re-sized race map of Greenland

Still Arctic conditions for the Greenland Icecap Challenge

As temperatures begin to rise here in Europe, a thought must be spared for those extreme adventurers who are about to take part in the Greenland Icecap Challenge, an event that will run for most of this month. Greenland is the world’s largest island that is not a continent and the world’s second largest icecap. It is also one of the world’s least populated countries.

map of Greenland showing the Greenland Icecap

Greenland - the world's largest island

Nearly 81% of Greenland’s surface is covered by the Greenland ice sheet. The weight of the ice has depressed the central land area into a basin shape, whose base lies more than 300 m (984 ft) below the surrounding ocean. The southern portion of Greenland (not covered by glaciers) is relatively green in the summer – hence the country’s name. The highest point on the island is Gunnbjorn Fjeld at 3,700 m (12,139 ft), but the majority of Greenland is less than 1,500 m (4,921 ft) in elevation. Elevations tend to rise suddenly and steeply near the coast.

This will be a 540 kms (335mi) race, or more succinctly, a full traverse  across the Greenland icecap in an arc just above the Arctic circle where temperatures can be expected to drop to around the -35 C level. When you talk about ultra-endurance marathons, this is what they’re all about. The real McCoy. An event of this kind is only suitable for ultra-endurance Polar athletes.

It is organised by Extreme Outdoor Adventures and run by race director Charlie Paton, ex-Royal Marine and himself an extreme athlete and adventurer. Their motto is: Don’t be ordinary, be extraordinary.

The event will consist of 4 main stages. Stage 1 is challenging and reasonably short – just 25kms. However, the sun will be beating down on the competitors as they pick their way through small melt water channels and crevasses. The stage will be well marked as there are some deep melt water courses and dangerous crevasses along the way which must be avoided.

Stage 2 will cover approximately 160 kms and is expected to take between 6 – 10 days. Competitors will trek slowly up hill until reaching the rolling plateau which stretches out forever infront of them. It’s a long gradual uphill stage and will need to be challenged with caution.

Stage 3 covers about 200kms and is also expected to take between 6 – 10 days. The highest elevation of the race will be reached at this stage – 2,550m, and it is here that the temperatures will be at their lowest. Stages 2 and 3 have compulsory checkpoints that must be passed through.

The final race stage will cover a distance of 165km. This will be predominantly downhill and so will be the fastest stage expected to take between 4 – 8 days. The finish line is on the edge of the plateau where the ice meets land. After completing the race, competitors will get picked up by helicopter and flown back to civilization, unless there is inclement weather in which case they will have a breathtaking journey down towards the Fjord for a short boat ride to the final pick up point.

The race begins at Kangerlussuaq on the West coast and finishes on the fringe of the east coast above Nagtivit bay. Greenland’s typically unpredictable weather is to be expected over the vast expanse of exposed wilderness as well as 24hr daylight. Competitors may be solo entrants or teams made up of two, three, or four participants and have the choice of racing supported or unsupported.

the Greenland Icecap Challenge race map

The long days, altitude and unpredictable weather will combine to make this endurance race an extreme challenge. Competitors will navigate, ski and pull pulks (short, small low-slung toboggans) weighing up to 75kg over the rugged terrain in a race to be the first to cross the finish line. An extra adrenaline charge, if they still need one or have the energy for one, will be the necessity of keeping their eyes peeled for polar bears on the eastern coast.

The race is expected to take between 18 and 27 days and will be a record-breaking venture in this, its first ever running. The winning female of the solo unsupported category will become the first woman ever to complete a solo traverse of the icecap and the winning male in the solo unsupported catagory will become the first unassisted solo traverse on foot.

This race will, without doubt, push each competitor’s physical and mental boundaries.

If all this sounds interesting to you and sounds like something you would really like to do, then keep your ears and eyes peeled for registration dates for the 2012 event. It is not for you if you do not have the following qualifications: focus, commitment, decision-making, teamwork and sheer determination. These qualities will be needed in abundance to get through the Greenland Icecap Challenge.


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