St Elias – Wrangell Mountain Range Icefield: Interview with Vincent Colliard

K2 Mountain Oceans Poles

Vincent Colliard about remote icefields with Borge Ousland

Borge Ousland and Vincent Colliard have ticked off another Icefield in their mission to cross the World’s 20 largest Ice Caps. April 20 – May 11, 2016, they were back in Alaska again, to the St Elias – Wrangell Mountain Range Icefield, a distance of 430 km / 270 miles.

Explorersweb/Pythom caught up with they younger partner of the duo, Vincent Colliard, 30, to tell us more about this less travelled Icefield.

Exweb/Pythom: Where is this glacier and how did you get to you start point, and from the end point back home again?

Vincent Colliard: St Elias – Wrangell Mountain Range Icefield is located in the southeast of Alaska. We flew from Chitina all the way to Novatak glacier. Our pilot dropped us on the higher part of Novatak glacier. We decided to ski down all the way, down to the beginning of the icecap in order to make a proper start.

Exit point was Miles glaciers, we managed to ski on the side of the Copper River all the way to the Million Dollar Bridge. Day 22, we paddled down towards mile 36 where the river meets a road (pick up). Finally we reached the fishing town of Cordova.

Exweb/Pythom: How did the terrain look like that you covered?

Vincent Colliard: In general, St Elias – Wrangell Mountain Range Icefield is a succession of several glaciers. You basically connect from one to another. The icecap is surrounded by big mountains such as 5959m Mount Logan, highest peak is Canada and second highest peak in North America, and 5488m St Elias. On average, we climbed between 200 and 300 meters per day the first week all the way to 2000 meters. We maintain skiing in altitude the next week before gently going down on week 3.

Exweb/Pythom: Why would you say is this glacier not much traveled? What are the challenges of this glacier?

Vincent: The bad weather is definitely a huge challenge on that piece. It is said that the area near-by Mount Logan gets 300 days/year of bad weather. Probably similar to the icecaps in Patagonia.

Exweb/Pythom: How was your weather? Temperatures?

Vincent: We had a lot of white-out. Freezing during the night. Low pressure system is usually coming from the East bringing moisture and warm temperature.

On St Elias – Wrangell Mountain Range Icefield, sharp peaks and deep valleys are greatly influencing the direction and the power of the wind. It is unstable. While sailing, we are basically walking on a fine line between under-control and out-of-control. We were using 24 square meters sail. Everything can be so smooth and suddenly you are going too fast, loosing it and wondering how to stop without being dragged on the ground.

Exweb/Pythom: Anything new that you learned from Borge?

Vincent: The great procedure he has when he decides to use the sail.

I wish to be 54 and still be able to be as strong as Borge. He is a machine!!

Exweb/Pythom: Any wildlife?

Vincent: On the icecap, we saw bear tracks both close to our starting point and in the end. No tracks in the middle though. On the side of frozen Miles Lake, we were skiing when we saw a black bear walking. Mellow guy, he disappeared in the forest.

While paddling on the Copper River, we encountered seals, jumping salmon, bald eagles and many geese.

But no dangerous encounters.

Exweb/Pythom: What safety gear did you take?

Vincent: The usual kit for travelling around crevasses area.

Bear Spray.

Exweb/Pythom: Type of kites/sails?

Vincent: 24 square meters. Type Beringer. We were able to reef the sail down to 16 sqm.

Exweb/Pythom: What technology did you take?

Vincent: Iridium Go with iPhones

Exweb/Pythom: Anything else?

Vincent: We collected samples of ice every day for future water analyzation as we just began a collaboration with scientists from the University of Anchorage. It makes sense for us to collaborate with the scientific community because we want Icelegacy not to be only an adventure project but also a way to know these places better and give scientists’ data an adventurous story, which could lead to educating the public in a more profound way.

Next expedition is the challenging Chugach icecap. We will sample ice for water isotopes and black carbon researches. After Alaska, our focus will be in Canada where there are 7 of the 20 largest.

In conclusion, we hope this expeditions will provide enough information to generate a visual understanding of the disappearing ice. People need to realize that this melting process is not only a natural mechanism but also accelerated by man made industries.

Thanks to National Geographic, Alpina Watches, Airbus Defense and Space, Helsport.

Bio Vincent Colliard

Determined and passionately driven, French 30 year old Vincent Colliard is a French polar explorer and all rounder adventurer. He grew up in the Southwest of France in between both the voice of the mountains and the call of the ocean.

After reading some polar stories at the age of 18, he had a dream to explore remote places in polar areas, and began travelling to some of the most remote places on earth. He thrives in raw, isolated and untouched environments; living in the outdoors and connecting with the natural elements has taught him the importance of resource conservation. His passion for exploring remote corners by way of skies has naturally evolved not only in a lifestyle but also his professional career.

In 2010, he participated in the first circumnavigation in one season of the North Pole sailing on a 31 feet trimaran with polar legend and National Geographic explorer Borge Ousland. This journey really nailed the desire to explore the wildest corners of the globe.

In 2014, Vincent and Borge started a project called Icelegacy, an ongoing series of expeditions skiing across the 20 largest icecaps on the planet over the course of the next 10 to 15 years. The overall goals of the project are to raise awareness about the ice retreat and initiate long term activism.

All his years spent on the field have taught Vincent to care about reducing the footprint on the environment, and he hopes that his work initiates an impact.

Icelegacy Project

Icelegacy is an ongoing series of expeditions led by polar explorers Vincent Colliard and Borge Ousland, skiing across the 20 largest icecaps on the planet over the course of the next 10 to 15 years. These icecaps are located in 10 countries in both northern and southern hemispheres, the majority being found in high latitudes.

The overall goal of the project is to raise awareness about the ice retreat and initiate long term activism. But these icecaps have no voice, they are fragile and they are dramatically receding. These magical places are a huge source of fresh water and integral parts of ecosystems. Knowing these glaciers better means that we are able to act more efficiently for their protection. Vincent and Borge believe that sharing their love for ice can make a difference for future generations.

Last April-May, Vincent Colliard and Borge Ousland skied across the 270 miles St Elias-Wrangell icecap in Alaska. The explorers collected samples of ice every day for future water analyzation. We just began a collaboration with scientists from the University of Anchorage. It makes sense for them to collaborate with the scientific community because they want Icelegacy not to be only an adventure project but also a way to know these places better and give scientists’ data an adventurous story. which could lead to educating the public in a more profound way.

Next expedition is the challenging Chugach Icecap. We will sample ice for water isotopes and black carbon researches. After Alaska, our focus will be in Canada where there are 7 of the 20 largest.

In conclusion, we hope this expeditions will provide enough information to generate a visual understanding of the disappearing ice. People need to realize that this melting process is not only a natural mechanism but also accelerated by man made industries.

We all have an adventurous instinct!

Previous/Related

Exweb interviews Vincent Colliard; Borge Ousland duo’s Alaska Icefield crossing (2015)

Borge Ousland and Vincent Colliard to cross 20 largest glaciers

Vincent Colliard’s profile on Pythom

Borge Ousland and Vincent Colliard to attempt next glacier (2016)

Expedition website (IceLegacy)

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