x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Joy, pain and ultimate triumph

Throughout their gruelling and unprecedented 67-day expedition to sledge and kite-ski across the Greenland ice cap, Adrian Hayes kept an online diary documenting the highs and lows of the big adventure for him and his two companions. Here are the edited highlights.

Following our off-drop by Greenlandic fishing boat on Wednesday afternoon, task 1 was to discuss what on Earth we were doing here - three guys alone for two months with all their worldly goods on a remote ice cap. That shock over, we attempted to find a route up the glacier through the moraines, mud slides and a lot of glacial streams. Finally proceeded to haul 375kg of food, fuel and equipment to a first camp. Took about eight load carries each to travel the vast distance of 900 metres before spending the night in a downpour. Total distance: 13.9km

After three days of sledge hauling, day four saw us high enough up the ice cap and with strong winds to get our kites out for the first time in earnest. The only problem was the NE winds were a wee bit too strong ... 50kph, gusting over 70kph at times. An eventful and to be honest at times scary day thus ensued - high-speed falls, a para-wing storm kite ripped off a harness and a high-speed ski rescue mission to capture it, to name just some. By the end of the day we were spent. Total distance: 55km

A mixed few days, which will probably be a recurring theme on this second phase of the expedition - the uphill ski to the Arctic Circle. At these latitudes we are subject to all sorts of variable and local weather systems as opposed to stable systems higher up. Monday was virtually still wind-wise and we covered the princely sum of 800m. Tuesday started similarly but then a westerly wind appeared at midday, picking up throughout the day and we thus blitzed out 60km, going until 10pm. Total distance: 134km

Derek's birthday today, Devon's five days ago. Both couldn't wish to celebrate them in any place different than alone on an ice cap together ... If the distance covered looks familiar it's because what we moved in the past two days was, er, zero. Either no wind at all or light winds from NNE which meant if we had kited we could basically move at best a direction just north of west - and therefore little overall benefit moving northwards. Total distance: 134km

Well, the winds finally came, but not all smooth sailing. Saturday was a catalogue of mishaps and disasters. I struggled with intense pain with boots/feet and harness problems, which gave me a nightmare kiting day. A few high-speed falls, and when a kite secured to a sledge took off - taking the sledge with it and running straight over the top of me - my day couldn't get any worse. Devon had problems too. All of the fuel bottles bar six fell out of his sledge when a safety retainer came loose, over a period of 10-15km. We thus had to track all the way back searching and retrieving them, losing time and distance. Total distance: 207km.

Major milestone reached today - the Arctic Circle. For us this has always been a target which signified coming out of the difficult second phase of the expedition, the predominantly uphill and headwind slog with sledges at their heaviest. Total distance: 718km.

Halfway up the world's largest island reached today! Although not half of our total distance to cover - the 900km westerly leg across the top of Greenland is a "small" finale - it's a major milestone given our primary expedition goal of completing a full south-to-north traverse of the Greenland ice cap. We have been using our largest kite, the Ozone Yakuza GT 14m, for the past nine days. As the first people ever to use this model, we are delighted with its versatility and performance. And can only say mighty pleased we brought it - else we'd have probably reached halfway mid-July! Total distance: 1,441km.

We came across a series of flags spaced 200m apart. We guess this has been laid by an ice-core drilling research base located about 70km away, but it shows the state of our minds that a simple bamboo pole with a green flag can cause us as much excitement as finding the Yellow Brick Road. And that encapsulates the reality of polar ice-cap travel. All we have seen for over a month, and will do for up to another month, is the white of the ice and the blue (or grey) of the sky. It's not for everyone, but there is something very special about the totally unspoilt and untouched nature of the landscape we are on. Total distance: 2,199km.

