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Exweb interview with Tom Avery: Greenland speed record attempt

Posted: May 07, 2015 03:24 am EDT

 

(Correne Coetzer) Three Norwegians started yesterday on the Greenland Ice Cap (Point 660), attempting a speed record without kites, West to East.

 

Ready to start from the East, four longtime polar mates, Patrick Woodhead, Tom Avery, George Wells (all UK) and Andrew Gerber (ZA) will attempt a coast-to-coast speed record with kites. They will be starting on the East coast at Isortoq, cross the Ice Cap and walk the last 45 km on ground to Sondre Stromfjord [Kangerlussuaq]. The men want to break the 17d 20h record.

 

Explorersweb caught up with Tom Avery. They are all 39 years old; with 12 kids and 7 Poles between them. "You could call it a mid-life crisis!” jokes Tom. On a more serious note, Tom has done in depth research to find out about the speed records on the horizontal route and concluded with 17 days, 20 hours by Matt Spencely and Patrick Peters in 2008.

 

A few months ago the team has done kite training with Paul Landry in Norway. Tom describes it as a most amazing way to travel, "Once you’ve experienced the sensation of speeding across the snow at water skiing speeds, or even faster, you will never want to man-haul again!”

 

He also talks about the challenges on the Ice Cap, their gear, and advice that they take from their North Pole and South Pole experiences, and more.

 

 

Explorersweb: You have done extensive research and inquiries about who holds the coast to coast record on Greenland. Could you tell us about that please?

Tom Avery: In summary, the fastest edge of ice cap to edge of ice cap is 6 days, 23 hours by Paul Landry and his kids and David de Rothschild in 2005 [ed note: with kites]. The fastest from edge of ice cap to coast is 8 days and 9 hours by the Norwegians [Ed note: no kites], and the fastest coast to coast is 17 days, 20 hours by Matt Spencely and Patrick Peters in 2008 [Ed note: with kites] – we think!  If there is any record of someone doing a coast to coast crossing faster than this, then we would love to know. 

Explorersweb: Why specifically go for the coast to coast and not the more popular ice cap crossing, starting or ending at Point 660?

Tom Avery: I like the purity of going coast to coast. When Nansen became the first person to cross Greenland in 1888, he didn’t have the luxury of being driven the first part of the route, so why should we? 




 

Even though those 45km between Point 660 and the sea on the west coast are the easiest part of the route, essentially just a trek along a 4x4 track, we want to cross the whole width of Greenland, not just the part that is covered in ice.  

Explorersweb: What are the challenges when going for a speed attempt? And in particular on this route?

Tom Avery: We’re totally reliant on the winds – if we have favourable conditions, then the first 2 records will come into consideration. But the priority is for a safe, fun crossing - any records will be a bonus and there wouldn’t be much disappointment if we crossed Greenland outside the time. 

 

We’re all dads now, so we’re probably not as gung–ho as we were in our youth!  Whereas on a normal expedition, the first few days are taken relatively gently as the team acclimatises to expedition life, we will be out of the traps quickly. We are very unlikely to get favourable winds until we are well inland and at a decent altitude, so we plan to put in some big ski days at the start to get into kiting terrain as quickly as possible.  

 

There are the well-documented Greenland challenges of pittaraqs, crevasses and polar bears to contend with, but once we pick up good kiting winds, the challenge is going to be analysing the weather systems to pick the most efficient route across.  Much like ocean yachtsmen, the most efficient route is rarely in a straight line.  

 

And then there is the completely unpredictable descent off the ice cap to the land, which will be starting to melt just as we arrive.  We’re fully expecting to get wet, but whether there we will be able to pick a route through the labyrinth of meltwater rivers and make landfall will be in large part down to lady luck.

Explorersweb: How much food and fuel are you taking? What weight do you want your sleds to be?

Tom Avery: To be on the safe side, we are taking food for 18 days.  Depending on what the conditions look like at the start, we may choose to leave some of our provisions at Isortoq to lighten our loads and improve our speed up the glacier to the ice cap proper.  

 

By the time you include all our kiting gear, we are going to be looking at loads of approx 65-70kg per person.

Explorersweb: Gear?
 

Sleds: We will each have 2 Paris pulks, which we will rig up one behind the other whilst man hauling, or side-by-side when kiting, to give us more stability.


Skis: Asnes Amundsen skis with kicker skins and Rottefella bindings for skiing, Dynafit Nanga Parbat skis and bindings for kiting.


Boots: Alfa Boots for skiing and Dynafit TLT6 for kiting.


