Day 59: The push to the Pole

It started when my alarm woke me up at 4am, though on thinking that I only had three more kilometres to ski than the previous day, and I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking or anything like that, I put off getting up for another hour. Still, I merged two days’ worth of snacks (all I had left) into one bag to make sure that I would have enough food to get me through the day, and gave myself a 600kcal lunch which would have been one of my evening meals (mushroom pasta) instead of a 360kcal (noodles) lunch… the pasta was so much nicer as well!

Everything was packed up and ready to go by 7.40am. I even said goodbye to all the items I had used during the expedition that had served me so well – no real equipment failures – congratulating them on their performance and thanking them for their efforts! Sanity had gone out the window a long time ago!

The first three 1hr 20m sessions of the push to the Pole went pretty well. Conditions started off cloudy and overcast though within a few hours had become perfect, with glorious blue skies and only a gentle headwind. My legs were a little tired but I felt okay. Decent pace; managing around 3kph or so, and making good distance. I didn’t feel bad. By midday I saw Matheusz’s tent in the distance.

We had talked through InReach earlier in the expedition, after I had passed him at Thiel Corner, and said that as we had started at the same time, it would be funny if we were to end up finishing at the same time, despite our separate rhythms and routines. And so it came to pass… we chatted and as Matheusz was almost ready, we decided to ski the rest of the day and finish the journey together.

A really nice way to end.

Tortuously slow progress

However, the rest of the day’s journey was far from easy. My earlier pace started to drain from my legs as more climbing started. Subtle but steady and noticeable hills. We could see some buildings of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station from 20km away but it was obvious they were higher than we were. And as we skied and got to the bottom of the climb, they disappeared and then it was just a long, slow slog, on snow that was dry, like sawdust and hard to glide through.

Sledmund becoming twice his weight yet again. Pace dropping to below 2kph. Neck starting to hurt even more and, as I had been finding for a while now, it was hard to keep looking up towards the horizon for a sustained period; the only way I could look was downwards and to the tips of my skis. Hard to look to either the left or the right. Hard to keep a good posture.

And it just went on and on. Eventually with around 12km to go, the research station buildings reappeared and we could make out how by the place looked. An extensive outpost in the middle of the white expanse. But still so far away. On and on. Even some little sastrugi. The time ticking by as 12 hours passed since leaving camp. 8pm becoming 9pm as the buildings became larger. It was made harder the way that we could not go directly to the Pole due to scientific protection zones.

We had to go to the left of the station, away from the buildings; the direction to the waypoint seemingly taking us so far away from our ultimate destination. 9pm became 10pm and it still seemed like we were no closer. The pain in my neck making everything even more draining than it should have been. The food in my snack bag nearing an end and the water in my Nalgene bottles starting to freeze; needing hot water from the thermoses to stop becoming blocks of ice.

to the bottom of the world

We could tell more than ever how we were at the bottom of the world: It was bizarre seeing how the rotation of the sun had taken it to move in front of us for the first time the entire journey, glaring into our eyes. It had always been to the north during the expedition but north was always behind us. This time, every direction was becoming north!! 11pm… 12 midnight. The sun still bright. The GPS showing just half a nautical mile… 1km to the waypoint. So close.

30 more minutes, and the entrance to the South Pole station. There was still more climbing to do, but I was effectively there.

Shortly afterwards, I entered and climbed up to the camp buildings, and saw other people. The South Pole Camp manager Ceder together with Caroline— the lady who had sped passed me the other day! — and a couple of others. Mateusz, who was unassisted in his expedition, went straight to the Pole for his photos. But I was shattered.

I needed to sit down. I needed to eat. I needed to rest my legs and my neck. The actual Pole could wait a little while longer.

Ceder took me into the camp dining tent so I could rest and there must have been 20 or more people there eating and chatting, all of whom had completed final degree expeditions. As I entered, people looked and the word spread and the entire room burst into cheers and applause. It hit me: I had done it.  A total of around 1,260km or so with all the meandering … more than 700 miles. 10 degrees of latitude. 58 days. Camping and skiing alone. Through some of the harshest distances on this planet. I had made it. I felt overwhelmed with so many people; all the noise, the friendly faces. My legs failed and I collapsed onto a chair that had been taken out for me.

A short rest and chat with some of the people there. Talking with doctors who looked at my neck and even gave me a massage. Then… both the ceremonial and the geographical poles awaited. 

I had finally done it.

