Spring to summer...

As some of you may have heard or read about in the spring, my attempt with team-mate Wilki to make a speed crossing of the Greenland icecap in April was halted somewhat prematurely.

Sorel Open Range boots with microspikesPersistent low-pressure shrouded the entire east coast of Greenland with low cloud which made it impossible for our helicopter to fly us to our glacier start point at Nagtivit. Other options for accessing the edge of the icecap were also impossible - having spoken to local hunters with skidoos and dog teams, they concluded the massive snowfall made it a non-starter. Some areas had nearly 4 feet of loose powder cover. As Wilki and I waited out the conditions in Tasiilaq village, it became more and more apparent that even if our helicopter had been able to fly, the record of 8 days 9 hours would be a tall-order. The glacier start point had received so much snow that movement was all but impossible That ascent was a section we'd need to cover in a few short hours to keep to our record schedule. The lack of cold temperatures and sun also meant that the powder snow was not consolidating and packing down into a skiable surface - perhaps not starting in April was a lucky escape.

A few months later, we are again preparing to return to the giant icecap. Given that we are granted a permit in the narrow summer expedition window, we should arrive in Greenland in mid August and access the Nagtivit glacier, this time by local boat. The icecap will be a totally different beast in the summer conditions - in fact I've only skied and hauled in Greenland in the summer twice, in 2007 and 2008. Gone will be the bitter low temperatures, the deep snow cover and bridged crevasses. Instead we will face dehydratingly strong sun, occasional rain, bare glaciers and wide open crevasses with few crossing points. On the west coast the summer meltwater will make our descent to Point 660 (where ice meets land) even more difficult. Snow cover will be sticky, making our skins (which grip our skis to the snow) glob up with snow and need frequent reapplications of wax.

As a result, our tactics will change somewhat. Our daily distance targets will remain, maintaining the same timing plan as before. However, to make the best of the consolidated surface once inland, we have custom modified our sledges to massively reduce drag. Our boots will no longer be ultra-low temperature rated Baffins and instead we'll use Sorels (pictured). Perhaps the biggest change will be that we'll ski from the outset at night. This will allow us to avoid the hottest part of the day, when the sun will cause us to sweat our precious water supplies away and also allow the colder night air to improve the snow surface. Instead of using skis throughout to climb snow-shrouded crevassed glaciers, we'll use microspikes to grip as we walk through the maze of hard ice and snow and huge crevasses. Only then, once out of the turbulent ice, will we fit our sledge modifications, don our skis and pick up speed towards our icecap summit at 2000m.

We hope that our original plans, combined with these alterations, a lot of seriously hard work (15+ hours per day) and a small dose of luck will lead to success. I'll set up our expedition updates and communication system here for you all to follow in early August. Stay tuned until then and do ask any questions.

Start Date: 10th August 2011 

Distance: 350 miles (530 km)

Time to beat: 8 days 9 hours

Daily distance: in excess of 40 miles 

Daily time skiing: over 15 hours

Sleep: Not a lot

Alex Hibbert4 Comments