Exercise Midnight Sun - Greenland 2008

Ice Camp Mountaineers - Phase two covering 14th August onwards.


Day 12 - 25 Aug 08.

Stink level = 10, fatigue level = 10, weight loss = 10.


Upper GlacierWe got up at 3am.  It was dark - not the "Midnight Sun" we were hoping for.  Leaving at around 4.10am with head torches on, we descended the precariously steep gully as dawn was breaking and headed across the glacier up onto the ridge beyond.  Ascending this in now more snow than before, roping up where necessary, we finally came out onto a long snow slope, which rose gently to the rocky summit, offering fantastic views.  We were greeted once again by a cairn when we arrived at the summit at 9am.  Bother.  The stunning vista of the icecap and the mountains more than made up from the not quite so shocked discovery, having noted the curious man made top from the start of the snow slope.


With time pressing on and a full day ahead of us, elated that we had climbed the mountain we took the required pictures for those who had digital cameras that could work at -10degrees Celcius, and headed swifly back down.  This time we would descend the rocky ridge in two y-shaped abseils.  A short walk round to the edge of the glacier and a further abseil down below the Bergshund, followed by an easy traverse across the glacier gave access to the steep rocky gully beyond, back up to our tents.  Ascent of the gully was not as daunting as it appears almost vertical from a distance.  Brewing up and packing up, we followed the well marked cairned route down, staying on the hill this time to descend below the glacier at peak 1313m and along the beach back to camp, arriving well before dark at 6pm - a 15hr day.


Elated by our success, and with our knees feeling the strain, we all tucked into an extremely firey beef curry and rice, followed by some chocolate cake which appeared from Huw's bag, toped with syrup, followed by more chocolate and biscuits to finish it off.  Tomorrow morning we would be packing up and heading back to Tasiussaq camp for our back fill to the UK.  Ice camp would be sorely missed.


Day 11 - 24 Aug 08.

Stink level = 6, fatigue level = 5, weight loss = 5.


Peak 1660Rising at our usual time of 7am we set off for our high camp at around 10am, having packed all our tents, sleeping bags and cookers in with our usual mountaineering kit of helmets, harness and crampons.  Following the same route as two days earlier, we ascended the morraine, crossed the glacier below peak 1313m and ascended the ridge the other side, cairning the route to around 960m, where we established camp just before the steep gully to the glacier beyond, which provided the gateway to the ridge onto the summit.


Arriving at our camp spot at around 3.30pm, we quickly set to building a rock wall around our tent pitches and putting the tents up, which was not a problem as we were now all expert cairn builders.  Meanwhile Huw gathered snow to melt for our water.  Brewing up and filling up with our evening meal early, the plan was to get up at 3am (when we hoped it might be light), to leave at 4am to allow us enough time to get to the summit and back down before dark.


With the boys on the higher terrace and the girls on the lower, more snowy ledge, we all settled down for the night at around 6pm to get a good nights sleep in before the summit push the following day.


Day 10 - 23 Aug 08.

Stink level = 3, fatigue level = 1, weight loss = 5.

Having spent 16hrs on the mountain in a snow storm the previous day, Huw had given us the day off to recover.  Waking from mid morning onwards, the day gave us the opportunity to sort out our wet kit, drink tea, eat and generally recover in the fresh and welcome sunshine. Lunch shortly followed breakfast, and for Gaz became one of the same.


In the afternoon Huw opted for the unpleasant job of sorting out the poo bucket, the bag which required a whole can of petrol to burn.  Yuck.  Meanwhile Gaz compiles a video of the team whilst Ali and Jonathan are chief brew makers as I get stuck into the blogs.


With another TV dinner viewing our film footage, Huw's plan for tomorrow is to try the same ascent we did the previous day - peak 1660m, as he thinks it's a goer.  We hope so.  The plan this time however is to camp out overnight on the mountain and then attempt the ascent the following day.  We are all hoping the weather will hold out.  With heavier packs the going would be slower, but hopefully it would allow us to bag another peak before our time here comes to a close.


Day 9 - 22 Aug 08.

Stink level = 10 (average), fatigue level = 10 (average), weight loss = 10 (6hr glacier travel day).


Rising at 0500hrs to the sound of Huw shouting "Get up and hurry up" we dragged ourselves out of our comfy sleeping bags for another day on the mountains.  This time Huw had decided the weather was "ok", so he would change his plan for us to spend one day on the hill, attempting peak 1660m , carrying an emergency bivi, should the weather turn against us.


