Since a very young age I have always been deeply fascinated by the natural world and opens spaces, especially by remote and wild places. I think the outdoors, away from all the clutter of modern society is where the world makes the most sense. Every time I think about the beauty and the apparent simplicity of nature and the great complexity of all its hidden details, my interest in understanding more about it grows.
Although for many different reasons I feel privileged for having had the opportunity to grow up and live in Europe, when I started travelling and over the years I went to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (south America is next), I started to realize how overdeveloped and overcrowded the old continent is. It doesn’t matter where you are, sadly, you can’t get away from people, buildings, roads, cars and all the rest that, what people call “civilization”, brings with it.
As I get older, it doesn’t matter where I am or what I do, my desire to get away from crowds and “civilization” seems to be growing stronger and stronger. So over the past few years finding places off the beaten track, a little more remote where the air is clean, where I can find some solitude, have a more connected experience with nature and put some distance between me and “civilization”, has been a constant thought in my mind to the point of becoming a priority. Scary, I know. Especially if you think I am only 36 years old!
I have to confess that until last year I didn’t know much about Greenland. From a first look at the map you don’t see much more than a vast expanse of whiteness, the Ice Cap. Together with the people in the northern part of the island, mainly hunters who still travel by dogsled, wear skins and live by the harpoon, Greenland’s ice cap, the second largest in the world after the one in Antarctica, are enduring remnants of the last ice age. The ice sheet covers about 90% of the territory and it’s about 2 miles thick in some places. I am not a competent geologist like my friend David but I guess it’s been there for a couple of millions of years?! Just think at the Inuit name for Greenland: Kalaallit Nunaat, meaning White Earth, says it all. Seemingly frozen and still, the ice is everything but stable. It’s in perpetual motion, constantly being reshaped by snowfalls and steadily flowing towards the coast, forming huge sinuous glaciers and ultimately desegregating itself as weird and wonderfully-shaped icebergs into the sea.
So I obviously knew where it was, how big it was and that among the mountaineering community, given its extremely large featureless ice cap, it was popular for crossing expeditions on skis and kites. Like most people, what I didn’t know was that along the coastline, especially the east coast, there are an endless number of high peaks and glaciated valleys which for only a few weeks between April and May become one of the most amazing places to hike and ride/ski on the planet. Steep open faces and couloirs of different sizes and shapes are only some of the features you are likely to see.
So when the opportunity of joining a Splitboard expedition to the East Coast came along it took me about 1 minute to decide to join the group. I needed about 20 seconds to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and the rest to make the decision. We are going to travel to Reykjavik, Iceland and then over to Constable Point, gateway to Liverpool Land, a remote peninsula located about 600km inside the Arctic Circle. The plan is to use snowmobiles to travel across the frozen fjord, on to the glacier, then find a safe spot to set up camp and call it home for about 10 days. We are going to explore the surrounding peaks hiking and riding on our splitboards. Once again, not just a board, but rather an amazing tool to access a new dimension of snowboarding.
Day 1: Reykjavik to Constable Point
The plane is small, there is room for about 25 people. There are only a handful of people on the plane with us. No idea what they are going to do there but they are certainly not part of an expedition. I can’t hear anyone talking. Everyone seems to be immersed in their own thoughts. This is clearly not just another snowboarding holiday to some cool ski resort. We know that we are about to enter a world we haven’t entered before. It’s definitely the type of journey that triggers lots of different thoughts.
After about one hour leaving Iceland and fly over the Atlantic Ocean, just south of the Arctic Ocean the view approaching the east coast of Greenland is a first good indication of the frozen and wild world we are about to enter. The frozen sea is only just starting to melt.
While still on the plane, we are starting to see the first peaks. It’s definetely one of the prettiest landscapes I have ever seen and the first of this kind. Snow and ice over the winter months have merged together land and sea so well that you can’t tell when one ends and the other one begins. They will regain their identity as the sea ice melts during the short Arctic summer.
