2010 – WalkOver

It's a long way, crossing the vast ice sheet on skiis, enduring harsh conditions, with a heavy sled in tow.

Halvor Marius Hagen and Morten Johansen write about their trip:

We’ve long had a dream of crossing the Greenland ice sheet. On April 13th, we stood ready at the foot of the ice. Our goal was a great adventure where we had organised everything ourselves, rather than buying a ticket with one of the many tour operators. A trip across the ice, where the weather can be extreme and help far away, was challenging. We managed to avoid most of the weather, but nevertheless got a taste of what Greenland’s climate has to offer.

We spent 24 days covering the 560km from west to east. We started at “Altitude 660”, one of the typical setting-off points for modern-day expeditions. Our first objective was the former radar station DYE-2, a colossus of a construction 180km into the interior. From there, we went to the small Inuit society Isortoq on the east coast.

It’s a long way across the vast ice sheet on skis, enduring harsh conditions, and with a heavy sled in tow.  But it’s manageable. With the exception of icefalls on both sides, the landscape is flat and monotonous. Yet we didn’t think it was boring, with innumerable features and highly varied snow formations. The weather changes rapidly, and it’s both impressive and scary knowing there are 2,500 meters of ice below your feet. We got into a routine, rising at 07:00, heading away by 10:00, then stopping by 20:00. We didn’t always stick to the schedule; we weren’t trying to set a speed record, our focus was enjoying everything the trip had to offer.

 

Equipment on the trip:

Tent – Svalbard 3

Down jackets – Fimbul Down

Backpacks – Munin 45

Bivouac shoes

On a trip like this across the ice, you need to trust your equipment. We were very impressed with our Helsport gear, which gave us an additional feeling of safety on a trip like this.

 

Diary – WalkOver 2010 

Tuesday 13 April – Day 0 – Position: 67.150880, -50.012360

Arrive at Point 660 (Position: 67.152540, -50.048650) 15.00hrs. Warm, sun, light breeze.

It’s here that most people either start or finish their journey across the ice. We spent some time taking photos and video. Because our trip insurance isn’t valid until tomorrow, we’ve set up camp right by 660. We’ve only covered 1.6km. Minimal snow, lots of blue ice.  Strange to think that we’re finally on our way. Morten’s not in great shape. Presumably the same cold that I was fighting earlier.

Wednesday 14 April – Day 1 – Position: 67.162880, -49.911150

Up at 08.00. Started by 10.30. Skied until 19.00. Distance: 4.7km.

Slept poorly last night. Bad conditions to start with, lots of blue ice and little snow, things got better throughout the day. Morten is feeling better, but is clearly under the weather. One of his boots is pinching a bit, but we’ve unlaced it a bit and think this has solved the problem. I’m feeling fine. Posed for a photo by a crevasse and the crust broke. Nearly fell in. Won’t be doing that again.

Thursday 15 April – Day 2 – Position: 67.136500, -49.616550

Up at 08.00. -14C degrees. Started at 11.00. Skied until 20.00. Distance: 13km.

Slept better, but not the whole night. Cleared the ice labyrinth by noon. Things went faster after that. Walked alongside a meltwater that was 20-30m deep. Glad we’re not here in the summer or autumn! There’s a lot of meltwater here then. Good skiing conditions during the day. A real boost to morale! Slowly set up camp and cooked dinner.

Friday 16 April – Day 3 – Position: 67.057110, -49.225270

Up at 08.00. Started at 11.15. Skied until 19.30. Sunny. Distance: 19.1km.

Decent conditions, but we’re starting gradually to gain elevation. Starting to get that “plateau feeling”. Morten has until now struggled to eat up his dinner rations, but managed it for the first time today. I am already sick of our lunch options, but we’ve got lots of other food so that’s good. Haven’t been hungry yet on the trip! We both note that we’re not acclimatized yet. We get cold easily, and our bodies ache. I’ve got a blister on my right heel, but don’t think it’ll become bothersome. Have been in good spirits today. Listened to my iPod and annoyed Morten with my terrible falsetto singing. The ice is wild, beautiful and white.

Saturday 17 April – Day 4 – Position: 66.991910, -48.790430

Up at 08.00. Started at 11.00. Skied until 19.30. Sun, some wind. Distance: 20.3km.

Fine conditions but still some arduous climbs. Really got that “plateau feeling”! Saw a couple of thin cracks in the snow/ice at the end of the day. Easy to forget that we’re actually walking across an enormous glacier! Morten is feeling well again, but the after-effects of the cold linger. Managing to maintain the pace we need to reach DYE-II.

