known fact is that in 2001 a chap at the South Pole became seriously ill, so the Doctor called for evacuation. Nobody was able to fly the guy out. KBA was asked to do the job and so flew a Twin Otter from their base in Calgary over the United States, Mexico, Central America and all the way down to the foot of South America, hopped over to the Antarctic picked up the casualty and took him to hospital. Few others have the capacity and experience to undertake such missions.


I digress…KBA are Catlin Arctic Survey’s air support for good reason. We are currently finalising plans for caching fuel; setting up the Floating Support Bases with compatible communication systems; calculating the differing payloads for the length of sortie’s they need to fly which will change depending upon weather; determining the dates of departure – currently it’s still dark 24 hours a day – understanding the length of runway and thickness of ice for different planes to be able to land for resupplies…and the list goes on.


We’re working with the best, which to all intents and purposes means the likelihood of the expedition succeeding is dramatically enhanced. Ensuring both the Ice Team and those at the Floating Support Bases are kept supplied with food, fuel and other necessities will be down to the professionalism of the pilots and their support team at KBA.


Category: Preparation

A Frozen Ocean
Posted by Martin Hartley

Monday, 19 Jan 2009 00:00

Back in the tent for the first time in ages, I am once again reminded why lack of total recall is a blessing...snow, ice, frozen water, it is the reason we are all here. It is one of the most beautiful things Mother Nature has given us. Snow and ice covers the biggest mountains on earth all year round, with the most beautiful of white cloaks. At Christmas time we all dream of a white Christmas, it is beautiful stuff, snow, everybody loves it, whatever it lands on it makes it more beautiful, even a rubbish tip looks beautiful when covered with snow. Even individual flakes are exquisite all of them unique and all of them utterly beautiful.


Up here in the Arctic the sea freezes (imagine that, a frozen Ocean...hard to believe until you have seen one), it freezes and becomes a completely new landscape, like a quarry covered with snow, huge piles of square sided boulders of ice with sharp edges some as big as a house brick and others as big as the houses they end up being. The landscape up here in the Arctic is unique, it is nothing like a Himalayan Mountain range and nothing like Antarctica. The most fascinating thing is that it moves around breaks open and reforms into different shapes. It is an awesome spectacle to see a frozen ocean, almost as captivating as the Northern lights dancing above.


But...snow and ice inside a tent, on a sleeping bag, on a jacket, on a tent floor is very bad news. I absolutely despise snow and ice inside a tent. It is the ugliest of decorations. It transforms the tent from a safe haven to a very cold wet cellar. Water vapour from the melting snow on the stove turns back into ice as it settles on the inside of the tent and then it begins to snow inside the tent. No matter what the snow lands on it seems to melt and makes everything wet, gloves, hats, trousers, sleeping bags. Once things get wet out here it is so hard to make them dry again. Inside a tent snow is evil stuff, and a wet tent, a wet cold tent, is the most uncomfortable of places on the planet. It’s not a war zone, but it is as uncomfortable as any place I have been, and right now I cannot think of a single rational reason to be where I am....I’m glad I’ve got a bad memory!



Category: Preparation

And they are off
Posted by Ian Wesley

Friday, 16 Jan 2009 00:00

A big day today and spirits were high.  After a prolonged packing session the Ice Team are out on the ice for their first mini expedition together. They left with sleds packed high and bristling with antennas.


The last few day have seen each of the team members going over their roles within the group – Ann navigating, Pen science and Martin photography.

Their intention is to run through their daily routines (setting up camp, navigation, Polar Bear watch, etc) and test their new cold weather clothing. They will also be using the entire technology package as they will be in the field - at -30C and after an exhausting day of sledge-hauling. The high tides, caused by the recent full moon have broken up the ice along the Cape. The team will practice their open water drills in these newly opened leads.

The lack of arctic explorers has left Becks and I more time to wander  the village and talk to the local Inuit. We have ‘scored’ an Arctic Char for our last evening’s meal in the Arctic. The Char being an Arctic delicacy, apparently only matched by spring seal (just as we eat Spring lamb, I suppose).

One of the most interesting things that we learnt today was that the Elders have noted that the annual ice melts have started earlier each  year, but in their opinion it is not from sun melt, but from warmer  sea currents under the ice. The earlier melt now start with the sea ice, where as before it was the land locked ice that melted first.  This is interesting as one of the instruments that the Catlin expedition is taking is a sea probe (SeaCat). This will be lowered through the ice and into the sea, to about 200m, in order to record ocean temperatures and therefore verify this theory.

