In March and April, 2007 Linda Beilharz, Rob Rigato and Roger Chao completed an East West crossing of the Greenland Iceap. They travelled for 35 days from near Nagtivit to Kangerlussuaq, passing Dye 2 on the icecap. On their 4th day they experienced a Pittarak (wind storm) which kept them tent bound for 4 days, destroying one of their two tents.
The following paragraphs are the dispatches sent by the team during the expedition.
12/04/07 Day 1 a perfect start
GPS-pos: N 65°410821′ | W 38°465881′
Roger, Linda & Rob were dropped by helicopter at the stunningly beautiful east coast shore line at Nagtivit. We slowly began our journey up the icecap incline with icebergs, sea ice and shoreline hills in full view. The sleds are as heavy as they will be for the journey but they slid over the crisp icy slope well. It was a warm day – around zero C and completely calm. Travelling in thermals alone was most comfortable. We set camp, learning to build a snow wall and breaking (and repairing a tent pole).
13|04|07 Day 3
GPS-pos: N 65°481451′ | W 038°580781′
The sun greeted us this morning but disappeared in a snow cloud before we got going. Our white out navigation worked well, better than our skiing on the icy surface. We had some comical moments as we tried to pull the sleds from the patches of sticky, new snow onto the icy patches where we had little grip.
The overcast conditions have stayed with us all day, making our world only as big as our three selves.
Rob slowed down, feeling unwell so we made camp after only a few km’s, figuring a chance to sleep off whatever he has was more valuable than slipping and plodding very slowly on.
Spirits of all 3 remain high.
GPS-pos: N 65°504821′ | W 039°174001′
The day started with nice sunny blue sky. We ended the day trudging through very heavy deep snow which was very tiresome and slow. We ended up getting whited out and thus had to use our chest/neck mounted compass to navigate, but it was still very difficult to ski in a straight line!. When we stopped skiing we found that digging tent pits and walls was much harder work than hauling heavy sleds; depending on the weather conditions this is taking us up to two hours to do.
Rob had a great day so whatever was troublling him yesterday has certainly passed. We were all pretty weary at the end of the day but had some great moments throughout.
19/04/07 On the move again after 60 hours of Pittarak
GPS-pos: N 65°508331′ | W 39°565441′ | Alt: 1390M
After the third night tent bound due to a Pittarak , one tent was completely destroyed and abandoned for the safety of our remaining tent. The wind seemed to funnel down the snow walls protecting the tent. However during the night our other tent was so punished by the wind, which had changed direction slightly, leaving us to sleep against tent fabric, supporting the poles as best we could.
A ski and two poles were retrieved with relief, downwind but not too far away. The solar panel also required repair and we are being cautious about our phone use till we know we can recharge the battery effectively.
GPS-pos: N 66°097841′ | W 043°38451′ | Alt: 2433m
After 10 days of white-out we are looking forward to seeing the sun. We are now half way to Dye2. We were visited by a little bird the other day; it sat down on the snow for a couple of seconds then flew off. It looked a bit like an inflated sparrow. The traveling conditions are getting better, but as it is taking longer than we expected we are monitoring our food and fuel.
4/5/07 Day 24
GPS-pos: N 66°251761′ | w 45°300601′
We’ve had four fabulous days of sunshine, clear weather and fast travel, with 26km done today.
We’ve seen wonderful sun dogs and sun halos, and a whole flock of birds.
6/5/07 Day 25 in the morning
GPS-pos: N 66°276191′ | W 046°018461′
We traveled 24 km yesterday, over flat firm ground that looked like the surface of a windswept lake.
It was overcast to begin with, but the clouds rose later in the day to provide a stormy looking sunset, and a glimpse of Dye 2 at the end of the day, 12km away.
It’s a warm morning, only -12 degrees.
6/5/07 Day 25
We covered 18km in fair weather and good firm snow conditions. for the first part of the day we headed for Dye 2, which rose like an ethereal monolith out of the white plain of the icecap. We took an hour or so to find out way in and explore some of the snow filled rooms. We were disappointed to find expedition trash among the abandoned items in the old radar station. It is a truly impressive structure, and a reminder of past world politics. To our surprise there were snow machines working a couple of kilometers away and a fully operational runway.
8/5/07 Day 27
GPS-pos: N 66°75183′ | W 047°41718′
After 2 days of over 25km we are very happy with our progress. we have been skimming over the firm hard surface as we enjoy a gradual descent towards lower altitudes to the west. We’ve been tantalised by views ahead which may be mountains or cloud over lower terrain.
It has not been snowing but the wind blows snow in waves across the ground. Daylight has lengthened so we now have no darkness and sleep in a long twilight. Daytime temperatures are warmer (-10) and we’ve enjoyed visibility for many of days now.
It’s exhilarating and also a little sad that in a few days time (5-6) we will be off this icecap, this cold white world (and this cramped, cozy little tent) and back among people and normal life.
9/5/07 Day 28
GPS-pos: N 66°882191′ | W 047°878781′
The weather seems to have settled into a pattern of hazy windy mornings with the sky clearing during the day. By this afternoon streaks oh high cirrus clouds and a bright sun were set against a deep blue sky.
During the day a V shaped flock of birds flew westwards. We are hearing more airplanes as we travel to the coast.
It was -15 degrees C when we got out of the tent this morning, and -5 by the afternoon.