Thoughts, doubts and staying positive

The countdown has been on hold. I was meant to fly to Union Glacier on the 10th, then on the 12th… then possibly today but now hopefully tomorrow. As I mentioned in my last post, the conditions in Antarctica have made it hard for planes to fly into the ALE base there.

So if it works out, I will start five days later than planned, which certainly isn’t the end of the world. It just means a bit of hanging around here, and I can think of worse places to be!

That being said, while it is lovely being here, I arrived on 3rd November which seems like a long time ago now! It would be great to get going, especially after preparing for so long. Especially as while it might fly on the 15th, it could easily be pushed back even more. Furthermore, the extra time gives more chance for thoughts and doubts to creep into mind. Obviously, it is good to run through everything to make sure that all aspects are covered.

However, thinking too much about things can also be unhelpful, and can lead to nasty bouts of anxiety…

Unproductive thoughts?

With all this time on my hands (something that has rarely happened over the last two years) it is hard to stop thinking about the expedition and all the details. Some of the thoughts are good. Even after eight days here, thinking about navigation techniques, I remembered I needed to attach some ribbons to my ski poles to help show the wind direction. Keeping the (prevailing) wind at a consistent angle will help me to keep going in the direction I want.

Though then there are other questions and doubts, which sometimes just lead to increased insecurities and worry. Am I being too optimistic with my planned distances and timeframe? Is 46-50 days really enough? Should I pack for 51 days? 52? More? Have I got the right balance with my food? Are the stoves okay? And the pumps? Will they all work okay in the extreme cold?

Am I fit enough? It seems like ages since I took the tyres out and done proper training! Has my training been good enough? Am I capable enough? Is the tent okay? Am I going to manage alright in strong winds? Should I have more spare poles?! Am I sure that my gloves are okay? Do I remember how to navigate properly..?!

And many more…

Managing the Doubts

I try to put aside the thoughts that I can’t do much about. I have done what I have done with my training, and I can’t change that, so there is not much point thinking about it.

With all the spares and food, and whether I have budgeted enough time: There’s only so much I can carry. Every extra day means carrying another 1.5kg of food and gas. And every extra kilo will make progress that little bit harder and slower. So, it’s a balance. I have to stop somewhere and decide how much to take, and I have had to base the decision on my own experience as well as the experience of others on South Pole expeditions. Have I got it right? Do I really know my capabilities? We will find out soon enough!

With other thoughts I can do something about… Testing and double checking the equipment to make sure that everything came through the flights alright. Playing with the GPS units… reminding myself of their functionality, their quirks… checking the bearings to waypoints. Imagining navigating using the sun and wind as I walk along the streets here in Punta. Keeping up my fitness but not overdoing it: going for long walks, runs, and doing squats and lounges. It all helps, with the body and the mind. Running by the ocean. Letting the mind drift away in the sound of the waves and my footsteps, and relax.

Then of course, speaking with friends and family; speaking with the people at ALE who are so incredibly experienced with these expeditions, and other expedition teams. Always really helpful, and a good reminder that I will be solo, but not alone, so those negative thoughts can be cast to the back of the mind.

Meeting the Antarctic2023 team was fantastic – a great bunch with an amazing journey across Antarctica ahead of them

remember it’s a challenge

I am human, and I think that it is natural to get these thoughts, these anxieties and concerns. After all, this is the biggest challenge I have ever faced. Of course, I need to think about every aspect to make sure that I am ready to face these challenges.

Of course, it won’t be easy. The featureless landscape will be monotonous and present little obvious visual navigational aids, even on clear days. The inevitable whiteouts will make life hard and disorientating. Perhaps for days on end. I will be by myself out there and the isolation and the solitude will be hard: 50 days alone in that great white expanse in those extreme conditions is naturally daunting.

But then, it’s not meant to be easy, is it? That’s the whole point!

Antarctica: Preparations and delays

The journey to Punta Arenas

It has been a long couple of weeks or so. On the 28th October, I started the journey south from Inverness, making sure to have a couple of days in Oxford and London to see friends and family before heading to Punta Arenas in Patagonia, which is my base before flying to Antarctica. The journey to Punta started on the 1st November and was reasonably smooth though not without worrying moments.

The staff of LATAM Airlines in London told me my bags would go straight through to Punta. This struck me as unusual as was flying through Santiago: normally you must collect bags at Santiago to clear customs. In Sao Paulo (where I had a 12 hour layover), a LATAM rep told me that I indeed needed to collect the bags. Talk about making life confusing! At Santiago, the bags didn’t appear.

