Report by Annie Chichester-Constable, recipient of a YET Vivian Fuchs Award
Throughout this report I am sharing my experience, stories and photographs from my 3-week expedition to East Greenland over the month of July. Over the course of the trip I spent my time getting to know some incredible new people, experience beautiful scenery and explore a place I had never been to. I was joined by ten other students and two incredible mountain guides, Alun Richardson and Richard Mansfield. Also joining us was a teacher experienced with the outdoors and another female leader.
This trip has taken up days and hours of my life, after finally getting onto the expedition through a long application process, I began fundraising and slowly improving my fitness over the months leading up to our departure. I managed to get a weekend job and set up my own small business to begin to gather together the large sum of money I had to fundraise. The preparation began a year before the expedition, we had two organised training weekends, these weekends consisted of walking, familiarising ourselves with some exciting new equipment we would be using, and getting to know one another in the team.
After arriving and spending a couple days in Iceland surrounded by civilisation, arriving in Greenland felt odd. Kulusuk is an extremely small hunting town located east of Greenland. Like many places in Greenland, they still very much follow old traditions, things like hunting and fishing are extremely popular ways to generate an income. The whole atmosphere of the town was truly incredible and it was an amazing place to feel part of.
We then began our 10-day trek onto the glacier. It was an exhausting first day as we walked for a few kilometres over tough terrain. The realisation of how demanding this trip would be finally sank in, it was going to be tough. No one could have really prepared me for how hard it was really going to be; carrying almost 20kg of equipment, food and clothes up the side of mountains, across rivers and over slushy snow was not easy but after setting up our first camp and beginning to travel back to pick up the reaming stuff, surrounded by the spectacular views and huge monstrous mountains, I realised none of that was going to matter.
Soon after many load carries back and forth, crossing rivers, climbing up steep and tough terrain we made it to the base of the glacier after a total of four days. We set up our camp for the night and enjoyed our last sleep on solid ground. Before we knew it, it was morning. This was when the real walking began! We load carried up to the snow line, loaded the sledges and attached ourselves into our harnesses and the sled hauling began! Our team was split into two smaller groups and we began walking to our next camp.
The following day, again was filled with another trek across more of the glacier, we reached the highest point of the glacier and soon began a slow and long descent back to the coast. After hours of walking we reached our next campsite. This was by far the best camp yet. The views were spectacular. To left I could see the sea in the distance, the huge mountains towered either side of the glacier forming a valley to the sea, this is the route we would be walking the next day. To the right you could also see the sea disappearing into the mist that hung low above it. The views were amazing when we arrived but nothing compared to my 4am bear watch slot. There was a beautiful array yellows and blues to the left and to the right there was a rainbow of purples, pinks and blues.
The next day was demanding, physically and mentally. We all awoke bright and early for our ascent of the first and only mountain. We packed up some essentials for the day into our rucksacks and set off. The journey to the summit consisted of scrambling, climbing and traversing across dangerous heights. It tested all our physical abilities but we persisted and after hours of climbing we reached the top. Upon reaching the summit, the views were incredible. I stood in awe at how this beautiful, vast landscape was so desolate, it was untouched, unexplored and I was there to see it all. We took a moment to take it all in. Many photos were taken and the sense of accomplishment felt by us all was incredible.
Soon after we began our descent of the mountain and headed back to camp to pack up our things and continue our journey. That journey that afternoon took us to our third glacial camp and upon our arrival, in the distance we were able to see the end of the glacier and dry land again. We set up tents, cooked our meals and began to settle in for the night. It was then we were given bad news. A weather warning was coming in through the night and a decision was made unanimously for the team to head down to the glacial beach where we would be able to wait out the storm in warmer and less dangerous conditions. We packed up camp and continued to walk off the glacier towards the beach. This long day (15 hours) pushed everyone’s physical boundaries, we were all exhausted and a good night’s sleep was well deserved.
The weather came in thick and fast. The rain from the storm didn’t ease off until the
evening. We were all glad to have spent the duration of the bad weather sheltered in our cosy sleeping bags and warm tents playing cards and reading through my second book of the trip. It was a well-deserved rest day.
We were greeted with much nicer weather the next morning and after breakfast we decided to get back up onto the glacier and ice climb! We were all so excited to experience something new and something not many other 15-year-olds have the chance to do. We took it in turns to be lowered down into a moulin and attempting to climb back out of this huge hole. It was an experience I will never forget.
The next day we decided to take a short walk over to a nearby glacier that was caving into the sea. We all made it to the glacier face in time for lunch, the glacier front was so beautiful and of absolutely gigantic proportions. We sat and watched as icebergs caved from the face into the sea below. After spending about an hour there we headed back to camp and began collecting driftwood that had gathered on the beach and created a camp fire. We all had a fun filled evening exchanging stories and getting to know one another even more. It was such a lovely evening and celebration to end our glacial journey.
We were completely packed up and ready to leave the beach at around 10am on our final day in the fjord. We carried all our belongings to a location where we knew that our boats would be able to collect us easily and efficiently. We waited patiently for their arrival dreaming of showers, chairs and home-cooked meals. The boats had been stuck in sea ice for a while and time passed by slowly. Eventually, after a six hour wait, the little boats made their way over to us and we boarded ready to make our way back to Kulusuk. It felt so good to be back at the lodge with our creature comforts.
We spent the next few nights at a lodge in Kulusuk getting to know some locals and hear some of their incredible hunting stories and learning more about the history of Kulusuk. We were happily getting used to fresh food and nice comfy beds. After spending a few days there, we then headed to the airport and said some emotional goodbyes to Kulusuk and headed onto the plane back to Iceland.
We had a few hours to spare in Iceland so we made the most of and ventured down to the Blue Lagoon. It was a lovely way to end the incredible three-week expedition.
I took a step out of my comfort zone, a step out of the comfort and familiarity of my small home in a small village. It has been a unique, incredible and eye-opening trip. An experience I will never forget and I am exceptionally grateful for everyone who helped me raise funds for this trip. The money granted to me was extremely generous and I cannot thank you enough for the donation. It’s not every day that you get given an opportunity like this and taking it was one of the best things I have ever done.