Kites: Ozone – 6M Access in strong winds, 9M Ultralight Frenzy in moderate winds, 14M Ultralight Frenzy for light winds.

Explorersweb: How have you decided on the team mates?

Tom Avery: We’ve done so many adventures together now that the team pretty much pick themselves.  We know one other inside out and have been great friends for years.  Having a team with diverse skillsets is so important and each of the guys brings something different to the party. 

 

Patrick is the most experienced kiter amongst us, Andrew possesses Macgyver-like abilities when it comes to fixing and making stuff, whilst George is an expert skier and great cook.  

 

We all do these expeditions with the same mentality – to be as well prepared as we can be, to really push ourselves whilst staying safe, but to have fun and still be able to laugh, no matter how tough things get. Essentially, we're just mucking about in the snow with our mates, much as we did when we were kids.   

Explorersweb: You guys have done South Pole (with guide Paul Landry) and North Pole (with guide Matty McNair) and have done training with Paul in Norway recently. What are the three top tips that you take to Greenland from these experiences?

Tom Avery: Even though Andrew was new to expeditions when we went to the South Pole in 2002, Patrick, George and I were experienced mountaineers, having climbed in the Alps, Andes and Himalayas, so we were well used to expedition life.  

 

All four of us are strong skiers, but Paul taught us how to kite ski, which is just the most amazing way to travel. Once you’ve experienced the sensation of speeding across the snow at water skiing speeds, or even faster, you will never want to man-haul again!  

 

It was also a real privilege to learn from Paul and Matty how to drive a dog team. Our expedition with Matty and Hugh Dale-Harris in Peary and Henson’s footsteps in 2005 will always be the highlight of our expedition careers. The trip had so many different aspects to it – the dogs, the beauty of the Arctic Ocean, that connection with history and the fun we had.  

 

The top three things that we will take with us to Greenland from our time travelling with Paul and Matty are: 

 

1. Make the tent as warm and comfortable as possible, so we will be carrying a bit more fuel for warming up the tent than we would otherwise have done, and have cut out foam carpets for insulating the tent floor for the base, something we would never have thought of on our climbing expeditions, 

 

2. Keeping a bottle of water aside for the day, so that you can use it to start melting snow in the evening and

 

3. Wristlets!  Amazing windstopper-fleece garments designed by Matty that are worn under gloves to provide extra warmth without restricting movement. Genius. 

 

Explorersweb: Greenland is infamous for the pittaraks - the vicious storms. They can be predicted in the forecasts. Who is going to check the weather for you?

Tom Avery: We are being helped by Marc de Keyser from Weather 4 Expeditions. We are concerned about the Pittaraqs, particularly on the first couple of days whilst we are near the coast. At the first sign of one, we will be battening down the hatches and sitting tight.  

Polar mentors for this expedition are Paul Landry, Hans Christian Florian and Lars Ebbesen.

 


Expedition website

 

http://www.67n-greenland.com/ (see biographies, info video)

 

Previous/Related

 

Greenland kicks off with speed record attempts

 

 

The elusive Greenland speed ski record: Three Norwegian dark horses (2012)

 

ExWeb interview with Bengt Rotmo, Greenland Fall vs. Spring

 

Finland’s Jaakko Heikka talks to ExWeb about Greenland’s horizontal ski route

 

Wings Over Greenland II: The Icecap Circumnavigation 2014

 

Greenland ICE expedition completed circumnavigation

 

Greenland ski wrap-up: New kite world record

 

 

#polar

#Greenland

#Greenlandskirecord

#tomavery

 

 

 

 

Tom Avery: "All four of us are strong skiers, but Paul [Landry] taught us how to kite ski, which is just the most amazing way to travel." (click to expand)
courtesy 67 degrees North Greenland Challenge, SOURCE
Avery: "We will be out of the traps quickly. We are very unlikely to get favourable winds until we are well inland and at a decent altitude, so we plan to put in some big ski days at the start to get into kiting terrain as quickly as possible." (click image to expand)
courtesy 67 degrees North Greenland Challenge, SOURCE
Avery: "We all do these expeditions with the same mentality, to be as well prepared as we can be, to really push ourselves whilst staying safe, but to have fun and still be able to laugh."
courtesy 67 degrees North Greenland Challenge, SOURCE
Andrew Gerber, Patrick Woodhead, George Wells and Tom Avery to attempt a Greenland kite-ski coast-to-coast speed record. (click to expand)
courtesy 67 degrees North Greenland Challenge, SOURCE
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