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!