After waiting an hour to speak with the LATAM baggage claim people, they told me they didn’t know where the bags were. But yes, they said: I needed to collect them to clear customs there. Fortunately, given another huge layover (8 hours this time), there was time for them to find them, and all was good. Alarming, but it worked out! It was nice to pick them up as well as I had left my laptop in the checked baggage (long story!) but that was there and undamaged.

Getting it all sorted

Finally, on arriving in Punta Arenas at around midday on the 3rd, I got to the hotel. I am staying at the Apartment Hotel Quillango. It is a nice place, close to the centre and with space to organise everything. Definitely needed as there was so much to organise! Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) – the company that organises the logistics for Antarctic journeys – delivered my cargo to the hotel. The Pulk, food, skis, tent, electronics, clothing and more: everything together under one roof for the first time.

Then it was a matter of decanting 155 dehydrated dinners, lunches and breakfasts (Expedition Foods) from their pouches into lighter bags. This is a time-consuming process but it reduced the total weight by 3kg. It also means that I need not worry about accumulating residual waste in pouches after eating, which adds weight. Every kilo counts on an Antarctic expedition!

Also, I had to sort out my daily snacks of chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, protein and energy bars, cookies and crackers, and meats and cheeses, into separate bags. Buying and cooking the meats (sausages, bacon, ham, chorizo and salami) and weighing everything out into the ration packs. It all took about three days or so.

With everything now packed and organised, it’s just a matter of waiting. I was meant to fly to Antarctica on 10th November. However, a harsh winter has affected ALE’s base on the continent and delayed all expeditions. A massive amount of snow has accumulated on the runway making it impossible for large planes to land, and poor conditions are hampering the opening of the base. My flight is now set to the 13th, thought this might be delayed further. Fingers crossed I can get going soon!

Getting the pulk…

The pulk (the sled) is pretty important for the entire journey. I will be pulling all my food, tent and equipment, fuel and clothes it and at the start of the South Pole journey, it will weigh around 110kg or so. So it’s got to be pretty sturdy!

In Greenland, where we were pulling around 80kg or so, we used two Paris Pulks each. These are decent in that they are not very expensive, though as they are quite short, it was impossible to put everything onto just one of them. One of the big disadvantages of the Paris Pulks is that they are quite shallow and it is easy for them to become top-heavy and topple over to the side. You also have to have separate bags with all your gear and food that you secure on top of them with bungees or some other means. If you don’t pack your bag properly each morning, then you’ll be in for an annoying day having to go back and forth to the sled to turn it the right way up over and over again. Also, when the wind gets very strong, it can simply push the pulks over, and in Greenland we had to put the two pulks parallel with each other for a few days to stop that from happening.

Everyone on the Greenland expedition used Paris Pulks. You can see how say with the person at the back, the green bag that has the bedding is leaning over to the side. This happens a lot when you’re securing all the bags to the sled by the bungees, and it all affects the balance of the sled and how you move along.

So for the South Pole journey, I have got myself a nice gigantic IceTrek Polyna sled. 210cm long, 68cm wide and 25cm deep (without the cover). Made by fantastically experienced polar explorer Eric Philips, they have a tremendous cargo volume and are designed to effectively float on soft snow and glide along nicely on the ice. Shouldn’t have any problems of overbalancing! I had arranged with Eric to pick the sled up in Svalbard (long story!)… quite an epic journey to get there and back… Inverness-London Luton–>London Heathrow-Oslo-Longyearbyen-Oslo-London Heathrow–>London Gatwick-Inverness… 6 planes, 6 different airports, 3 trains, 3 buses, 3 taxis, 2 days! Was kind of worried after collecting it that it might be too big for the airlines, and trying to cart it through the airport on the trolleys was pretty tricky given it’s length, but fortunately no real problems in the end! Tiring though.

Just a note: am (trying to!) raise funds for Cancer Research UK with these expeditions – please donate if you can, or share if you can’t!!! It would be amazing to have your support!

