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ExWeb interview with Christian Iversen Styve: Baffin Island vs. Greenland

Posted: Jun 06, 2012 11:23 pm EDT

(Correne Coetzer) Money wise, Baffin Island and Greenland are more accessible than the South Pole and North Pole, but are they that much less demanding/challenging, and how do they compare to each other? Norwegian Christian Styve tells ExplorersWeb about these two ice fields.

This past spring season he led expeditions to Baffin Island and Greenland for Norwegian outfitter Hvitserk (on Baffin Styve teamed up with Baffin Babe Vera Simonsson.)

Baffin Island and Greenland are two different experiences, he assured. On Baffin Island every day felt like a blessing and the last thing you want is to go home, he says. “Everyone with an interest in winter camping and expeditions should take their time to do a Baffin Island expedition - Everyone!” stated Christian.

On Greenland he led a team from Point 660 – Isortoq (540km) in 21 days; enduring challenging weather and ice conditions and endless horizons of the Inland Ice.

ExplorersWeb: Where on Baffin Island did you go? How did you get to your start point? Where did you end? Did you need any permits or permissions?

Christian: We started in Clyde River, a small Inuit town with 700 inhabitants. From there we were transported for two days by skidoos or snow mobiles, to Stewart Valley. Perhaps the most beautiful valley in the world crowned by the famous Sail Peaks.

We ended in Eglinton Fjord after 8 days of skiing and were picked up by the same skidoos.

We didn't need any permits.

ExplorersWeb: How did the terrain look like?

Christian: For the most part we walked on frozen rivers, fjords or lakes; with mountains everywhere. Huge granite walls rising straight up, 1000 meters or more. We also encountered small glaciers and ice falls, but nothing too difficult.

ExplorersWeb: How was the weather?

Christian: It was cold. I would say that Greenland is warm compared to Baffin. -20 to -30° Celsius during the day and around -40 or colder at night.

Baffin is famous for its howling winds, and for the most part it was windy all the time. Local winds descend from the mountains and glaciers.

It was sunny almost every day during our expedition, but the Inuit told us that this was not common. If you go later in the season it’s also common to experience a lot of fog. This usually happens when the sea ice breaks up and the sea water is exposed.

We started in late march. Perfect timing.

ExplorersWeb: Was there a danger of polar bears? What did you take for protection?

Christian: During the expedition we saw 9 polar bears. The most part it was a mother with cubs; posing little danger to us, simply because they were afraid when they spotted or smelled us.

We brought a dog with us from Iqaluit. The dog slept outside during the night and would warn us if there were any bears around camp during the night. We also took flares with us, bear mace and a rifle in the unlikely event should we be attacked.

ExplorersWeb: What Search and Rescue is available in case you get into trouble?

Christian: Basically the same people that transported us with snow mobiles would come to our rescue if we needed it. No SAR in form of a heli or something like that. This gave us a feeling of really being in the wilderness. 



ExplorersWeb: Now that you have been there, what will you tell someone why he/she should consider going to Baffin Island?

Christian: As long as you can handle the cold, Baffin is by far one of the most stunning places on earth. Just the scenery takes your breath away several times a day. Compared to Greenland, it is a different kind of experience.

Every day feels like a blessing and the last thing you want is to go home. You take your time to take a lot of pictures and to let it all sink in.

During daytime on the plateau on Greenland you just walk straight forward and spend most of your time thinking. That’s also really nice, but at times it can be a bit more challenging to keep focus on the right things.

When you reach the East coast of Greenland you are so happy about your achievement and you just want to go home and tell everyone about your ordeals. When our expedition on Baffin was over I was sad. I just didn't want to go home. One day I called a friend from Baffin and said, "I want to move here!"

Everyone with an interest in winter camping and expeditions should take their time to do a Baffin Island expedition - Everyone!

ExplorersWeb: The Greenland ice conditions can be difficult. How did you find it? Already meltwater? How was the crevasse situation?

Christian: The rumors had it that the big issue this year was the lack of snow, and large areas of just ice. We brought small crampons to make it easier. This proved helpful.

But in the days before our departure it snowed heavily around Kangerlussuaq and Point 660. Combined with a following of warm weather, made the snow heavy and difficult to walk in.

We had small amounts of snow and a lot of ice last year as well, but it was much colder than last year.

My fastest time through the ice fall was set last year; just one and a half days or a total of 12 hours. The three Norwegians who tried to set a new record took 17 hours with half the weight in the sledges. This year we used two and a half days on the largest part because of large amounts of wet snow, making it heavier to pull the sledges.

There were just small amounts of meltwater in the flat areas. The crevasse situation was as expected, just some small ones. This is most due to the fact that the route I follow doesn't take us into crevasse fields. The few we encountered were small ones; you could not have fitted your boot in it.

ExplorersWeb: This was your third time across Greenland. How did this crossing compared to the other crossing. What did you learn previously that you applied this time?

Christian: I have used a lot of time on making my own reliable route up the ice fall. Mainly to save time and energy before the plateau. Together with Sjur Mørdre and Christian Eide I have been able to put together a set of good coordinates that I believe is one of the best routes up; escaping crevasse fields and going on the side of high points, so we don't have to walk as much up and then down again.

The rest of the expedition was pretty much as previous expeditions. The main difference was the weather conditions. Very warm the whole time and a lot of head wind, which slowed us down.

ExplorersWeb: What was the most challenging on this Greenland crossing?

Christian: By far the weather. One heavy storm that made us stop for one full day. A lot of low pressure, fog, snow and wind against us demanded longer days with our skis on.