Category: Preparation Technology Science

Polar Packing
Posted by Martin Hartley

Thursday, 15 Jan 2009 00:00

On the surface of it nothing much seemed to happen today, (although a lot did get done) nothing of any note nor anything particularly memorable actually happened.

The three of us, Ann, Pen and myself spent the whole day packing our sledges for a miniature four day version of the looming 'very big' expedition that departs in mid February.

The only part of the expedition that is not an out and out team effort is the packing of the sledge.  For three people to spend a whole day ‘packing’ for a four day camping trip does seem disproportionate, and to say that to pack a polar sledge with the correct equipment takes years of hard won experience seems even more so. But no, it is not. Everything that goes into the sledge has a life preserving function. The greatest joy when packing a sledge is to be found in a piece of equipment that does two jobs; a ski that also serves as a tent peg, or a snow shovel that can be used as a paddle, the sledge itself has been designed to glide across both snow and water with relative ease. Pen's sledge, unlike any other Polar sledge that has gone before it, does not have any of the usual Polar equipment at all.


Pen in fact has spent most of the day sharing his load with Ann and I, because Pen is pulling an ice penetrating radar, satellite data uplink system, a hands free voice communications hub, two on-board sledge computers, a huge battery power supply, several ice drills and a water column sensor which, like everything above, sounds small but actually weighs 13 pounds.

The packing 'day' of a polar sledge no matter how long the journey is always filled with 'faff' and self denial from start to finish as nobody really wants to leave the comfort of a warm home knowing the next night will be spent outside in the darkest of campsites in the frigid embrace of the polar night...nobody. Scrutinizing every piece of equipment before it goes into the sledge hoovers up precious time and time always seems in short supply at this point in any expedition schedule.  But is now done, sort of ...

Despite the feeling that nothing much happened today, it actually did, it was a huge, huge day, the passing of which has gone unnoticed, if it has been noted nobody has mentioned it. Four years of desperately hard and sometimes emotional work, research, hard, (very hard) fundraising, planning
and re-planning and breathtaking commitment by Pen, Simon ( Harris-Ward), Chip, Dom and more recently Becks Duckworth and Gaby Dean have brought us all to the point where possibly the most important Polar Expedition of a generation is almost at the start line.


Tomorrow and the next three days is ironically, a 'warm up', which is an unfortunate phrase to use as that is the very phrase that has brought us here, possibly...

Category: Preparation

Transformation of texture

Wednesday, 14 Jan 2009 00:00

Even with our warm home nearby and easy access to plenty of restorative tea and coffee, working outdoors here in this cold environment is challenging.  The temperature here is typically –25C to -30C each day and every activity takes significantly longer than anticipated.  I’ve been up here for over a week now and whilst the twilight is noticeably longer each day, the sun has still not risen above the mountains so there is only about 4 hours of daylight each day.  Each day we have a schedule of tests and trials, putting all the equipment and technology through its paces whilst making the most of the few hours of daylight.

One of the things I find really interesting is the transformation in the textures and manoeuvrability of fabrics and materials. Out in the cold, textures become uniform, the sleeping bags that were downy-soft at room temperature crackle like the noise of paper being scrunched into a ball, and any plastic-type items become rigid and unwieldy.  

In the morning we’re setting off for some amphibious training with a local clam diver.  The clams are harvested all year round, and in winter a hole in the ice is constantly maintained to reach the water beneath.  Whilst I’m looking forward to some fresh Arctic seafood for lunch,  I have to say I’m very pleased it’s not me taking the plunge!

Category: Preparation

Clam Divers Reach Parts Where Others Fear to Go
Posted by Pen Hadow

Wednesday, 14 Jan 2009 00:00

Well, I’ve witnessed some things in my time – haven’t we all – but today was an ‘out there experience’.


Met any clam divers recently?!  Oh, you have?


Well, were they Arctic clam divers?  Oh, really!  I’m impressed.


So, were they cutting holes in the metre-thick sea ice and pulling handfuls of clams off the sea floor, 5-10 metres below, like walrus?  Oh, whow!  They did?


So, tell me, did they wear wetsuits, operate free of a safety line … in the middle of the polar nightevery night ... because they just love their work?  I thought not!


Well, that’s what our newest friends Stevie and Charlie do.  Apparently some Greenlanders visited recently them recently and were astonished to discover Inuit were diving.  That it was for clams … for a living … blew their minds! Operating strictly under license, all their clams are consumed within Nunavut.


Our Becks (aka Rebecca Duckworth) had discovered that someone with underwater diving experience, living in Qikiqtarjuaq (aka Broughton Island), could be on hand to provide safety cover and assistance for underwater photography during our Pre-Expedition Training here.