After screaming downhill for most of the day we finally got the majestic sight we have waited 44 days and travelled nearly 3,000km to see: the mountains of northern Greenland appearing through the clearing clouds. We then travelled through the calming night down to and over a broken, melting and stream-laden glacier. A few thigh-deep immersions into the ice water followed but, negotiated successfully, we finally stopped at 6am at our present location at the top of the final glacier leading down to JP Kocks Fjord. In one piece. The place we are at can only be described as awesome and what makes it even more special is only a handful of people in history have ever seen it. Total distance 2,965km.

JP Kocks Fjord - the northern tip of the ice cap on the Arctic Ocean and our main expedition goal - reached, in what was undoubtedly the most tricky and dangerous day of our expedition by far. We saw at first hand the effects of the melting Greenland ice cap, falling and wading up to the waist through glacial meltwater all night.

We got soaked legs and arms; boots, gloves and clothing swimming in water. Skis came off, got trapped under the ice and one of mine got swept down a fast-flowing deep stream. Thankfully we caught it before it disappeared under the ice, which would have been an utter catastrophe. We still have the no small matter of travelling over 800km to Qaanaq with the remaining 19 days' supply of food and fuel. Total distance: 2,998km.

We finally left our camp above JP Kocks Fjord on Sunday at midnight. Snow was becoming soggy and deep and water was collecting everywhere. Devon went into a slot with his leg 100m from camp and, literally as we were about to leave, Derek the same - just two metres from our tent! We had this uncanny feeling that the Universe, or maybe old JP Kocks himself, was telling us: "You've seen this small piece of frozen paradise and witnessed what's happening to it. Thank you, now it's time to leave." Apart from the start and at JPK glacier we haven't seen a single crevasse on the ice cap in 49 days and 3,000km and then a cave the size of St Paul's Cathedral appears - right in our path! Total distance: 3,052km.

After the beauty - and dangers - we experienced nearer the coast we've managed to climb up to hopefully more stable ice, 1,800m up on the ice sheet. None of us thought we'd ever regard the high ice cap as "home" but in a strange way it feels good to be back.

The main problem remains. Constant south-west winds resulting in us gaining just 75km since our camp above JPK Fjord from a mix of walking and kiting. For the former, it would take us 45 days plus to walk the whole way so that's out of the question. For the latter, meaning a lot of tacking left and right into the wind to gain a pitiful distance - at best south. So, what do we do in the tent in the evenings and waiting times? Herein lies a lesson. iPods, eating/drinking (now a lot less) and chatting (now a lot more sombre) apart, I do the comms work so am usually busy with dispatches, photos, emails and such like. Derek, meanwhile, brought an iPhone with 20 books on so he's also fully occupied. And Devon? Regrettably didn't bring anything. And so for 45 days has had nothing to do but lay back and count the rip-stop nylon squares in the tent ceiling - that is until discovering last week that his iPod had solitaire, which he's now on every free minute of every day. Total distance: 3,102km.

What is happening south of us in the rest of the world we have no idea whatsoever. A chat line message on the British Lions rugby result in South Africa apart, the only piece of news we've heard in two months has been Michael Jackson dying. We may as well, indeed, be on another planet. We may not know what is going on down there but we will do our utmost to let as many people know what is going on up here - namely, the melting Greenland ice cap and global warming. Total distance: 3,770km.

After 10 hours of walking and kiting we are now just 90km away from our finish point and within reasonable walking distance - which is just as well as that is what we envisage in the next few days. No sale is complete until a contract is signed. No expedition until you actually reach that finish point. Total distance: 4,136km.

Any thoughts that the final 40km would resemble a walk round Hyde Park were completely dismissed after just 10 minutes today in what ended up one of the most difficult days of the whole expedition. So many crevasses were crossed - one of which I went in - and so much water waded through it felt Greenland wanted us to leave with some hard lessons for sure. One more day's concentration and challenge left. Total distance: 4,250km

We've made it! We're delighted - and can't quite believe it's over. It took 13 hours to cover the final 10-12km. If it wasn't so hard it would have been laughable. The sledges didn't enjoy crashing over rocks quite so much and were totally trashed by the end. No choice, unfortunately, it's the only way off the ice cap. Total distance: 4,262km