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!
Getting boots for polar expeditions is not entirely simple – you have to consider the warmth of the boots of course, but you also have to consider the bindings that will let you attach to the skis.
On the Auyuittuq and Cross Canada journeys, Natalia and I used the Baffin Boots – Polar Series (Impact); rated down to -100C, with removable liners. They are harder to get a hold of in Europe as opposed to Canada or the US, but are excellent. They are pretty big boots (and you need to get at least one size larger than your normal size as you have to think about the number of socks you’ll wear), but… they’re not compatible with any standard ski bindings. Instead, you have to get specialised bindings that can be used with large boots, and we found that the famous Australian explorer Erik Phillips designed and sells “Flexi bindings” for this purpose. Erik skied from the Siberian coast to the North Pole using these. The bindings are very simple–after you have installed them on the skis at least: you just slot in your boots and then tighten the straps. And they are also very easy to remove when you want to take your skis off. Sometimes when we were skiing the straps did become a little lose, and when the straps got wet, this would make them harder to tighten, but on the whole, we were very happy with them. They are pretty much indestructible, though only problem is that they are expensive, and you have to import them from Australia.
As a note, you can now get Baffin polar boots that are compatible with three-pin bindings, but I can’t comment about what these are like, aside from their being twice the cost of the standard polar series. Probably worth investing in Alfas…
With the Greenland Expedition, I will be with a team led by Hvitserk of Norway, and for the sake of making repairs easy with a group of ten of us, they have requested that we use BC bindings, which are much cheaper than the Eric Phillips bindings. Okay… the only problem is that while obviously normal ski boots can be used with such bindings, normal ski boots aren’t designed for polar expeditions and are way too tight and cold. You need to get Alfa Polar Expedition boots, which are… darn expensive (eliminating any savings from the bindings!). The good thing about the Alfas is that they are very warm and again have the removable liners that are also vapour barriers that prevent the inner boot getting wet from sweat; they are also considered the best expedition boots out there. And after having skied with them a week in Norway… well yes, they are really very comfortable. It takes a little while to get used to the BC binding system as opposed to the Flexi bindings – you have to place the bar at the front the of the Alfa boot in the lock on the bindings, so have to make sure it’s in the right position and it can take a little practice. Also, snow can get in behind the binding lock making it hard to open or close properly without removing it, so it can be fiddly. But overall, it seems more comfortable and solid skiing and moving with the Alfas than the Baffins, so I am (at least, I think I am) happy with the change! Again, let’s see after Greenland!