Reflecting on an epic Inspiring Explorers’ Expedition

They battled hurricane conditions, heavy snowfalls and illness, but the six-person Antarctic Heritage Trust Inspiring Explorers’ Expedition reached the finish line of their 560-kilometre crossing of the Greenland ice cap almost a month after they set off. They made the journey on skis while pulling 60-kilogram supply sleds behind them.

Antarctic Heritage Trust selected four young explorers for the expedition from a pool of nearly 200 applicants. Two Kiwis; Brando Yelavich (24) and Hollie Woodhouse (33) and two Australians; Bridget Kruger (30) and Keith Parsons (28), were joined by Executive Director Nigel Watson and Ousland Polar Exploration master polar guide Bengt Rotmo.

The team left the west coast of Greenland on May 4 and arrived in the small village of Tasiilaq (on Greenland’s east coast) on Saturday, 2 June.

The crossing is the Trust’s third Inspiring Explorers’ Expedition and proved to be the most challenging yet.

Nigel Watson says the team’s final day saw them ski for 21 hours.

“We set off at 10.00am. A possible polar bear sighting had us on edge, but it turned out to be an illusion! We continued to ski and eventually saw mountains – there was great excitement after seeing nothing but a flat, white horizon for weeks. We stopped for a hot meal at 1.00am before reaching the end of our journey at 7.00am – there were hugs and tears of relief.”

The expedition honoured Fridtjof Nansen, the renowned polar explorer and humanitarian, who completed the first crossing of Greenland 130 years ago in 1888.

Keith, who was in charge of filming content on the expedition said, “It was special for me to have Nansen’s story
as the backbone for the trip. The sheer audacity of what he did 130 years ago, to get a bunch of capable people together, put two dots on the map and say “we’re going between them” without regard for his or others’ lives, was astonishing. During the expedition I often reflected on what it would have been like for Nansen’s team, who hunted fresh food across the ice cap and slept in reindeer skins. In contrast, we ate our freeze-dried food while wearing the best gear money could buy.”

New Zealand outdoors company Kathmandu sponsored the expedition with the team road testing their new XT Series, designed for extreme environments.

The expedition was hugely challenging for all team members both physically and mentally. Hollie Woodhouse had never been in a polar environment, and wasn’t sure what to expect. She says she was “totally out of my comfort zone, but I’ve come out stronger because of it.” Hollie notes that apart from a selection weekend earlier in the year, “we were a team of strangers who were put in a hostile environment and had to rely on each other. Early on, I knew I was with an amazing group of people whom I could trust and who would have my back.” Her advice to others is to never give up. “Having the courage to do that first scary step or do that thing you have dreamed about can lead to a whole lot of new adventures.”

One mental challenge the team faced was a lack of external stimulus for 29 days, travelling through a vast white landscape that seemed endless. Brando Yelavich says, “The various landmarks, including a massive old radar station at the halfway point, were the only things we could hold on to as a goal to reach. It was quite tough on my brain as I have ADHD and need a lot of stimulation with physical things. Some days being on the ice was like looking at a blank canvas but having no inspiration to paint.”

In the last 21 hours of the expedition everyone agreed it was awe-inspiring as the east coast of Greenland was in sight.

Bridget Kruger describes the final descent: “It was a magical, fantasy-like day. We started to see mountains emerge out of the vast whiteness around us – the first real thing we had seen in 27 days. As the mountains grew into view, we skied closer to the sea and were finally going downhill. It was a lot of fun. As the day grew into night, the sun set over four or five hours, blanketing us in this stunning light that sparkled off the snow. The moon was rising, a huge, gorgeous fiery orb. The scene looked like we were skiing down on this sea of clouds to meet the moon. It was the most beautiful evening of my life, and the images will be forever imprinted on my memory.”

The team are now delivering outreach programmes supported by the Trust, with the aim of sharing their experiences, and encouraging others to get out and explore.

Nigel says that will be the most important part of the expedition. “The reason the Trust undertakes these expeditions is to encourage people to get out and explore the amazing world we live in. By sharing their story, the team has the opportunity to inspire someone else to do something they never have before – an experience that could be life changing.”

Thank You

The Trust would like to acknowledge expedition sponsor Kathmandu and expedition partner Ousland Polar Exploration for helping make the trip possible. Thanks also to Lumix, Rode and GoProNZ for the use of camera gear and equipment.