Sunday 18 April – Day 5 – Position: 66.956250, -48.296610

Up at 08.00. Started at 11.00. Skied until 19.30. Altitude: 1200m. -2C degrees, windy, total white-out conditions entire day. Distance: 21.9km.

A brisk wind today, and one of the poles in the dome of the Svalbard tent snapped when we were pitching it. We built a windbreak, repaired the pole, and set up the tent again. Slightly strange mood, thanks to a pole breakage so early in the trip. The wind wasn’t that strong to cause a breakage. Wind increased during the night. We took turns digging the snow away from the tent through the night. Almost 40cm of snow, lots of drifts.

Monday 19 April – Day 6 – Position: 66.924560, -47.942170

Up at 09.00 (slept 1 hour longer, as I didn’t get to sleep before 0400 due to wind noise). Skied until 19.00 (stopped a bit earlier than normal, I wanted us to build a proper windbreak). Mild temperatures, but still very windy. Distance: 15.8km.

Mainly white-out conditions today too, with some sun. Notice that we are still a bit perturbed by the pole breakage yesterday. Build a large windbreak and hoping for a good night’s sleep!

Tuesday 20 April – Day 7 – Position: 66.861690, -47.477520

Up at 07.00. Started at 10.00. Skied until 20.00. -5C degrees. Altitude: 1550m. Distance: 21.5km.

Slow going today. Fresh snow sticking to skis and sled. Sun arrived eventually and it was very warm, a whole +14C degrees! Skied wearing my mesh jersey. Despite 10 hours towing the sled, no distance records were set today.

Wednesday 21 April – Day 8 – Position: 66.734630, -47.062710

Up at 07.00. Started at 10.00. Skied until 20.00. -12C degrees. Distance: 23.1km.

Up until this point we’ve skied for 90 minutes and taken a 30 minute break. Have also tried 50/10, like they do in the military. This didn’t work, as we didn’t manage to keep our breaks to 10 minutes. Today we tried skiing for an hour, then a small break (10 mins max, preferably much shorter), then 30 mins of skiing and a longer break of 20 mins. We tried this because it’s hard going, lots of loose snow.

Very slow skiing today. Beginning to get sick of hearing  “poff, poff” as the pulleys hit the snow. Longing for the crisp crack of rod ends against hard-packed snow! Camp set up went unusually slowly today. It took us 30 minutes from the time we stopped skiing until we were in the tent, and weren’t in the sack until 22.10.

Thursday 22 April – Day 9 – Position: 66.614420, -46.631670

Up at 07.00. Sun, light breeze. Altitude: 1863m. Distance: 23.3km.

Morning: Hoping for firmer snow today. If we can’t cover more ground during the day than we’ve managed so far, the trip schedule will be a bust. We’ll have to rebook the helicopter and plane tickets. What’s more, we’ll also miss the May 17th celebrations at home.  Would be very sad not to be with Mikkel then…

After today’s skiing: sun all day. The wind died down a little throughout the day. Feels like things are going slowly today too. The strap on my Omega watch broke today. Heard a metallic sound when it fell off and hit my pole, but didn’t know what it was until I was checking the time a little later. Went back and found a hole in the snow that was not from a pulley, and there was my watch!

Can feel that it’s starting to get colder. Pretty good going towards the end of the day. At dinnertime (21.30) it was -18C degrees inside the tent. Expect it to get much colder tonight. If one of us wakes, we’ve agreed to check the temp! The repaired tent pole “broke” again when we were pitching the tent. The joining piece had moved and the aluminium that it was made of had cracked. We repaired it again, and made sure it was well-taped, so that the connecting piece would stay put. We reckon this will last us for the trip! According to the GPS, it’s now 19.2 km to DYE-2.

Friday 23 April – Day 10 – Position: 66.492330, -46.314130

Up at 07.00. -14C degrees (Morten woke in the night and checked the thermometer,  -27 degrees in the tent!). Altitude: 2019m. Distance: 19.6km

Hoping to reach the DYE-2 in 4 lots of 90 mins. Sun the whole day. Sloppy application of sunscreen. Therefore we’re both a bit more rosy-cheeked than usual. Reached the DYE-2 at 18:00. Spent 2.5 hours exploring the colossus. Intriguing, but kind of miserable. Among other things, someone had done their ‘business’ in several places. Morten insisted on lightening the sleds, so we’ve decided to remove and burn the “pulp”. That’s what we’ve christened our lunch mixture. It’s mostly untouched. Outside DYE-2, we spied the tracks of the Finns who started at the same time as us. We grabbed the chance to ski in pre-formed tracks, but it’s begun to snow again!! Not good for progress.

