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Greenland Expedition | Field Notes from the Ice

Blacks were proud to support student from the University of St Andrews in their geological expedition to Greenland. We gave them the gear; they did the rest. Read their field report. Plus, their first-hand advice on what you'll need for your own excursion to the frozen wilds.

Greenland ice float and aboat

People don't think of glaciers and volcanoes, ice and fire, as things that naturally go together. Yet in December, we - a group of five geology students - could be found pouring over maps of both. Fortunately, the volcanoes are extinct, but the glaciers still provide a distinct chill. Something we came to understand as we travelled to the uninhabited island of Tuttutoq. We went there to study some of the world’s most unusual geology, volcanic rock 1800 million years old.

None of us had undertaken an adventure like this before. If we weren’t already feeling the pressure, we had to demonstrate to our professors we’d be able to survive for euight weeks in the wilderness of ice and stone, with only each other for company. And support. We spent the early months of 2019 drawing up risk assessments and contingency plans for every eventuality. Polar bears were an especial concern.

 

Our undergraduate peers had advised us to plan for the extremes – the winds coming off the inland ice could exceed 100mph then switch to Mediterranean temperatures the following day. On top of this, we had to be self-sufficient on our island. To get to the closest village required taking a boat and heading East, and to the West there was only the Labrador Sea. Good kit was essential to success and survival, and our best decisions were to go for expedition tents and tough, lightweight and warm clothing. Blacks Outdoors were kind enough to kit us out. We've given some advice on essential kit for those travelling to Greenland below.

No amount of preparation could have readied us for our first sight of Greenland. The plane took us over the inland ice, providing some concept of the country’s huge expanse. But it’s only upon landing that you realise the vertical scale. What looked like small rocky hills in the plane were revealed to be mountains rising over 1700m out of glacial fjords. As you approach by boat they seem to grow to heavenly heights.

St Andrew geology expedition to Greenland

Girl blowing out birthday cake in Greenland

After arriving on the island, we quickly got into a routine so we could make the most of the time there. Although it never got truly dark, the air temperature out of the sun would drop to well below zero. We structured our working day centre around the weather and temperature, but even this regime was often interrupted by extended downpours. Those days were spent huddled up in camp, eating or playing cards.

Although we were there for the rocks, we could spend hours of the day just staring at the view. Whether, it was orchids clinging to a cliff face, or icebergs breaking apart in the fjords, wherever you looked there was something new to marvel at. Greenland truly had it all. A few weeks into our expedition we discovered an old Viking settlement next to our camp. It gave some historical context to humanity's experiences in this frozen part of the world. We couldn’t have agreed more with their choice of home.

The longer we lived on Tuttutoq, the more we appreciated the people that call wider Greenland their home. During our time, we got to know several locals who immediately made us feel welcome in the country and showed us what long-term life in Greenland involves. We’re all determined to return in the future, whether to research or to relive an adventure of a lifetime.

Looking at map in Greenland

 

The Essential Greenland Kit List

Greenland is stunningly beautiful, but it's also incredibly tough. It requires both hot and cold weather clothing. It can be tricky to balance this with packing light. Here is our advice for what you need (and need to know).

 

For your Body . . .

Down jacket and a waterproof shell - pack light by being savvy with these choices. A compressible down jacket is ideal and there are some very lightweight shells out there now.

Technical t-shirts - quick-drying and wicking fabric will remove sweat before it makes you cold during a break.

Climbing trousers - durable, loose and light. These are essential as you can be walking on flat ground one minute, then scrambling the next

Hiking boots - get the fit perfect because you'll be walking a LOT. GORE-TEX™ waterproofing is strongly advised.

 

For your Bag . . .

The bag itself - pick a tough bag that will withstand repeated abrasion by rocks. As with all hiking, a great back support really makes a difference. We'd also recommend a bag with an integrated rain cover to deal with those sudden downpours.

An excessive amount of water – better to have an not need than vice-versa.

A lot of food - choose food that will energise efficiently, but also remember some bulk-free morale-boosting treats. For us this was mint imperials

 

For your Camp . . .

A strong, lightweight backpacking tent - choose a quality waterproof fabric with a design that can withstand high winds.

A tarpaulin

Bulldog clips - to seal any food containers that the arctic foxes will find interesting.

A trowel - there are no toilets in the wilderness!

DEET and Mosquito net - you will need this.

 

Lastly, if you get the opportunity to go to Greenland, don’t forget your camera.

Waving Scottish flag in Greenland
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