x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Hayes trio complete epic Greenland trek

The Dubai-based adventurer Adrian Hayes completes his 4,260km kite-skiing trek across Greenland.

The explorer Adrian Hayes celebrates the end of his journey across Greenland.
The explorer Adrian Hayes celebrates the end of his journey across Greenland.

Perhaps the last thing Adrian Hayes, Derek Crowe and Devon McDiarmid were expecting when they finally battled their way to the remote finish line of their epic two-month trek across Greenland's barren ice cap was a reception committee - but that's what was awaiting them on the shore of MacCormick Fjord in the small hours of yesterday.

The Dubai-based British explorer and his Canadian companions completed their mission to highlight the perils of global warming at 4am UAE time yesterday morning, while the Emirates slept. After 67 days spent trekking and kite-skiing across the testing terrain of the threatened Greenland ice cap, they successfully descended the rubble-strewn glacial moraine that was the last barrier between them and the lapping waters of Baffin Bay.

There, exhausted but jubilant after their journey of 4,262 kilometres, which began on May 22, they made camp for the last time and awaited pick up by boat, despatched from the town of Qaanaaq, 50km away. That was when they saw them. "There is a little hut here and, because it is summer, a couple of Greenlanders are here hunting and fishing," said Hayes, speaking to The National last night by satellite telephone from six time zones away. "They saw us and came round on their boat to say 'hi'.

"They were looking at us coming down the mountain and thinking, 'Where are these guys coming from?'. When we told them we'd come from the southern tip of Greenland via the Arctic Ocean at the top, they just shook their heads. They looked at us with disbelief, but we looked at them with disbelief as well. Human beings!" The three men are due to fly out from Qaanaaq today, but they are grateful that the boat was not due to collect them until late last night, giving them time to pause and "decompress" before being thrust back into the hurly-burly of everyday life.

"It is fine by us," said Hayes. "The worst thing would be to come down the mountain after yesterday's events and go straight into town." The dramatic 12km descent was "one challenge we knew was coming" but "I don't think any of us was quite prepared for this being a 13-hour hike, going through massive boulders, sledges getting stuck, trying to haul them out. "It was quite a tiring day, to be honest, over the most horrendous terrain you could imagine."

At the bottom, however, the men were rewarded by "this spectacular location. We can't keep our eyes off it; glaciers in the background, a beautiful fjord and water, with meadows of grass and flowers. You never look at moss with such affection back at home." Hayes paid tribute to his two fellow explorers. The success of the Emirates NBD Greenland Quest, of which The National has been the media partner, was "a testament to our planning, preparation and gear and how well we've worked together as a team".

The main purpose of the trip had been to raise awareness about the perils of global warming, but the men also had a practical mission. Throughout the trip they have daily measured the depth of the snow cover of the ice cap down to hard ice, providing scientists studying global warming with invaluable data about precipitation in the Arctic that cannot be gathered by any other means. Every five days, they also measured the density of the snow, adding to the picture.

"In simple terms," said Hayes, "the ice is melting and a load of water is pouring off into the sea every year. The question is, how much is being replaced by natural precipitation from the sky?" The data the team has gathered will form part of a paper being prepared by Dr Sebastian Mernild, a polar climatologist and expert in glaciology at the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It will be presented at COP 15, the UN climate-change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

"Greenland is just one focal point for the whole message, but I think it's a pretty powerful one," said Hayes. "This country, this place, more than any other on Earth, is the manifestation of the effects of global warming." The expedition had reached its first goal, JP Kocks Fjord, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean at Greenland's most northerly point, on day 46. A sight seen by very few human beings before, it had, said Hayes, affected them all profoundly.

"All three of us, when we saw this frozen paradise, we couldn't take our eyes off it. That touches you, and I hope the photographs that Derek Crowe took will make an impact and touch other people." Hayes plans to spend some time relaxing with his wife, Dawn, and children Alexander, 10, and Charlotte, 8, in the UK before returning to Dubai, probably at the end of August. jgornall@thenational.ae