• Siv Harstad

Greenland - Part 3

Updated: Dec 29, 2021



My last blog post left you with the Wednesday morning weather forecast: “There is a storm coming in on Friday, get as far north as possible. There is also something else on Tuesday.”


We looked at each other and agreed to keep doing what we had done for the past few days – keeping our focus on staying in flow and doing our best. This was something we would have done anyway.

The best part of being on a team with someone who’s the same as you is that there are no discussions about trying to do our best. It’s in our blood. It’s what we do.


We focused on the Friday part of the message and did not think much about the Tuesday part.


Again, the wind died on us and we had to end of the day earlier than we had wanted to but because we had managed to kite 110 km, it was fine. We had done a good day’s job.


Staying Close

The next day we had low visibility and more winds. We agreed to stay close to each other so we would not lose each other. Leaving the camp that morning, there was the most beautiful light of the whole expedition. It was cloudy and a little dark and we had a strong wind from our right-hand side (south-east), with loads of snow both in the air and blowing on top of the hard surface. Not like snowflakes before Christmas; more like sugar blowing from our side. And then there was an orange light from the horizon in front of us. With Håkon in front of me, I saw him silhouetted against the rising sun. It’s a vision I’ll keep with me forever. I wish I could have taken a picture, but my Go Pro had shut down because of the cold and I could not stop, because I’d have lost him from sight in a heartbeat – something I did not want to do!


We had experienced that the previous day. I had stopped to fix a small thing. Håkon was in front of me, not knowing that I had stopped. When I was ready to continue onwards, I could not see him any longer. I kited in the direction where he had been in front of me just before I’d stopped, but I couldn’t see him. Everything is flat and white so it should not be difficult to see someone. But it is. Just when I started to wonder how far he possibly could have managed to go, and just as I’d started to worry, he came up on my left-hand side and yelled to me, wondering what I was doing. I’d been headed in the wrong direction. Fortunately, he had seen me and came to get me. I did not want to repeat that experience.


It was a challenge to stay close enough together while kiting, but a true necessity. This day we did not take any breaks like we normally would have done; it was simply too cold. We had a quick lunch when we were hungry, and continued on. The temperature was an effective –38˚C (the combination of temperature and wind) and we managed to kite 140 km with pretty cold feet! Finally – a day with good progress.


Eating and Drinking

After a day like this, it is so important to rehydrate and eat enough because we had not refueled during the day. You’d think that you do not need much water when it is this cold, but that is wrong. You need at least as much as in warm weather. Being a high-altitude climber, I’m used to keeping control over how much I drink on my expeditions. In fact, better than at home because I know how important it is. Being dehydrated will affect your performance.


Most days we had freeze-dried dinners. We only had to melt and boil water, add it and wait until it was ready. I tested out to eating more vegetarian dinners and loved them. We tried a new brand with tasty, good vegetarian dinners with loads of calories. Just what you want on an expedition.

We slept like babies after this day.


The following day we also had good winds of 12m/s and with our good routines for tearing and setting camp we managed to do a total of 120 km. It felt good to be getting some real progress.


Did the Storm Hit? More Weather Incoming

Friday came and the morning brought more winds than the day before, but not too bad – about 15 m/s (54 km/h). For a kiter, that is doable. There was a bit of fog and snow in the air, so we stayed close together on this day too.


In the evening it was not all that windy as we set up camp. We built a strong snow wall in case the storm came in. The wind conditions can change in a heartbeat and you do not want to get up during the night to build a snow wall. We again slept like babies and there was no wind to mention that we noticed. In reality we had managed to get far enough north to miss the storm! Only to wake up to the message, “There is a hurricane coming in on Tuesday, continue as far north as possible!”


When this message came, it as a bit “o, shit” feeling, however, we did not really get stressed. Again, we just kept our focus on delivering our best, which is what we do.


Each day we had an approximate plan of how far we thought we would kite for the day, but it was not always so easy to follow the plan as the wind had varying strengths and some of the days the wind decided to go all quiet earlier in the afternoon than other days.


