Polar Expedition 23/24: The daily log


By Nigel WIlliams, Polar Academy Principal Guide

We flew from Glasgow via Iceland and onto the island of Kulusuk.  From there it was a further 10-minute helicopter ride over the sea ice. It was a perfect day, the sea ice, icebergs, and mountains were beyond anything the young team had ever seen before.

Setting up

Prior to our arrival an unprecedented 5-day rain and warm weather event at the start of March (a month earlier than expected) had devastated the snowpack and was immediately followed by very cold conditions creating sheet ice and a very hard snowpack with some short stretches of bare earth. This meant skiing was out of the question and we were reliant on walking with micro spikes attached to our boots.

The long-term forecast was good however, with almost no precipitation and a fair bit of sunshine and clear blue skies. Initial temperatures were down to around -25º and for the first couple of days a northerly wind made it feel quite a bit colder, but everyone was supplied with the correct clothing and kit for the conditions.

The first day was spent sorting food and equipment and packing the big sledge bags. We planned on being out for 11 nights, one of the longest expeditions since before covid. With all the food, fuel, extra cold weather kit, shovels, snow saws, bear fencing and science equipment the sledges generally came to around 45Kg.

Day 1 heading north from Tasiilaq across the sea ice we covered about 10km to the first camp on Lake 1. Being able to anchor the tents and bear fences on the frozen surfaces required careful decisions on appropriate camp sites. Advance reconnaissance with the skidoos saved a lot of time and avoided the team getting too cold while the guides searched for a good site.

Day 2 was a similar distance to camp 2 at the north end of Lake 2. On the way we found a series of Polar Bear footprints from several weeks earlier.

Day 3 was bitterly cold with a strong breeze, and we decided to stay in the tents rather than risk any cold injuries.

Day 4 was a short day, and we reached the area of the huts euphemistically known as the “coffee house” and established a base camp to undertake some science experimentation and exploring over the next 3 to 4 days. The route had proved problematic for the skidoo team, and it was becoming apparent that we could not have the support of the skidoos if we moved camp any further away from Tasiilaq.

We have used this location for exploratory and science work in previous years and there was plenty of options for day excursions. Unusually we also had access to running water which greatly reduced cooking time and fuel use as well as time spent cutting snow blocks which given the solid snowpack was a challenging task.

Day 5 we explored up to a small glacier snout and gained views across to the Greenland ice sheet. We found the snowpack would be skiable from upwards of about 400m above sea-level, but it was not practical to move camp up to that height.

Day 6 had a focus on the science projects. There were 3 experiments:

  • Measuring snow density at different depths in the snowpack proved an impossibility given the solid and shallow snowpack.
  • The second project using a LiDAR camera on an iPhone and iPad to gather magnified 3D images of rocks and Lichens was more successful.
  • The third piece of science was recording the micro plastic emissions from our camp sites up and down wind of the sites.

We also checked on a couple of devices which were placed out in the summer as part of a long term, 10-year project to record ground temperatures. They were still in place.

Day 7 was another exploration day to a small, isolated hilltop which provided some stunning views and was for many of the young people one of the most memorable days.

Day 8-10 – by the end of this first week several of the team were accumulating blisters and minor injuries/recurrence of past injuries. It was felt that we should manage this by heading back to Tasiilaq gently over the next 3 days, (something we would usually do in 2 days) and return a day earlier. This would provide us time for some cultural visits in the town and to thoroughly dry all the equipment before flying home. That plan worked out well and gave time to add more to the science projects including boring holes through the sea ice to gather sea water temperature information. 


The cultural visits included a dinner at the youth centre and a visit to the museum. Over the past few years visiting the youth centre it is noticeable how the Greenlandic teenagers have become more used to our visits and have become more willing to engage in activities with our young people. Traditional Greenlandic games of strength, making paper planes and chess all featured and displayed talents of our team members that we had no idea existed.

The additional time in Tasiilaq before heading home also enabled further progress to be made with shared youth projects to help with Greenlandic youth opportunities, employment, tourism, and cultural exchanges.

Returning home

Our young teams returned to Glasgow Airport on 28March, to be met by their parents and families, eager to see them and full of pride for what they had achieved. Coming back from expedition is sometimes a difficult period for our youngsters. They cannot quite believe where they have been or what they have achieved, and it takes some time to fully process their experience.