By Nigel Williams, Trustee and Principal Guide
At the end of March 2023, after a year of selection, skills and fitness training, a total of 19 teenagers from Monifieth and Arbroath High schools along with 2 teachers, 2 doctors and 6 guiding staff set off for east Greenland.
We flew from Glasgow via Iceland where we were delayed a day due to bad weather in Greenland, finally arriving on the island of Kulusuk. From there, it is a further 10-minute helicopter ride over the sea ice. It was a perfect day, with the sea ice, icebergs and mountains beyond anything the young team had ever seen before.
The first day is always spent sorting food and equipment and packing the big sledge bags. With all the food, fuel, extra cold weather kit, shovels, snow saws, bear fencing and science equipment the sledges generally come to around 35Kg.
Packing is followed by the fun of learning the basics of cross-country skiing. Once the skis are on, getting up after falling over is the first lesson. Everyone falls over in the first couple of days, usually accompanied by much laughter, as they develop a slide and glide action. Inevitably, the physical work they completed to improve balance during the UK training pays off, and the team develop the required technique for skiing on the flat and gently uphill very quickly.
Daily expedition log
Day 1 – An early start, crampons required for sea ice, pass a huge iceberg, temperatures plummet to minus 18º.
Day 2 – temperatures below -20º and there is a wind to go with it. A true Greenlandic experience with the local dog sled teams, make camp 2.
Day 3 – Today’s focus is on 3 scientific experiences collecting water samples and measuring snow density for the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge and will be fed into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change data base.
Day 4 – Heading up the valley, team into routines and weather is fine. En route to Sermilik Fjord and a place known as the “house of the dead”.
Day 5 – A day tour down to Sermilik fjord and the discovery of some rather large and recent footprints from a Polar Bear.
Day 6 – A beautiful sunny day and the camp jobs are made much easier as a large piece of rock provides a toilet shelter, so some of the team continue to develop their downhill skills and entertain the rest of us.
Day 7 – A long day using mini crampons as a brief thaw has refrozen. Arriving back at Tasiilaq by mid-afternoon. The team has travelled around 75 kilometres, camped for 6 nights on the ice, learned a huge amount about Arctic travel and, perhaps more importantly, themselves.
There is a final day to pack away the last bits and get ready for the helicopter flights and flight back to Iceland the next day. Mike and Alex, the two doctors, chat to the teenagers about the “post expedition blues” and processing their incredible achievement. We also visit the local youth centre and pay a visit to Douglas Anderson and his wife Andrea who have spent over 40 years exploring the area and have a small house in the town.As the day draws to a close the weather starts to turn for the worse and will continue into the Easter holiday period. We are informed that the helicopter will not be able to fly the next day nor the flight to Iceland.
The next seven to eight days are spent waiting for the helicopter to fly and a plane from Iceland. The team is at least warm, dry, and well fed.The staff team and some of our local friends put on a range of activities, from more skiing skills and a rowing machine challenge, or a mad game of visually impaired indoor hockey to a visit to the head of the town’s administration team for a huge spread of drinks, puddings, and cakes.
Exploring and camping as a team in a beautiful remote Arctic winter wilderness will be the memories they will hold for the rest of their lives.