Bits and Bobs..and getting excited!

Over a years worth of planning and preparation and now with only 3 weeks to go, we’re getting the last few bits and pieces sorted.

It was recommended to us by an experienced expeditionist to get some neoprene food pouches for our meal packs, to keep the heat in longer and making them nicer to hold. So Molly has been busy cutting up her old wetsuit and putting her sewing skills to the test…

Molly on the sewing machine...not a common sight!
Molly on the sewing machine…not a common sight!

We have 2 leg pouches, a crotch pouch and 2 waist pouches, who will draw the short straw!

Homemade neoprene pouches
Homemade neoprene pouches

Jesse has been to get some final modifications to his ski boots, they need to be as comfortable as possible to make living in them for a month more bearable. Our trip to Norway was hugely beneficial to iron out all the little niggles with equipment.

Nice comfy foot beds being made
Nice comfy foot beds being made

Jen has been getting out and putting some long days in in Scotland, getting super fit! Ollie has also been getting out in the snow in Scotland walking, skiing, climbing etc.

Ollie out touring in Scotland
Ollie out touring in Scotland

And Alistair has been busy with maps! In the final few weeks we’ll be putting together a more detailed day to day plan with routes, distances, timings etc. Below is an example of a few layers we’ll have on our GPSs..

Starting to pull together our maps
Starting to pull together our maps

Check in for our outbound flights is now open, which means we can start to getting stupidly excited!!! Our park permit, radio permit and firearms permit are all in place..we’re all set….

Our training trip to Norway

We’ve just got back from our training trip in Norway… a great time was had by all! We flew into Tromso and headed out to the Dividalen region for 4/5 days of remote ski touring. Pulks were kindly lent to us from some of Alistairs colleagues at the Norwegian Polar Institute – which was fantastic for us to get a feel for what it’s like to pull heavy loads! Thanks guys!

The stunning Norwegian Landscape
The stunning Norwegian Landscape

We hoped this trip would give us a feel for what we may expect – being only a few degrees latitude south with similar temperatures…and we definitely got a lot out of this trip.

Dealing with the freezing temperatures
Dealing with the freezing temperatures

We familiarised ourselves with our kit and put it to the test over the 4 days which proved to be extremely valuable. A few minor adjustments need to be made prior to Greenland and a few additions to the kit list. Mainly clothing layers, socks, a stiff brush and a jug for avoiding spillages when filling thermos’s.

Sorting gear on the frozen lake
Sorting gear on the frozen lake

We melted snow throughout our trip for drinking water and cooking, a very time consuming process, but great to get a feel for timings etc. The need for allocating roles became apparent and we became much more efficient at getting out in the morning! Our pace also increased over the time we were out there and we managed to cover just over 60km..

Teamwork
Teamwork

The weather and conditions were on our side and the location was absolutely stunning! Bring on Greenland…just a month to go now…!!!

Jen soaking up the rays..
Jen soaking up the rays..

 

Mapping and High Resolution Imagery

We’ve been awarded a grant for high-res imagery from @DigitalGlobeFDN! We’ll use it to plan a safe route avoiding crevasses & other hazards.

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The imagery is really important to our expedition. We will use summer imagery to identify areas of crevasses, deep surface stream channels and other hazards which may be covered by snow and less visible from on the ground. This will help us move safely across the glacier and identify the best locations for installing ablation stakes and measuring the snow properties on the glacier. The high resolution of the imagery should also make it easier to identify potential routes and access to some of the peaks we intend to climb.

There’s a mixture of summer and winter images and they’re 0.5m resolution, so we should be able to use them to pick out comfy looking rocks to sit and have lunch on!

We’ve also teamed up with Satmap, they have kindly offered to loan us some of their GPS units loaded with all this information!downloadTogether with Satmap Systems Ltd and Digital Globe FDN we’ll be extremely well prepared.

A massive thanks to @DigitalGlobeFDN and Satmap!

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Our Gear has Set Off!

All our food and most of our equipment is now on its way to Greenland – the journey has begun!

Packing all our stuff up in boxes
Packing all our stuff up in boxes

We’ve packed our stuff into a combination of plastic and cardboard boxes which are taped up extremely well to withstand the long journey!

Molly delivers the goods
Molly delivers the goods

We delivered it all to Immingham on the east coast and waved it on its way this afternoon…

Eimskip
Eimskip

Where will it go…?