Ice CampLeaving at 0640hrs with clouds looming on the horizon, signalling bad weather ahead, we continued on, heading up the morraine by the steam past the lake and up a slighly lower level route onto the glacier below peak 1313m, crossing it roped up to the other side with ease, to ascend another morraine and head up onto the rocky mountain, to find a route through up the ridge to the glacier beyond, which Huw hoped would give us a good route up to the ridge to 1660m peak.  The route, whilst steep, was good going and took us up to some good sticky rock and onto a terrace which lead to a scree ladden gully, possible to ascend with care down to another glacier below.  The glacier itself was spectacular, rolling with gaping crevasses, bergschrunds and snow bridges offering us a safe passage through to a rock scramble up the other side onto a snow field.  By now it was about 1230hrs.  This was our decision time, with Huw posing the question to the team as to whether we should continue and attempt the peak or head back.  Despite the weather having deteriorated to poor visibility of about 100m, with it snowing furiously, the decision was a unanimous "Yes" so we continued up a rocky ridge attempting to reach the snowy ridge offering us passage to the summit.


By now however, with the energy being sapped out of us due to the poor weather and difficult terraine, our pace had slowed and the summit attempt was fading.  By 1430hrs Huw made the decision to pull the plug.  We had reached a good height of 1285m crossing unchartered territory, but unfortunately would be going no further.  Two precarious abseils with two ascending at a time and a walk down the snow slope later, we were heading down a different ridge with a view to walk along the beach back to camp - a long walk, but at least at sea level.  A secondary plan of a boat pick up at the bottom of the ridge was to be swifly thwarted after a satphone conversation with John HW whilst we huddled in the emergency shelter at 456m.  With Huw's good ideas now not looking so good, we realised our only option would be to walk out - and what a long walk it would be.  The plan of walking along the beach was shortly brought to a close when Huw noticed a large rock slab descending right to the Fjord cutting off our route through.  The only option was up and more up.  With the map only showing 25m contour spacings, large granite slabs would not feature on the map - in fact there were no features on the map detailing the terraine we were covering other than whether we were on snow or not.  Rocky outcrops did not feature.  After our emergency bivi stop, having consumed most of our food less our emergency rations, we descended onto a glacier, crossing it with ease and up onto the mountain the other side, which we needed to cross before we could safely travel across the first glacier below peak 1313m back to camp.  After several failed attempts to cross the mountain and circumnavigate the rocky slabs, climbing to over 600m, we finally found a safe route through, down a gully, up onto a col, up some more still until we reached a good route down some heather to the welcoming morraine on the other side of the glacier below peak 1313m.  Descending this morraine down some scree to the Fjord and crossing several streams, we finally ascended the morraine back to camp, arriving just as the sun was finally setting at 2240hrs, 16hrs after we had left.  Exhausted, we sorted out our kit and headed into the dome tent for a welcome brew and rat packs.  Viewing the video Gaz had taken and recounting the rules we had made on the mountain during our descent, we headed back to our tents for some welcome rest.  Tomorrow we would be taking the day off to recover.


Day 8 - 21 Aug 08.

Stink level = 4 (average), fatigue level = 4 (average), weight loss = 3 (6hr glacier travel day).


Cafe ice camp opened late today due to the crap weather, but saw a brisk trade once everyone had got out of their scratchers - at about 10am.  Lunch swifty followed breakfast, by which time the weather had sufficiently improved for Huw to devise a plan for the remainder of the day - ascent up the glacier to stash some provisions for an overnight camp later in the week.  Ruth, meanwhile was snotting everywhere feeling poo, having contracted the common cold / sinusitis during the night.  Reluctantly bailing out of the trip to get better, the rest of the group left her in the tent to go and explore the glacier and route find above camp.


Heading up the glacier between 1523m and 1444m the team sought to find a suitable stash to place 48hrs worth of rations, fuel and rope for a two/three day expedition up the glacier.  When reaching their highpoint of 600m and proved a route onto the icecap, having crossed many crevasses and weaved amongst the ice pinacles, it was decided best not to stash the provisions after all.  This was due to there being too many variables in the plan being at the cache at the right time.  The team then returned via a slightly better route, back onto the morraine and into camp.  Hearing their cries for "put a brew on" in the distance, Ruth set to get the stove fired up for the team on their return.  Brews followed by a team meal of smash and mincemeat from our "fresh" rations, revived the group enough to have a TV dinner, watching the video from the previous phase and the one Ruth had compiled during the day.


