In the past few years, polar skiing expeditions have seen a rapid evolution thanks to the use of snowkites. While opening new possibilities, power kites have made these endeavors more challenging in the field, but also in the preparation: the logic of the aerology is now at the heart of the most ambitious projects. Since the 1990-ties, some of the most impressive realizations had their success based on the use of powerkites. At the beginning of the next decade, a spanish team marked the beginning of a new era with the first longitudinal crossing of Greenland, covering a distance of 2300 km by kite, relying on the logic of katabatic wind systems alone. A few years later, Norwegian kiters once more confirmed this approach by shattering all previous expedition speed and distance records in Greenland and Antarctica. During the antarctic summer 2011- 2012, a belgian duo pushed the limits even further with their attempt to circumnavigate the icecap of east Antarctica, utilizing the katabatic wind systems to a maximum. After 74 days on the ice, they set a new world record for the longest kite skiing trip: 5013 km. In parallel, and for the same aerological reasons, the idea of a first circumnavigation of the Greenland icecap floats around in the small community of polar kiters since a few years now. We too, we have been considering this project for quite some time already. The idea came up again in fall 2011, and has since then grown in our minds. The following spring, we made the decision…
Destination Greenland !
Greenland is the worlds biggest Island. The Greenland Ice Sheet (Inlandsis : interior ice) covers over 1.7 Million square kilometers, the equivalent surface of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland combined. It’s the second largest ice surface on earth after the antarctic continent. It extends over 2600 km and 24 degrees of latitude from south to north, and 1000 kilometers from east to west. The average elevation is 2135 m and the the Icecap reaches a thickness of up to 3000 m at its center.
Wings over Greenland II – The Icecap Circumnavigation project
The two ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica constitute the most suitable areas for wind based very long distance trips. A circumnavigation of the Greenland ice sheet is particularly interesting as the necessary logistics and global budget are comparatively small for a total distance exceeding 5000 km - a similar project in Antarctica would require incomparably more logistics and financial means. But the relative simplicity of a circumnavigation of the Greenland ice sheet stops here. In all other aspects, we are dealing with a complex equation with a number of unknowns:
- Due to the smaller size of the Greenland icecap, the katabatic winds are less stable compared to Antarctica. This is particularly true for the south part of the icecap. The southern part being rather narrow, the katabatic winds are attenuated, especially in the south eastern quarter of the planned circumnavigation.
- Only few information is available on the aerologic conditions of the east slope (today no significant long distance kiting trip has ever been realized in this part); the difficulty to gather and analyze the limited available data.
- The proximity of the coastal mountains in several areas of the eastern part is expected to induce crevasses propagating far into the interior.
- The risk to encounter large areas of surface melt in the southern third, in the beginning of June.
Easily accessible documentation on climate and topography of the Greenland ice sheet remains sparse. A methodic approach using topographic data, digital elevation models and a systematic analysis of scientific data from the automatic weather stations at select locations on the icecap, complemented by satellite images, were necessary to obtain pertinent information on :
- The precise cartography of Greenland
- Temperature averages and probabilities for given locations and periods
- Aerology, average wind speeds, dominant directions, constancy and probabilities
- Surface melt, temporal evolution and spatial extent
glaciers draining the icecap, ice flow towards the coast and
resulting crevasse areas propagating to the interior.
The full technical document containing careful and extensive analysis of the conditions and on which our project ‘Wings Over Greenland II’ is founded is available on request. From a kiters point of view, our experience shows the importance to be proficient in the use of kites in all types of conditions. While one needs to be able to handle strong conditions and stormy days, the capacity to exploit weak and even very weak winds efficiently is even more crucial. The correct choice of the kiting equipment is obviously of primordial importance and does not allow for compromises. The same holds true for all of the expedition equipment, as the expedition will be fully autonomous for nearly 60 days, and the initial weight of the sledges and equipment at the start will approach 150 kg per person.