We’ll be heading towards the mountains, where else?! The part below is the frozen fjord we’ll be travelling on to reach the glaciers and mountains of the Liverpool Land peninsula. We are about 600 km inside the Arctic Circle, latitude is 70° 45’ N, longitude is 22° 39’ W.
Although over the years I have seen similar landscapes in nature documentaries, looking at it with my own eyes and knowing I will soon be part of it, it’s a complete new feeling. I knew since the beginning that this trip wasn’t going to be only about the snowboarding. Yes, our splitboards are the main tool we are going to use to access and explore this white wilderness, but when you live on snow 24 hours a day, you step into a different program. A program where the skiing/riding can only be one part of it.
Constable Point (CNP) was established back in 1985 by the American oil company ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company) in connection with the large oil exploration done in Jameson Land. Apparently, whether oil was ever found in Jameson Land or not remains a well-kept secret. ARCO left Northeast Greenland in 1990 and sold the airport to “Mittarfeqarfiit”, which is the Greenlandic civil aviation administration.
Since 1990 Constable Point has been run as a commercial airport, with flight routes to Kulusuk 800 km to the south and to Reykjavik in Iceland and with two flights per week, Wednesday and Saturday (weather permitting) in order to service the citizens of Ittoqqortoormiit. Constable Point is a place of work and a home for 10-15 people, who have chosen to live and work isolated from the world in an arctic and at times rough climate.
Constable Point consists of one H-shaped building, 5 hangars and a guest house. The guest house has been named “Hilton” and has a big 5 stars near the name. Amusing.
This is Alan showing on the map where we are. The black dot on the left of his finger is Constable Point. We are heading to the mountains across the fjord, now still frozen, where his finger is. Just look at the size of this island, it’s huge! You can see the west coast of Iceland under his hand. Now you understand why the ice cap crossing, from east to west, 550km of frozen land, takes about one month..if mother nature is kind to you. We are aware that this year already 3 expeditions have to be cancelled due to adverse weather conditions.
The original plan was to stay here for the night but we have been informed that there is a storm on the way that should get here tomorrow so we decide to leave today. This is all our gear ready to go on the sleds.
The locals with the sleds are here.
We are ready to go.
This is it. This is the moment we have been waiting for. Just over 24 hours after we left home, we are about to leave all the comforts behind and enter into a beautiful white wilderness. From now on there are no signs or roads to follow. There isn’t even a map of this place! Neil has got some satellite images we’ll use to choose the glacier on which we are going to set the camp on.
After crossing the frozen fjord, as we enter the peninsula of Liverpool Land, we see these musk oxen slowly moving through the deep snow.
I think we were all expecting to see some form of wildlife at some stage but not that soon! And probably not of that kind. For the time being though probably better musk ox than polar bear. After only few minutes on the sled we are already immersed in the white vastness of this remote land. Although I have travelled a lot and seen many different types of mountain environment, I have never seen anything like this. It feels like being on a different planet or perhaps the planet is the same but during the last ice age. The plan is to travel into these mountains ahead of us and find a good spot where to set up camp and call it home for the next 10 days or so.
We are heading to the glacier on the right hand side.
On the way
This is the last steep part. We are almost there.
The locals did a great job. The last part was a bit steep so they had to do a few trips back and forth to bring all of us one by one and all our gear. Shovels out, we start digging the holes to set up the tents in. We are on Hans Gletcher.
Neil chose the location of the camp where it’s sheltered from the wind and out of danger from avalanches and because of the view of course…
I never felt at home so soon. Welcome to base camp.
It’s now 10pm and the tents are finally up. It’s crazy how quickly the temperature drops once the sun moves behind the mountain and leaves us in the shade. It’s -5 and dropping. It’s been a long day, it’s time to get into the sleeping bag and get some rest. We know it’s never going to get dark up here so I guess we’ll have to get used to having 24 hours of light. What are we going to do here again? Hike and ride as much as we can.The plan is to go touring on our splitboards exploring the surrounding mountains. It looks like we picked an excellent spot, there is no shortage of interesting terrain around here. Everywhere I look around the camp I see really aesthetic peaks and amazing lines.