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  • Writer's pictureSiv Harstad

Dare to Dream Big – Greenland Expedition Part 1

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

Very different from a “normal” expedition in a normal year, the 2 weeks leading up to our Greenland expedition were extremely stressful. Before we could leave for Greenland we had to get everything ready.

Why was this again? Because most of the world was more or less locked down at the beginning of 2021 and Greenland had been closed for 4 months. We’d booked the first flight into Greenland after they opened up for people to travel there without knowing. One for the reasons it became so tight was that Greenland had a change of government at the same time. We only got the message that we could go 1 week and 6 days before our planned departure and we were on the plane!

At the time, it was not possible to just go out and buy what we needed. In Oslo, Norway, in the end of April/beginning of May 2021, most of the shops we needed were closed and some of the things we needed were not in stock. It was impossible to get hold of them at the time. We had so many extra challenges because of this. For instance, we needed a communication solution, and to know whether it would fit inside our helmets we needed to see it, not just look at a picture online. We managed to get somebody from the store to meet us outside the store so we could look at it. Unfortunately, we could not use that solution and had to find another one.

Basically, we had to plan and buy, organize and pack all the things we needed during these few days. If it had been normal times, that would have been one thing, but under the current circumstances, it was another game altogether. We did it from the approach of “What is the most urgent activity?” So, for instance, we booked our hotel the evening before we left because before that most hotels were not open for booking and also at that point did we need a booking to know where we were staying to fill out a form to enter the country.

Anyway, we got everything pulled it all together and arrived in Greenland with a few extra challenges - you can read about those in my previous post. If you thought we were all ready and set when we arrived, you have to think again!

Our meeting with Ilulissat, Greenland

We arrived in Ilulissat, Greenland on a Friday afternoon and went straight to our hotel so we could start our 5-day quarantine. We had already booked the helicopter to lift us onto the ice on Wednesday May 12th.

Ilulissat was an interesting city, I have to say. It’s Greenland’s 3rd largest city with 4.500 inhabitants – a UNESCO city. Like many of the cities and towns in Greenland, all the houses were brightly painted in different colors. The reason for it being a UNESCO city is all the icebergs that float by on the Icefjord. So fascinating to see – they were so beautiful and to see the speed they sometimes moved by was truly fascinating. Neither of us had expected this and we were taken in by the beauty and changing colors during the day. I have a new and unexpected fascination for icebergs.

Shopping in Ilulissat

A good thing was that we were allowed to go to the grocery store and be outdoors during the quarantine. This meant that we could do the shopping we still needed for our expedition. In Greenland, the grocery shops have a much more diverse range than in most other countries. As an example, we needed to bring a shotgun for protection in case we should meet a polar bear. They sold them at the grocery store, just next to the take away coffee and hot dogs. In addition they of course had a variety of groceries you’ll normally find in a grocery store. However, there was a small problem – they did not have white fuel. We needed this for our stoves so we could melt snow into water. That suddenly became a major issue.

On Sunday many stores were closed and finally on Monday we could go to the shop they’d recommended to us. They did not have white fuel but the shop manager convinced us that the kind of fuel he had for heaters was just as good. Since we did not have any alternatives, we got it and went back to the hotel and tested it out the same afternoon. The test showed the importance of testing everything because it showed us two problems:

  1. We had not brought any lighters to Greenland, believing we could easily buy them there. The one we had purchased had a too low flame for it to work.

  2. The fuel we had bought burned very poorly. It was actually hard to light and it gave off a lot of smoke and soot. Not ideal for tent life.

We agreed to focus on solving both of the issues the next day, Tuesday, after the tests that would get us out of the quarantine.

We googled the different fuel types we could use and found out what their names were in Danish (Danish is a official language on Greenland and even though Danish is much like Norwegian, at times it differs a lot). We went on a search for both fuel and lighters. The Storm lighters they had all over the city did not have high enough flame for us to light our stoves. This took up a lot of time that day, but by the end of the day, we had a fuel type we’d found at a hardware store. We bought all the stock they had but were still missing a few liters. We agreed to take along some of the fuel we’d first bought as a backup for the missing liters of our preferred kind.

