It’s the time of the year when deliveries arrive daily in our office and we’re wearing new Baffin boots to test their fit. Meticulous preparation for a crossing of the Patagonian Icefield has begun with the arrival of the first maps. Not laminated OS maps but cut-out flimsy papers, laid on top of each other and stuck down with Sellotape.
The whole feel of the expedition is like this. Less certain, less straightforward, lots of thinking laterally. There is not a lot of information in general, and none of this complete or trustworthy enough to base main decisions on. It’s the opposite of typing in ‘climb Mt Blanc’. All of this is also one of the main appeals. A summer crossing brings its own complications. On the east side you tend to get a lot of snow and on the west, a lot of rain. Snow we could deal with, but rain and being damp sounds like a less desirable proposition.
The expedition uses multiple modes of travel, which adds enormously to its complexity: boat crossings and portages, a cache-phase and finally the ice cap. A whole week will be needed to get up onto the ice cap, walking through moraine fields, woodland and tundra. The main effort will be moving our kit to new camps and new caches to eventually get all 300kg of equipment onto the plateau where we can start dragging it in pulks. We will need to take a lot of contingency food for bad weather. Once on the crevasse field, we will then travel across to the western side where the ground gets the trickiest. The actual pulk phase is only short but means navigating complex crevasse fields, lowering off cliff faces and crossing glacial lakes.
Greenland is technically easier but it is much longer in distance and far more remote than Patagonia.
It’s a true challenge that is connected to the historic expeditions. It’s a long way from help; the idea of being out on the ice cap for 30 days, only seeing snow, covering 500km with a 100kg pulk and knowing that, on average, only seven teams attempt it a year is really exciting. It’s one thing getting yourself prepared for an expedition that lasts eight days, but doing one where you start dragging a 100kg pulk up a hill and knowing that the days will get longer rather than shorter km-wise is a whole different game. You have to be getting stronger and fitter and more motivated to be able to get out in time before everything melts lower down and creates impassable rivers.
The biggest challenge with Greenland is to make the decision on whether to cross from the east or from the west. All expeditions start and end at the same two spots, mainly for the fact that these are serviced by airports in a country with little infrastructure. Your decision is a balance between start times, hardest terrain with the heaviest pulks and logistics costs. If you’re going from the east side, then you’re likely to need a helicopter to be able to get up onto the ice cap and might need one at the end too if floodwaters are too high to get through. If you start from the west, you may be able to use a boat at the end as the sea is defrosted. West-side terrain is harder so you want to go down it with an empty pulk rather than up it with a full one.
At the end of the day, Greenland is a major challenge which everybody has heard of, but very few people tackle it still.
Exped Adventure run the Patagonian Icefield in December 2018 and Greenland in 2020. For more information, get in touch with Jamie on 07854 197584 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.