Archive for the ‘Greenland 2010 Crossing’ Category

Day 38–What A Hike!

June 18, 2010 10:21am

Live explodes at this elevation, a long way down from the ice sheet

Majestic landscape hardly seen by humans

N77°44.458 W69°21.449 Elevation 2176 Feet

I need to make one important correction: yesterday I mentioned that the hike down to ocean level was about a kilometer and a half for a 2200 foot drop. In fact, that distance is approximately seven kilometers. This may seem like a footnote, but given the terrain, it is anything but. This is a serious hike; over some mean, jangled, “break an ankle or crack your skull”, boulder ridden sharply angled rocky slope that will put you through your paces as it challenges your balance and goes down with no end!
We left gingerly around seven PM–still on a night schedule–with essentially half of our loads, figuring that we would cover the trip in two runs: carry one load down; hike back to camp and spend the night; and finish the following day by pulling the sledges over the rocks. Easy peasy. We each strapped on about seventy pounds on our backs and set off. The incline was soon to increase, while the slope consists entirely of sharp edged rocks cracked by the harsh glacial winter conditions. The temperature was pleasant, especially as we motored down, but the winds progressively increased. An hour in, and there were howling, pushing over fifty miles per hour! The heavy cargo hardly mattered in gusts that were so powerful as to challenge our footing and push us down. The severe incline would make this hike precarious in the best of days, with no cargo. But today, it 3ad downright atletic! It took us three hours to make it down, over–it must be said–some arresting views dominating the landscape below. No sooner had we reached leveled grounds that the winds died down; the setting was serene; and the vista spectacular. Framed by mountains on either side, featuring glaciers pouring in from the top, the bay was frozen up to its mouth about three miles out. Beyond that, sprinkled like floating marshmallows on the open sea were a multitude of large, majestic icebergs. With the drop in elevation came the explosion of vegetation, and all the life that comes with it: moss, birds, bees, flies and wild flowers all thrived in the thawing tundra. We walked inadvertently very near a bird nesting in the soft moss. She clearly had not seen human beings before, and was not fazed, approaching within six feet of us. She feigned being wounded as she distracted us away from her nest, which we eventually found with four near term eggs in it.
This terrain is very uneven, and it took us a while to find ground suitable for a helicopter to land. To that point, word came back that the chopper is coming from a base quite remote from here; the cost, unfactored, is quite prohibitive–close to a second mortgage on the house! Given our options, our hands are tied, however, and this will be the unfortunate unforseable of this type of trip…
It was one AM when we begun the hike back up. As soon as we gained elevation that the winds picked up again, increasing again to a violent gale. Nervous about the the tent that we had anchored in the wet, granular snow, we raced back up the mountain–luckily, empty handed this time–which took us well over two hours. We found the tent floating in mid air, anchored by three haphazard rocks, getting man handled by the sixty miles an hour winds! This tent has seen some action on this trip! It took us thirty minutes to anchor it properly. Exhausted, we made a meal and burried ourselves in our sleeping bags to the howling conditions outside! It was four AM. This morning, we woke to the pleasant tickering sound of a stream below the snow; the winds has died and the sun was out. And today, we repeat the exercise, but pulling sledges over the rocks this time… Oh boy, this will be a rodeo!