We also came home with all the different kinds of lighters we could manage to find. I even went to a few interior design and kitchen equipment stores to try to find lighters. The end of that story was that good old-fashioned fireplace matches were what we ended up with!

Limping around

Another issue was that I for a longer period have had a problem with my hip and was more or less limping around as we were doing our final preparations. I was worried it would be an issue on the expedition and pretended it was not such a big problem. Håkon did not ask about it; I think he worried about it too. He only said so when I told him about the session I had booked.

Over the past year, I have learned a new modality and gotten to know an amazing lady in Ireland. I asked her if she could have a session with me and she did one this last evening online. I cannot say how grateful I am for that. Her healing of my hip enabled me to do the expedition without any mentionable pain. She also helped out a bit during the expedition when I sent her a “message”. Both Håkon and I were grateful for her work and that I was pain-free during the expedition.

Last-minute permit

Late on the Tuesday afternoon, I realized we had not received our permit for doing the expedition. By the time I realized it, it was already about 17/5pm and I know they normally do not work after 16/4pm in public offices in Greenland. I put calling them first thing the following morning as our #1 thing to do. Our helicopter was booked for 14/2 pm the following day.

We continued packing and organizing, charging all our electronics, double-checking we had our route properly mapped, trying to organize our challenge and all the things that were supposed to go smoothly while we were on the ice. At 21/9 pm that evening I got an email with the permit to do the expedition. Phew! Just in time.

Truth to be told, we slept just 3 hours the final night and it was stressful to be ready to leave for the airport in time for the 14/2pm helicopter flight.

Challenges with the helicopter

When we arrived at the airport, after a little back and forth they picked up all our gear and asked us to come around to talk to the pilot. He looked at all our gear and asked us if we had been on an expedition like this before. We looked at each other. This was our first time ski-kiting with sleds in a polar environment but we did not want to say so. The pilot wasn’t sure if he could get all our gear into the helicopter. While talking to him we found out that he had received the message that we had 100 kg of gear with us, but we had booked 2x 100 kg of gear. A “minor” difference! As we talked to him, we found out he was Norwegian too and he ended up taking out one of the seats from the helicopter to fit all our gear inside.

He also told us that the weather was so-so. He did not know if he would be able to fly us to our drop-off point. “Because of the clouds,” he explained. He basically prepared us for the fact that he might have to turn around before reaching our drop-off point and in that case, we’d have to go back and wait for better weather. We knew if that happened the cost of the extra flight would be on us. We didn’t want that extra cost, but most of all we were so ready to start and didn’t want to end up back in the city later that afternoon.

The flight

It’s always nice to fly helicopter and we got a bird’s-eye view of Icefjorden with all the icebergs as we headed to the inland glacier. The reason we flew up on the ice is that at this location it is not possible to go in the fjord by boat, due to all the icebergs. Also, all the crevasses in the area close to the fjord are also too risky. It’s better to fly up and start from a safe spot.

While the pilot flew, we crossed our fingers and tried to point out the direction we thought we could fly to reach our destination and avoid the clouds that could end our flight. We could choose our drop-off point, so we were eagerly looking out the window, looking for a good location to stop. Just when I was about to say, “This looks like a good place to stop,” I noticed many heavy crevasses coming up. I pinched my lips together and told myself that I needed to be 100% sure before we stopped. “Almost sure” was not good enough here.

Finally, we agreed. We found the location we wanted him to put us down. It was not too far from our originally planned drop-off point. We hustled all our gear out of the helicopter and sat on it when he left.

It was a very special feeling seeing the helicopter leaving us – a good combination of joy, happiness, and excitement mixed in with a little fear.

We were on our own, just the two of us. It was about 1500 km to our destination, and it would cost us a fortune to call a helicopter to come and rescue us. Did we have it all? Anything forgotten was too late now. It was time for action – to actually execute the expedition.

To be continued in my next post…

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