This April I was back in Greenland for a third time guiding a week-long private expedition for two clients. Yes – just two, who are time-poor and somewhat cash-rich old chums. They wanted to do their own thing, when they wanted, with no strings attached. We arrived at Constable Point on Greenland’s east coast via Iceland and from the airport (there’s only an airport there actually) we were met by two skidoos to take us into the mountains. We rummaged through our kit in a hangar that had been shipped months before and dressed for a bracing journey across Hurry Fjord, up the Sodel valley and onto the icecap of Liverpool Land. Paul, the airport manager, handed a rifle over to me for protection from “ice” bears and we were suitably warned about them by the Danish airport cook. My last expedition to Greenland in 2006 was rudely interrupted by a polar bear attack and I needed no reminding.
It took three hours to reach a suitable campsite with great views, at the foot of a handful of lovely peaks. Having had a tent erection lesson in a Leeds park, the team set about making camp and digging a loo with a view. I had departed Manchester airport at 10pm the day before. At 5pm we waved goodbye to our skidoo team but not before they plugged in a GPS waypoint so they could find us in 5 day’s time, whatever the weather, and it was forecast to deteriorate. Seventeen hours after leaving the UK we were in Greenland with a vast mountain range to ourselves. No acclimatisation issues and no long trek to base camp. Tonight, under the Arctic sun, we could start exploring.
I brought snow shoes for us. I haven’t snow shoed for 35 years and had forgotten what a brilliant invention they are. We would have wallowed miserably in the foot deep powder without them. Snowshoes force a slow, reflective pace. The weather was brilliant and we topped out on several elegant mountains that gave us vast views out to the sea.
Three days later we packed up one pulk with the bare minimum for a night’s camping and trekked off the icecap to meet the returning skidoos the next day. The team wanted the experience of journeying under their own steam. I pulled the pulk for less than 30 minutes; enough to remind me that it’s recreational slavery and probably contravenes several codes of human rights.
The last experience on the agenda was two days of dog sledding across the sea ice in a blizzard. Huskies are apparently the only canine that can poo on the move, a fact that might come in handy in a pub quiz some day.
Our dog sledding terminated back in the village of Scoresbysund. Predictably the helicopter back to the airport was cancelled so I hastily arranged skidoo transportation. I called the airport manage and told him we were on the way. The plane flew overhead on its final approach as we raced to the airport at 50km/hour.
The plane was full of people travelling on to Kulusuk, further south-west. On board was a friend, Carolyn, also from Kendal, who was co-leading the Fuchs Foundation Arctic Expedition. With four teachers from various disciplines (biology to sports psychology), their objective was a month-long dog sled ice cap crossing. They will conduct various science experiments on the way, and images and news of their activities and progress would be beamed back to pupils and teachers via an array of electronics, laptops and satellite phones. Their experiences would also be bundled into online teaching resources compatible with the national curriculum. The enterprise is based on a multiplier effect. The Foundation’s aim is to give young teachers the opportunity to break free from the constraints of their normal safe existence. Inspire them through expedition work that tests both their mental, physical and emotional resources. This will give them a life-changing experience and will inspire their teaching for the rest of their career. The team sounded prepared, looked fit and were beaming with anticipation. The late veteran polar explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs would be very pleased. With so many stake holders, many eyes would be watching. Good luck to them.
Part of me envied their ambitious plans but largely I was content having led a purely self-indulgent, self-funded adventure of a lifetime with a private and uncomplicated agenda. My clients had nothing to answer to but the call of nature and I only answered to them.