Day 37–Life

June 17, 2010 3:01pm

This is after the remodeling…

N77°44.458 W69°21.449 Elevation 2176 Feet

I woke up to the buzzing sound of a fly; a bird was chirping nearby; and under the thin layer of granular snow below our camp, I could make out the tinkering sound of a stream. What a difference a day–and about a thousand meter drop in elevation–makes. Amidst the lichen, the soaked moss, and the small patches of thawing tundra, the bustling cycle of life is underway in ways that we are rediscovering after our stretch of isolation on the ice. I generally don’t give much thought to bugs flying by, other than a source of nuisance. But as we wearily sat on a rock to prepare our nine AM dinner, I observed in wonder the fly that landed on my hand as it explored it for microscopic bits of nourishment. While it methodically poked through the creases of my fingers, I contemplated the miracle of life in its remarkably opportunistic way. I also wondered what mix of vintage bacteria it found there and immediately concluded that this fly must have an appreciation for nuts, dry fruit and cheese, which is what I snacked on since my last hand sanitizer cleanse!
It was nice to have a rock–something!–to sit on. And as we ate our meal, soaking the warm rays of the high morning sun (we are four days from the summer solstice), I replayed in my mind the extraordinary transition that happened over the last eight hours of travel: from approaching land, to now being immersed in it, and the dramatic shift that came with it. Simply put: it feels like re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, after a walk on the moon!
We eventually received word last night that, given the thinly frozen state of the sea ice, neither dogsleds, nor skidoos can pick us up at the bottom. It will have to be helicopter; and the date is two days from no–on the 19th.
With that, we elected to make our way down to sea level, to bookend our trip. This left about twenty four kilometers of distance. With the vast amount of icepack, and the cool temperatures of night travel, we decided to push on with the kites as far as the terrain would allow. The wet snow of day hours freezes at night; this would strengthen the bridges over crevasses, and judging from the ones we had already crossed, this felt like a safe bet.
The wind had come up to a reasonable breeze, and we set out at one AM on the big kites.
The terrain was exhilarating: the rolling hills that had stretched over many miles on the ice sheet, were now compressed over a few hundred meters, and we flew up and down over them with ease, against the arresting backdrop of the mountain ranges that framed the fogged bay, some four thousand feet below.
We struggled for a while to find a path amidst the rolling hills of ice, and the precipitous cliffs that surrounded them. As the night wore on, and we progressively dropped in elevation, temperatures rose and we downsized to the smaller Mantas to give us more control maneuvering around the many crevasse fields.
We eventually found a way up and around the glacier. It was framed by black cliffs on either side, and we came to reach the last uninterrupted snow slope. The surface condition was crusty, and given the steep angle of the hill, we struggled to keep the sledges from barreling past us. We were making long “S” turns down the face with the kites, but the winds were now quite light, especially in the shadow of those hills. After flipping one sledge one too many times, I folded my kite, grabbed a hold of the sledges’ leash, picked a straight line and fired straight down! This would be the last time on this trip that I would feel the ice fly below my skis, and as we rapidly dropped in elevation, I would relish every moment of it! I could see the terrain leveling off ahead of me. And a new feature appeared: the patchy protrusion of rocks, breaking the ice’s surface, and a small frozen lake that gathered at the foot of the hill. I generated all the speed I could muster to carry me farthest on the leveling ground; after squeezing the very last inch of distance, I slowly came to a stop.
We had reached the base of the glacier, and for the most part, the end of the ice. The temperature had warmed up considerably to five degrees above freezing; the sky was clear; the sun baking; and we changed into shorts! After pulling the sledges along the last few sliver of snow, we settled on what is now an oasis of white amidst a sea of rocks, and set up camp.
Eric pulled the stoves out, and set them on the rocks. This, too, was a novel idea: eating outside! After dinner, I went for a hike–again, something new! The setting is arresting. We still have almost 2200 feet to descend to reach ocean level, over what looks like about a kilometer and half. All of that will be done dragging the sledges over rocks! We have forty hours to do it in before our helicopter pick up. As I reached a hilltop overlooking the bay below, I took in the majestic splendor of the surrounding mountains, and the frozen sea below. And I thanked the little angel on my shoulder that secured a safe passage. The fog that shrouded the bay this morning is dissipating. Hopefully it will hold back until our pick up: from what heard, fog can sometimes settle for days. That would compromise our helicopter pick. But then, maybe we’d get a chance to see bear…


