x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Adrian Hayes hopes for shift in winds

The explorer hopes for a lucky break on the last leg of the journey through Greenland after facing strong head winds in recent days.

Adrian Hayes says he and his teammates still have plenty of fuel - even more of a necessity than food.
Adrian Hayes says he and his teammates still have plenty of fuel - even more of a necessity than food.

When Adrian Hayes and his two fellow adventurers set off to traverse the massive Greenland ice sheet, they were confident they would cover the distance in 40 days at best, and 65 at worst. They packed rations accordingly. But now, with powerful winds slowing their progress to a crawl more than 500km still ahead of them and just a week shy of 65 days behind them, the team are finding their culinary creativity tested as they try to conserve their increasingly meagre supplies.

Hayes, Devon McDiarmid and Derek Crowe, who set out from Greenland's Atlantic shore on May 20, reached the Arctic Ocean at JP Kocks Fjord on July 4 after a 2,998km journey. But their expedition will not end until the Emirates NBD Greenland Quest reaches its pick-up point, the village of Qaanaq on the northwest coast. During breaks in their tiny tent, there are two topics of conversation: the endless head winds that are scuppering their attempts to eat up the miles on kite skis, and food.

"Apart from talking about it incessantly, we are now creating all sorts of salivating inventions in ways to make it extend beyond 65 days, which Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay would be proud of," said Hayes, speaking by satellite telephone from the ice. "Not least, using butter in everything that moves and the remaining dust from pulverised biscuits to bulk up every meal," he added. "Not as enticing as a plate of spare ribs, of course - and I could well do with them now."

Since reaching the Arctic Ocean two weeks ago, the team have struggled to make progress. The first week was spent barely moving, and for the past seven days they have been navigating dangerous obstacles as the winds have pushed them towards the coast, where hills and crevasses block their path. Frustrated, the team have headed for higher ground and, with the help of their polar meteorological adviser, Marc de Keyser, are now slowly gaining ground.

"The wind is blowing," said Hayes yesterday. "It's just in the wrong direction, that's the problem. It's due to swing around tonight, so we are going to rest today and then head out tonight for a night shift." The team were planning to move from about 7pm straight through the night for 12 hours. "It's like a game of chess," said Hayes, 46. "It has been this constant battle, as any sailor would know, when you are in head winds. The wind is coming from exactly the direction we want to go, so it's a tacking operation - crawling one way and then crawling another back, going back 50km to gain 30km. It's a lot of hard work."

Although food is running short, they have managed to preserve their fuel well and are prepared to cope with a little hunger until they reach their goal. "I am not going to put a prediction on our arrival date, but the main thing, as I have said before, is that we have got fuel and as long as we have fuel we can melt water, and as long as we have water we will be OK," Hayes said. "It's not desperate yet. We will manage. It's another problem to overcome."

Despite injuries, the team remain positive, if a little weary. "It's been a long haul, but we were very well prepared," Hayes said. He is nursing a badly bruised, possibly cracked rib after a rope on his sledge broke, sending him flying through the air on a particularly gusty day last week. "I got blown backwards ... landed crash-down on my back, and it really took the wind out of me," he said. "This was a week ago but it's just got worse.

"With ribs you can't do anything anyway, just let them heal, but kiting is probably not the best thing to help them. It is an issue, and it is getting in the way, but it's one of the hardships you face. You can't call the doctor or get them to come here, so you just have to put up with whatever challenge comes your way - whether it's falling in a crevasse, cracking a rib, head winds against you, deep snow or freak temperatures."

McDiarmid's hip bones are numb from the pressure of the sled and the skis, and Crowe is suffering from leg strains and tendinitis. Mr de Keyser predicts an improvement in wind direction from tomorrow onwards, and at that point, Hayes said, they will "go for broke". "When we get the wind we will just go, whether it takes 24 or 26 hours, we just won't stop," he said. "We are getting a few kilometres out a day, but we just need a big break."