Greenland "Dream-Mile" broken: Lars Ebbesen talks

Posted: May 18, 2015 02:32 pm EDT

 (Newsdesk) The speed record set on the 560km Greenland Ice Cap last week was 13 years in the making, points out Norwegian "expedition-mother" Lars Ebbesen.  


The crossing, originally taking over a month in 1991, was cut by half 4 years later to 13 days. The time was further grinded on until 2002 when all improvements stopped at (East-West) 8d 9h 30m.


The Greenland dream-mile seemed untouchable - until this year. On May 13th, the 27-year-old 'boys of Snåsa', Ronny Andre Kjenstad, Vegard Jørstad and Ole Christian Kjenstad blazed across the Greenland Ice Cap, covering around 350 miles (560 km) in 7 days, 10 hours and 20 minutes. It took a week but was result of two years of preparations.


In this entry, Norwegian Polar veteran Ebbesen analyses the standard of the record, making it more understandable with the hope that others will take on the challenge and try to improve on this achievement.


He also includes a debrief from mission control back home, during the last "nail-biting rollercoaster” hours. Over to Lars:



Background on previous record holders


The 1991 record came out of the blue as gamesmanship and at a time when just crossing was seen as extremely audacious, let alone sprinting over in less than 2 weeks.


But we were already into the time of a new generation of explorers with some very well trained bodies and minds. Creativity, new strategies, weight-saving and nutrition came to the fore.


Being a good skier ‘suddenly’ proved to be an advantage. As km/hour rose above 3,5 non-skiers had their work cut out. At the same time teamwork took on a totally different modus. Folks with the same physical, mental and technical approach gelled into clockwork operating teams. 


Proof of that was Sjur Mørdre’s giant team in 1995. Eight (!) is supposed to be a crowd fumbling along and not sprint over in 11 days. It is still considered a crow if you want to go fast, I guess. But then Sjur is not he average leader. No one has done more for the development of Polar skiing than him.


Entering the new decade several teams tried. The Swedes were super strong Paratrooper soldiers, who came straight out of a new record to the North Pole (775 km from Ward Hunt to NP in 41 days). As a preparation test, they did the 90km Wasa Ski Race 6 times in a row with sledges: in 6 days! 


As for the 2002 West-East record holders, they were as strong as a team can be. Holmann is a several times Olympic gold medallist kayaker, who also has also done extremely well in the Wasa 90km Ski Race, while Nilsen was a top national skier with expedition experience. They broke the 10 day barrier, and everybody thought that was it for quite a while. But they had lost some time with a third member who got an infection and had to be evacuated…


After the summer, Tollefsen, Hilde, Hauge came into it with their minds made up. Even with bad weather in the beginning, they beat the record comprehensively. That was down to them, first being extremely well trained, but mostly using their vast polar / climbing / expedition / push-limits experience to the full. 


By that, the record was actually at a very, very high level which is why sooooo many have failed in beating it for so long. All fail to appreciate the real level and be humble enough (in the right way…).


Strategy vs Strength


So to stand a chance, we are now into 'hitting the perfect window' as the only way to have any possibility. You couldn’t / can’t just be strong and walk faster / longer. 


On top of that, the icefall on the western side is much more broken up now, and the caterpillar track that made light work of the last / first and (roughest) 45kms is long gone. One of the main keys are to deal with it as swiftly as possible as it can easily cost you 6-12 hours and zap a lot of strength out of you. This is why the west to east now is considered the fastest direction…


Great fun all of it, and important to play with it to come up with a strategy that gives you a chance. 13 years says everything ”bout the quality of the record that stood.


Ronny, Vegard and Ole Christian’s rollercoaster end against the storm


From the start on May 6th, the Trio knew about a storm approaching their finish line. "Once we had started there were nothing we could do, so we just focused on each day,”they said in an interview.


On May 13th, at home in Norway the home team was watching the team’s SPOT markers and seeing the weather deteriorating rapidly: ‘We had Marc de Keyser and Jan Ivar Sandnes (from their sponsor, Norsk Navigasjon) using very accurate aviation weather sites to update us.


It looked impossible as the wind upend the game too early and they had to face an impossible headwind. We could not see how they possibly could do it as their speed was far slower than what was needed.


Then, before the visibility dropped, and with 15km still to go till the safe-point everybody use for a secure / crevasse-free entry to the icefall, they proved that they either were too tired to have any sense left, or huge balls and enough adrenaline to make a cunning masterstroke strategy wise.