Saturday 24 April – Day 11 – 66.492330, -46.314130

Up at 07.00, -6C degrees, snowed the whole night. Brisk wind.

The tracks from the Finns have been covered again. Today it’s two months until Mikkel turns 4. I miss him. Thinking less and less of the minutiae that fills up everyday life, and more and more of the important things, like Mikkel, family, and good friends. I’m a little bit (more) worried about our progress. Hope the lighter sleds will help. Still concerned about the schedule.

The wind picked up after breakfast, and we’re weatherbound. A good decision, as it increased further during the day. At around 6pm it’s still blowing hard, but is within our safety margins for dismantling and/or pitching the tent. There’s little left of the day, so we’re staying put.

Sunday 25 April – Day 12 – Position: 66.442470, -45.641500

Up at 06.00. Skied until 19.50. -15C degrees, still blowing, but less than yesterday. Distance: 30.5km.

After the snowfall and strong winds, we were hampered by large snowdrifts that made the sleds overturn easily. After repacking, things went better. Took shorter breaks than before, both because it was cold and because we wanted to catch up on the previous lost day. More progress than earlier. The last part of the day was very cold and I got a little white area on the “windward” side of my nose. In other words, a bit of frostbite. Also struggled to keep the fingers warm. Satisfied with the effort and distance covered!

Monday 26 April – Day 13 – Position: 66.406330, -45.118040

Up at 07.00. Started at 10.00. Skied until 20.00. Brisk wind. Distance. 23.7km.

A fairly tough day both physically and mentally for us both. Lots of hard and huge drifts that meant the legs got a pounding today. A bit of a grumble from the right knee, but don’t think it’s anything serious. Because of the wind, I used ski goggles and full face covering all day. The neoprene mask doesn’t work well. Getting big chunks of ice in moustache/nose/neoprene. Better to use the wool neck gaiter fastened under my goggles. Even with gloves, felted wool mittens and wind-proof mitts I still froze so much I couldn’t warm up between rests. Fortunately, I have another pair of thick down mitts along as spare. It was good to have these today!

Tuesday 27 April – Day 14 – Position: 66.332120, -44.486540

Up at 07.00. Started at 09.50. Skied until 20.00. Sun, less wind than previous few days. Distance: 29.4km.

The MSR burner pump went on strike today when we were melting snow. Took out the repair kit, but it suddenly started working again!? (Never had problems earlier. Worked perfectly rest of the trip). Better weather today, skied the last two hours wearing my ‘Greenland Burka’. Positive feelings today. There are lots of drifts, but the skiing conditions are good. The first day I’ve felt certain we’ll be able to stick to the schedule.

Wednesday 28 April – Day 15 – Position: 66.238640, -43.863850

Up at 07.00. Started at 10.20. Calm conditions. Altitude: 2498m. Distance: 29.8km.

Calm and sunny today. We made use of the good weather to film dismantling and pitching again of the tent. Best snow conditions so far, but no new distance record today because of the time spent filming. Passed the half-way distance mark today. Are hopefully more than half-way in duration! (it seemed that we past this point earlier, but had miscalculated…). Celebrated with cake baked by Morten’s mother  – thanks!! At 21.35 we unfortunately heard snow on the canvas again.

Thursday 29 April – Day 16 – Position: 66.135350, -43.226570

Up at 07.00. Light breeze, snowed a bit overnight. Altitude: 2429m. Distance: 30.9km. The wind strengthened during the day, but from our back, so it didn’t bother us much. Quite chilly today, so I think I’ll switch from the Brynje mesh thermals to the thicker Arctic Brynje ones tomorrow.

My heel has been sore today, and think it might be a combination of blister/pressure sore/trench foot.  I haven’t (unlike Morten) used bivvy shoes with a moisture barrier bag at night. Your feet are directly against plastic, and means they’re a bit damp the whole time. Things have been fine until now, but I’ll try with the bivvy shoes tonight. The shoes will be damp, but my feet should stay drier, so hopefully this will help.

Evening: Whole heel is red around the blister. Exuding thick yellow pus. Drained the area and applied bacimysin.

Friday 30 April – Day 17 – Position: 66.094540, -42.523900

Up at 07.00. Started at 10.45. Sunshine, light breeze. Altitude: 2290m. Distance: 32.1km.

Discovered we’d been using the wrong denominator when plotting waypoints for our descent to the east coast. Fixed this. Turns out we’re closer than we thought, actually 27km closer!

Fast progress this morning. Sunny weather and light winds meant longer breaks. Used an hour more on rest periods than normal. Despite this, the good skiing conditions still meant a new top score. Bacimysin treatment has worked well.

