Greenland ICE expedition : First circular trajectory round Greenland by Dixie Dansercoer and Eric Mc Nair Landry
I do not know if it makes sense to go around in circles in life, but this was pretty much the basis of the first attempt to go for a circular trajectory in Antarctica in 2011-12 together with another Belgian, Sam Deltour. Ozone believed with us. We based our quest on the katabatic winds. Those winds thunder down the immense Eastern Antarctic High Plateau in a counter-clockwise manner, simply because the Earth turns around its own axis and influences the flow of these winds. Based on our study of existing mathematical models, it seemed to make sense to start and end in the same spot, even though I knew that there is an immense difference between theory and praxis. There was only one way to find out: go out there and check it out! But…. Not without the best kites around: Ozone! Honoring our lifelong quest to pioneer new routes and accepting the increased chance of failure when kiting into the big unknown, we lived a BIG adventure and faced both the impossible and the possible and adapted accordingly. In the end, we managed to get 5013 km on our counter, but did not manage to arrive at the same point where we had departed.
Not that I have any desire to be bi-polar, but there was a big draw from the other side of the Earth. Greenland being the counterweight on the Northern extreme part with an ice cap, maybe not as big as Antarctica, offered the same katabatic winds that flow in clockwise direction and would become our next playground. Having met Eric in Cape Town prior to our separate expeditions in 2011, we decided the next year that – being both Ozone junkies – we could form a dream team to close the circle in Greenland. Eric suggested we leave from Angamassalik/ Tasiilaq on the East coast, go first South in order to deal with the part of Greenland that would warm up the quickest with the onslaught of summer, make the turn and then put ourselves on the highway North as this South-North axis has proven to offer very steady and strong winds. At the height of Thule/Caanaq we would go East and then South again. Deal!
I do not know what it is, but the majority of all the expeditions I have done over the last 20 years have started with an abundance of difficulties. For this expedition, this tradition continued… The first 24 days we had to digest 4 impressive storms, advanced only 468 km with a poor daily average of 22 km, while we had envisioned to do a minimum of 70… We kept our selves busy reading, listening to music, digging snow tunnels to get some respite from the incredibly loud noise in the tent and had dreams of smooth kiting on a carpet of soft snow…
Our luck turned with the beginning of the month of May. Eric and I revved our incredibly powerful Chrono’s – our secret weapon for marginally light winds. The better we got to know them, the longer they stayed in the air as their amazing depower range allowed us to skip having to change to the 15m Summits. On top of the power they delivered, the ease in steering and the incorporated feeling of safety, they were our kite of choice. Even more important: when we needed to maximally go upwind, it did not feel like we needed to force the kite into the wind, the forward propulsion took over some of that force.
One day, with all that power delivered by the Chronos, Eric was kind enough to entertain me and show me his expertise in total control. In a zone where the sastrugi (beautiful creations of the wind, chiseled out by snowdrift) play packman with our sleds. Eric’s gliding suitcase had tipped over and called him to an abrupt halt. The power in his kite doubled and whoops, he was lifted up the length of his rope which he traditionally has at approximately 10 meters. From a distance, I saw him dangling high up in the air, not as graceful as the ski-jumpers who try to control aerodynamics as much as possible, but quite relax, he seemed to enjoy the view. It was not the moment to pull the safety but the Chrono let itself be conditioned to slowly come back down. Eric pulled the brake and secured everything so that he could walk back to the sled and put it back upright. End of the show.
The success of a polar kiting expedition imposes the expedition members to be on stand-by all the time. The wind is our master, we are just little robots that start to move as soon as the tent canvas starts flapping. Day or night, our subconscious minds are on red alert and we obey like Pavlov’s dog. Our human intellect only takes over when our survival instinct imposes a rest break or when the conditions are just too wild that an accident is not far off and with our combined experience, Eric and I pretty much knew when we needed to listen to our inner voice to ensure long haul success. And when the tent is put up, relative luxury envelops our tired bodies: a warm soup, respite from the wind, a bit of music and relaxation plus…. Constant repairs, daily communications with the homefront, hours or melting snow to eat and drink, putting up the stationary kites to collect scientific data, weather observations, writing in the diary and plotting the next day’s course. Every day the same scenario.
After having enjoyed the speed of the South to North ‘highway’, it was time to head for the Eastern part of Greenland. Terra incognita if you wish. The wind models showed that, for the next 1000 km we would have to deal with a 90° wind. Not a problem when kiting for fun, but with a heavy sled attached to your harness, it puts a lot of pressure on musculature and skeleton. However, we were either lucky or the wind models need to be corrected in our favor because we cruised right down East Greenland. Right through the National Park, we cruised for 2482 km in 20 days, logging a daily average of 124 km. We had foreseen 80 days of food and fuel for our stove, but it would soon become clear that the wind gods would give us our exit visa much sooner than that. At midnight, on day 55 we closed the circle. Together with Ozone, we established a new route on the Greenland ice cap. Together we opened the door for future expeditions to enjoy the grandeur and beauty of long haul kiting expeditions with circular trajectories as well!