Tomorrow the plan is to rise at 5am (Huw to see what the weather is doing) and if the sky is clear, to all get up and head up the glacier light weight, biviing out overnight with a view to attempt some peaks the following day. We await with pensive breathe to see what the weather has in store for us.


Day 7 - 20 Aug 08.

Stink level = 4 (average), fatigue level = 4 (average), weight loss = 3 (11hr day).

We awoke at 7am to a blue sky - perfect weather for a foray onto our nearest mountain - peak 1313m.  Setting off at 9.05am after a hearty breakfast of porridge and dried fruit, we quickly ascended the morraine and traversed high up to the base of the technical climbing, picking up the previous group's route of well marked cairns at around 500m, where we left our poles.  Following their trail, which had begun with a steep ascent from a lateral morraine above the lake, we continued up some fairly lose but easy scrambling until 950m where the real climbing began.  Huw spotted at least three pieces of tat left from the previous group's abseils in some curiously easily accessible places, which we ambled past, collecting them on route.


SummitContinuing up some technical ground which required roping up and pitched climbing (6 pitches in total), we reached a flatter area, which for the first time afforded spectacular views out onto the icecap.  A further sticky rock outcrop led to some ice and a technical pitch on some loose rock, which we were becoming fairly accustomed to by now.  The summit was in our reach.  Two further pitches and some moving together roped up we reached the summit at 1445hrs.  The stunning views of the glaciers all around us more than compensated for the shock discovery of a well established cairn.  Bother.  Tucking into our pepperami treats which we had brought specifically to be consumed only when reaching the summit, and after a few photos we headed down.  As Huw said, we were only half way there.  Five hours later and several abseils, we were back in camp, thankful that we had got away from Mount Trundle without being scathed by continuously falling rock.


To celebrate the increase in stink level, Huw and Gaz were compelled to dip themselves in the icey (and I mean ice floating on the surface) sea water, whilst the more reserved amongst us took a wash in the fresh water stream.  Several brews and a rat pack later we were planning our next adventure, this time up the glacier and an overnight high camp.


Day 6 -19 Aug 08.

Stink level = 3 (average), fatigue level = 2 (average), weight loss = 0 (on rat packs and fresh food).


We awoke at 7am in our cosy two man tents to the sound of water boiling and breakfast being made - fantastic.  Thanks Huw!  Further treats followed with real porridge for breakfast with dried fruit - provided as part of our supplement "fresh" rations.

Heading off at 9am we ascended the morraine, stepping precariously over large boulders hoping we would not experience a foot entrapment or dislodge a large boulder onto one of our team, to the glacier which tumbles into the Fjord.  By chance, Gaz stumbled across a digital camera which had been accidentally dropped by the previous group, still working!  At the edge of the glacier we put on our harnesses, crampons and using our ice axes, practised walking across the small section of glacier and carving out ice bollards around which you can secure a rope as an anchor point.   Having mastered ascending gentle and steep inclines, after lunch Huw taught us about crevasse 19aug08rescues, which included self rescue and assisted rescue, involving either you hauling yourself out of the crevasse using devices called prussiks which you can ascend the rope with, or your team rescues you by securing an anchor using some ice screws and a pulley system to pull you out.  To ensure we got a feel for the real thing, we were lowered into a small crevasse and expected to haul ourselves out.  After the initial worry of suspending in your harness over an abyss wondering if it would hold you, ascent was fairly pain free and quite quick.  The simplest and most likely rescue Huw expected us to encounter is with your team hauling you out by stepping backwards with everyone ropped together.  I'm glad we got to practise all three, including ascending the crevasse wall using two ice axes as if we were ice climbing..


Ice climbThe weather, whilst not brilliant, was certainly alot better than the previous day, and our vantage point offered some fantastic views up the two glaciers above our camp.  With an extensive day of training we headed back to camp via a lake just above our camp in the morraine, picking up again the previous groups trail, marked well with small cairns showing the way.  Whilst walking across the boulders on top of the morraine, Ruth lost her balance and trying to recover using her poles, which disappeared between two rocks, she face planted, inverting herself and requiring rescue from Jonathan whilst the rest of the group laughed.  Thanks team.  A short and slightly less precarious descent back into camp, Gary, or Gladys, the BT guru who had arrived yesterday with us to sort out the communications, was there to greet us, thankful I think for a little conversation.  The food was then put on - this time fresh rations combined with compo to make a lovely spicey meatball pasta.  We carried out our usual admin, with Huw trying his hand at fishing.