And so it was that Stevie, and business partner Charlie, found themselves donning frog suits, fins, aqualungs and weight-belts to work with our Ice Survey Team as we ran through some sub-zero sea water emergency drills.  Ann offered to do the dreaded ‘Drop Test’ – a sudden and deliberate immersion to the neck in sledging clothes ie with no dry suit on - three times, while being filmed.  Tough lady, the boys thought. A good day’s work, well done, thanks to our Stevie and Charlie for whom we have a reverential respect.


Category: Preparation

Training in the Canadian High Arctic
Posted by Chip Cunliffe

Tuesday, 13 Jan 2009 00:00

With Pen, Ann and Martin currently on Broughton Island in Canada, ably supported by Rebecca and Ian, one would think that work would let up slightly. Not a bit! The Pre-Expedition Training over the two week period is inherently important on various fronts, among a raft of other things…it allows for two weeks of final testing to all the equipment (radar; batteries; data uplink system; Solara Beacon; satellite phones; cameras; Equivital bio-monitoring…the list goes on); it ensures the bespoke sledging suits are fitted correctly and in some cases tweaks to be made; it is the first time since October 2007 the Ice Team have worked together in polar conditions (-25°C today) in order to standardise daily procedures and protocols. Over a 5 day period they will be undertaking a mini expedition in order to simulate the daily tasks so that the day they get set onto the ice, they don’t waste time by having to establish these daily routines.


Category: Preparation

2363 Miles from home
Posted by Martin Hartley

Tuesday, 13 Jan 2009 00:00

Sat inside a small wooden house on the Island of Qikiqtarjuat, 2363 miles from my home in London only 4 or 5 inches separate me and my laptop from the outside where the environment is definitely  Arctic. 


It's my third visit here to Qikiqtarjuat, and my 19th journey to the high Arctic, after 7 days here I am only just beginning to remember the feeling of being on a big expedition in the Arctic. I don't just mean the cold, the physical aspect  of living in the cold is ( thankfully) easy to forget, if it wasn't I probably wouldn't be here.


Living 'expedition life' and preparing for a big expedition involves more than just a partial physical adaptation to the cold. The mental shift from urban to Polar life is a mammoth task, and for me it takes weeks not days.  Right now total immersion in preparing the equipment for this expedition is forming a big part of the necessary change.


The tiny house we have rented is rammed full equipment that is being developed and /or modified so that it can survive the 100 day ordeal it will face. Ian Wesley one of our support team has spent the last few days, drilling, soldering, gluing, taping, adapting almost everything we have brought from the UK.  The house has become a 'tool shed' a kit 'shop' even a  science lab. 

I left the comfort of our 'tool shed' this morning to watch the dawn arrive as it is too easy to forget where we are, with internet access, microwave and  toaster. Behind our modern iglu-come tool shed is a small hill I decided to watch daylight arrive from the top. The deep blue light gradually faded into paler shades of blue and orange, everything was still except for one tiny dot way out on the sea ice. One of the local Inuit had set out hunting for seal on his skidoo, he disappeared into the white, and the sound of his noisy skidoo disappeared with him. I watched the space where he had  gone from my sight - there was a man who is totally at home here,  as much as the Musk Ox, the Caribou and the great symbol of the far North the Polar Bear, and in that vision was another reminder that I am just a visitor.

Category: Preparation

Travelling up North in style
Posted by Ann Daniels

Sunday, 11 Jan 2009 00:00

After two years preparing for this expedition the day had arrived at last to leave for Pre Expedition Training on Broughton Island, Nunavut. 


Ian, Tori and I arrived at Heathrow airport squashed in the back seat of a black cab crammed to the gills with expedition luggage to meet Pen and Michael Gorman who were bringing the expedition radar.


As Pen and Michael checked the radar and produced cables and wires from a very ordinary looking blue case, we began to wonder if we would ever clear security. 


Thankfully not only did we clear security but were upgraded to first class, which meant we could still work on the expedition while travelling in style to Ottawa.


Coincidentally we were on the same flight as Ran Fiennes and Robin Knox Johnson who were travelling up North to take part in a documentary. It was great to meet up with fellow adventurers and swap stories.


Although it was early Canadian time when we checked in to the Lord Elgin hotel in Ottawa after a fantastic meal of Steak and chips at The Keg, we went to bed exhausted, after the long day’s travel. 


The flight to Iqaluit the next morning was around 3 hours long and we arrived in the Northern frontier town for what was supposed to be a quick stop over before two more hops took us to Broughton Island.  Travelling so far North is never simple and after being told there was a problem with our plane, we were held for 7 long hours in the tiny airport lounge before the flight finally cancelled.  We spent the night in a local hotel hoping to make the journey the next day.  As lovely as it was to be back in the wonderful arctic and feel the cold dry air in our lungs once more we were bitterly disappointed to delay our training for one more day. 

