Roundup: Spring Arctic Expeditions

Late April-early May is the best time for High Arctic travel, and several expeditions have just completed or just started on Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Here’s the overall picture:

Baffin Island

An ethereal Ousland on a previous arctic expedition. Photo: Borge Ousland

Polar Legend Borge Ousland and French explorer Vincent Colliard have just finished the Baffin Island section of their ongoing Ice Legacy Project. This involves crossing the 20 largest icecaps in the world and has taken the experienced pair all over the world, from Patagonia to the Karakorum.

They had already completed six icecaps when they headed to Iqaluit on Baffin Island in mid-April. Ousland and Colliard were targeting a double-header, the Penny and Barnes Icecaps, which lie “just” 300km apart.

The two men chartered a flight to the northern tip of the Barnes icecap on April 14. They carried food for 38 days and had 700km ahead of them. Skiing with fully laden sleds, they covered a modest 15km on their first day, but by day three, the pair were able to unfurl their sails and pick up the pace.

It took six days to cross the Barnes Icecap, but the expedition became literally stuck in the mud as they moved on to their second objective. Despite their mid-April start, the Baffin tundra had already seriously thawed. Going south nearly 300km with little snow and heavy sleds looked impossible, so instead, they began to detour east toward the Inuit hamlet of Clyde River.

Previous expeditions have left Ousland much frostier. Pictured here with Mike Horn at the North Pole, 2006. Photo: Borge Ousland

En route, the pair managed to hitch a ride with some Inuit caribou hunters. The snowmobile ride eliminated an eight-day journey from their itinerary and allowed them to charter a quick flight to Narpaing Fiord, on the doorstep of the Penny Icecap, on April 24.

From the Narpaing Valley, they climbed until the plateau of the Penny Icecap. The next two days brought whiteout conditions, but the weather picked up after day 16. With clear skies and mild weather, the pair progressed under the spectacular shadow of Mount Asgard. On day 19, with just two days skiing to their end point at the village of Pangnirtung, the pair were consciously avoiding over-optimism, which they neatly summarized as “selling the skin before having shot the bear.”

In the end, the needn’t have worried. A difficult patch of sand and rock gave way to a tiny strip of ice that they were able to ride as far as the village. What’s next? Apparently “red wine, fresh vegetables, more red wine with some jazz music.”

The Japanese team at the end of a successful expedition. Photo: Yasu Ogita

Meanwhile, rebel arctic adventurer Yasu Ogita led a team of 12 young Japanese men and women in the opposite direction. They set out from Pangnirtung towards Clyde River on April 7 and they completed an uneventful 600km journey on May 5.


It is go time for teams in Greenland. Photo: Rohan Freeman

At least one team has already completed a Greenland crossing while others are yet to set out from Kangerlussuaq on the west coast. Kangerlussuaq is a common starting point, because it has the only civilian airstrip in Greenland that accommodates jets from the south.

A large Finnish team of 11 completed their 600km crossing last week in 33 days. Although the weather was consistently against them, they managed to shave three days off their estimated arrival date.

The Finnish team passed through radar station DYE-2, above, and DYE-3. Photo: Nestori Nurmi

Groups led by Norwegian outfitters Expeditions 365 and Newland Expeditions are setting out a little later. The Newland team, with four clients and guide Kjell Erik Reinhardtsen, have packed their modest 60kg sleds and will aim to complete the crossing from Kangerlussuaq to Isotorq on the east coast in 26 days. The Expeditions 365 team, featuring British polar guide Carl Alvey, will set out on May 11, with 40 days of food, along a north-south route.

Ellesmere Island

Matthias Haunholder and partners before their flight north from Resolute Bay. Photo: Jonas Blum

In late April, professional freeskier Matthias Haunholder and three friends headed to the northern coast of Ellesmere Island. The group did not have a specific A to B route in mind, but rather looked to pioneer some interesting lines in virgin territory. However, they don’t appear to have stayed long, wrapping up their trip after just a couple of weeks. Details to come.

Unskied lines on the north coast of Ellesmere Island. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko