Tuesday 6 May 2014

Nearly home

Only a day to go before my flight out of CNP. We've spent the week repairing the skidoos with the spare parts that arrived, digging / sawing out the containers and moving one of the groups to a different location, but they were quite close, so it only took a few hours each day.

Cutting snow blocks to clear doorways
Camp visitor

We have to get two groups out from North Liverpool Land in the next two days. One today and one tomorrow. The weather was really bad today and also forecast for tomorrow. They have to catch thier flights on Thursday, so there is no option but to try and get to them.

Collecting first group
Striking camp
1st  group all back now after an epic 7 hr journey in at best flat light and at worst full blown white out and constant navigation. Now snowing with 40km winds.
All the group are now in the Weather Haven trying to dry out.

Driving in White Out

The tracks kept disappearing in the flat light and only the GPS unit showed the way.

Investigating 'doo malfunction in 40km winds
Doos still causing some concern.
Doo 3 still vibrating and right at the end had an engine warning light and cut out on stop. Now starts again, but what about tomorrow?
Doo 2 vibrating due to an unidentified fault. Can't see anything due to blizzard.
Doo 1 happy.

The pick up tomorrow is on a glacier, so we need good light to travel on it. Let's hope the weather improves or we won't be able to get up to them.
End of season

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Eight hundred kilometers in five days

Day one

Well, it started on Friday. Five days of skidoo travel, with nearly 800 kms and 10 hour plus days to get six parties in and out of various mountain areas of Greenland. Skidoo breakdowns every day, made the whole outcome in doubt and at times we thought we would not get back to Constable Point (CNP) base again.

We were already one skidoo down (doo 4) due to an engine failure and only had 3 skidoos when we really needed 4, due to the group sizes, so we started some journeys overloaded.

 Four groups arrived on the Friday and we split up to have an individual assigned to each and help them get organised. Two groups had to be taken out that day for what we estimated to be a 6 hour round trip to north Liverpool Land (blue line on map – 135 kms). 

The problem was, that the flight did not get in till 3.30 and it wasn’t till about 5.00pm that we were able to set off. Much stress in the clients as they had such a quick turn around and much stress in us due to the late start and the fact that the weather was windy, cloudy, flat light, trying to pack with spin drift everywhere, having to dig every doorway out several times to get anywhere and -10. 

Setting up camp in poor weather
We got the two groups in OK with some difficult navigating in the poor conditions and after a few kms on the return, the skis broke on the red people carrier. We had to dismantle the whole thing and strap it onto a sledge to continue. At about 11.00 at the top of a hill, in the windiest spot, a shock absorber broke under my ‘doo. We had a spare and installed this, but did not get back to CNP until half past midnight.

Putting broken People Pod on sledge to take it home and..
dumping all the undercarriage in the box
 Day two

Up again at 7.00 am back to North Liverpool Land glacier (green line on map – 200 kms). We had to move one of the groups from the day before because we had not time to get them to the right place last evening and get a group of 7 up the glacier. Weather was great and all went well up the glacier with us using our new skidoo rope system to travel on the glacier. We had to take the kit and people up separately making multiple trips up the steeper glacier snout.

Our roped travel system being tested
Taking loads up the glacier snout

On the way back we discovered a broken wheel bracket under a skidoo. We were supposed to spend the night at the Red House Hut on the way to Sydcap, but this was now impossible.  We had to return all the way back to CNP and telephoned Steve and Darren to take ‘doo 4 bracket off at base and be ready to fix our one. We got back at 8.00pm and they worked late into the evening to make the repairs as we had to set off for Sydcap early next day (red line on map – 350 kms).

Day three

Next day we set off to try and reach the Staunings group, collect them and then spend the night at Sydcap. 10kms from CNP another shock absorber broke. We had no spare so had to haul the ‘doo back on a sledge back to CNP. The pit stop boys already had the other shock off ‘doo 4 and we were ready to set off again by 12.00pm. This time we did not have time to pick up the Staunings team and so went straight to Sydcap for the night getting there about 7.00pm. 

Dragging 'doo 1 back to CNP on a sledge
This time the trip was uneventful and we had time to take pictures of the magnificent icebergs.