Saturday 1 May – Day 18 – Position: 66.036890, -41.826510

Up at 07.00. Started at 10.00. Sun, partial cloud cover, moderate wind. Altitude: 2142m. Distance: 32.2km.

A strange day. Even though we started at 10 we weren’t able to ski as many sessions as we usually do. We were both a bit flat. It seems like we’re always a bit down after a great day. Despite overly long rest periods and us feeling like it was hard going, we surprisingly had a new distance record again!

Evening: the iPod stopped working. Dull, since I have used it quite a lot for filming. (Luckily Morten revived it again later using a trick he’d learned earlier!)

Sunday 2 May – Day 19 – Position: 66.026660, -41.250280

Up at 07.00. Snowed the whole night and during the day, white-out conditions persisting. Altitude: 2002m. Distance: 26.2km. Mild temperatures and lots of snow. Mentally tough to ski all day with no visibility.

Monday 3 May – Day 20 – Position: 65.982480, -40.534440 

Up at 07.00. Snowed lightly the entire night. Altitude: 1735m. Distance: 32.9km.

Skied until 14.45, but sticky snow meant minimal progress. Tried removing the skins from the skiis, but it didn’t help. We decided to pitch the tent and wait until the temperature cooled. Skied through the night until 0500. Ate dinner, then tried to get some sleep. Noted how hard it was on the body to switch night with day.

Tuesday 4 May – Day (night) 21 – Position: 65.961820, -40.076070

Altitude: 1567m. Distance: 21km.

Didn’t sleep well today. Watched a film on the iPod. Snowing all day and it’s very mild. Have dozed, waiting for colder weather (and thus no sticky snow). “Suddenly” it’s 21.30 and we need to get started. We both note that our bodies are not pleased at switching the day around. In addition, it snowed the whole day, total white-out conditions. Since it’s around 0C degrees, everything is totally soaking wet as we try and set up camp. We keep the fire going for longer in the tent, to help dry out our gear. Still snowing hard when we get to bed. Hoping for better visibility, these white-out conditions are scary as we approach the icefall.

Wednesday 5 May – Day 22 – Position: 65.960140, -39.637090

Started at 18.30. Skied until 04.15. Altitude: 1461m. Distance: 20km.

It has snowed almost constantly the last few days. Forecast to continue for a further 24 hours. Very slow conditions, and we made almost no progress in the first 1.5 hours. We agreed we had to try something different. We re-distributed the sled contents, so Morten had only the bedding and a empty pack in his sled, whilst I had everything else in mine.  Morten went ahead and made a track, while I skied behind and dragged the gear. I didn’t envy Morten as he navigated in white-out conditions the whole night, and he didn’t envy me with a heavily-laden sled.

Thursday 6 May – Day 23 – Position: 65.847180, -39.168310

Up at 12.15. Strong wind. Distance: 24.8km.

Turned 20 degrees southwards to track a path through the moraine a bit further south than our “down” waypoint (through the icefall and moraine). A superb day. The goal for today was 20km. With a tailwind and less loose snow further down on the glacier we managed 24km, in just three sessions of 1.5 hours, plus a bit. Chose to stop due to very strong winds, and we wanted to build a good windbreak. The binding on Morten’s boot has broken, so it’s good that we’re almost home. Saw a mountain today. Very beautiful, but also a bit scary after so many days on the “plateau”. Adjusting course further southwards tomorrow. Expect it to be our last day on the ice. Asleep at about 0130.

Friday 7 May – Day 24 – Position: 65.64191, 38.97532

Up at 07.15. Started at 11.05. Brillliant sunshine, warm. Distance: 32km.

+30C degrees in the tent earlier today! Gentle skiing, enjoyed the last day on the glacier. After 27.6km we came off the glacier at 1700. On the way to Isortoq Morten’s ski boot broke completely, and we had to walk the final stretch. Extremely slow going walking through loose snow. We chose not to go into town, unsure whether the dogs would wake everybody up as we arrived.

So we’ve set up the sleeping bags on a slope, overlooking the village. We’ll wait here until day break. Can imagine the breathtaking sight that awaits us tomorrow. We’re fantasizing about the huge choice of food in the shop, and what we’ll treat ourselves with tomorrow. It’s a great feeling, but at the same time a bit sad that we’ve come to the end of a trip we’ve planned, dreamed and thought about for so long!

We recommend that you visit the expedition website ekspedisjonens hjemmside for more pictures, and to see the whole trip on Google maps. You’ll also find plenty of interesting reading from other trips they’ve done, helpful advice, and lots more.