Story By Anthony Bonello, Images by Bruno Long
It was a ski expedition with a purpose. The plan was to camp on the Greenland ice sheet for 2 weeks and drill ice core samples for scientific research into how the ice sheet might affect future sea level rise and to make a film about the expedition. We had professional skiers Chris Rubens and Kalen Thorien, glaciologist Dr Alun Hubbard, photographer Bruno Long, Pierre Muller as a mountain guide and doctor, Simon Thomson as a basecamp manager and Mike Douglas and myself as film crew. It wasn’t meant to be an easy expedition, but it wasn’t meant to be as difficult as it quickly became.
Months earlier we had arranged for a helicopter to transport us from the small village of Tassilaq on Greenland’s east coast, 150 kilometres up to the ice sheet. Arriving at the hangar in Tassilaq, however, the helicopter pilot informed us that he wouldn’t have enough fuel to reach our intended basecamp and the best he could do was drop us 20kms away and 1200m lower on an outlet glacier. The whole purpose of the expedition was to collect ice core samples, but that relied on being camped on the ice cap. With almost a ton of camping equipment, food for 8 people for 3 weeks (1 week of emergency rations), skis, cameras and most importantly an ice core drill, we weren’t exactly light weight and moving camp would be a logistical challenge.
With no other option we quickly made a game time decision to send the first half of the group in the heli and while the second group waited for the heli to return, they would scour the small village looking for toboggans that we could use to move our camp up to the ice sheet. In the hour and a half the heli was gone we managed to find 8 plastic sleds and enough rope to rig makeshift toboggans that would hopefully carry enough supplies to give us 7 days on the icecap and most importantly the 30kg drill necessary to collect ice samples.
To add insult to injury, the location the pilot decided to drop us was a broken glacier riddled with crevasses that we feared our tents might fall into while we slept. After a few days of scouting and skiing, we packed our toboggans with as much gear as we could and set off up the glacier bound for the ice sheet. There was some fierce debate about what to leave behind, but in the end we decided to sacrifice a couple of tents, a few creature comforts and some cheese. We did make room for the drill though, so we were moving forward, if only at a snail’s pace, bent at the hips pulling our heavy loads up the glacier.
Making it to our new basecamp 13 hours later as the long evening glow of the Arctic lit up, the relief was as massive as the expanse of the ice sheet. Over the next week we succeeded in collecting 2 ice core samples, climbing Mt Forel—Greenland’s second highest peak—and skiing numerous nunataks poking out of the ice sheet. It is one of the most remote and impressive landscapes I have been fortunate to experience and it left a lasting impression on each of us. The samples we collected became evidence for a paper published by Alun predicting melt water runoff from the Greenland ice sheet will contribute to faster sea level rise than previously thought. The expedition was a logistical nightmare before it began, and only got worse once we arrived in Tassilaq, but by staying agile and being willing to suffer we had one of the best trips of our lives.
Coming from humble beginnings as a dirtbag climber and skier, Anthony is an award winning adventure documentary filmmaker who has directed and produced documentaries that have screened in over 30 countries and played on Netflix. For the last decade he has been part of the core team at Switchback Entertainment that produced Salomon Freeski TV and now Salomon TV. Anthony has directed and led teams on expeditions to some of the world’s most remote and challenging locations, from the Himalaya to the Sahara, Arctic to the Andes, all while keeping up with the athletes he works with. Originally from Australia, he is now based in Squamish and Whistler.
I’m a freelance adventure photographer who specializes in trying to capture the essence of the adventures by immersing myself into the action whenever possible. This means long days walking in the skin track with accomplished backcountry athletes, chasing some of the best mountain bikers in the world up AND down the trails, or going on long distance trail runs with camera gear in tow. Capturing real moments is my ethos and I spend a fair amount of my time exploring the far reaches of the world or my backyard to find them.
Link to the film- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbtgNVykEpg&ab_channel=SalomonFreeskiTV