Tomorrow we plan to attempt peak 1313m, which the previous team had attempted three times, following a similar route to the one they took.  Hopefully we will bag it, but if not, we have another few ideas up our sleeve on alternate routes to the summit via the glacier and a high camp.  We shall see.


Day 5 -18 Aug 08.

Stink level = 2.5 (average), fatigue level = 1 (average), weight loss = -1 (on rat packs and gaining).


Sleeping five to the dome tent with a wet changing area at the front due to the heavy rain, we all slept soundly, thankful that our instructor Huw had managed to fix the rather persistent leak right by my sleeping bag.  Waking up to the pitter patter of rain on the tent, we realised we were going to be in for another day of damp management.


Prising ourselves out of our comfy sleeping quarters to face the elements, we got the brew and rat pack food on, using one of the few reliable cookers available whilst the other groups gonked in their doss bags.  With the food warming us the wind picked up and we thought we would be in for some luck with the weather and flies clearing, but were to be sorely disappointed as the next wave of rain swept across the camp.


Getting used to the Greenland philosophy of "Things happen when they happen" our 9am departure moved from leaving first to leaving last, with the first group scheduled to leave now at 11am.  We sought refuge again in the dome tent, hoping that the rain would relent a little for us to be able to go and utilise the facilities without getting our only one of two dry sets of kit wet.


18aug08Oli poked his head in the tent coming armed with trivial pursuit cards and furry slippers covered in bags to keep them dry!  Shortly afterwards Gary arrived and we all got stuck into Trivial Pursuit.  At about the time predicted the Igimassaq and Kitty Cath group departed on the Zodiacs to establish their base camps along the Fjord.  Shortly afterwards we suited up and travelled up the Fjord to our destination Ice Camp.  It is pouring with rain and the Fjord is quite choppy, so we are thankful for the full warm suits we are wearing, as the spray from the waves coats us in salt water.  As we get closer to the glacier the water turns a deeper turquoise due to the temperature drop.  A lonely seal pops his head up to see what's going on.  Fifty five minutes later we arrive at Ice Camp, a remote, desolate location at the foot of a glacier rolling into the Fjord, breaking every so often to create beautiful deep blue icebergs.  As we near the camp, the mountain around us rumbles above and rocks come clattering down the ravines landing high above beyond the morraine.  A short while later, a massive block of ice breaks off the end of the glacier and tumbles into the Fjord sending waves along the shoreline.


Our camp is full of provisions and the essential poo bucket, and we set about rejuvenating the camp, tightening the guy lines and cleaning out the dome group tent to make it more habitable. We get out of the pouring rain and settle down to our established routine of sitting it out with a brew until the weather improves.  Finally late on in the evening the rain stops, the clouds clear and we get the opportunity to venture out without our waterproofs on and try a spot of fishing, without success.  Tomorrow the current plan is to head up the glacier to practise some rope work and crevasse rescues. With nine days and eight nights ahead of us, I'm wondering if the stink level max of 10 will be enough.  The challenge at the moment is to keep our kit dry.


Ruth out.


Day 4 -17 Aug 08.

Stink level = 1, fatigue level = 2, weight loss = nil.


After three days in the same clothing the stink level was starting to ramp up.  Fortunately we were now to be heading off to the Fjord, waving goodbye to Phase 1, who would be heading back to the UK.  As with all things in Greenland, things happen when they happen, so our 10am departure moved to 1pm.  To fill the time several of the team played football with the local children on a short flat piece of land by the pier - it was fortunate the villagers are renowned for their kayaking abilities as the ball had to be rescued several times following an overzealous kick.


Ali waiting to climbDeparting in two groups, we headed the short 30min trip up the Fjord to Tassiusaq base camp to be greeted by rain, flies, rain and mosquitos, followed by a further admin and poo brief for health and hygiene in the field.  This base camp was to be the home for all of us for one night as the slip in timings had meant we were unable to travel the further 1.5hrs to our destination of Ice Camp.  A short Zodiac ride to the shoreline, and we were on dry land, splitting into our groups to sort out our maps, radios, first aid, getting refreshers on all, before heading into our very much appreciated dome tents capable of occupying an entire group, to settle down for the night and keep out of the rain.  I now write this by myself whilst all my team mates have settled down for the night.  Thanks guys!


