Interview with ExWeb

I never got a chance to post this at the time, but here's a copy of the ExplorersWeb interview which followed the big trip this year:

( The two young Britons, Alex Hibbert (22) and George Bullard (19) sledge-hauled a 1374 miles (2546 km) return journey on the Greenland Icecap. Alex tells about their lost depots, food shortage, crevasses crossings, how they kept going and more.

ExWeb: The start at the East coast is quite steep and your sleds were very heavy. How did you manage that?

Alex: Very slowly I'm afraid! Our pulks began at around 195kg, which was a little more than we had hoped. We had some thick snow on the ascent from the coast up to 8600ft, which made life harder. Our initial mileages were below 5 miles/day.

ExWeb: You made depots along the way. How did you decide how many depots to make and how did you secure them against the elements? Were their any problems when you found them again?

Alex: We had to balance up laying too many to be practical and putting 'all our eggs in one basket'. We settled on 10, which was based on the number of 5litre fuel containers we had. There was a great motivation to lay some early on to get some of the weight out the pulks! The depots were GPS marked and had the co-ordinates sent to the UK as backup. We built large snow and ice cairns on the depots to mark them more accurately. On our return the final 2 depots were not located due to high winds destroying cairns and a hard ice layer not allowing us to excavate the area.

ExWeb: Polar explorers loose weight during expeditions. You said you lost 18 kg. What happened with your food supply, why were you on ¼ rations at the end?

Alex: Our supply worked very well until the loss of the 2 depots, which caused the heavy rationing at the end of the journey. All in all, for 113 days, we were delighted with weight loss of only 18kg. We are now both back in training less than 2 weeks on. Our nutritional system from BeWell did a great job.

ExWeb: Did you get frostbite or any other physical injuries?

Alex: We suffered minor frostnip in the early days, especially with the polar nights. Altogether we escaped frost injuries fairly well.

ExWeb: You were a very long time on the ice. What kept you going?

Alex: Looking back on it, we're not quite sure. 113 days is well in excess of most expeditions and we just developed mindsets, which didn't ponder the number of days left. We concentrated on the present - usually when our next meal was!

ExWeb: Were there any time that your expedition was in danger for some or other reason?

Alex: Apart from the period of low calories at the end (where both felt dizzy and hypoglycemic), we had a moment where we struggled to put up the tent in winds in excess of 55mph. We had no polar bear issues and despite heavy crevassing only put a ski down one or two.

ExWeb: How was the weather? Have you experienced a vicious pittaraq?

Alex: The weather was pretty awful for the most part! We had long periods without a break from the whiteout and high winds. We had one major pitarak early on which may have been responsible for the loss of our two first depot cairns. High winds continued throughout and visibility/contrast was rarely good.

ExWeb: What was the best or most interesting experience during the expedition?

Alex: The most exciting was no doubt the sight and sound of the helicopter coming to extract us from the edge of the icecap! Most interesting was the effect that seeing the West Coast had on us. We had total sensory deprivation for 70 days on the outward leg and seeing mountains was extraordinary!

ExWeb: What was your worst experience?

Alex: The realisation we'd have to complete the final 10 days on next to no food and having to consider an early pickup.

ExWeb: How did you find the terrain on Greenland?

Alex: The surface was fairly poor. Our first 100 miles were totally covered with large sastrugi, routinely 3-5 feet high. This made the early hauling with the heavy pulks and steep gradients very tough indeed. Lucky they were gone by the time we returned! The surface in June became slow and sticky which was at times frustrating.

ExWeb: You are still young and previously you had plans for the South Pole and North Pole. Are those still on your list? What will be next?

Alex: The two previous plans are very much postponed, not cancelled. I join the Royal Marines this year, but intend to remain heavily involved in polar expeditions. I still have major ambitions both North and South, but the manner in which I do them must be right. I want to maintain my back to basics ethos, avoiding the commercialisation of polar tourism and expeditions, and keep travelling fully unsupported on expeditions that aren't repeats of previous ones. Next may well be a major sea-ice training expedition, but not confirmed.

Alex and George started their Greenland expedition on 26 March 2008, pulling sleds weighing around 195 kg. Their aim to traverse Greenland and return, unsupported, unsupplied via a new route from the Nagtivit glacier on the East coast to Baffin Bay on the West coast and back (1400 miles / 2250 km).
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