Polar diet and nutrition

There are so many details to think about with any polar expedition, and a lot of planning is required. One of the most important aspects is the diet. For the expedition to the South Pole, I will be burning around 7,000-8,000 calories a day and the body will need a massive amount of food and energy to make sure that it is able to cope. To manage, you have to have a substantial breakfast, then regular breaks during the day: in Greenland we would ski for 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break to eat snacks and drink water. This would be over (on average) nine sessions a day, occasionally increasing to 10 or 11 sessions when needed to make extra distance. In the middle of all of that we would take a half hour break to have lunch. On previous expeditions, I have not had the lunches: I just had snacks every hour or 90 minutes… It was fine and both Natalia and I never felt fatigued doing that, but I felt in Greenland, having an actual lunch helped break up the day and gave an extra boost. Ultimately, you get into a routine, and need to find one that suits you and plan accordingly. You have to eat, as while you might feel good, your body demands it.

You can’t just eat energy bars and chocolate and you need variation, especially considering the endless routines being repeated over, in the case of the South Pole, around 45-50 days. It would be a good high energy breakfast such as porridge or granola. During the day, the snacks would consist of nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, granola and protein bars, cookies, a bit of meat and cheese (though smaller proportion as the body will need much more carbs than protein). This all has to be carefully weighed out for every single day, so you have your snack bags for each day ready to pack up. Then a nice dehydrated meal in the evening when camping. You can also add butter to the meals and breakfast for the extra calories and fats, and energy drinks and protein recovery drinks will also help.

I have tried various brands and types of camping foods on my different expeditions, and it really is important to have food that you like and a good range of flavours to have the variation. You don’t want to be dreading your evening meal or your breakfasts, and variation to the daily snacks also helps to enjoy everything, so you can add little treats into your bag. You want to plan out each week to know what you will eat, and have everything in the weekly stuff sacks. For South Pole, I will have stuff sacks for every 10 days… which week days won’t really mean anything down there!

My favourite dehydrated food over the different journeys I have been on has been the meals made by Expedition Foods. They really do make a great range of different meals (Fish and potato with parsley sauce, and their spaghetti bolognese are among my favourites, but there are many others!) and I was really delighted when they agreed to support the coming South Pole journey. 50x 1,000kcal evening meals, 50x 450kcal lunches, 11x 1,000kcal breakfasts (I have a standard maple syrup flavour porridge that I came to love in Canada!)–the Expedition Foods breakfasts will make a really nice treat between the standard ones!–and 10x 450kcal dessert… again, to make for occasional treats to help the motivation and enjoyment.

South Pole 2022 confirmed..!

Once I finished the Greenland crossing and managed to access my emails once again, I was greeted by the excellent news that Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) had approved my plans for a solo journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole! Extremely happy and excited to get the news. I expect to fly to Antarctica on 10 November 2022, and hope to take between 45-50 days for the journey. Lots of work to do beforehand of course – plenty of training and lots of organising with the logistics… going to be a busy few months!!!

Greenland – A final word…

Travelling over 560km across Greenland with the Hvitserk group of seven other adventurers from Norway, Denmark and Sweden, was a truly fantastic and memorable experience.

The whole environment.. skiing on those days when everything was just so completely still and you could hear a pin-drop… Through that vast expanse of just ice and snow around for hundreds of miles in any direction. Seeing the occasional flock of geese as they flew over, and even small snow buntings popping over to visit our encampments. Going through those whiteouts where you feel like you are floating in a void, and dealing with the temperatures as they dropped and made your fingers go numb with the cold. It was all very humbling and a privilege, being in the middle of this raw, harsh, beautiful and pristine place. And making it to the other side!

The whole experience was made even more amazing by the fantastic team we had with our group. Eight very different people who had not really known each other before the expedition – and it was absolutely tremendous!! Travelling across the ice, learning something new from everyone not just every day, but every hour… (especially with my dodgy “skiing” technique! hahah!)… facing the challenges together, working as a team to get through that rough icefall and move on over that ice. Enjoying good laughs and jokes together, and the lunches and dinners we were able to have as a group outside the tent when the weather permitted. Singing along as we skied – I will never forget our rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody as we sped along to the final glacier! And our tent-to-tent sing-along as we awaited the helicopter, really helping as we faced another night down there in the rain and gloom. I enjoyed every moment and the whole month was incredibly special. Everyone in the team helped make what was truly a tough challenge into something that almost seemed effortless and smooth… and completely unforgettable.

Back in the UK now, and it’s great being here, being in the warm and comfy bed! And coffee!!!! But I miss the ice, and I miss the team. Looking forward to getting back out there again, to staying in touch, and who knows, doing more expeditions with the team in the future!