Different Kite Sizes

For some reason, I wasn’t such good friends with my mid-sized kite in Greenland. I had used it sometime before we’d left and had kind of liked it, but here… not such good friends. We’d had to switch to the mid-sized ones after an hour of kiting, and again I felt like we did not really get any progress with them. My mid-sized kite is 2 m2 smaller than Håkons – something that matters quite a bit. I seriously felt things did not go so well with the mid-sized kite. We made progress but it was slow. In the end, my patience had had it. I wanted to change to the large one to get more speed so we could make more progress. Håkon did not want to change to the large one, but I was like, “That’s fine, I want to change to my large one.” So, I did and as I was setting my large kite up to go I got massive tangles on my lines. A nightmare. It took forever to fix and I was not happy with that. Håkon patiently waited while I sorted it all out. Bless him.


Finally, it was sorted and we could get going again. It was absolutely better than the mid-sized one, but still not all that good. Plus, not too long after that the wind died on us. “Only” 90 km. I was really disappointed and I knew that if I had not insisted on changing my kite, we would have made more progress that day because we would have managed to get further before the wind had died with the time I’d spent fixing the lines. In the evening I said sorry to Håkon for having pushed on to change the kite and causing us to end up with only 90 k. He laughed and said, “You know you are on the right team when your team member is disappointed with 90 k!” – Good point!


Looking back at it, the reason it had felt like the progress had been so slow was that we’d had a few days with very strong winds and had become “speed blind” so that normal kite wind felt very slow.

At the start of the following day, we again had not so strong winds, but they picked up and we ended up with a day of 140 k again. That felt good.


Mountains in the Horizon

The following morning, we woke up to beautiful weather – sunshine, not too cold and perfect winds. As we were getting closer to the coast, we were hoping we might be able to se some of the mountains along the coast during the day. It was like the best Easter day; smooth kiting – totally the best day we had on the whole expedition. It was like cruising along in the sunshine with a small layer of snow on top of the harder surface. At one point I was starting to wonder if my mind had gone mad as I thought I heard band music (!) Only to find out that Håkon had his phone on loudspeaker with jazz music playing.


Seeing the mountains peaking up on the horizon and getting closer as we kited we were like children on Christmas Eve: joy, happiness and excitement – emotions bubbling like a wonderful glass of champagne. We were so excited and curious about how it would look when we approached the coast. Would there be large crevasses there? Would it be steep? Would we need ropes to climb down? Would there be snow all the way down?


Because the conditions were so wonderful, and we were curious about how it would look, we ended up kiting 154 k that day. We pitched our tent in a location with a beautiful view of the surrounding glaciers and mountain tops. We had started on the way down to the fjord where our end goal was!


Detour

The following day we were a bit tired after the long day before, so we had a slow, stress-free morning. That felt good. We were not too far from the fjord now, so we expected to get pretty close during the day. The weather was still good with hardly any wind at all. Because we were heading down towards the fjord, we skied. To begin with we spent some time trying to find the right way down to the fjord. In some areas there was not much snow so we navigated as best we could. Then we came to a point where we should have gone up, over a hill. This was not exactly what we wanted; we were tired. We looked at the map and the terrain. Did we really have to go over that hill, or could we go around the other way?


On the map it looked like it would be equal terrain. Håkon did a quick check and by the looks of it, it would be fine to go to the left and around. We should be able to arrive at the same place. We agreed on this and continued down. We did not reflect much on the fact that we started to get into a what ended up being a brook valley that was not on the map. It became narrower and narrower and the small river there had large stones in it and had started to open up. Not a place to be pulling a sled. However, we knew that we were getting closer and closer to the fjord, so we agreed to continue on – being Norwegians we had been on skis in this type of terrain before (just not with a sled behind us). When there was about 2 k left down to the fjord Håkon told me we had to turn around because there was a 10 m drop in front of us.

I was like, We have ropes, we can get down there, we can do this. And he was like, No it’s not possible. We’d be able to get the sleds down, but we’ll not be able to get down there ourselves and if we do there is no more snow below, only a massive area of large rocks and boulders.



After having a proper look at it with our drone I had to agree. We had to turn around. Håkon suggested that we climb up on the side of the valley we were in and get back on track from there. Here it was me who had to say no. That was not a good idea. It was more or less only loose rocks and sand 40-50 m up and we had several 70 kg heavy sleds + skis. That would not work. It would be dangerous. Another check with the drone. Same result, we had to bite the bullet and go all the way back up the same way we had struggled our way down the frozen river. Not exactly how we had envisioned the day. What should have been a nice “stroll” down towards the fjord had become the hardest day of the whole expedition. It took hours to pull our sleds up again.


