WRESTLING A GREENLAND STORM18th May – Day 5 on Terrain.
Position: 64º06’16”N, 46º05’45”W
Tough day. The ferocious weather we had been hearing about had finally arrived. The wind was set to build increasingly up to 40kts + whilst the visibility was going to deteriorate dramatically. Sounds like fun, right? As if the last 5 days of sporadic sleep and long-haul, technical kiting sessions weren’t challenging enough, now the weather decided it would throw a few more curve balls in just for good measure.
I’d been through cold weather storms before, however, the storms in Greenland had a reputation for being sudden and malicious. Due to the plateau being so flat, these storms build continual momentum and increase in intensity – without having any mountain range or obvious land feature to decelerate on - they have been known to take life. In fact, there are a few accounts in Greenland specifically of expeditions that have met their end, thanks to these weather systems.
All these thoughts have swirled through the back of my mind, leaving me understandably apprehensive about travelling in such tricky conditions. Geoff and I had planned to try and make some more headway before the winds increased to dangerous levels, before making camp, building an ice-wall and trying to wait out the storm cell that could last days! I said I was feeling a little uneasy about what was on the way, but Geoff provided me with assurance - that we’d make mileage while we could – then get out of harms way well before we were caught out.
Ready for the day, I stepped out of the tent, when a bullet-like gust of wind hit me (and my therma-rest sleeping mats) and threw them, skittling across the ice at speed. I sprinted after them! You can’t afford to lose any gear out here, there is no re-supply. After three failed attempts to dive on the runaway mats, I finally secured them. Exasperated.
We started getting our 6m “storm kites” rigged up and ready for action and we were off. Geoff and I had to kite closely together to mitigate the risk of getting separated in such poor visibility. We squinted our way through 28km before pausing to rest our legs and rehydrate. This is when a few more dominoes started to fall and we were pushed to our personal limits. After a hectic gust of wind, I lost grip of my brake line and my kite began to spin out of control! I was picked up about 6ft off the ground and hurled through the air (with my sled in tow) and slammed down on the ice. My kite swooped violently and crashed on top of Geoff who was trying to help secure the run-away fabric. Apart from having the wind knocked out of me as well as my fears reinforced about the treachery of the conditions – there was thankfully no injury. It was incredibly frustrating for both of us, mistakes cost time and can impact the expedition, but we are only human and you can’t control everything, especially not the environment.
As if one kite disaster wasn’t enough, whilst Geoff had been helping me get mine under control his kite’s vents had been filling with spin-drift (light surface snow, whipped across by the wind) when he launched the kite. It was like the kite had been drinking and was flying sporadically, all over the place with no rhythm or sense - he was launched into the air and landed on his side, allowing him to pull the safety cord. We both re-gathered our composure and managed to get underway again.
Visibility was next to naught and the wind was gusting over 30kts, so Geoff signalled to stop by placing his hand on his head. We both jammed our ski edges in hard to slow our sleds and control our kites, we were probably travelling close to 40km per hour at that moment, and coming to a sudden halt was not easy.
We managed to pack our kites, both in respective, tangled messes and set camp as the wind drove harder and harder. It was now over 40kts and the tent needed support, so we constructed a massive ice-wall to shield our little tent somewhat from the elements. Over a hot stove, Geoff and I were able to air our frustrations and debrief our points of view when reflecting on the day’s mishaps. Like any good team, we keep short accounts and have been made stronger for it.
*Dont forget to donate to the cause the boys are so passionate about - Click here to support the McGrath Foundation and the fight against breast cancer.*
**images coming out of Greenland are low res due to the use of satellite phone data**