Greenland Part 5: The final push

We were lucky with the weather and conditions over the full course of the journey. A couple of days’ worth of total whiteouts made navigation a little tricker, with some… interesting diversions from the main course witnessed… and also a couple of days with colder temperatures and stronger winds. Winds that meant we had to put our sleds parallel alongside each other rather than one behind the other as otherwise they just got blown upside down. One day saw a windchill factor of around -39C, making it slightly harder to ensure that our fingers stayed warm. I was pretty happy that managed to keep everything reasonably under control, though had to move from my lighter mittens to the big down-filled mitts to make sure that stayed okay as I could feel the fingers getting colder as we travelled. They took longer than what I would have liked to warm back up. On previous nights in the tent it had been warm enough to fire up the stove and eat without gloves, but our fingers quickly became numb when doing that as the temperatures plummeted. Definitely nice to get in the sleeping bag at the end of a long day!

Our daily distances started to increase further as we started the slow descent from 2,500m. The sleds had become lighter as we ate our way through our supplies and our best day was around 35km or so as we skied for around 11 hours. Fortunately, we didn’t have to have any other long days and we generally managed 30km or so on normal 9-hour days without too much effort. The plateau was so high, we couldn’t see any of the eastern coast mountains for many days as they were all much lower than where we were skiing. They only started to reveal themselves about two days or so before we reached the end. It was a big moment as we saw the first summit peaking up in the distance ahead of us. Then it was just amazing seeing more mountains appearing as we got lower and lower, and then seeing the coast and all the sea ice and icebergs floating their way calmly along through the water.

For the last night on the icecap we camped around 35km away from the end of the glacier at around 1,200m. We didn’t want to camp further down due to the risk of crevasses. We knew that snow was due to start mid-afternoon the following day so we started our final descent at 2am to have the best possible visibility. And it was stunning. Breathtaking views of the mountains on the other side of the glacier and the sun rising, and great skiing conditions. Before we knew it we had already completed 20km in time for lunch. Almost straight after we ate, however, we entered pretty dense cloud making it harder to see the best path, and we entered a maze of melt water channels that took a while to escape from. Narrow paths alongside deep chasms where the glacial melt water would flow as the temperatures increased; not places you would like to fall into. We tried to work our way through to a waypoint which had been clear on previous years, but it was impossible to see through the cloud and eventually we had to turn back and try a different way. Fortunately with the second route to a different waypoint, it became clearer and safer, and again it was full speed ahead and before we knew it, the end of the glacier and the end of our expedition was ahead of us… We had done it!!!

Only not quite..!

We were meant to get picked up by helicopter from that ending point but the bad weather meant that it was cancelled for three consecutive nights… frustrating!!! But we were able to make the most of it, despite it raining and being pretty miserable at the bottom, having sing-alongs between the different tents and relaxing as much as we could, with one of us always on polar bear watch (seeing polar bear tracks before arriving helped enforce the need for that!). It was difficult though after having been on the move for so long and having been looking forward to celebrating in Tasilaq where there was good food and drinks waiting for us. For the third night, rather than staying put yet again, we decided to ski down to the fiord and on to the sea ice, up to the edge of the water, and were picked up by boat. It wasn’t possible to go to Tasilaq but they took us to Isertoq where it was nice to actually have a night inside and celebrate the journey before getting finally picked up by the helicopter in the morning. This time, we had done it!

Greenland Part 4: Leaving DYE2 behind

After DYE2 we had a few more days of skiing slowly uphill before it was pretty much flat for a while, and we eventually started the slow and almost imperceptible descent towards the eastern coast.

We had mixed weather conditions, with some whiteouts, some windier days, and some hotter and colder conditions. I have talked about it in another post but… I have to mention it again… whiteouts are really quite tough and surreal! The last time I had dealt with them was in Norway. At least there every now and then you could see rocks in mountain-sides, which helped a little, helping you feel like you are actually getting somewhere. But this time, nothing. Everything white: above, below, and beside you. Absolutely nothing to see for reference and a true limbo, in which you feel like you are floating; moving but going nowhere at the same time. With the temperatures, the worst it got down to was around -39C with the windchill, making it harder to control the temperatures in our extremities with the fingers and toes. But we all came through alright. On one of the hotter days, with temperatures around -1C or higher, clumping became a problem with the skis, as did over-heating, making life really hard. We had to stop for an early an extended break to wait for the temperatures to cool down–and it was remarkable: just one or two degrees difference and the clumping just stopped.

