Falling apart at the seams
What now; a good cry for starters.
Poor Alasdair tested positive for covid as did one other member of group. Oh, crap! Thankfully, everyone else including Jenny, Ken and I were all negative; at least for the time being.
As the sick went into isolation and I hastily shipped out of our room yet another re-plan got underway. The barometer had fallen and everyone’s spirits followed to match the grey wet weather.
There was going to be limited involvement with the nation day activities to ensure we limited contact with the community. The move to camp would go ahead, but the group would be minus two.
My head and emotions were in turmoil. Alasdair is classed as ‘at risk’ and had we been at home he would have been given anti-viral treatment. There was no pharmacy and no doctor in Qasigiannguit. Worst of all, I had to keep my distance and not care for him while he was sick.
Alasdair was upset too feeling terrible physically and mentally. He was going to miss the last Global Odyssey 100. I was going to be without my rock of a support crew. I re-assured him. It was ironically fitting that he had not been at the first 100 and he would not be at the last. I would manage; make drop bags and Phil would help. There was nothing we could do now but let it play out whatever way it would.
During a gap in the rain Jenny, Ken and I decided to go recce some of the yellow trail out towards the fiord. We discovered a well-marked, clear and runnable trail. There was a little dance of celebration in my head. Small victories.
The departure to the camp got delayed. We sat watching the wind and the rain. The revised departure time came and went, the rain persisted. The afternoon transitioned towards evening and any enthusiasm I had to go to the camp waned. It was going to be a late night and preparations for the next day were going to be a faff at a wet camp. Why don’t the runners stay here? It would be much easier and we could re-gig the route because let’s be honest, it was already a bit fluid. I decided to make myself unpopular and asked for us to stay in town. Definitely not popular, but it was more important to take control and set us up well for the challenge of the 100k.
Day of attrition – the first 45k
The dream shattered.
Where do I start? How do I find the words to describe the contradictory experience that pushed my fortitude to the limit and so emphatically destroyed my vision. But which was also the purest distillation of the essence Global Odyssey 100 ethos: challenging and extreme; a quest for paths less trodden.
I shall start at 3:15am on Wednesday 22nd June 2022.
The sky remained leaden. There was a scattering of fresh snow on the hills with light snow showers blowing in. Yesterday’s icebergs had re-arranged themselves in the bay and been joined by fresh ones. Greenlanders could not remember ever having experienced conditions like this at mid-summer.
The already unpredictable weather made more so by global climate change. During the winter supply boats were unable to reach Iliulissat and Qasigiannguit for three months reducing them to basic rations. The spring had been both longer and colder than usual, delaying the ice melt and movement of the ice down the fiords into the sea. Snow, lakes still frozen, bogs and fast streams of ice melt that should have dried up by this time. This would impact the run necessitating diversions, re-routing and slow pace as we navigated through it.
At 5:00 am we emerged from the house to our start line in front of the icebergs. Excited and in good cheer we set off up the hill cold, damp but dry conditions. Once above Paradise Bay, as expected, our progress slowed significantly. We started to hack across the tundra as the crow flies between the stone markers. The tundra. Think virgin moorland and fell. Low shrubby plants like heather, cushions of moss, bog in between.
The washed away bridge was a surprise. We surveyed the gap. A Killicrankie type leap? Probably not. Better to head up stream in search of a safter crossing point. Mission accomplished although there was an undignified snow bum-slide on the return crossing.
When we neared the tip, we were wide of the GPX which messed up the support rendezvous. I heard the boat, we started to move towards the sound, then spotted it in a bay below. How to get down? I spoke to Phil on the radio but we just could not see each other. Jenny suggested we stop wasting time and make the turn. We could rendezvous back at Paradise Bay. I let Phil know and we started back.
The return was faster as we opted for a ‘don’t fight the terrain’ strategy as we confidently ignored markers and took the high ground where there was less vegetation and shelves of rock. I spotted two musk-ox on the opposite ridge. The first wildlife spot.
Section one completed we ascended back through the town onto the trail to the fiord. This easy path tracked alongside the still frozen lake Tasersuaq. We made good time to the fiord and the next rendezvous. The cloud was lifting and the sky brightening. Wildlife spot number two; a pair of sea eagles. The white tail feather the give-away. My first ever sighting of one.
This is where we transitioned onto the Iliminak trail. The comfortable happiness that was a clear path was short-lived. It continued round the base of a hill then bore off to the right. We quickly deduced that this was the waterfall trail that had been the subject of some discussion when planning the route. I had wanted to add it as a dog-leg, but was told that extraction would be difficult. It looked like a good solid path and would add in a good 2k. We considered being naughty, but decided to it was probably best not to worry the guys on the boat.
There was no obvious path in the direction we were to go. The GPX seemed to point towards a steep scree covered saddle between the hills which looked sketchy. Remembering the ‘stay high’ advice we scrambled up the hill beside us only to be forced down the other side onto the shore, which we decided to follow. There was a long tedious scramble over rocks, but there were fantastic views over the fiord and the icebergs.
The shoreline littered with hundreds of small dead fish was less pleasant. They were capelin which come close to the shore in their hundreds to spawn but fall foul of the shallow water and tides. I am not sure if this counted towards the wildlife spotting tally.
The terrain opened and spread out with a valley ahead. A glance back revealed that this side of the aforementioned saddle looked as precarious as the other. The scramble round the shore may have been slow but probably the best option.
A sound made me turn. A spout! I screamed at Jenny & Ken, ‘Whale! whale! The curve of its back gave way to the gentle rise of its tail which then slipped under the water with hardly a ripple.
With a happy sigh we turned back to the task in hand. We were learning to avoid the thick tundra and moved onto the hill at the edge of the fiord in search less dense tundra and hopefully some tables of rock. To our left more views over the fiord and to our right, on the far side of the valley cliffs and crags. It was magnificent. I may have discovered my superpower, and it was on fire. Movement caught my eye. It looked like a dog. A dog? On the second sighting I realised it was an arctic fox; it’s coat still transitioning from white to dark.
We kept scanning for a glimpse of our next rendezvous point the camp at the top of the fiord. The Relief and pace increased when a lake came into view, but our hopes were dashed; this was not the lake we were looking for. A quick check of the GPX indicated we still had a good 5k to go. The quest for the elusive campsite was beginning to feel search for Brigadoon.
Unsure of what the terrain at the end of the ridge would be like we decided to make a tactical descent, maybe too early. As we moved down into the shade there was a corresponding dip in mood as more obstacles presented themselves. As beautiful as it was the tortuous progress was tiring and our fatigue made it harder to deal with them. An unexpected river blocked our way. Steep scree to the left, river to the right. After an ill-thought-out attempt at the scree, we managed to jump onto a dry section in the middle of the river.
Finally, we turned a corner literally and metaphorically: we had found Brigadoon, but another river blocked our way. A torrent of deep fast-flowing melt water. There was no choice this time: wet feet. Not a problem when dry socks and shoes were close at hand. Oh, dear god it was cold. Goretex shoes full if ice melt should be avoided at all times.
I was so relieved to reach the beach and the respite offered by the boat. A chance to get warm; eat some hot noodles; some coffee. Dry socks and shoes.
As I clambered onto the boat I was hit by a wave of darkness and despondency. Emotionally I hit rock bottom. It had taken 11:30 hours to cover 45k and it didn’t take a genius to work out that this was going to take in excess of 24hrs and probably close to 28 to complete. What was I doing? Did I even have it in me? At that precise point I feared that I didn’t. I missed my rock. The reassurance of Alasdair’s warm hug, his calm logic and words of encouragement. Honestly, I was giving serious consideration to quitting.