American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Greenland, Traverse of Greenland

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1985

Traverse of Greenland. On September 11 Jaroslav Pavlícek, Miroslav Jakes and I flew from Reykjavik, Iceland to Kulusuk, Greenland to try to traverse the Greenland Icecap. At a time close to the 100th anniversary of Nansen’s first successful traverse, we wanted to do something similar in the same way he had, without dogs, with skis, snowshoes and sledges hauled by us, without air support and radio. Our route was farther north, from Johan Petersen Fjord to Søndre Strømfjord, a route already done several times but never so late in the year before oncoming winter. We hired a Greenlander with a very small motorboat to take us to Johan Petersen Fjord, but waves on the open sea were so high that we almost drowned with all our gear among the icebergs. We had to make an emergency landing and bivouac in the rain on the shore; we got back to Angmagssalik the day after. On September 15 we hired a bigger boat which got us through Sermilik Fjord, which was full of ice, to Johan Petersen Fjord. It took us five days to carry the gear and food to the icecap. Our food was based mainly on fats combined with cereals, home-made chocolate, sausages, nuts, instant soups, instant milk, ovomaltine, etc., about 75 pounds per person. Our gear consisted of short old-fashioned skis, small plastic sledges such as children use, snowshoes (used on only one day), 60 meters of 7mm rope, square-framed tent, down sleeping bags, no crampons and only one ice-hammer, snow-saw, sextant with an artificial horizon, compass, webbing ladder in case of a crevasse fall, primus with 15 liters of kerosene (10 liters were used). The next 32 days were spent on the traverse, some of them very hard because of deep snow and sastrugi. Our progress was very slow at the beginning, not more than seven to nine miles per day, but then a period of fair, cold weather and winds came and on the harder surface our speed increased until we were doing 15 miles daily. We had only one day when we stayed in our tent because of cold and wind, — 31° C and wind of 70 to 80 kilometers per hour. We had a sextant but for navigation we finally used the sun and stars—on some days we continued late into the night— and a compass on misty and cloudy days. We descended about ten miles more to the north than we had originally wanted to after complicated zigzaging among crevasses and séracs. After four days of walking through the coastal valleys and plains of West Greenland, inhabited by hundreds of caribou, on October 26 we finally reached the US Air Force Base in Søndre Strømfjord. After 41 days, our 40 days of food was just finished.

Vladimír Weigner, Czechoslovakia

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.