We went 13 days without a break from the start so took a rest day on which it was great to sit with the group and have lunch outside. Our guides, Elisabeth and Calle, prepared a treat for us all with pancakes and soup; a brilliant surprise! A few days later after more travelling, we also took a weather day because of the strong winds, but we had made good progress so it was fine and we were still going according to plans and schedule with the timings to get to the other side. When we got going, we had a day when we saw another expedition–almost right in the middle of the icecap. It was quite an exciting moment for all of us considering how we hadn’t seen anyone for a while. We first saw their silhouettes on their ice in the distance and took a while trying to work out what they were as we approached. They were coming from the other direction, from east to west, and both of our groups veered slightly away from our courses so we could meet and chat for a few minutes before continuing on our journeys. They were from Iceland and had taken 20 days to get as far as they did. When we finished the expedition, we flew to Iceland and apparently they were local celebrities and people we met asked us about them. They might have taken a few more days, but made it eventually which was great to hear.

As the plateau is so high we were unable to see any of the eastern coastal mountains until the last couple of days of the descent. Our eyes were constantly looking to the horizon, scanning for signs that we were getting close to the end, though the icecap would give very few clues to what awaited us…

Greenland Part 3: Relics of the past…

As we sped across the ice, and left the western mountains and the icefall behind, we spotted the DYE2 abandoned radar station from around 28km away. A small black spot on the horizon that gradually loomed larger and larger as we got closer over the next day and a half. It provided a nice reference point for navigating – a welcome change from constantly looking at the compass and looking for snow patches that stood out in the distance to help us maintain straight lines. I didn’t know what to expect though it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the journey.

DYE2 was one of a network of over 60 radar stations built by the US across Canada and Greenland to provide early warning against possible missile attacks by the USSR during the Cold War. It was abandoned in 1988 as the Cold War came to an end and the technology was pretty much obsolete. It has just been left to the mercy of the elements since then. It felt like quite a milestone to get there and was a real sign of the progress we had made. It was difficult gauge how tall it was as we approached. We thought it must have stood around 30m above the ice but then as we slowly but surely got closer we could see how the snow and ice had built up around it and there was at least another 20m or so that had been obscured by the drifts that had accumulated since the facility was abandoned. It felt like quite a milestone to get there and was a real sign of the progress we had made.

Once we finally arrived, we looked for ways to get in. Morten Obel found one, walking on a roof that was easily accessible from the snow, to reach an open doorway. It was like a museum. Some rooms had been filled with snow over the years as the weather took effect, while other rooms were in really good condition, as if people just disappeared a few weeks ago. Various documents with instruction manuals for the running of the facility. Magazines and sofas, as if people just upped and left; very spooky in many regards – could definitely imagine it being a great setting for a horror movie or series as we went through it with their flashlights! Rooms where other expeditions had actually stayed after they got caught there in bad weather. A poignant moment was seeing a mock trip advisor review written on the walls of one of the bedrooms, signed by members of an expedition team that had been pinned down at the station for five days due to fierce storms in May 2021. One of those was “Dixie”, who we later realised was Dixie Dansercoer, a Belgian explorer who died just a month later on 7 June 2021 while on a south-to-north kiting expedition across Greenland, after falling into a crevasse. A tragic death of a great adventurer.

We managed to make our way to the radar dish inside the dome at the top, from where we were able to get amazing views of the icecap in all directions. Klaus brought some schnapps with him as a surprise for all of us to celebrate the moment. The view was fantastic but at the same time it was pretty much the same in all directions accept for a nearby ice runway and small airbase. Still plenty more travelling to do over the next weeks!

Greenland Part 2: Speeding up…

We started the expedition off slowly: three 50 minute sessions on the first half day with 5km travelled, then doubling to six sessions on day 2. Following this we added an extra session each of the next three days, until we were travelling nine sessions over the course of each day. We didn’t want to go all-out straight away due to risk of injury and we wanted our bodies to adapt to the demands of the expedition. While we had all been training hard, it was still important to be careful.

At the same time, the terrain of the icefall didn’t allow us to move very fast as we were snaking around and looking for the best ways through for quite some time. Indeed, we took three days to get through this part of the challenge: the ice ridges slowly became less prominent, the chasms became shallower and the crevasses became fewer and farther between. It turned into an undulating landscape of smooth snow and ice in all directions. As the landscape changed, our speed increased: more than doubling from 8km travelled on day 3 to 18km on day 4 and increasing up to 24km by day 6.