Day 36–Waiting For Instructions

June 16, 2010 8:18pm

Flying the Peace Flags on our way down the glacier

We’ve stayed put for the last thirty hours. For one, the winds were howling most of the day and night, a tad strong for kiting amidst a lot of crevasses. And downright unpleasant to walk in, if you can avoid it. The disappointment of not having benefited from these winds a couple of days ago–whilst we were struggling to keep the big kites up in the air–is silly, but inevitable. It is wholly irrational, of course (you can’t get mad at the weather). But considering we have barely used our seven meters Frenzy’s which are a blast to fly–and this was the perfect weather to fly them in–we were chomping at the bit!
This morning the wind died. All day, the air was still and warm. We are electing to travel at night when the temperatures cool down to firm up the bridges over crevasses. Besides, we are waiting for directives on how we are getting picked up from the coast to reach Qaanaaq. If a helicopter is unavoidable, there isn’t much point in scaling down twenty kilometers off the glacier. The plateau we are presently on would be perfect for that. But we are getting restless as one does after spending this amount of time in a baking oven–which is what the tent feels like as it gets blasted by the sun.
Consequently, this was a day of house cleaning: arranging the sledges; discarding extra food to reduce weight; and in my case viewing and cataloguing the vast amount of footage and images from the trip. Eric napped.
I also started writing the featured article commissioned by Men’s Journal covering this trip, which will likely come out this fall. It will feature some pretty dope images!
The trip is winding down, and I am arranging the various flights to get us back into the civilized world. I will spend a couple of days in Iluissat shooting icebergs. Also called Disco Bay (God only knows why), Iluissat sits at the mouth of a fjord dominated by a glacier that spits icebergs like an ice cube dispenser. It is one of two of the best places in the world that I know of for witnessing a high concentration of icebergs (the other is the remote Otto Fjord which I photographed a couple of years ago in the company of my friend Luc and Eric’s Mom, Matty and our Young Ambassadors of the Arctic). I have been wanting to visit Disco Bay for some time, and though I won’t have my sequins on, I hope to get a chance to capture it!
We need to hear back as to the mode of pick up from the coast–and when–before we begin our descent down the glacier. We have a very comfortable margin of time as there is only one flight out of Qaanaaq per week; there was one today, and the next one is in a week. Still, at this stage, I am beginning to fantazize about a bath…soap…shampoo…


Day 35–Enchanted Landscape

June 15, 2010 12:11pm

The view from the plateau of today's camp

N77°56.959 W68°31.915 Elevation 3955 Feet

The winds came up in the middle of the night, and called us to task; we dutifully obliged, a tad reluctantly in my case, I’ll admit, as I had barely slept. We had sat almost thirty six hours in the tent, time that I spent writing, reading, and viewing and editing footage and images of the trip. I woke up to some activity in the tent and found Eric awake and chipper in the way one feels after sleeping most of the day and most of the night. It was four AM. He was preparing dinner.

“The winds are up!”, he said enthusiastically.
“So are you, I see”, I responded–somewhat incredulously.
“Yes, well I slept quite a bit.”
“You’re being modest,” I shot back. It was an understatement: he had slept 24 of the last 35 hours! Eric has the ability to nap anytime, anywhere. He claims to have fallen asleep once, even while kiting! (He allegedly woke up on the ground!)


Day 34–Land!

June 14, 2010 6:20pm

Looking at the mountains after 30 days of just ice

N77°57.844 W66°42.035 Elevation 4578 Feet

“An hour and a half?”, Eric asked almost mechanically.

“Yep”. That was short hand for the length of a run until our next break. And an exchange we have had perhaps a hundred time since we started. With that, we each gave a tug at our lines, and watched the kites slowly lift from the ground, pulling us and the sledges away from the campsite. It was 4 PM. The night had been dead calm, and the day proved equally still. As the afternoon wore on, the wind manifested just enough zeal to get us going, but took a pass on glory. Still, we availed ourselves of its low octane and got on our way. The weather was pleasantly warm, and the ice quite soft. This was going to be a day of relaxed travel, listening to music, and chipping away at the remaining eighty miles or so of kiting distance, before switching to skis to tackle the crevasses.


Day 33–On The Moon

June 13, 2010 11:58am

N78°01.673 W65°28.754 Elevation 5212 Feet

The winds started timidly late in the evening. We made dinner and decided to make a run for it as they came up. By the time we stepped outside, the condensation that had built inside the tent coated the outer walls with a white powdery frost. The sky was clear of clouds, and the low white sun cast a frigid light on the hard ice. It was one AM and cold! Stepping out of the cozy tent to face the bite of night travel always requires a mental adjustment. It doesn’t last long but a little apprehensive voice in the back of your mind would wish the wind to simply die down until the morning, so you could go back inside the warm sleeping bag and resume travel at a more civilized–and warmer–time! The moment you step out, however, that thought vanishes and commitment accounts for another small victory on the self. Besides, it is rarely as bad as you had made it to be.

