Taking off from Skremterne, we are moving through the Geike Plateau (the size of Langjökull in Iceland, 935 square kilometres, against a strong headwind from the West of up to 20 m/s. Walking, and finally kiting got us 30km into the plateau where we are camping. We continue to strugglee but we are moving closer to the Katabatic winds (wind that carries high density air from a higher elevation down a slope under the force of gravity) of the Ice Cap and we will finally have the winds in our back!
Expedition live: After a brilliant day, warm sunny and calm (not exactly what you hope for on a kiting expedition) there are a lot of things that have to be done before a long day’s hiking. In other business, getting some filming done and using the warmth to wash yourself after 11 days days of going was pretty wonderful.
The day started with a blast. There was a good wind, and we packed our things in a hurry. When we were setting out our largest kites, the wind managed to grab Einar’s kite before he was ready with his skis and his sledge. 18 square meters os sail have a lot of power and I saw Einar get pulled off his feet and get dragged away, sliding on his back in the snow.
It took while to repair the line and get everyone ready again and then of course, the wind had died down. We continued struggling with the kites for several hours and sailed many kilometres back and forth in this beautiful valley, but unfortunately only several meters in the right direction, so we gave up and walked the rest of the day.
We are not mentioning how many kilometres we managed but we have been eating very nice food. Each of us did bring one day of food and Hallgrímur had his food bag yesterday giving us beef filé for dinner and a luxury dinner today. Now, Skúli is baling pancakes for us for desert. We will be two weeks into he expedition before we have to start eating normal, dried expedition food.
On more serious matters, hopefully the wind will be in our favour in the next days, since we have along distance to cover in the next 20 days than the full south pole expedition.
There was a strong headwind today, so not kiting, barring a little practice in the afternoon breeze in the camp area.
Clear sky, sunny and hot so today there was an average progress of only 12km and 400m altitude. We are finally out of the crevassed area and can see the next 50km of glacial valley surrounded by magnificent peaks, a breathtaking camp site. Tomorrow, the heading is true West and we hope to be able to kite a lot in southerly winds.
Today, there was great relief: we managed to climb with all the sledges to the top rim of the West Borgen glacial valley above. We roped up due to the huge crevasses in the top section.
It is truly a strange feeling to be probably the first humans to penetrate through this giant and rough terrain. The view down tot he magnificent and frozen Scorsby Sound with it’s huge icebergs in the sunset is magnificent.
Tomorrow we hope to use the kites for the first time. Camp coordinates for today are:
Having moved on form the last camp at:
And before that in the old hunting huts on the North Coast of Scorsby Sound:
The Spring is arriving in Scorsby Sound. The temperature is rising and there are flocks of birds in the sky.
The snow is slowly getting firmer but the main difference was that the hunters, the hunters that were that we hired to take us over she Scoresby Sound, were able to get a snowmobile assistant to finish their task. After being only able to travel 5 km yesterday, they did get snowmobiles to compact the snow snow for the dogs.
With the aid of the snowmobile, we drove back and forth through the frozen fjord so this morning there was a compact track that they were able to follow so we managed to get over 30 km to the south coast of the enormous fjord.
On arrival to the west Borgen Bugt (bay) we crossed fresh polar bear tracks from a bear that has been wandering around in the small bay were we are now camping. We are glad that the hunters are still with us and the dogs are on guard if a Polar Bear passes.
Tomorrow the hunters will return and our task will be to find a way up the steep and crevassed Borgen glacier. Even through the glacier is rising up to 2000 m then “only” the first 1500 m are really steep and impressive.
I have to admit that I’m a little bit worried as we sink to our hips in the snow when we take the skis off and our sledges with 36 days of food are full and heavy but we will see how this will go on the next days.
The snow is getting firmer, but that only made it harder for the dogs. As we are getting closer to the mountains, the new snow is about 80cm and as we are going ahead of the dogs to compact the snow on our fat Atomic skis we were still sinking in to our knees. The total distance travelled has only been 5km. Yes, for the whole day. There are still way over 1000km to go so we are not worried at all. Our philosophy is to continue to struggle for the next two weeks or so and then we will take stock of the situation, think about how we are doing and if there is whiskey, we will certainly last the whole journey.
The Greenlandic hunters that we hired to take us over Scorsby Sound fed us Polar Bear for dinner. It actually tasted good, but then again most warm food after a long, cold day would have tasted good.
What is it like to undertake a journey that has never been attempted by anyone, ever?
