On a wing and a prayer: Yukoners set for Greenland expedition

Keep the wind at your back, is an old cliche that a pair of Yukoners are taking literally. In just over a week, Devon McDiarmid, 34, and Derek Crowe, 34, will set out on a 65-day, 3,500-kilometre expedition from the southern edge of Greenland's ice cap to its northern tip...

Keep the wind at your back, is an old cliche that a pair of Yukoners are taking literally.

In just over a week, Devon McDiarmid, 34, and Derek Crowe, 34, will set out on a 65-day, 3,500-kilometre expedition from the southern edge of Greenland’s ice cap to its northern tip and back down again at least part of the way.

“People have gone from the south to where our end point is, but they haven’t gone straight to the northern tip, so that’s what makes our trip unique,” said McDiarmid. “We’re going back down (partway) to save on the pick-up cost.”

“I don’t see it as a massive terrifying thing, I see it as really nice way to live for a while,” said Crowe. “And I see it as a rare opportunity to see a place that may not exist when my daughter is my age.”

Their mode of transportation is relatively new: kite skiing.

Decked out with skies and using large sails that resemble parachutes, McDiarmid and Crowe, along with British adventurer Adrian Hayes, will be pulled along the snow and ice by northbound winds. At least that’s the plan.

“The kiting is going to be a new form of transportation for myself, said McDiarmid. “As for hauling the sled, I’m pretty experienced in that. As for training, everyone is doing their own thing. Adrian is in Dubai, so he’s been pulling tires in sand. Derek spends a lot of time in Carcross, so he’s chopping firewood and hauling it out on a pulk. I’ve been skiing with a pulk and sandbags.”

They will make the months-long journey unsupported, meaning they will have to carry all their supplies in two sleds (or pulks) tied together.

“We’ll have to carry about 110 to 125 kilos of gear each,” said McDiarmid. “We’ll have two pulks tied side-by-side and that’s where all our gear will be. The idea of tying them together is to make them really stable so they don’t flip over—like a catamaran.”

Of course, 65 days is an estimation. The trip could take less time, but anything more will make meals a little sparse towards the end of the journey.

If they fall too far behind schedule, they have contingency plans in place.

“We’ll know in advance how we’re doing, so we can start rationing—we can start cutting back on the food,” said McDiarmid. “Realistically we could make it a 75-day trip. But if something goes bad—someone gets injured or something like that—we do have rescue insurance and Greenland Air has helicopters all around Greenland. They’re ready to pick us up.”

It is a quest for adventure, but the trio will conduct some science as well.

Working with an environmental group called One Planet Living and some Danish and Canadian polar researchers, the trio will collect samples, do tests and observe wildlife on the journey.

“We’re going to try to observe some rare birds,” said McDiarmid. “We will also be taking wind measurements, snow density measurements and digging a few pits along the way.

“We’re not scientists, we’re adventurers, so we’re not focusing on the science so much. We’re using our trip as a medium to raise awareness.”

Though they will be travelling alone through the icy wilderness, they will have a virtual following.

At the website www.greenlandquest.com, web surfers can track the adventurers’ progress and view daily photos thanks to some high-tech gadgetry, such as satellite phones.

“You can follow our progress,” said McDiarmid. “There’s a map that’ll show the distance everyday and shows pictures and a little story everyday. We’ll be maintaining that all the way. We’ll try to get a least one photo, if not a couple, up on the website every day.”

There is also a chat line. The three encourage people to submit questions about the journey, and they’ll

be answered by the trio or scientists associated with the trip.

The third adventurer, Adrian Hayes, 44, was a client of McDiarmid’s last year when the two completed an expedition to the South Pole. It was McDiarmid’s second journey to the pole.

“When you finish trips, you start thinking of other trips, so he asked me the question of what I’d like to do next,” said McDiarmid. “I said I’d like to do a ski trip across Greenland. It kind of blossomed from there.

“This one will probably be my most rewarding trip, if we are successful.”

McDiarmid is an experienced woodsman and adventurer who has spent numerous seasons in the Antarctic. Currently he manages a ski and cycling shop in Whitehorse.

Hayes is an Englishman that resides in Dubia, United Arab Emirates. It is not coincidence the trip’s sponsor is the Emirates National Bank of Dubai.

Hayes also holds a world record for visiting the Earth’s “three poles” in the shortest period of time. In 19 months and three days, he hiked to both the North and South poles and reached the summit of Mount Everest.

Crowe has been to Greenland before, to document the first time the country hosted the Arctic Winter Games.

However, his experience as a northern photographer goes far beyond, having covered the Yukon Quest dogsled race and traveled extensively through Canada’s North in search of the next great shot.

His work has been published in Canadian Geographic, the Globe and Mail, the Boston Herald, the London Times and the Yukon News, among others.

“The thing I’ve done closest to this is covering and photographing the Yukon Quest,” said Crowe. “What that’s given me is the ability to operate cameras in really cold temperatures.”

The adventurers might consider packing cake among the expedition’s supplies. While on the journey, all three will celebrate their birthdays.

“We just figured that out the other day,” said McDiarmid. “I’ll bring something for the guys. I don’t know if they’re bringing anything—tell them I like scotch.”

Crowe’s still making his way through “thousands” of preparations, but surprisingly preparing his iPod is currently at the top of his list.

“On any mix tape there’s always that one song that drives you crazy,” said Crowe. “I’m trying to make sure I have a good selection of music and a few e-books.”

See video at www.yukon-news.com.

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com