x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dangers at every step for Arctic trekkers

With just a few hundred kilometres of his epic Greenland trek left, Adrian Hayes battles the elements and fatigue.

For Adrian Hayes and his team, walking the rest of the way is not an option, as the group has only 16 days worth of food left.
For Adrian Hayes and his team, walking the rest of the way is not an option, as the group has only 16 days worth of food left.

DUBAI // With just a few hundred kilometres left to go and their main expedition objective accomplished, you might think Adrian Hayes and his teammates could relax, sail towards the finish line and bask in the glory of their impending success. But what looked on paper to be the easiest part of the journey is fast turning into a brutal and dangerous race against the clock as the wind peters and their food supplies dwindle on their trek over the little-trodden route to their pick-up point at a remote village in north-west Greenland. "Any thoughts that it was going to be high-fives and plain sailing to Qaanaq have been dispelled immediately, because we have faced all sorts of problems," Hayes said on Wednesday evening. In the 72 hours after the trio departed from KP Kocks Fjord on Sunday at midnight, becoming only the second team in history to traverse the world's second-largest ice sheet from south to north unsupported, chaos ensued. The biggest and most dangerous hazards have been crevasses, large cracks in the ice formed by glaciers colliding. The holes sometimes are hidden by snow. "Devon [McDiarmid] has gone in a couple, one of them up to his chest when there was nothing below his legs - he was just hanging on by his arms," Hayes said. "Derek [Crowe] went in a small slot just two metres from our tent," he continued. "And [on Monday] we came across a massive cavern just in front of us during a whiteout. This massive crevasse was just a gaping hole." With visibility down to less than 10 metres on Monday night, the Emirates NBD Greenland Quest team were just 20 metres away from the huge drop when McDiarmid, who was leading the trio, spotted a small change in the blowing of snow over a lip and dropped his storm kite. "Literally, if we had gone a few feet more we would have gone straight into this hole," Hayes said. "I walked over to it a little later and I couldn't see the bottom. It was four or five metres across and just a massive cavern right in our path. It was incredible." The team moved slightly farther away and camped, which is when Crowe fell through a crevasse just metres from their tent. He was unhurt. "The problem was, we were still quite near the coast, and you are getting ice floes and movements of ice and it's breaking up. It's a lot less stable than up on the ice cap. Now we've gained a little bit of distance, we seem a bit safer where we are and we have a bit more visibility." Crevasses aside, the other problem facing the adventurers is a lack of south-easterly winds to get them to their final destination. For the next seven days, the forecast is for winds from the south-west. Hayes explained: "We need winds from the side, or if they are really strong, then from behind us, but coming straight at us, we are not going to be travelling very fast, so we have a bit of a problem ahead." They plan to use the 24 hours of daylight to travel through the night when snow conditions are better and the weather is cooler. With the advice of their polar meteorological adviser, Marc de Keyser, with whom they are in daily contact, they are heading south-east and north-west in a bid to gain ground and reach decent winds wherever possible. When they set off, the length of their route was estimated at 3,500km, but as winds changed, their total distance on completion is expected to be 4,000km - meaning they have about 800km left to go. If successful, the expedition will be the longest unsupported Arctic journey. Walking the rest of the way is not an option, as the group has only 16 days' worth of food left. The team are now cutting down to two meals a day until they reach Qaanaq. "When we got the seven-day forecast we said, 'Right, let's not be stupid, let's try and cut down,'" Hayes said. "All of us are going through our snack food stuff and seeing what we have got left of cheese, of chocolate, so that we can stretch it out but not go hungry. "The good thing is we have got fuel. We have been very conservative, and without fuel you cannot do a thing because you cannot melt water. None of us wants to go hungry, because the more energy you expend walking, the more food you need. Again there is that dilemma - do you walk when there are not these ideal winds? But if you walk you are going to get hungry and eat more of your precious food." Hayes and his teammates are tired. Not yet used to their reversed day-and-night schedule, they are preparing themselves for a further disrupted sleep as they prepare to move as the winds dictate. But despite being hungry and sleep-deprived, they remain upbeat. "I always said that the Arctic Ocean was the major expedition goal," Hayes said. "The full crossing of the Greenland ice cap has only been done once before. This was our return leg. "But it's a long return leg, so none of us has ever thought, 'That's it, we've done it now.'" loatway@thenational.ae