We’re excited to be able to bring you the latest instalment of Jesse Dufton’s expedition to the Stauning Alps in Arctic Greenland. Jesse, our current Bader Grant Recipient of the Month, who is registered blind/severely sight impaired, completed this gruelling challenge last year. We were delighted when he agreed to be our BGRotM and he has already sent in some amazing reports of the expedition and his part in it…
I always look forward to Jesse’s reports and, accompanied by Molly Thompson’s incredible photographs, they are always a treat. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!
Through telling my story I hope I can go on to inspire others to challenge themselves and go on to achieve great things, showing disability has no barriers. Jesse Dufton
Jesse’s story continues below:
Our expedition was more than just surviving in the extreme arctic environment and exploring on skis, we had scientific research to conduct too! Just like the well-known polar expeditions of the past led by famous explorers such as Shackleton and Scott which all had strong scientific elements, our expedition also had a scientific objective.
We aimed to install a network of ten ablation stakes on the Roslin Glacier and to collect snow pit data from pits dug during the stake installations. This data is valuable for calculating the melt rate (ablation) of the surface of the glacier.
Placing the stakes would allow us to compare the rate at which the surface of the glacier is melting to the rate of melting in the 1970’s which was measured by a series of expeditions using similar methods. It would also allow a longer term set of data to be established. These data are valuable as they allow us to refine complex computer simulations of climate change and sea level rise to ensure that the simulations are as accurate as possible.
I care deeply about the effects that climate change is having on some of our planet’s most wonderful, yet fragile environments. I work in the clean energy sector and hope that my efforts to document our expedition and to provide useful data for climate modelling will enable us all to appreciate how important it is to act and save these regions from irreparable damage.
After a long day slogging uphill, dragging about 120kg of sledge behind me the only thing I wanted to do after having dinner, was to snuggle up in my sleeping bag, get warm and get some rest. But we had snow pits to dig and holes to drill, so it was back out into the cold for more hard work. Our first few attempts to place the first ablation stake near the bottom of the Roslin Glacier weren’t very successful, which was extremely annoying. When we dug down through the snow (nearly 2 metres of it!) on our first attempt, we hit rocks sitting on top of the glacier (rather than ice which we could drill into). The 5 of us took turns to dig with small snow shovels, the pit measured approximately 3m x 1.5m – that’s a fair amount of digging! We dug 2 further pits that night but hit rock both times again.
The next day after about an hour of skiing, we tried again. Digging was a good job for me, I just needed to be shown were to dig and where to throw the snow, turns out you’re not supposed to throw it at Molly…! We dug 1.8m down and this time hit ice rather than rock. Success! I was on the drilling team with 2 others – we took turns to drill as we needed to keep the drill moving to avoid it being frozen in place. The drill sections were a metre long, so every metre we needed to add another section and keep drilling until we’d gone down 6 metres. Meanwhile the other team members took the snow temperature and density measurements every 10cm down the depth of the pit. The drilling was pretty smooth – going down 6 metres was quicker than I thought. Our first stake was installed only 10 to go!
After slogging uphill the rest of the day, we set camp up and attempted to place another stake after dinner. Unfortunately when drilling this time, we hit a rock that must have been buried in the ice about 30cm below the surface. This blunted the drill bit and we gave up for the night…it was getting late and we were all knackered. The following day, when we stopped for lunch, we dug another pit and successfully placed the second stake. But now that the drill bit was blunt it was significantly harder to drill the hole! We found that the only way to make noticeable progress was for me to climb up the sides of the pit and press down on the top of the drill with all my weight. Someone else would then stand in the hole, between my legs and spin the drill. We did try to rotate who was pressing on the drill and who was spinning it but as I was the heaviest, it was most effective when I was pressing on the drill. I know my place!
By the middle of our 2nd week on the Roslin, we had reached the mouth of the Dalmore glacier – which looked strangely familiar to the rest of the team. The line of stakes that the teams in the 1970’s placed was at this point along the glacier. Our team had studied sketches, line drawings and photos from their expeditions hence the sense of familiarity. We spent the afternoon here, drilling 3 more holes across the width of the glacier. We installed all 3 ablation stakes in good time, working together well, we shared the digging, screwing and measuring. A total of 7 stakes now installed!
The day we placed our last stake was tough. We were slower getting off in the morning and left camp at about 1100 – tent repairs were required. The wind was stopping and starting and we couldn’t work out our layers. It was obvious that the mountains funnelled the wind through this spot as there were windblown crests in the snow pack. These ridges kept on stopping the pulks dead, jerking on our hips and shoulders. I could feel and hear that the snow was a lot more crisp and bumpy. This made the going really tough and was slowly breaking team morale. The wind was picking up and we just wanted to keep slogging away, but we had to stop to dig the final pit and install our final stake. While digging the pit the wind was seriously strong. It was so cold! We built a snow wall behind the pulks to shelter from the wind while we grabbed a quick bite to eat. Despite this a few of us got really cold and very grumpy. This took the sheen off what was a huge achievement for us – placing the last stake! We didn’t want to stop and celebrate completing all our science objectives, we just wanted to get moving and try and get warm. Molly was pulling her pulk wearing her huge down jacket, struggling to fight through the wind and freezing temperatures. We ploughed on and somehow kept each other going for a further 4km to a point where we could safely camp.
On reflection that evening, it began to sink in what we’d managed to accomplish – our very own contribution to climate change research! Through all our hard work we’d managed to install a full set of 11 ablation stakes and initiate what we hope will be a long-term monitoring programme in the area. And more importantly a reason to return to re-measure the stakes!
Now it was just the small matter of crossing 2 high cols with our pulks, making the return journey down the Bjornbo Glacier and attempting some first ascents up previously unclimbed mountains, simple! Crossing the cols proved to be the biggest challenge of the expedition! To be continued in the last instalment…
As you will see from the above, we still have another instalment to look forward to. Watch this space!
As always, our very grateful thanks to Jesse for sharing his wonderfully inspiring story and to Molly Thompson for the stunning photographs. If any of the images on this post or Jesse’s previous reports really appeals to you and you’d like a high res copy, please contact us and we’ll get in touch with Molly.
(To check out earlier instalments of Jesse’s extraordinary trip please visit the Grants News section…)