Greenland Expedition – Part 2

Day 2: Total whiteout

As forecasted we wake up to a grey cold day with poor visibility. We decide to go out anyway waiting to see how the storm develops. After about one hour into our tour it’s clear that the storm is upon us. The visibility decreases to no more than 10 meters and the wind increases considerably so we decide to head back to camp. Using one of John Muir’s phrases, “When mountain speaks, wise men listen”. Today’s message cannot be clearer – go home! So we turn back. Back at the camp we settle into the mess tent to warm up and prepare some food.

From left, Alan, Dev and my tent mate Mike chilling, waiting it out, surrounded by the numerous comforts of the mess tent.

After a few coups of tea, a bit of chatting, some reading and a meal it’s now time to settle in my tent and go to sleep. Once in my bag I listen to the howling wind outside. We have been here just over 24 hours and we have already seen the two faces of Greenland – so beautiful, welcoming and inspiring one moment and so unfriendly and inhospitable the next. Although as always, I am going into this trip without having expectations, I have a few thoughts going around my head. Are we going to be stuck in the tents for days and days because of the weather? Greenland powerful storms have a reputation after all. Will the riding conditions be good? These are only thoughts, not concerns. For the time being I am just happy and feel privileged to be here. We’ll see about the rest.

Day 3: First tour on Morning Glory Peak

Delicious sunshine comes pouring over the hills, lighting the peaks, almost cheering them up, creating a bright and incredibly serene atmosphere in contrast with the wild and grey tones of yesterday’s storm. Despite all the tea I drunk yesterday, last night I slept like a log. Although my sleeping bag is not very warm and needed a couple of extra layers to be warm I reckon I am now acclimatized to a night temperature of around -15°. The good news is that the storm seems to be gone and the clouds and the wind with it, leaving behind about 10cm of new snow. Not that we really needed more but you know what I think – there is no such thing as too much snow.

After breakfast we get the gear ready and set off for the first tour of the trip. This is Neil, breaking trail into the unknown.

We start hiking right next to the tents. The camp looks pretty from up here. For years I have been dreaming about having a backyard like this one.

We’ll be skinning on this ridge just in front of us and then we’ll zigzag across the slope and head to the top left.

Alan on his way up.

Neil in the front taking a photo of us while I take one of them.

Alistair, Dev and Alan on their way. We are almost there.

This is the view from the peak we decided to name “Morning Glory”. I am sure the photos will explain.

 

The reward. A few turns on the slope we hiked on and then down onto a different one to end back on the glacier. Snow was perfect all the way. We are expecting stable snow conditions as at these latitudes the snowpack is not affected by the frequent big temperatures changes we have to deal with in the Alps.

David, the only skier in the group, is in front of me, kindly braking trail on the flat glacier on the way back to camp. Thanks mate!

Alan in his intellectual and reserved version, writing his diary while chilling in the afternoon sun.

We have been looking at these faces since we got here. We haven’t been on them yet but we already have names for them. The one on the left is “Midnight sun wall”, the one on the far right is “Little Alaska” and although the steep couloir in the centre doesn’t have a name yet, I am sure it will have one soon.

Day 4: Northern Light Wall

Last night was colder than the previous nights. The good news is that we woke up to a beautiful sunny day and not a cloud in the sky. Today the plan is to venture further from where we went yesterday. Skinning on the same track we used yesterday we will hike to the top of Morning Glory peak, continue on the ridge till one of the last peaks towards the end of the glacier. Visibility is even better than yesterday’s. More views from Morning Glory.

 

We are now leaving Morning Glory and start skinning on the ridge for the first time. The unknown is starting to be known. This is as far as we have explored so far into the mountains surrounding the glacier we are on.

You can see the ridge on the left hand side.

It will probably take us another hour or so.

Neil in front, then Alistair, Simon, Mike, David and Mark.

We are almost there. This is Hans Gletcher in all its splendor. Countless peaks with plenty of features surrounded by glaciated valleys. The perfection of beauty of this white wilderness is a never ending source of admiration and wonder. I have never been in a place so remote and seen horizons like these ones before, bounded and adorned by majestic peaks stretching in the distance as far as the eye can see and beyond! This place humbles you and it makes you feel very small.

I could stay here for hours just staring at the horizon but I didn’t travel all the way here just for that, did I? It’s time to ride. I am dropping in.

The reward consists of about 20 turns, floating almost effortlessly in deep powder on approximately 40° slope. I have been riding for 20 years, trust me, it doesn’t get any better than this. One of the best lines of my life, for sure. This is what dreams are made of and the good news is that I wasn’t dreaming! This is what I live for, hike to ride, without worrying too much about how far, high or steep I go. A pretty simple concept, I know. But it’s what makes me happiest and what I consider the main source of inspiration in my life. Probably many climbers and mountaineers won’t agree with me but what drives and inspires me is the the process, not the achievement.

Back on the glacier we all need a few minutes to look at our lines clearly marked in the snow and get the adrenaline levels back to normal. After riding a face like Morning Light Wall (this is how we named it) will not be easy! Lucky we are not in a rush. Although it’s about 4pm the sun is still shining high in the sky and will remain up there for many more hours. Time to get the poles out and start pushing to descent back to the camp.

A couple of shots on the way back.

 

 

Alistair and Mike in the sun lounge enjoying the well-deserved rest in the afternoon light.

Although this time of the year the daylight never fades at these latitudes, the slow but constant movement of the sun on the horizon creates a long lasting, almost endless sunset light which eventually fades into a form of dawn. There is something really special about this evening light, especially high up on the upper slopes when they receive the sun’s goodnight. It’s so solemn and intense as the sun and the peaks were not to meet ever again.

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