” Often regarded as “The third Pole”, Greenland witnessed the dawn of what would become known as the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration in 1888 when the brilliant Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen launched an audacious bid to make the first crossing of Greenland, the world’s largest island.
Until then, nobody had penetrated an icecap further than 100 miles inland, and yet Nansen’s journey was almost four times that distance across a giant blank on the map. Passing halfway there was no turning back, and he wrote in his diary, “it is simply death, or the west coast of Greenland”.
He made it of course, and some 40,000 people lined the streets of Oslo to welcome their hero home, almost half the city’s population. The public fervour in polar exploration quickly spread across Scandinavia, Europe and America and over the next three decades the likes of Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton and Peary would push the boundaries of human endeavour in the polar regions to even greater extremes in the Arctic and Antarctic.
I had long held a fascination with Greenland and in 2015 I reunited with three of my oldest expedition companions, Andrew Gerber, George Wells and Patrick Woodhead to try to break the record for the fastest coast-to-coast crossing of Greenland, set in 2008 in a time of 17 days, 20 hours by an experienced kite skiing duo from the UK and Luxembourg. To stand any chance of breaking the record, we simply had to use kites.
Kite technology had advanced immeasurably since our kiting debut in Antarctica in 2002 and after an intensive training programme in the UK and Norway, I felt we were ready for the challenge.
Beginning our crossing from the small fishing village of Isortuq on Greenland’s east coast, two days of back-breaking manhauling took us up to the more favourable kiting grounds of the Greenland Plateau, some 2,500 metres above sea level. The weather gods were shining on us and we made rapid wind-assisted progress across the ice cap and a safe descent down the Russell Glacier and beyond to the ocean at Kangerlussuaq. During our final night on the ice, we kited an incredible 180 miles in just 16 hours.
Despite being holed up by a ferocious blizzard for 24 hours, we still managed to cross Greenland in just 9 days and 19 hours, taking 8 days of the previous record. We had barely slept during the crossing and the feeling at the finish line was one of complete exhaustion, mixed with unbridled joy. It had been a brutal expedition, but boy did we have fun. And to think it had taken Nansen 49 days to cover the same distance. How polar travel has changed!”
Click here to watch the BBC’s expedition report on the 67N Greenland Challenge.