(By Correne Coetzer, edited May 30, 16:58 EDT to reflect correction in arrival date) This Greenland Spring, Jaakko Heikka has led a team of Fins on the classic 560 km horizontal crossing route, which more or less goes along the Arctic Circle. Team mates were Nina Teirasvuo, Jouni Tanninen, Heini Koivuniemi and Matias Utriainen. They skied from west to east and reached Isortoq on May 13 [Ed note: correction, not May 15 as previously reported].
Jaakko shares with ExplorersWeb about snow conditions at the start and end, recommended clothes for Greenland, a comparison with Iceland’s Vatnajökull Glacier, and some trip advice.
ExplorersWeb: The ice at the start and/or end mostly are very challenging. How did you experience the ice in those areas this year? Any meltwater?
Jaakko: The surface conditions at the start were quite challenging: For the first 10+km it was a labyrinth of very disturbed blue ice that took a lot of effort to navigate through. During the first day we covered only 3,6km in 5 x 50 minutes of work. There was heavy snowfall on the second day and for a while we had to push through knee deep soft snow in the ice maze but once we got on our skis on the third day things got easier. We didn't encounter any melt water in the beginning as temps were down to -36ºC.
I think we had good route and maybe also a bit of good luck in the end as we found an easy route down from the icecap to the village of Isortoq. There were some small crevasses and sections of uneven icy surface but the descent was mostly easy. The snow was melting rapidly and we had wet snow and small pools of melt water here and there, but basically the conditions were very good, though at the beginning of the last week on the ice we had several days of fresh soft snow which really slowed us down costing us a day or two.
What clothes do you recommend for this Greenland crossing?
Jaakko: The typical layered approach with couple of different under/middle layers works really well. Windproof clothing is of course a must, but now with the late winter and spring being warmer and warmer I'd recommend waterproof breathable clothing. It can be wet. A good hood with fur is also a must. The best hood I've yet found is in an old custom made Sasta expedition jacket but the latest Sasta Three Poles jacket has also a great hood.
The insulated skirt was also one of the big hits on our expedition: it can literally save your butt (or other body pieces) in the cold. It's easy to put on and take of even with skis on making adjusting easy. I think ease of use is one of the key elements with any expedition equipment. When it suddenly gets cold and windy you don't want to take off your shell clothing to put on a warm middle layer, but add something on top of it all: insulated skirt, down vest, warm boot covers, big warm mittens, etc.
And in addition I'd also recommend preparing for (too) warm weather as well. In the end we had several days of sunshine without wind and we weren't really prepared for that. Greenland should be a cold place... A black merino wool shirt is too warm and without any shirt you'll burn yourself so a thin light coloured shirt and a light coloured cap with neck protection would've been good and I'll be taking those on similar tours in the future.
You have done Iceland's Vatnajökull Glacier. How do these two compare? What advice would you give people who want to do Iceland and/or Greenland? What type of experience level is needed?
Jaakko: Vatnajökull is of course a lot smaller so the magnitude of the crossing is very different but I also find the nature of the two quite different. Even though we had a wide range of weather in Greenland (from too warm sunny days down to -36ºC with 10m/s wind) the Vatnajökull has more varied weather that can change really fast and it can also be extremely wet (we had four days of rain in a row in 2012). In Greenland you can rely on most of the days being cold and dry. The common challenge is the possibility of extremely high winds (well over 30m/s [100km/h]) so you should be prepared for that also.
Even though we found the Greenland crossing easier than we expected it's not a walk in the park, and neither is Vatnajökull crossing even though it's a lot smaller. It seems that almost yearly several teams have to be evacuated from both places and it's a pity. The problem is that this might lead to additional restrictions from the authorities and usually people decide to use the compulsory expensive insurances which leads to even more expensive insurances. It's kinda natural thing to do but it can lead to situation where future expeditions are compromised or at least have to pay for the past evacuations...
In 2010 you could get the compulsory SAR and evacuation insurance for similar Greenland crossing for a whole expedition for the same price we payed per person so the prices have gone up about 400% in four years and there are not many insurance companies left covering this kind of expeditions. It's a difficult topic and of course it's easy for me to speak as I haven't been in the situation of needing evacuation but maybe that's also due to being well prepared and aiming for reasonable goals.
Anyhow, after what I just wrote I'd recommend having wide and profound experience before heading out to cross Vatnajökull or Greenland on your own. If going with a guide a good fitness and a one-week crash course can take you across but if going on your own I'd recommend spending a few years going on smaller tours and courses and gaining knowledge and experience. The process itself is great fun and I believe it will make also the big expedition itself more enjoyable.
Jaakko: Do your homework, respect nature and enjoy the tour.
And a final addition from Nina Teirasvuo (who was on the same expedition): "Use common sense. It will get you far."
And if interested in statistics, here are some numbers from our expedition
- 27 days
- 560 km
- 2½ days spend in tent waiting out bad weather
- 5 friends having good time and enjoying the simple life and challenges
#polar #jaakkoheikka #acrossgreenland2014
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