Traveling was very good on firm snow with few sastrugi. It does get foster in the afternoon, but is still good to travel over. We did 25km today. Looking at the cumulus clouds on the western horizon reminds us that we are now less than 100km from our rendezvous.
Building the snow wall this afternoon was very hard work (It was Roger and Rob’s turn today) but the hot drinks when they got in the tent was very welcome.
10/5/07 Day 28
GPS-pos: N 66°98732′ | W 04°838347′
We skied in the sunniest, clearest weather we’ve had yet. From a chilly -20C start, we finished the day in thermals and sunscreen. The terrain has a lot more ups and downs in it now, as we descend gradually away from the flat top of the ice cap.
We passed formations that seemed to be blisters of ice, Large lumped pushed up from below by shifting ice layers. They had shades of blue in contrast to the white of the surrounding snow, and they were as hard as rock.
We’ve now done 100km in 4 days, and have 74km to go. As the terrain and route finding gets trickier on the icecap edge, we expect that we may have to slow down.
11/5/07 Day 31
We traveled 27km today, our greatest distance ever was achieved partly due to some significant downhill slopes. Sometimes the sleds went faster than we did, resulting in our invention of a new term being pulked. This sometimes results in an involuntary sit-down on an unruly sled.
We met a group of 7 Danish expeditioners working their way up the slopes in the opposite direction. They looked fresh and clean, and gave us news about good conditions ahead.
Clear sunny weather continues though the wind is increasing in strength again, softening the landscape as it blows snow across the ground.
12/5/07 Day 32
GPS-pos: N 67°11902′ | W 049°64024′
Todays journey over 29 km near the final stage of the descent from the icecap included some thrilling downhill slopes. We moved fast, hanging onto out poles tightly for balance and concentrating hard on keeping skis , sleds, and bodies coordinated and upright. We had some spills, and many near misses, but finished each descent on a high.
Towards the end of the day we were traveling around an increasing number of mounds of ice. This is exposed icecap ice after the wind has swept it clean of snow. We discovered they are much harder when you fall on them than snow. We know that the end of our journey will involve picking our way through a lot more of this thick blue ice.
Our tent is nestled between huge ice lumps. A very creative snow wall built between lumps and around scalloped snow ridges protects the tent somewhat from a strong wind. The tent is secured with ice screws as the snow patches are very thin.
As we look westward from our tent the vista of ice mounds reminds us of jewels glistening as they catch the light of the setting sun. the ice lumps surface is puckered with melt holes and decorated with embedded specs of rock blown in from surrounding hills. If we look upwind the ice mounds look like waves in the ocean, the spin drift whipped up by the wind appearing like sea-spray.
Day 33 (13/5/07)
Now, after 32 nights of camping on an ice block that is nearly the size of Australia, we have run out of icecap. We are on the inland edge of the strip of land that separates the icecap from the sea. The green part of Greenland.
We finished the day by carrying our gear and the sleds over glacial moraine and crawled thankfully into sleeping bag after midnight. An orange sunset at around 11:15pm illuminated our activities as we pitched the tent for the first time on soil.
While only 17km long, we worked very hard today alternately skiing and walking through a maze of blue ice sastrugi. We were dwarfed by the ice cliffs and wind scalloped gouges. At times we felt we could be clambering and sliding over these obstacles for ever. Pulking took on a new dimension as the sleds came alive with a momentum of their own. We controlled them as best we could, sliding them backwards down some slopes but they frequently ran into our legs, spun us around and dived down side slopes sometimes taking us with them.
While progress was slow and hard we were fascinated by the colors and shapes around us and frequently stopped to take photos. It was a beautiful and unworldly landscape. Clouds in the sky seemed to mirror the ice shapes and for a brief moment we were rewarded with some brilliant sun dogs high in the sky.
As the sun warmed the snow in the late afternoon it became soft and mushy. The ice was easier to negotiate with the stickier wet surface and large melt water pools appeared. In the final kilometer we sometimes sank below boot level in water running through snow, finishing the day with cold wet feet.
We will continue our journey to kangerlussuaq (Sondre Strom Fjord) for the next 2 days, walking down a gentle river valley. This will complete our east coast to west coast journey.
15/5/07 Day 35
Hooray! We arrived at our expedition destination the waters of Sondre Stromfjord which reach out to the sea on the western coast.
We really enjoyed the 30+ kilometer walk down flat glacial river valleys. The warm golds and bronzed greens of the hardy vegetation, the birdlife, tarns and creeks, and the gravel road we were on highlighted a huge contrast with the icecap we so recently left. We were able to see huge seracs, ice cliffs and moraine features as our road meandered alongside outreaching tongues of glacial ice. Our final camp on a braided river flat filled the tent with sand instead of snow.
Id imperfectum manet dum confectum erit (Its not over till its over!)
It took us a while to find our accommodation at the 0ld Camp in Kangerlussuaq, 2km past the main part of town. It took several hours more to locate our luggage and much walking between post office, airline and the Old Camp. After 33 days of hard skiing our muscles and feet ached with the unaccustomed work of pack carrying.
We are now clean, eating lots, sorting out gear and relaxing our weary bodies. We expect to post a dispatch soon with photos from the trip we would dearly love to have sent you earlier.
The Greenlandic word for weather Sila is the same as their word for consciousness. We have experienced the relationship between the stormy and benign faces of our environment and in our own physical and emotional responses to the demands of our journey.
We are happy to be at the end and also sorry that its over. Life feels good.
Linda, Rob and Roger.