Day 3 - 16th Aug 08

Stink level = 0, fatigue level = 3, weight loss = nil.


With a day to kill whilst waiting for Phase 1 to return and the festivities with the local villagers to begin, everyone headed off to explore the small island of Kangamuit.  Approximately 5km in length, it boasts a small peak and several hills of rock, upon which the local houses are mostly built at the coastline, with wooden steps allowing them access to their doors.  The area was very basic, with the community surviving the winter on the hunting they conduct during the short summer months of seal, muskoxen, the occassional polar bear that gets too close to the village and other sea creatures of a mammalian variety.


With the wind being sufficient enough to keep the flies at bay, several headed off to try their hand at fishing, others explored the BT hill where the main communication mast had been erected supporting our expedition, whilst the remainder headed off to explore the hills behind the village testing our mountaineering boots out or visit Adventure before she departed back to the UK.


With Phase 1 back in camp and the VIPs - the Master of Signals and his wife, and Brigadier Hargreaves in the village the festivities began with a team photo followed by food provided by both ourselves and the locals.  All the villagers - a total of 350 people had been invited to the feast, which followed with songs from the kayakers, the mountaineers and several solo and group ensembles, which the Master of Signals and Brigadier Hargreaves were a pivotal part of.  The villagers responded with some beautiful harmonies, which finaled on all of us joining hands and swaying to their rhythmn.


Day 2 - 15th Aug 08

Stink level = 0, fatigue level = 6, weight loss = -1.


After a large meal the night before many were thankful that the TV offered wake up call, provided you didn't sleep through it.  A short trip back to the airport and an automated checkin later, we were heading off to Kangelussaq in Greenland, four hours away.  The international airport of Greenland on the Western coast contained two gates, one luggage carousel and a small cafe.  This made baggage collection and recheckin for the internal flight a challenge.  Fortunately the transfer time was short and we were off in a smaller, propeller plane for the 30min charter flight to Manitsoq, a small town on one of the Fjords.  The plane flew in low over the icecap, and down into the Fjords, showing the breathtaking scenery we were going to spend the next two weeks experiencing close up.


A short taxi ride to the harbour, half of the party transferred directly to the next destination - a 1.5hr boat trip to Kangamuit, whilst the remainder searched for a cafe and supermarket in the town to spend the few Kroner they had left.  Reconvening at Kangamuit several hours later in the only village sports hall, which was to be our accommodation for the next two nights, we had the opportunity to explore the village whilst waiting for Phase 1 to arrive from further up the Fjord.  The sailing boat "Adventure" had already arrived, along with some rather bearded and weather hardened sailors.  With some basic rules laid down - don't pee in the poo bucket, don't overfill the poo bucket, and in Greenland, things happen when they happen, and if the villagers want to go hunting, everything stops, we settled into a warm shower and some lovely food laid on by Stu - our SQMS guru.


Day 1 - 14th Aug 08

Stink level = 0, Fatigue level = 4, weight loss = 0


After an early rise to get to Windsor TAC for an 8am meet, and a check in and issue of the Ex Midnight Sun fleece (out goes my own to save on weight), we all piled into three minibuses and headed to Heathrow airport, allowing 1.5hrs to travel the short 12 miles there.  Arriving within plenty of time to spare, the mountaineers amongst us camped outside whilst waiting for the checkin to open.  Checking all 35 personnel plus luggage using the automated system proved fairly painless, so we headed on into the airport lounge to purchase kit in duty free that we would otherwise have left at home.  It was easy to distinguish who was in what group - the sailors seemed to have an extraordinary amount of luggage for living on a confined space for two weeks, with jeans or cords being standard issue, whereas the kayakers were wearing most of their clothing with minimalist bags.  The mountaineers on the other hand, had packed for a variety of activities, some obviously thinking that they were going to be provided with sherpas and muskoxen to carry their kit up the hill, whilst the other more hard core element were wondering whether packing a 2 season light weight sleeping bag was really a good idea after all.


Copenhagen was only a short flight away.  After a head count and luggage collection we headed the two short stops on the metro to the airport on one ticket for 35 people, a challenging task made all the more complicated when the sailors decided to head for the train station instead.  Good job they have in built GPS on their boat!  Checking into our hotel, most headed off into town to savour the Copenhagen food and culture, ready for an early start of 5.30am the next day.