It would be easy to describe the terrain as featureless but that would be unfair: the glorious weather and the sun sheds all sorts of characteristics to the ice that help catch one’s attention. And we had wonderful weather with bright sunshine, clear skies, and temperatures that hovered around -10C for a good week or so. The conditions were so good, we were skiing in our base layers, and even able to have a dinner as a group outside of the tents on one of the nights! In these conditions, the randomly scattered rougher and exposed ice could be clearly seen, making navigation straightforward as we could use them as reference points for our headings. At the same time, the eyes could play tricks: we could see what looked to be steep snow walls in distant hills though as we got closer, the slopes were barely noticeable. As an added bonus – we even saw a flock of geese migrating west on one of the earlier days. Just imagine the distance they have to travel!

It was quite amazing and a privilege being in the middle of all this; the serene and pristine environment that just took our breath away. Being here and the mind also goes on its own journeys as we listened to the sound of our breathing and the skis. It’s tough, but it’s all so peaceful at the same time.

Greenland Part 1: The icefall

The weather as we started was positively mild – around 5C at the bottom of the icefall at point 660, the starting place of pretty much all west-east Greenland expeditions around 90 minutes’ drive outside of Kangerlussuaq. 660 metres above sea-level – we knew we would have to slowly pull our 80kg pulks up to around 2,500m over the next couple of weeks before descending on the other side of the icecap. We were a little worried about whether the ice would be good and solid enough to ski on at the start, or whether we would have to carry the pulks over the moraine up to the glacier. Fortunately, while it was wet, we could still ski across the first few kilometres, saving a lot of time.

Progress was slow. The icefall is where the ice from the glacier leading up to the icecap descends down and crushes against the land, melting and fracturing as it comes to an end. The huge pressures and the warmer climate melting the ice create a maze of ice ridges, deep chasms and crevasses that await any adventurer making their way up. We were fortunate in that we had good visibility all the time we were on the icefall so we could work out a way through it all – had it been whiteout conditions it would have been a complete nightmare and we would have all had to be roped together in case anyone fell into any of the traps around us. Our guides, Elisabeth and Calle, were able to go ahead to try see the best route – it always seemed that as we got closer to the other side of the various ridges, we might be greeted with flatter ice to ski over… but no. On the other side of each ridge, there were just more ridges, more chasms and more challenges!

We all had to work together to make sure we got through alright: The pulks were at their heaviest, laden with food and fuel supplies for the next four weeks, and they would do their best to drag us back down the ice, or run into us as we went over ridges and down the other side. A lot of fun for sure, and it was good working our way through everything, but very limited with the distance we could go. We must have averaged around 6-7km those first three days. It was a relief as we got closer to the top and the ice gradually smoothed out and from then it was a matter of full speed ahead!

Greenland – Final countdown and preparations

March-April 2022

With all the fitness training over the past few months, time really did seem to fly by to the end of April when we eventually started the journey across the icecap. So long in the waiting, but still always training as much as possible to be in the best possible shape for the journey; trying to squeeze in as much as possible but not to overdo it. More mountains climbed in Scotland, plenty more tire-pulling and lots of strange looks from people. Braeriach, the third highest in the country, is always an amazing mountain to climb and is quite accessible for me from Carrbridge, and it becomes even more stunning with the snow. Also, an opportunity to climb Ben Nevis in winter could definitely not be missed and it was nice climbing the UK’s highest mountain in cool and lovely conditions.

Before we knew it, the time had come. 25 April: Inverness to London, to Copenhagen. 26 April: Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq. Always that anxiety about whether the bags would come through–imagine that! One flight to Kangerlussuaq every couple of days… no, it was too terrible to think about…! Fortunately they all came through and no problems. It was great in Copenhagen with the hotel being next to the airport – could take the trolley from the airport all the way into the hotel room; not seen that before! Quite a change from Oslo when there are barely any trolleys at the main railway station!

We had one night in Kangerlussuaq to organise all of our supplies for the next four weeks, splitting everything into weekly bags and sorting out the pulks. Had a bit of a scare when realised that I didn’t have my mountaineering harness, which we need for going through crevassed areas. Almost a disaster, though fortunately we we were able to find one from a local guide – such a relief! Then that was it… just a bus ride to the bottom of the glacier on a gloomy and overcast early afternoon of 27 April, and we were off…