Knowing When to Stop

Håkon was faster than me and did his sleds in two rounds as he had a bit more weight than I had. As he was on his way down for the second round, he told me that he’d left his sled just above where we went down the wrong direction. I was happy about that, because it was not so far from where I was and I was really looking forward to setting up camp. I got to the place where we’d decided to take the alternative route – no sled there. I kept on going, but no, no sled in sight. The only thing I could see was his tracks continuing on… I was so tired and hungry that I wanted to cry. Typical of him to push on maximum. I just wanted to finish skiing for the day. We’ve been at it for close to 10 h and the total progress from where we’d started that morning was 2 k. I decided I had to stop to eat something. Knowing myself, if I continued to push on, it would get me into serious trouble with depleted energy because I was already so low.


I was sitting there on my sled eating when Håkon came with his last sled and said that he did not want to end it for the day because of our only 2 k progress. It was almost 10 pm so we had a bit of a discussion. The truth was that we were both very tired and hungry so there was no doubt that the best thing to do was to set up camp. We continued on to where he had left his sled and I’ll give him that – it was one of the most beautiful camps I’ve ever slept in. We were just too tired to enjoy it.


Our learning from this day is that there needs to be a good reason to go outside the plan. The fact that you are tired and want to avoid a hill is not a good decision point. The other thing we learned is that there is a risk for us to push each other too far. If we do not make sure we eat, it can get us into serous trouble too. So, I guess the worst day also was the best day from a learning point of view.


This was the day the hurricane was supposed to come in, however, we did not feel any of it. In fact, we had close to no wind that day. We had managed to get north of the hurricane. We later learned that we had been very lucky. The hurricane was supposed to have been up to 70 m/s and is confirmed to have been 60 m/s (220 km/h). This is something you’d not survive in a tent. We had to sit a bit with that piece of information. The term “so close, yet so far away” describes it best. I knew we could have storms, but I had not thought of hurricanes as one of our big risks.


Down to the Fjord

The final day towards the fjord was mostly skiing downhill – not so easy with little snow, rocks, and a heavy sled behind us. Especially for me because the sled was heavier than me and could easily pull me in a direction I did not want to go. I took it slowly to feel like I was in control. I also wanted to stop and enjoy the view once in a while. So beautiful.


When it was approximately 1500 steep meters left down towards the fjord, there was no more snow. From here we had to carry all our gear down to the fjord. I was so happy I had a pair of winter boots in my sled and did not have to do all the carrying in my skiing boots. The terrain was rocky with grass and moss. It was also wet as snow was melting and running towards the fjord.




Håkon took a good look at all his gear and declared that there was no way that he would go more than 2 round trips. I had a look at mine, lifted it a bit, and found that I had no chance to only go 2 rounds with my gear. I had to split it into 3. It would simply be too heavy and the sleds are not the easiest to carry.

Here it was only to mentally prepare. I was doing 3 rounds and I went at it like I do when I’m in the gym. I knew I could do it; it would just take time. Because I had mentally prepared, I was okay with going for the final round when Håkon was finished. It took about an hour longer than I had calculated, mostly because I was getting more and more tired as the day went on. In total, I was carrying from 2-9 pm that afternoon. But since I was good at refueling with food and water that day it was not so bad. I even got fresh water from a small brook.


When I came down the final round, Håkon had set up the tent and built a fire from driftwood. Such a beautiful place. Next to our tent there lay a few bones from a whale. At the end of the fjord were two glaciers that came into the fjord. The fjord was frozen but with loads of surface water and some icebergs frozen into the ice.


It was surreal to be there and realize that not many people had ever been there, and never will. We felt so lucky to be there. A special moment to just sit outside our tent listening to music and drinking a coffee after dinner. We really had to pinch our arms. What do you think? Check out the picture from there!

Not to forget, we had kited 1442 km from start to end. - just 15 days, faster than expected. Especially for me who’d started to kite only 1 year earlier, it was something to be proud of. I’m also proud of how we as a team had managed to pull this together with all the uncertainty – Oslo in lockdown and Greenland that only opened up for foreigners to enter the day we we’d boarded the plane there. Not at least how we’d managed to execute the whole expedition – our first large expedition together and our first kiting expedition. No doubt, the two of us make a strong team.



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