They took a left and aimed straight for halfway down the icefall. That, both made the wind more manageable as it now came much more from the side and they cut the distance - as well as they could use the terrain sloping steeper downwards to speed up. 


But it was over a very iffy area, so I sat with the heart in my mouth. In the meantime snow was falling increasingly heavy. But they came safely over, covering 24km in stunning 3 hours - and in Norway the home-team’s pulse slowed down. – But not for long.


The wind hit! It was like a wall, 24-28 m/s (86.4-100.8 kph), and it all became adrenaline again, both at home and on Greenland. They really had to fight as the sledges looked more like long ties on business men running like crazy. 


As the terrain there is a bit sculptured they were constantly hit by gusts that made mockery of walking normal and just standing upright was hard enough.


They again aimed straight, - straight for the Isortoq Hut, throwing caution to the wind (eh yes, wind - close at hand, one could say) and dropped tedious navigation through the rough icefall. 


It was very messy, hard and difficult, and then the SPOT markers stopped coming. I stared so hard at the Mac, it was a surprise it did not disintegrate. And as I thought they were north-west of the hut in the roughest part, the Iridium called…


Instantly I thought the worst (the expedition-mother in me never relaxes…) thinking they were either lost, stopped by the wind or had fallen into a crevasse. But it was a totally silent background??? No sound of wind!!! Almost as if they called from the above! (That mother-thing again).  - Then their jubilant screams knocked out my right ear - They were in the hut!!! (the door had been ripped off so we knew it was open).


Wow, it was a huge relief after a real nail-biting rollercoaster of an ending. They are quite young, but extremely impressive. Super skiers, but their mind-set is something else. 


Ronny Andre Kjenstad, is studying outdoors at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. Ole Christian Kjenstad is a veterinary student and Vegard Jørstad is in the police.


Ice Cap ski record since 1991 


Pre-1991: 30+ days


1991: 12d 23h, East-West (Norwegians: Tollefsen, Hauge, Small and Stokkan)


1995: 11d 13h 20m: (Norwegians: Sjur Mørdre, Egil Nilsen, Christian Reusch, Helge Hjort, Knut Aas, Jon Andersen, Per Alsgaard og Helge Nordahl)


2001: 10d 9h, West East (Swedes: Magnus Persson and Henrik Runell)


2002: May, West-East, 9d 4h 30m (Norwegians: Holmann, Nilsen)


2002: Late August, early September, East-West: 8d 9h 30m (Norwegians: Trond Hilde, Ivar Tollefsen and Odd Harald Hauge)


2015: MayWest-East: 7d 12 h 20 m (Norwegians, Ronny Andre Kjenstad, Vegard Jørstad and Ole Christian Kjenstad)


(To be mentioned 2012: West-East 9 d 18h (Norwegians: Geir Kristoffersen, Jan Gunnar Næss and Viggo Sandgrav)



Editor’s Note: Two Greenland horizontal routes were in the news the past few days: The one in this story, 560km Ice Cap, and the other, the Ice Cap plus 50 km ground (no snow) to the West coast.




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Weather4Expeditions (Mark de Keyser)


Interactive maps at Windyty


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2015 Norwegian Expedition sites



SPOT tracker















One of the team secretly brought an extra wool sweater that he pulled out of his sled when it was very cold on day 5, "we were very jealous." From the left: Ole Christian, Vegard and Ronny. The guys sent this photo from Greenland to Exweb, asking, "Is one from Isortoq ok? We did not over-document this trip…"
courtesy Snasagutan, SOURCE
A story about super skiers chasing a dream on Greenland; Lars Ebbesen: "[...] we were already into the time of a new generation of explorers with some very well trained bodies and minds. Creativity, new strategies, weight-saving and nutrition came to the fore."
courtesy Correne Erasmus Coetzer, SOURCE
Lars Ebbesen: "So to stand a chance, we are now into 'hitting the perfect window' as the only way to have any possibility. You couldn’t / can’t just be strong and walk faster / longer." In the image, Ebbesen helping South Pole teammate, Cato Zahl Pedersen, with his artificial arm during their Berkner Island to SP unassisted, unsupported ski expedition (1994-95 season)
courtesy copyright Lars Ebbesen, SOURCE
Closing in on the finish line at Isortoq, Greenland mentor Lars Ebbesen recalls, "It was very messy, hard and difficult, and then the SPOT markers stopped coming..."
courtesy Snasagutan SPOT, SOURCE