ENA Charity Ice Cap Crossing
As I take a break and wipe sweat from my brow, a car slows up beside me and a middle aged man pokes his head out of the car window - “Hey mate do you know you have a tyre following you?” he shouts with a big grin on his face. 15 minutes later a people carrier pulls up next to me and, over the noise of his two screaming children in the back, a guy pops his head out the window of his people carrier and asks what I’m training for. When I tell him he asks, “Can I join you?”
Many of you - old friends, new friends, colleagues, acquaintances and fellow outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers have asked me what I told him that captured his imagination. The answer begins on Wednesday May 4th, and never before will a challenge have required an inner ‘force’ to be with me!
A small team of us leave the UK, bound for Greenland, to attempt to ski across the icecap from Kangerlussuaq on the west coast, to Isortoq on the east coast. We’ll then travel by helicopter to Kulusuk before heading home. The journey will be just short of 600km and will hopefully take in the abandoned DYE-2 radar station from the cold war.
I have spent much of my leisure time in the past months dragging tyres around streets and along beaches, visiting the gym and generally improving my fitness and strength. All this is in preparation for a physical and mental challenge which has been a long time in the planning.
When it comes to big polar expeditions, there are three that top the list. The North Pole and South Pole being two, but what makes the third, crossing the Greenland ice cap, so special is that it is the only permanent ice sheet outside of the Antarctic and is at an elevation of 2135 meters.
For the past few years I have been returning to the wilderness of Finnish Lapland, cross country skiing between huts on the old logging route from Finland to Russia. These huts offer protection from the extremes but existence is hard work - chopping wood to make fires to protect against temperatures as low as -30°C and melting snow for water when the ice on the river is too thick to break through.
Three years ago we decided we wanted a more extreme challenge. We went on a polar training course in Norway and last year on an expedition to cross Svalbard Spitsbergen. For nine days we pulled a ‘pulke’ (sledge) with our tent, food, fuel and all the gear we’d need for camping as we travelled. We took turns at two hour shifts of polar bear watch, walking around the camp to keep warm. It was a very simple existence - get up, melt water, eat food, pack up and set off skiing for up to 10 hours. Our days ended with a familiar routine: put your tent up, melt snow, eat food and sleep!
Looking back it is apparent that our preparation for this Greenland crossing will have been many years in the making. Our pulke will be twice as heavy as they were in Svalbard with this expedition needing 25 to 28 days more fuel and food. The altitude of the ice cap poses all the usual challenges of exertion at height that we’re used to but it will also present a very early first hurdle to overcome, getting a 70kg pulke up the ice falls from sea level to more than 2000m. We anticipate 3 days of hard work and low mileage covered.
After this we should cover 20-40 km per day skiing on the ice cap. Temperatures at that time of year vary between -40°C and -5°C, with the possibility of strong winds, so choosing our gear carefully has been a huge consideration. Mercifully, reaching the ice falls on the east coast, our pulke will be significantly lighter for the descent and making this somewhat easier than the ascent.
I am not just doing this for the personal challenge. Although success will be a huge triumph, I have also decided to raise money for a cause that is close to my heart - the Everyman Appeal of the Institute of Cancer Research. Every year in the UK, more than 10,000 men lose their lives to prostate cancer and over 2,000 others have their world turned upside down by a diagnosis of testicular cancer. All the money raised will go to the charity and I ask that you to send us your wishes of good luck and donate what you can via my JustGiving page - https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising-edit/Paul-Fidler4
More information about the hugely important work of the Institute of Cancer Research and its Everyman Appeal can be found on their website - http://www.icr.ac.uk/support-us/appeals-campaigns/everyman-appeal