Greenland Crossing 2016 – post expedition summary

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.


Maxime Poncet, the Greenland Crossing 2016 expedition leader


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.


The route a cross the ice cap


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.


The pulkas made ready


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 pulkas are heavy in the beginning


When all of the gear was sorted out, the team was flown up to Hahn glacier


Ready for take off


The team was dropped off on Hahn glacier


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.


Happy team members inside one of the tents


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.


High walls have to be built around the tents to protect them from the strong winds


In the morning the camp looks a bit different than the evening before. If the wind was strong, part of the wall might have fallen down and snow sometimes builds up around the tents


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.


The abandoned DYE 2 radar station


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.


Past the radar station, now heading towards the end of the the route


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.


The ice fall is a labyrinth of  crevasses and ridges.


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.


The team had to cross streams of water and travel over slushy snow/ice and big ponds of water in some places


Finally they could see Point 660 that is by the terminus of the ice cap


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.


The GC 2016 team celebrating a successful crossing


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.


– bh