Category: Preparation

Scoping route for mini-expedition

Saturday, 10 Jan 2009 00:00

Today we took a couple of skidoos out to Cape Broughton.  We can literally go straight from the doorstep onto the ‘water’. The ice is deceptively smooth here where it’s protected by a promontory of land, forming the bay.  Cape Broughton is about 6 miles due north of here, and as soon as you get any kind of distance away from the village the ice gets increasingly choppy until you get to the end of the island where the pressure ridges are enormous, some are as high as 2 storey buildings.  The Arctic ice is continually pushed south from the North by the sea currents, and when it hits land the pressure caused by the ice still being pushed south causes huge cracks and the ice just piles up on top of itself, causing these enormous walls of ice, quite staggering to see. They’re all different shades of blue and white. It was very cloudy today so the photographs don’t really do it justice.  We saw polar bear tracks out there, but no actual bears.  Apparently, there’s open water just on the other side of the island, and where there’s open water there’s seals, and where there’s seals there’s bears!  So they weren’t far away.

Category: Site News Preparation

First foray onto the ice

Tuesday, 06 Jan 2009 00:00

I’m up in Broughton Island in the Pre-Expedition Training 'Advanced Party'. Martin Hartley and I came up a few days ahead of the rest of the team. On New Year’s Day we flew from Heathrow to Ottawa. We had a few days in Ottawa before flying North to Iqaluit and then flew from Iqaluit to Broughton Island, which is where we are now. We’ll be spending the next two weeks here carrying out extensive training. 


Today was my first proper foray onto the ice and it was actually a bit scary. It was pretty windy and a bear was seen out at the other side of the bay the day before yesterday.  On this outing we didn’t have a gun with us, not that I’d know what to do with it, it’s just good for the nerves to know it’s there.  Apparently, Polar Bears always like to hunt approaching from down wind and we were heading straight into a strong head-wind as we made for home and it quickly got dark, it was quite unnerving.  We had a lovely Canadian Inuit dog escorting us on our journey and she was following us from behind, keeping a keen eye on the horizon.  I Love this picture – reflects the desolation of the place, but the lights of home look really welcoming.

Category: Preparation

Physiological Testing
Posted by Tori Taylor

Thursday, 02 Oct 2008 00:00

I spent several days at Exeter University this week, filming and photographing Ann, Pen and Martin undergoing their physiological testing, under the expert guidance of Dr Daryl Wilkerson. More tests will be carried out in about 2 months time, then again just before the team departs, and then a fourth time, immediately after the team return from the ice.

Category: Preparation

We covered all manner of activities and training objectives. Day One included a full-day trekking session across Dartmoor; discussion on photography composition; practice of recording a verbal ground survey; refresher of navigation techniques; discussion on individuals’ primary and secondary roles/specialties; discussion of daily routines, immediate action drills and contingency plans.

Category: Preparation

Psychologist Dr Mark Wilson joins team
Posted by Dominic Hilton

Monday, 15 Sep 2008 00:00
Dr Mark Wilson (Exeter University) is now officially onboard as team psychologist. We want to ensure that every aspect of the team’s training is covered off. He’ll have between 20 and 30 hours of contact with the team members over the next 4-5 months, in an attempt to prepare them psychologically for their time on the ice. Having the correct mental attitude is as important as being in good physical condition.
Category: Ops Room Blog Preparation

Fitness Training
Posted by Pen Hadow

Saturday, 13 Sep 2008 00:00

Unlike Ann, I have not been training as hard as I would have liked over the past 8 months and I after my first session with Jon I am not only exhausted but I am also very aware of how much work needs to be done. Physical training will become a significant part of my day to day routine and I am confident that my aerobic fitness, strength and endurance will improve rapidly. Jon is a lovely chap but I can’t say I’m looking forward to seeing him again.

Category: Preparation

Personal Training Session 1
Posted by Ann Daniels

Tuesday, 09 Sep 2008 00:00

I’ve been training hard for the past 8 months but I’m very aware that we will have to be in peak physical condition when we get to the ice in February next year. Jon Stratford, a Royal Marine Physical Training Instructor is now onboard to knock Pen and I into shape.

Jon will be supplementing our normal physical training with 15 ‘focused’ sessions between now and Christmas.   

The first session was, inevitably, quite tough and I’m still feeling the effects. I am however taking comfort from the fact that Pen is, ‘as we speak’ having his first ‘introduction’ to Mr Stratford!

1 session down, 14 to go!

Category: Preparation

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