x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubai-based couple stranded for eight days in blizzard recount ordeal

The couple returned to Dubai last week after spending 17 days in Greenland, facing sub-zero temperatures and round-the-clock daylight.

Rhys and Laura Jones were snowed in by an eight-day blizzard on an expedition to Greenland in the Arctic Circle. Antonie Robertson / The National
Rhys and Laura Jones were snowed in by an eight-day blizzard on an expedition to Greenland in the Arctic Circle. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // Rhys and Laura Jones now appreciate the dark evenings after being stranded in a blizzard amid constant brightness.

A good night’s sleep was the main comfort they were looking forward to after waiting eight days to be rescued on their trip to the Arctic Circle.

They are back in Dubai after spending 17 days in Greenland, facing sub-zero temperatures and round-the-clock daylight, in addition to the challenging trek.

“One of our best moments when we got back was our first glimpse of darkness,” said Rhys.

The couple and their mountain guide, Simon Yates, had completed the first climb of Mt Gunnbjornsfjeld, which at 3,693 metres is the highest peak in Greenland and north of the Arctic circle.

The trek around southeast Greenland, where the highest peaks are, was scheduled to last 14 days.

They were about to climb the second highest, Mount Dome, when the blizzard struck.

“We were lucky to get down into base camp,” said Rhys, from England, who celebrated his 28th birthday during the expedition.

“Fortunately that morning we had decided not to go up. Otherwise, instead of being stuck at base camp it would have been more serious. It would have been a survival situation.”

Rhys had scaled higher peaks – he climbed Everest at 20 and the highest peak in the United States, Denali or Mt McKinley, at 16. He runs his own expedition company, RJ7 Expeditions, and is regional director of another adventure company, Camps International.

But the Arctic was a different challenge, with constant, bitter cold in the polar environment. They had to ski over waist-deep snow up the peak as high as they could, then climb over patches of ice and rock to get to the “visually stunning” summit of Mt Gunnbjornsfjeld.

“Your margin of error doesn’t exist there,” he said.

Then came the psychological toll of waiting for rescue in the perpetual daylight.

“You lose track of day and night because you’re eating at odd times. Unless you’re strict with your routine, the days and nights just meld into one,” he said.

The couple took turns relying on each other’s strength, said Laura, 26, from Wales, who is operations manager for Camps International. It was her first major expedition.

When one felt down, the other would stay positive.

“The trip is full of highs and lows, I think. You need to stay positive,” she said.

They had to shovel every four hours to dig their tent out of the snow as it was falling rapidly – as much as a metre in a night – as they waited for the weather to improve for a charter plane from Iceland to fly in.

The pilot had to wait for clear weather in Iceland, along the Greenland coast, where it would stop for fuel and on the glacier.

“It is all white. It is hard for them to see,” said Rhys.

“We had to try to ski a runway into the snow so they could see where to land.

“We were really praying at that point. We were thinking light thoughts and just hoping.”

They returned to Dubai to a “wall of heat” and a 70-degree difference in temperature, re-adjusting to life without melting snow for drinking water and eating freeze-dried food.

But they couple say the view from the top of Mt Gunnbjornsfjeld – and the bonding experience they shared – was worth it.

“I can’t describe how amazing the view was. I thought. it has all been worth it just to see that,” Laura said.

“It feels like the odds are against you but you just have to play the game,” said Rhys.

lcarroll@thenational.ae