We are progressively dropping in elevation, and as the day temperatures rise, the ice softens with moisture; when the cold of night sets in, the wetness hardens and the ice bonds into hard pack. No more powdered cotton clouds light airy snow: we are back to sustruge! While tougher on the joints, harder pack makes for faster travel. And tonight, we shot out of a cannon! The big kites would have been too much for the wind, but our angle of travel (practically downwind) made them smooth and very fast. A downwind tacks barely require to set the skis’ edges against the pull of the kite; in high winds, this means low pull for high velocity, and the skis literally glide over the ice! Adrenaline packed, this made for great travel.


Day 32–Clouds, Rest and Greenland Travel

June 12, 2010 7:16pm

Sitting on the sledge deliberating when to set up the tent. Again.

Clouds over the ice

N77°29.865 W61°12.009 Elevation 6305 Feet

One inescapable fact which I have long since come to terms with, and which is the deft reality of any outdoors enthusiast, is that you cannot get mad at the weather. In fact, while it can often test your resolve–and your patience–the weather is a sort of humbling supporting character in the unfolding play of your travels. On a kiting expedition, where wind is central to your success, weather takes on a starring role, but all the same–you cannot get mad at it for not showng up. Just as the wind had pinned us down in the tent for six days in the southern tip, so the lack of it–especially as time becomes pressing–can test us in the final phase of the expedition by forcing us to sit. And wait. Waiting for the wind, in kiting terms, is synonymous to kiting itself. Even in Greenland, reputable–at least in part–for its winds. Most challenging in this context is the unpredictable nature of our traveling schedule, which is a misnomer: there is no schedule; apart from a starting point, and a finishing one. And now of course, we are focused on the later. But the fact remains that we travel when the winds tell us it’s OK to do so. And sometimes–often–they change their mind.


Day 31–Two birds and One Flag

June 11, 2010 7:55pm

N77°20.211 W60°10.444 Elevation 6494 Feet

We passed the two thousand kilometers mark today! To be exact, we have traveled a total of two thousand and thirty kilometers as of tonight. And to celebrate, we got it all: almost every possible condition summed up in one day.
The day started well. I had monitored the building winds early this morning and woke Eric up at 8. It looked as if our spell was subsiding, and our wishes answered: the winds were up. By 10AM, we were clipped into the harness with the big kites, in what was sure to be an overpowered session. We were headed almost straight downwind, however, and that creates less pull–once you get past the launch! Taking off is like getting shot out of a cannon, and with almost forty kilometers of wind, we were quick to reach fifty kilometers an hour speeds, even through the deep powder!


Day 29–Powder World

June 10, 2010 8:20pm

Action shot of the screen of my big camera explains the quality of the transfer

N76°28.481 W52°50.579 Elevation 7395 Feet

We are steeped in powder. A fresh blanket of light, dry snow shrouds the ice, rounding up the sharp edges of the sastruga in one, even layer that stretches in all direction. And somehow, for no logical reason, everything feels quieter. Except, of course, when you attempt to walk through it without ski and sink to your knee with each step. The celestial silence is then invariably broken by the sharp sound of a curse, or a grunt!
And it gets into everything. It sticks to you, and wants to be your friend. It gets in the sledges; on the sledges; inside your bags; your gloves; your helmet… And when kiting, the sledges plow through it creating a spray in their wake that lands–where else–on top of them. After a one hour run, the stowaway snow on the sledges probably accounts for an extra five pounds of weight! Redistributing the loads inside the sledges to reduce the drag is futile and ineffective. You simply have to do with your pesky new friend…


Day 28–The Sound of Silence

June 9, 2010 9:57pm

Gloom as a grey winter

Waiting for our marching orders

N76°12.310 W51°02.415

“Flip me over, I’m done on this side!” was the first thought that went through my mind as I woke up in sweats this morning. The sun was beating on the tent, turning it into a baking oven. We opened the flaps, and dozed off again. In an odd, schizophrenic way, I sometimes wonder whether I am not getting more rest on this trip than I am at home! The sun was out in full glory for most of the morning which led us to believe that the bad weather system that has been with us for the last few days, and the light winds that came with it, might be behind us.