  • Sea Freight: Immingham, UK – Reykjavik cargo warehouse, Iceland
  • Haulage: Reykjavik cargo warehouse, Iceland – Akureyri airport, Iceland
  • Air Freight: Akureyri airport, Iceland – Constable Point, Greenland
A map of where our stuff is going...
A map of where our stuff is going…

Hopefully it will all run like clockwork and we’ll be reunited with it when we step off the plane at Constable Point on the 6th April.

Twin Otter

The remaining kit – mainly our clothes, skies and electronics will be coming with us on the plane in April. We’ve organised a training camp in Tromso, Norway towards the end of Feb to test run our gear, refresh our skills and to further develop our teamwork etc.

Our 60W solar panels work well in the January sun in the UK, but a better test will be in the northern Norwegian sun in Feb!

Solar panels charging 2 radios and 2 camera batteries..
Solar panels charging 2 radios and 2 camera batteries..

Less than 2 months to go…

Our Scientific Research

Recent news showing that the extent of the total sea ice is at its’ lowest level since satellite records began in 1978, really highlights the need for humanity to do what we can to slow this ever increasing trend.

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Our plan to carry out self-supported scientific research in the Stauning Alps region of Greenland is our way of getting involved and helping to inform the world about one of the biggest issues facing us today.

We will collect valuable scientific data and instigate a new monitoring program, using data collected during the 1970s as a baseline for investigating changes in the region over the past 40 years and into the future. This monitoring program will utilise measurements and techniques which can be repeated by future expeditions to set up a vital, long term record of changes in the area.

So what exactly will we be doing…

We will install a similar network of ablation stakes to that measured and maintained in the 1970s. During these campaigns, a network of 26 stakes was installed in three lines; two cross-glacier lines on Roslin Glacier, and one on Dalmore Glacier, a tributary to Roslin Glacier, as shown below:

Location of the stakes installed during the 1970s.

One of the primary aims of this stake network was to measure the cross-glacier variation in ice flow speed. This required a high number of stakes in the across-glacier direction to get a reasonable resolution of the cross-glacier variation in flow speed. As surface flow speeds can now be derived from satellite imagery and constrained by a small number of ground-based point measurements, our primary interest will be in ablation measurements. Therefore, we will distribute our stakes across a wider elevation range than in 1970 and reduce the number of stakes to 10. This also means that we can realistically transport the necessary tools and stakes on the pulks which we will be towing.

Stakes will be installed using a hand drill; although more labour intensive, this will significantly reduce the weight we most carry, by omitting the power drill and power generation equipment. It’ll also keep us warm!

Drilling into the ice…

As we are installing the stakes in the early spring, it will also be necessary to remove the surface snow before drilling. This will allow an opportunity to collect density and temperature profiles of the snow on the surface of the glacier, providing insights in the accumulation rates in the upper part of the glacier as well as valuable data to validate snow and precipitation models of the area. The stakes will be drilled to a depth of up to 4 metres. This depth will allow the stakes to remain in place for a number of years without being replaced.

Stake sketch
High-tech engineering drawings of stake lengths and attachments

We will set up a base camp and stay for several days at this location on the Roslin Glacier to enable us to complete all this work. We believe that reviving the relationship between science and mountaineering could allow the collection of measurements like these which play a vital role in creating a long term record in remote areas. Measurements and records of this nature, while simple, are invaluable to scientists, particularly in determining the mass balance of the glacier and for validating modelled or remote sensing observations. We hope that this may eventually evolve into a form of ‘citizen science’ for mountaineering expeditions.

Our colour coded stakes ready for shipping to Greenland.
Our colour coded stakes ready for shipping to Greenland.

The scientific data we collect will be published and presented at scientific conferences, and used to demonstrate the potential of this untapped method of data collection.

Please do get in touch if you want to find out more and get involved in future expeditions.

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Collating results during the expedition in August 1972.

Expedition Food

Food, food, glorious food…

All our food needs to be shipped out 2 months before we arrive in Greenland – coming up with a menu has not been an easy task. Our requirements include:

  • Best before date beyond the 4th May
  • High calorie, low weight
  • ~4500kcal/day/person
  • Edible when frozen
  • Suitably packaged
  • Requiring only the addition of hot water

A freezer test was conducted to ensure all the food we’d selected would be ok when frozen! Mars bars were struck off the list!