About 30mts from the house, another shock absorber broke. The bolts had also sheared from a stress bar under the skidoo. We had one last shock absorber, but could not fix the sheared bolts to re-fit the bar. We now really felt we were a bit stuck. We had long risk assessment discussions over dinner of rehydrated curry. If we carried on the next day and collected the Staunings group of three with a broken ‘doo, the risk of complete breakdown on the 200km way back to CNP was high. We would have 6 people, three sledges and only two ‘doos with one broken one. If it broke on sea ice then we would have to spend ages getting everything to land and the group would miss their flight. The route back was not easy to tow a ‘doo on a sledge and we would have no capacity to carry 6 people.

The problem was solved when I managed to cut into the end of the bar with a hacksaw and create a grove with which to turn the sheared bolt shaft with a screwdriver and extract it. We had spare bolts which would fit to reinstall it to the undercarriage. Another late night, but Clair, Beth and I went to bed much more confident of our chances.

Day four

Next day off to pick up the Staunings guys, but a severe vibration under the repaired doo gave some concern.  There was no option but to keep going. On the way back, we passed some polar bear tracks which looked far too fresh and lovely ice formations in the river bed.

All went well until a wheel bearing broke on a track wheel on the way to the Red House. We had no spare – keep calm and carry on. Back to CNP at 7.30 after 12 hours to an airport dinner.

Final straw - Clair & Beth look at a broken wheel bearing
 Day five

The last day was to take a group to Ittoqqortoormiit (orange line on map – 100 kms) and bring another group back to get their flight at 7.15pm. With the wheels all fixed, we got there with no trouble at 1.00pm to pick up the flight group, only to be told that their flight was now at 3.30pm! This put us under severe time pressure. I felt like I was on fire and someone kept throwing petrol on me! We made it with 30 mins to spare and saw the group off.

Icebergs near village
Cap Hope - abandoned settlement
Rushing to get the group to the airport
We are all now completely whacked and having some well earned rest days with some time to fix the carnage of broken ‘doos. Thanks go to my team of drivers and pit stop crew, Claire, Beth, Steve and Darren who all did a great job under some stress. Steve and Beth have now gone back to the UK leaving us three at CNP.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Getting to Breakfast

We had a short but very severe storm here again a few days ago with 90km winds and had to go to the Hilton as a group in the morning from our containers and tents.

Here's the video:

Or try this link:


Just got back from a 3 day ski tour in Liverpool Land. Nice weather and skied some good faces.

Summit with camp in backgroundd

More time next week to say how the next few days go - a trip to the village, two trips to North Liverpool Land, one back to Sydcap and another back to the village. About 800kms all in 5 days.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Jouney to Sydcap

Two journeys. Cap Greville and Sydcap/Staunings

We delivered 7 people to Kap Greville a few days ago to do the N – S Liverpool Land Traverse. A round trip of about 180 km which took about 7 ½ hours. As we travelled up the sea ice in Carlsberg Fjord the snow became really deep and I struggled to break trail. The skidoos started using double the amount of fuel and by the time we dropped the team off I was down to ¼ of a tank and getting seriously concerned about having enough fuel to get back. We had 40 extra litres in cans with us and this gave us just enough to make it back home to CNP. 

Deep snow at Kap Greville
Group departing at Kap Greville
The next day we had to set out again for the Staunings Alps to put 3 people there. The whole trip took 3 days and was about 390 kms. We were delayed setting off until 12.00pm because one of the shock absorbers under a doo had sheared off. We got it fixed, but had to take it into the engineering hangar and it took all morning.

During this time the weather was gradually deteriorating. The wind was picking up and visibility was worsening. We set off in -20c with a wind chill of over -30c. Any slight gap around your helmet or goggles became numb in seconds and our goggles were constantly freezing up making navigation difficult. One of the clients was constantly complaining of a cold bottom and eventually stuffed some Karrimat down it, which looked ridiculous. After 40kms we had had enough and reached the Red House, a hut on a col with a welcome stove, which runs on aviation fuel. 

Evening at the Red House
Dinner in the Red House
We spent the night there and next day the wind had dropped and it was a bit warmer. A long trip to the Staunings via the fuel depot and deep snow saw us leave the group at about 5.30pm and then get the house at Sydcap for about 6.30.

