x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Easy going lifts adventurers' spirits

Disappointment in the wind but hope in the air for kite-skiing adventure trio as they make steady, undramatic progress northwards.

DUBAI // Progress has been slow and at times painful for Adrian Hayes and his fellow explorers as they attempt to kite-ski the length of Greenland, but as the trio enter their second month on the ice things are looking up.

The British expatriate and former army officer and the Canadians Devon McDiarmid and Derek Crowe are on their way north along the world's second largest ice sheet after Antarctica, aiming to cross it within 65 days. If they succeed they will have set a record for the longest unsupported Arctic expedition. Given their present pace, Hayes is optimistic that they can reach the northern coast of Greenland within two weeks, despite the non-appearance of the katabatic winds at the Arctic Circle, which they had hoped would help them rack up the mileage during the third phase of their five-phase mission.

"We've had these slow south-easterly winds now for 10 or 11 days," Hayes told The National this weekend. "We haven't hit the expected strong stuff but we are still moving every day, good distances." The team travelled 140km north, 160km in total, on Tuesday - their longest distance so far - on low to moderate winds thanks to a low-wind, 40m kite, and are now well on their way, having gained more than 200km north since reaching the halfway point on Monday.

"We've been trying to get a degree [111km] a day," Hayes explained on Thursday. "Smooth sailing is pretty much the word. "Yesterday morning, it was such pleasant conditions, great snow and we were cruising along very gently." This phase of the expedition - descending approximately 3,000m from the point where they crossed the Arctic Circle to the Henson Glacier, virtually at sea level, in the north - had so far been uneventful, he said with relief.

"It makes good reading and drama when things happen, but right now, at this phase of the expedition, we always thought this would be high mileage, smooth, the easiest part of the trip because you have these katabatic winds coming down from high plateaus, good snow, you're going downhill. "The only thing we haven't had is the katabatic winds but, other than that, this is the no-drama part - or so we hope."

On reaching the north of the island, where the glacier descends to a fjord, the team will have to don backpacks, attach crampons to their boots to help them negotiate snow and ice, and hike down to the glacier to reach the sea. This is unknown territory - very few people have ever been to the area - and so they have no idea how long it will take. "We've got another nine degrees to go so I'm not going to predict when we will arrive north," Hayes said. "But even if we do a degree every day, which is optimistic, that is nine days and then we have got to find a route down to the sea, which could take a couple of days."

Despite being on the ice for more than a month the men are relatively injury-free, aside from a small amount of frost damage to Crowe's toes and some bruises from falls early on. Unfortunately, their supplies have taken some casualties - such as a split antacid tablet container that covered a medical bag with calcium carbonate, a ski pole piercing a 10-day supply of hot chocolate powder, and crackers that have been reduced to dust.

And the dubious effects of freeze-dried chilli con carne on the team's digestive systems have led to Hayes refusing to eat any more of it. "We are moving fast over bumpy ground," he said. "We've had some good, soft snow for some days but a lot of the days have been bumpy. "Our knees first of all took a bashing a few weeks ago and the sleds take a bashing every day. "Devon's ski pole pierced through his hot chocolate and went everywhere and Derek's sled tipped over four times. You've just got to pack things and protect things as best you can, but you know they're going to get a shaking."

loatway@thenational.ae