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The freezer test

After much discussion we finalised our menu a couple of weeks ago. We decided on having dehydrated packs for evening meals and our own menu for breakfasts, snacks and lunches as a compromise between ease of cooking and cost.

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Our extensive menu, day by day

We have gone for three varieties of breakfast on a rotation, based on porridge, granola and cereal bars. Snacks consist of chocolate bars, nuts, cheese biscuits, pork scratchings, peperami, pretzels, snack bars and sweets. Lunches will mainly be oat cakes, primula cheese, jerky and cuppa soups.

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5 people, 31 days

Shopping for all these items has been more fun than we’d imagined. 5 different supermarkets and 9 shopping visits later, we have purchased all our food. Trolley loads of unhealthy food raised several eye brows especially in January (the detox month!).

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Banana chips and peanuts individually packed

To save us having to divvy the food up each day in the freezing cold in Greenland, we thought we’d make up ration packs at home.  Hopefully all our preparation upfront will prove beneficial! Weighing out individual portions of porridge, snacks etc. is quite time consuming but will be worth it. We now have 3 different ration packs A, B and C to provide variety, which will be handed out each morning…simples!

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Ration packs

Our dehydrated packs have arrived in the post, so we’re all set to go! It’s becoming more real day by day.. Exciting times!

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Dehydrated food packs

I think we’ll be craving fresh fruit and veg when we get back…

Finalising our Gear for shipping

Time off over the festive period has been put to good use with finalising our equipment & food lists and redistributing kit from all over the country to our temporary gear store in Loughborough.

Santa must have been tipped off about our up and coming trip to the Arctic and as we’ve all been good boys and girls he was very kind this year! The general theme was insulation – thick socks, thermos flasks, mitts, sleeping mats etc. Our shipping deadline is fast approaching and kit is starting to get packed up which is making it all feel more real now!

Jen has been busy contacting many gear manufactures and organising our equipment and we’re now in possession of a huge box of down goodies! She is also our chief medical officer and has put a comprehensive list of first aid and medical supplies together to ensure we’re covered for most eventualities..

Safety first..
Safety first..

Ollie has been negotiating with several dehydrated food suppliers to get us the highest calorie to weight ratio packs for the best price. The food packs have now been ordered and we have a surprising 9(!) different evening meals. He is also our spares and repairs handyman and has put together an ingenious list of tools and materials to fix any gear that may break!

Thanks to Be-Well for all their help!

Alistair has been getting our science kit together and putting his painting skills to the test! We now have colour coded poles with holes pre-drilled to use as our stakes. He is also sorting out a training camp in Tromso for late Feb…to test out some of our gear and polish up our skills etc.

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Science can be colourful!

Jesse has been doing some sums and working out our sea freight logistics. 300kg of stuff needs to leave the UK on 7th Feb (2 months before we arrive in Greenland). What gear can be shipped early? Locating cardboard boxes and crates. Labelling and packing…

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Jesse testing out his down sleeping bag and new eye mask!

 Molly has been trawling the supermarkets finding the most calorie dense food and building a menu around our dehy meals. Nuts, oat cakes, chocolate and dried fruit feature in quite high quantities. Between the 5 of us it looks like we’ll be taking a total of about 165kg of food, which equates to circa. 4,500kcal per day!

Powdered tea has been tested (tastes like wet cardboard), it will not be coming with us..!

 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Arctic Club Annual Dinner

What a privilege to be invited to the Arctic Club Annual Dinner and what an evening it was!

As 2017 winners of the award we were invited as guests to attend this prestigious event at Queens’ College, Cambridge. 3 members of our expedition attended the weekends events which started on Saturday afternoon with a talk from the 2016 Arctic Club Award winners. We heard all about their successful trip to Svarlbard this summer (Spitsbergen Retraced), the challenges they faced and some amazing images. David Hempleman-Adams, the first person in history to reach the Geographic and Magnetic North and South Poles was also there and presented his exploits from the Polar Ocean Challenge. This epic voyage through both the NE and NW passages in one season highlighted the impact of climate change in the Arctic region and proved an eye opener to us all.

Jen learning the exact position to aim a rifle at a polar bear from John!
Jen learning the exact position to aim a rifle at a polar bear from John!

