x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Adventurers ready for last push of Arctic trek

Differing terrain adds to challenge as three head for Arctic Ocean and the final leg of their expedition to a village in north-west Greenland.

Adrian Hayes kite-skis across Greenland on Wednesday, towing two sleds of supplies.
Adrian Hayes kite-skis across Greenland on Wednesday, towing two sleds of supplies.

DUBAI // After 44 patience-trying days of temperamental weather and halting progress, Adrian Hayes and his teammates are perhaps hours away from the Arctic Ocean and the final phase of their expedition across Greenland's ice sheet.

If they manage to cross the 150km remaining between them and the sea, the kite-skiing trio will be only the second expedition to make an unsupported journey from the Atlantic to the Arctic Ocean. From there they must travel 800km west to their destination, the village of Qaanaq in north-west Greenland. But, Hayes warned yesterday, unknown terrain means the final push is unlikely to be simple. "We've got a big couple of days ahead," he said. "We don't know what is going to hit us. Up until now, for the last 43 days, we've known we are going to be on flat ice and we are going to get blown east-west, we're going to have different winds, that we are going to stand still in our tent, not moving. We have known the terrain."

Now, he said, the ground is becoming hard and bumpy and the view is changing dramatically. "We are going downhill," he said. As the snow is on the hills, it is subject to more of these katabatic winds, so it is all very much cut up and carved up, and because of the curve of the ice you can't see anything. There are mountains perhaps 100km away to our north-east and north-west - maybe after 60km we should see some."

The team have only GPS co-ordinates and a satellite map, and must travel using whatever wind they can find, avoiding crevasses in Henson Glacier as they make their descent to JP Kocks Fjord. "We don't know what's there, so it's time to stand up and make it count," he said. "We are now in the final push. This is it. We have got the final little leg, 800km, to come, but this is the crux, as we say in climbing terms - the most challenging part.

"We have got good wind today; we'll just have to use it to the fullest and hopefully use the winds to get us as close to the fjord as we can. But we have to make our way carefully through this, so quite a few challenges." Hayes began the expedition on May 20 with two Canadians, Devon McDiarmid and Derek Crowe. If they succeed in their effort to kite-ski 3,500km along the world's second-largest ice-sheet, unassisted, they will make the record books for the longest unassisted Arctic expedition in history.

Since they departed, they have suffered small setbacks, including problems with kites and days of winds blowing lightly or in the wrong direction. But after a slow start to the week, the team have spent the past few days pushing north, and on Wednesday they used what little wind they had to position themselves west, directly south of the target point. Hayes was reluctant to say how long it would take to travel the 150km to the sea. The entire expedition was projected to take 40 to 65 days.

"If it was 150km with known terrain, like on the ice cap we've covered, then we would say on good winds we could do that today," he said. "But it's this unknown factor at the end with the mountains, crevasses and glaciers. We just don't know what is going to face us, so we are not going to make any predictions. I'm basically saying over the next couple of days is when we're going to be pushing to get there."

With the terrain largely uncharted, and the sea likely to be frozen over, the team will use GPS co-ordinates to identify where the Arctic Ocean begins. After a few celebratory photographs, they will embark on the final phase of the journey. "We would love to climb up, arrive at the sea edge, have a cup of coffee at Starbucks and then relax, camp the night and off we go, but it is not going to be quite like that," he said.