ExplorersWeb: Best moments?

Christian: The best moment for my part was to descend the ice fall via a new route and get picked up by my Inuit friend Bent from Isortoq and three dog sledges. A perfect way to spend and end the last 5 km to Isortoq.

ExplorersWeb: If someone wants to do this crossing of Greenland that looks so popular, what advice would you give them? Is it a walk in the park? What should be the fitness level?

Christian: For me the expedition doesn't start at GL or Baffin, it starts at my home in Oslo. By that I mean that preparation is a key factor for success. It can be listening to others or riding my bicycle. That’s where the expedition starts and it really dictates whether you are successful or not.

Do tons of research beforehand. I have talked to almost everyone in Norway who has experience with GL crossings, and am lucky to be a former colleague of Sjur Mørdre. Talking and most important listening to people with experience is the smartest move I have done.

Too often people get picked up on the ice by SAR because of minor issues. A lot of people often bring to much equipment too, making the expedition even more difficult. More than one I have met hauled sledges weighing 100 kg or more. A typical client of mine has a sledge that weighs around 55-60 kg. My own a bit heavier.

There are some people in the expedition community that has an opinion that GL crossing is for everyone. I don't think this is true. It is not a human right to walk across Greenland. For some people it’s just irresponsible to do it because of physical and/or experience issues.

Training is super important. One of my female clients started hauling tires 15 months prior to the expedition and a total of 1000 km was undertaken with a backpack and two tires. That is just impressing and really the way to do it.

The more you train before the expedition, the greater experience you will have. It feels so much better to walk in to camp feeling tired but not totally exhausted!

If you aren’t comfortable with walking on skis, I would recommend you to do a lot of training on that part. If you have some skills there you save a lot of energy. Norwegians tend to think that they are very good on skis but good balance is not enough. You also need technique. Most important is to glide on your skis. If you don't do that you might as well walk on your shoes, and don't use your arms to much, keep them low.

For my own part I do a lot of cycling, running and tire hauling with a backpack to stay in shape for my expeditions.

In Norway we have a saying that you don't get more fun than you make on your own.

It’s the same with challenges and obstacles. They don't get any bigger than you make them to be. Just remember, anything is possible as long as you set your mind to it. It’s a promise!

Christian Iversen Styve, born 1984, is from Voss in the western part of Norway. He moved to Oslo in 2006 to study finance. He is currently studying law, “but travels too much to make time for exams :)”

Christian started working at Sportsnett, the leading expedition and outdoor store in Norway, in 2008. “We regular serve people with equipment going to the Poles, Greenland or Everest; people from all over the world; it’s not uncommon that people travel all the way from Australia.”

He added, “The founder and former owner, Sjur Mørdre, sparked my interest for longer expeditions with his many stories from his 12 crossings of Greenland. My first go on the Icecap was in May 2010 with a friend of mine. Just 100 km into the expedition he experienced complications with his knee. It ended with us both being flown out. Just three months later I went back with Christian Eide and did a crossing from east to west. Starting in Isortoq and ending at the same spot as Nansen came down to the fjord in Austmannadalen. Christian taught me the tricks of the trade and is one of the main reasons for my success at Greenland. We are really good friends today and he is one of my main sources of information when it comes to expeditions.”

“Two months after that, in May 2011, I was hired to do a crossing for the Norwegian expedition and adventure company, "Hvitserk"; in which Sjur Mørdre had a hand in founding as well. The same happened this year; the crossing I did now in May 2012 was for Hvitserk.”

As for future plans Styve says, “If all works out I will try to cross along the original Nansen route from Umivik to Austmannadalen this fall. We will see :)

Christian Styve also does a lot of trips in Norway. “Everything from family camps in the mountains and on glaciers, to expedition training on the Hardanger Plateau around Finse. I am also guiding a trip to Kilimanjaro in late September.

He says he has promised Sjur that he is going to beat his record of 12 Greenland crossings. “So this is just the beginning. Other major projects are on the drawing board: the South Pole and perhaps a solo project on Antarctica. Stay tuned! ;)”


#Polar #topstory #interview












“Baffin is by far one of the most stunning places on earth. Just the scenery takes your breath away several times a day.”
Image by Christian Iversen Styve courtesy Christian Iversen Styve
“For the most part [on Baffin Island] we walked on frozen rivers, fjords or lakes; with mountains everywhere.”
Image by Christian Iversen Styve
“Huge granite walls rising straight up, 1000 meters or more.”
Image by Christian Iversen Styve
"Snow mobiles would come to our rescue if we needed it. No SAR in form of a heli or something like that. This gave us a feeling of really being in the wilderness. "
Image by Christian Iversen Styve
“Baffin is famous for its howling winds, and for the most part it was windy all the time.”
Image by Christian Iversen Styve
“We brought a dog with us from Iqaluit. The dog slept outside during the night and would warn us if there were any bears around camp during the night.”
Image by Christian Iversen Styve
“The crevasse situation [on Greenland] was as expected, just some small ones. This is most due to the fact that the route I follow doesn't take us into crevasse fields.”
Image by Greta Jodal
“During daytime on the plateau on Greenland you just walk straight forward and spend most of your time thinking. That’s also really nice, but at times it can be a bit more challenging to keep focus on the right things.”
Image by Greta Jodal
Christian Styve, in the image: [challenges and obstacles] don't get any bigger than you make them to be. Just remember, anything is possible as long as you set your mind to it.”
courtesy Christian Iversen
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