The Dubai-based adventurer Adrian Hayes was expected to complete his 4,260km kite-skiing trek across Greenland early today, the 67th day of his epic journey. Hayes, and the Canadians Derek Crowe and Devon McDiarmid, were within touching distance of their destination on Greenland's northwestern coastline last night, having used wind power, and sometimes brute strength, to haul their 150kg sledges through one of the most brutal, and yet beautiful and fragile, landscapes in the world.
Hayes spoke to The National, the expedition's media partner, shortly before the men had set up their final camp on the shore of MacCormick Fjord, on the edge of Baffin Bay, where they awaited a boat that would take them to the small town of Qaanaaq, 50km away. They are due to fly from there tomorrow on the first leg of their journey home. "It is great to have achieved this big challenge," said Hayes, 46.
"It has never been done before. It is one of the longest, if not the longest, journey ever in the Arctic, and we have finished healthy." There was, he admitted, "a little bit of sadness because you get used to the routine, and this is a most awesome place", but they were all looking forward to seeing their loved ones. In Hayes's case, after a stopover in Denmark, he will be reunited with his wife, Dawn, and children Alexander, 10, and Charlotte, eight, in the UK by the end of the month.
Hayes, a veteran explorer who holds the record for reaching the North and South Poles and the summit of Everest in the shortest space of time - 19 months and three days - said he hoped the main achievement of his latest adventure would be that "we've put across a message about how we are living beyond our planet's resources, economically, socially and environmentally". He added: "The whole focus of this expedition has been this melting ice cap and we saw this with full force.
"It is quite mind-blowing to see that amount of water flowing down." Yesterday proved to be one of the toughest of the Emirates NBD Greenland Quest. As the three men, tired and close to the end of their food, which they had been rationing for almost three weeks, descended from the icecap, they encountered a series of crevasses, melting snow and rushing meltwater. The conditions made kite-skiing too dangerous and progress - which often involved wading through rushing meltwater or probing for hidden crevasses - slowed to a crawl.
Saving the planet, said Hayes, was about "getting back to living within our means. What we've done is live within very simple means and this is a lesson for everybody; that living sensibly and smarter can help everyone - our society, the economy and the planet". One fact alone, Hayes said, illustrated his point. He and his companions had survived comfortably on just three litres of water each a day during the trip; by contrast, anyone who left the tap running while cleaning their teeth was pouring three litres of water down the sink.
The data the team has gathered will form part of a paper being prepared by Dr Sebastian Mernild, a polar climatologist and expert in glaciology at the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It will be presented at COP 15, the UN climate-change conference in Copenhagen in December. "Even if what we have done is only a tiny part of this, it is rewarding to have been able to contribute," said Hayes.