A fantastic 3 course dinner in the Old Hall followed the talks and provided a great opportunity to discuss our plans and hear some epic stories from previous expeditions. John Thorogood and Kathlene Cartwright were our hosts for the evening. John, a hugely engaging chap who was part of the expeditions to the Roslin Glacier in the 1970’s provided great insight into what  we may expect, tips on food logistics and shooting rifles! Kathlene had also been to the Stauning Alps area and was a huge inspiration.

Jesse and Kathleen sharing stories
Jesse and Kathleen sharing stories

It was very humbling being in the company of so many Arctic explorers and it really did hit home the immense challenge we’d set ourselves. Several people mentioned that genuine exploratory expeditions are a rarity these days and the respect we gained for our plans on going into a region few people had ever set foot, never mind climbed was quite overwhelming!

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A visit to the Scott Polar Research Institute rounded off the weekend nicely.  The info and displays in the museum were fascinating, from the clothes they wore, the equipment used and even the touching letters that were written by Scott and Shackleton. These guys must have had unbelievable strength and character to survive in such extreme environments with such primitive materials and provisions. It made us wander whether in centuries to come with the continuing advancement in materials and technology, if people will think the same about us. Goose-down to keep warm, dry powdered meals for fuel and dragging sleds full of gear…they must have been hard-core!

Jen in the gear of yesteryear
Jen in the gear of yesteryear

Avalanche Awareness

Identifying avalanche hazards in the mountains of the arctic will be a challenging process. Temperature variations, snowfall, wind speed and direction all affect the stability and strength of the snowpack. Critical to staying safe will be good decision making – being aware of the dangers, heeding the warnings and recognising the indications that the mountains provide.

The stats show that 90% of avalanche victims triggered the avalanche in which they were caught, themselves! We’ll all be carrying avalanche safety equipment (transceiver, probe and shovel) and will all be well drilled with efficient transceiver searching, effective probing and strategic shovelling.

Loose snow avalanches, slab avalanches, powder snow avalanches and wet snow avalanches are all potential dangers to us in the Stauning Alps region. The most common causes are snowstorms, human activity – vibrations and movements, different layers of snow and steep slopes.

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Together with the Danish mapping agency, Satmap Systems Ltd and our own expertise we’ve collated satellite imagery, gpx files, digital elevation models to arm ourselves with as much data and knowledge as possible to plan a safe expedition. Satmap have kindly offered to loan us some of their GPS units loaded with all this information!

Factors we’ve taken into account include slope aspect, altitude and slope angles and our avalanche maps will look like the image below. The different colours show the different slope angles and the black lines are an estimate of avalanche runout zones. Clever stuff! This is massively helpful for us in locating safe base camps, identifying safe routes and areas to avoid.

avalanche

Additionally, the summer/winter satellite imaginary will inform us what’s below the snow and there are also tools for sun-hours and shadow areas – useful for route planning and so we don’t end up camping in the shade!

We could even include polar bear locations, but they haven’t tagged any near where we’re going!

bears

Drawing up Equipment Lists

Having the right equipment for our expedition is massively important. It’s an extremely harsh and remote environment and we need to ensure we’re fully prepared for the conditions we may face. This is a huge task and requires a lot of thought to ensure every
aspect of our trip is covered. So far, we are down to row 124 in our equipment list spreadsheet!

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Lists and lists of stuff..!

We’ve got several categories to our list – clothing systems and footwear, camping and sleeping, cooking, skiing & climbing, safety, navigation and food. This is very much a group activity with many discussions being had on what tent combinations, what ropes, how many mid layers and we haven’t even got onto food yet!

As well as collating all our gear, we also need to keep a check on weight. The total weight of all our outward freight is 60kg per person. We’ve been diligently weighing everything we’re going to take, no matter how small. We now know that 2 pairs of boxer shorts weigh 134g and a toothbrush a mere 23g! Exciting stuff…

Molly weighing up some of the gear...
Molly weighing up some of the gear…

Fortunately, a lot of the specialist equipment (eg. pulk sleds, satellite phone, rifles etc.) we’ll be renting will be out in Greenland, so this can be excluded from our weight allowance (but still needs to be carried!).

Pulk sleds provided by Tangent Expeditions
Pulk sleds provided by Tangent Expeditions

Being self sufficient means we need to be fully prepared.  We’re also going to be without power for a month, so we’ll need a couple of solar chargers to keep our electronics functioning – mainly the Sat phone and our cameras.

Lots to think about…and what will our individual luxury items be (must be small and light)??