The journey ahead
This is precisely what one of our founders, Leifur Örn Svavarsson, travelling with Hallgrímur Magnusson, Einar Stefansson, Tomas Juliusson and Skuli Magnusson, a group of elite Icelandic mountaineers that will undertake a journey through East Greenland, traversing east Greenland via the Greenland Ice Cap in a southerly direction for a total 1200km over a period of approximately 40 days. The planning for this trip has taken months; months of logistical organisation, meal planning, gear preparation and route plotting. This isn’t just an adventure, it’s an expedition.
After arriving in Akureyri, north Iceland on Thursday April 27th and a short press conference, the team will leave for Constable Point in Scoresby Bay. The group’s first task upon landing and picking up the equipment will be traversing the ice fields at the bottom of Scorsby Sound, the world’s largest fjord system, the deepest of which reaching 216km from shoreline to inland. This will ultimately give the team access to the Greenland Ice Cap, where the majority of their journey will be undertaken.
How will they find their way across the ice in order to access the ice cap? As is common in modern expedition practices, the group has sought the guidance of expert local Greenlandic dog sledders that will be able to lead them across the ice onto access point for the Ice Cap. The team will have a boat in case the ice is too thin to support the traverse. This stage of the journey could take 2 to 5 days.
The uncertainties of the expedition life
What will the exact route be? Where precisely will they access the glacier? What will their access point be? Although a tremendous amount of planning goes into an expedition such as this, many of these details are not known. Local weather conditions by the day will dictate exactly where the Ice Cap can be accessed. These are the types of uncertainties that the expedition encounters, and many kinds of allowances need to be accounted for, primarily with regard to food supplies; if the weather turns for the worst, it is often necessary for the team to sit and wait for the weather to improve, rather than turn around. Sometimes, it it necessary to wait up to a week in the same spot. The team will be travelling with 40 days of food to allow for this, which could be stretched to 50 if needed.
After having traversed Scorsby Sound, the team will need to complete a 1500m ascent to reach the Greenland Ice Cap, 500km of additional mountain passes will need to be traversed before reaching the plateau of the Ice Cap, also heading for Greenland’s highest mountain, Gunnbjorns fjell (3694m).
Once on the Ice Cap, the group will travel by Nordic skis, with pulkas behind them holding all of the equipment and supplies. For extra propulsion, they will be travelling kite-assisted, using the wind to pull them along. This will allow the group to travel greater distances while expending less energy. Where the team would regularly be able to travel 20km by cross country ski alone, they will be able to travel up to 70km per day with the kites in good weather. Each team member will have 4, closed-cell kites with a maximum surface area of 18, strung with up to 80 meter lines, to catch the high wind streams above the Ice Cap.
The team will come down off the Ice Cap near the Schweizerland Alps and Mount Forel (3389m) whose South Face necessitates some technical climbing. From ‘Schweizerland’, theexpedition is to be taken to its terminus, the small hunters village Isortoq, South of Ammassalik Island and then Kulusuk, whereupon they will fly back home to Iceland.
How about some first ascents along the way to top it all off?
As if all of that wasn’t enough, the team will, when they “need a break” (Leifur’s words) stop their regular expeditioning and attempt to summit the peaks that they see along the way. Many of these peaks will have never been trodden by man, making them first ascents.
We wish you the best!
For Leifur, and indeed for the rest of the team, this is the latest expedition in a lifetime of adventure, with Leifur himself having reached the seven continental summits and both the North and South poles, completing the Adventurer’s Grand Slam. There are two other Everest summits on the team and countless other expeditions and adventures, lifetimes of mountaineering experience.
We at Greenland Adventures and Icelandic Mountain Guides are immensely proud of him, his vision, achievements and successes. As he continues to push the boundaries of what it means to explore vast, unknown territories, and tread where no one had trodden before. With warm hearts, we wish Leifur and the rest of the team the very best on the next chapter of a very adventure-filled life.
Icelandic Mountain Guides (IMG) finished their 10th crossing of the Greenland ice cap in May 2016. This time, Maxime Poncet was the expedition leader of a five person team. The crossing went very well in general. The weather was good most of the time and they were able to move on every single day. The team was strong and no major problems came up with health or other issues.
With Maxime were Calvin Shields, Gareth Owain Andrews, John Willis and Matthew Burnell.
As usual, the most challenging part of the route were the last three days when they traveled through the ice fall on the West side. Mid May it´s getting warmer and a lot of melting is going on. This was no exception and the team had to battle through uneven terrain, navigate through fields of water pools and cross streams of flowing water.
IMG has always crossed from the East to West, same direction Fridtjov Nansen chose when he became the first one to cross in 1888. IMG starts from either Isortoq or Hahn glacier and exits the ice cap at Point 660 near Kangerlussuaq.
Now let´s learn a little bit more about the expedition and take a look at some of the photos taken during the expedition.