Fuel depot on West Jameison Land
Staunings Alps
Bunnies in the Staunings Alps
Final leg to Sydcap on day two
The stove there doesn’t work so well, but took the chill off and we had a reasonable night. The house is set in a really spectacular setting right on the coast with icebergs all around. 

Ice bergs at Sydcap
Sydcap house
View from Sydcap
Unfortunately, during our satellite phone call with base we learned that the group had left one of their tents in our sledge so it was another early start to drive all the way back to them before heading home on the third day.

Setting off on the final day
We had met some locals in the Red House who had travelled direct overland to Gurreholm and cut a corner off our route. I fancied trying this new route by following their track back and seeing if it was quicker. It wasn’t. There were numerous deep valleys to cross and we lost an hour or more getting stuck in deep snow in the bottom. We’ll stick to our longer, but simpler route in future. We got back at about 5.30 at CNP in time for an airport dinner and it’s taken us a few days to recover from the trip.

Inside the hut at Gurreholm
Getting stuck in a valley
Getting out of a valley
Arctic fox on the sea ice
Musk Ox in Jamieson Land
More bad weather and the mechanic arrived and fixed our broken Doo, which needed a new magneto fitting. We found more bent wheel brackets which saw me heating them up with an acetylene torch to bend them back into position. The next group have arrived for ‘Iceman, so I think I’ll be pulling pulk sleds on skis for the next few days.

Bulldozer digging route to the Hilton
Bulldozer getting stuck
Twin Otter arriving with mechanic
Dog team waiting out the bad weather
Bending back wheel brackets

Tuesday 8 April 2014

First Storm

Claire and I got out for our first skidoo trip the day before the storm to check out travel systems and complete a couple of initial route recces. We did about 60kms and the surfaces were surprisingly good. Very little sastrugi even in the areas which have high snow wind ridges, which usually slow progress to just a few kms an hour. This time we could travel at up to 40kph on flat snow.
Ready to go
 The wheels with worn out bearings did not break, but we had some spare worn ones with us and the sledge to tow a doo back if need be.

On the other side of the fjord looking toward CNP
 All our travel systems seemed to work well with the sat phones operating, the spot GPS tracker system sending out our position to base every 10 mins and our emergency camping and survival container in order. I have installed custom maps on our GPS units which worked well showing our position on a map as opposed to way points on a white screen that we used last year.

Synoptic of storm approaching
Big storm here for two days and this is the 3rd day. 70kph winds and we had to dig our selves out of the container yesterday morning. The door was completely blocked, but we got out OK. This morning was even worse and we had to get one person out by digging a tunnel and crawling out into the storm, then going round to the other container and Weather Haven to dig them out. Fortunately our door opens inwards, but the Weather Haven tent opens outwards and in a big blow no one can get out, even with the tunnel we dug. 

Snow drifts block door of the container where we sleep

Tunnel complete and preparing to venture out
There was a French group trying to find the airport yesterday. They were ringing up for GPS positions and arrived in the middle of the evening. They had spent 7 hours traveling 7kms in the storm, two of which had been spent just trying to find the airport. Unfortunately the leader got frostbite in one of his fingers, but seems not to be too badly injured.

Coming out

Digging out the doorway - it fills again in an hour
Digging out the Weather Haven

We have a power line to follow to get from camp to the airport, so I've suggested to everyone that we should use that route and only travel in pairs. The storm was in full flow this morning so getting to the Hilton was fun. It's only about 150 mts away and was OK following the power line, but after we got to the main hangar, the way was blocked by a huge wind tail (snow drift) about 3 mts high which we had to climb over in the white out with only a vague idea of which direction to go in.

Digging the tunnel from the Weather Haven
Tunnel complete - ready to drift in again
Operating outside is impossible, so we are doing lots of indoor jobs in the Weather Haven

We were splicing glacier travel ropes yesterday in the Weather Haven, but today was more winds of 70 kph. We have a had a Hilton day today as it's too difficult to the get to the Weather Haven, so we have just been planning our strategy for the coming weeks.
Splicing ropes
Claire finds the weather forecast amusing in the Hilton
Looking forward to the weather getting better tomorrow and our first groups arriving on the delayed flight – as long as they can get the runway clear!

Hoping for better weather