Maxime and his team originally flew from Iceland to Greenland on the 19th of April. After two days of preparation in Tasiilaq, they were flown up to Hahn glacier on the 21st of April and came off the ice very early on the 15th of May. That makes the total length of the expedition 31 days including the departure and arrival date, there of 24 days spent on the ice cap it self. Total distance covered is about 540km.
Preparing for a long expedition is a lot of work. Whole lot of gear was sent over to Greenland from Iceland some days before the team arrived. They then of course brought even more with them. When it all had come together, plus even more that was picked up in Tasiilaq, it was all organized and weighed.
The first days after the team started skiing it was very warm, making the conditions sub-optimal. The progress in the beginning was rather slow. When the snow is wet, it´s harder to ski and drag the heavy load.
But it came colder and after that they picked up more speed. They managed to cover more than 20 km each day. It actually came a lot colder. At camp 12 the temperature went down to -35°C during the night, very cold in the day also. The wind was also blowing a bit making them feel the cold even more. Extreme weather is something to be expected on an expedition like this.
During the whole expediton the physical condition of the team was overall good. Some blisters but nothing serious. That was all.
When asked how their daily routine was, Maxime told us that they started every day at 8:30 and stopped skiing at between five and six. It took them about 40 minutes to build a wall to protect them from the wind and then they pitched the tents. At ten o’clock usually everyone was asleep.
They reached their highest point on the ice cap on the 5th of May and put up camp 15 at 2480m. From there it took them four days to reach the DYE II radar station. Since the highest point on the route had been reached, from there on they would be skiing a bit downwards. That meant more kilometers covered each day and less effort into skiing and dragging the load.
DYE II, the bizarre remnants of a cold war radar station is out there on the ice cap. There were 4 cold war radar stations across Greenland, two of them on the ice cap DYE 2 and DYE 3. Those were abandoned in 1988 in 72 hours and almost everything left behind. Inside the strange dome you will find a fully equipped kitchen and other remnants of the necessities for daily life. Time will erase all of this and one day ski explorers will simply ski past without even noticing, since the structures are slowly sinking into the ice.
The excitement was building up as the team go closer to the end of their journey. The last part, the ice fall, is usually the trickiest one. Navigating through can be a tough feat since you constantly need to change course in order to find the best way out of this labyrinth that the cracks and ridges of the ice have formed. Temperature was high the last few days before so there was a lot of flowing water to tackle.
And the ice fall proved to be really tricky with crevasses and cauldrons and it was slushy and wet. They did not ski at all the last day but dragging the pulkas along, wearing their boots and crampons. Needless to say they were very tired after working for 24hours. They just wanted it so badly to finish this so they kept on going and didn´t stop until they came off the ice and reached Point 660, early morning of the 15th of May.
Later in the morning, they were picked up by people from Old Camp, a guest house in Kangerlussuaq. There they spent two nights and after sorting out the cargo being sent back to Iceland they flew over to Nuuk, the capital and the largest town of Greenland. After one night in Nuuk they flew back to Reykjavík Iceland where the expedition officially ended.
The team was greeted by Björgvin (IMG‘s expeditions operation manager and a guide) and Einar Torfi (one of IMG‘s owners and a guide) on the airport. To celebrate the end of a successful crossing they opened up a bottle of sparkling wine and made a toast when back at the guesthouse. After that the group headed for a goodbye dinner and drinks at a nearby restaurant.
It´s was great to see how happy the team was after this long and challenging trip. Also to see how well all the expedition members seem to have gotten a long and have been able to function well together. A strong and competent team like this makes the experience more enjoyable for all and most important, memorable.
Calvin, Gareth, John and Matthew, thank you for joining us and we hope to see you again one day. Maxime (EL), many thanks for an excellent job, we here at IMG expeditions really appreciate your expertise and deep knowledge and experience.
The team landed safely in Akureyri yesterday (4th of June) where they then staid one night before continuing to Reykjavík. There the expedition started officially and that´s where it ended. Yet another successful Mt. Gunnbjörn expedition in the bag for Icelandic Mountain Guides.
Like before we collaborated with Norlandair, the experts in getting us to the Watkins mountains area and back safely. This time we also collaborated with our friends at Adventure Consultants. Thanks to both for a fruitful cooperation.
Even thought the team got to Greenland one day later than planned, they came back to Iceland one day ahead of schedule, mission accomplished fast but safely.
You can find plenty of photos and info in previous post but let´s take a look at some more photos Ívar brought back …
For those who are interested in the Mt. Gunnbjörn 2017 Expedition, please check out IMG’s website for further information. After doing Vinson, the highest peak in the Antarctic, Mt. Gunnbjörn is a logical next step 🙂