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29 August 2011

Passion, Bite And Fire

Within two weeks I was back out on the water en-route to establish the third depot for a journey I have planned this winter. I won’t forget the day before departure in a hurry. I ran for nearly two hours before manually moving three tonnes of dog food that had come ashore off the supply ship. After which followed a four tonne delivery of sand and gravel to be shovelled level around my dog boxes. In the afternoon I had time to lie down, be it on an operating table, for another attempt to remove the metal plate and six screws from my hand.

My hand was all but held fast in a vice to hold it rigid because scar tissue had grown over the screw heads. There was a lot of metallic scraping and what I thought were surgical instruments moving about. The six screws had four different screws heads.

Although I did not know it, the doctor had anticipated the different screw heads and had made a visit to Ittoqqortoormiit's metal workshop. He'd used a combination of one surgical screwdriver and three Allen keys from the toolbox to successfully remove the screws. I nearly had a fit before he told me that they’d all been sterilised. Reassured, I was impressed with his resourcefulness and thanked him with a big smile.

The following day’s outward boat voyage took 30 hours but this time I slept for two of them. In my favourite combat trousers from Arktis and boots from Hanwag, the next seven hours of grunt work hauling supplies, fuel and the sectioned crate inland was the culmination of severe focus and an anvil-hard will not to leave until it was done. The stitches in my hand didn’t bleed much.

At that moment I wanted to be nowhere else in the world. It was a beautiful, clear and bright day.

When I was building this crate I wanted it bigger rather than smaller, thinking it could not only store supplies but also act as an emergency shelter. In a flash I remembered the miniature huts that were hauled up the face of Everest by British climbers to weather out storms and avalanches in the 1970s as they successfully pioneered new routes. Whose idea it was to build those huts in the first place I have long forgotten but here, inadvertently, I had the makings of one myself.

When I was a kid the mountaineering world seemed to be dominated by the exciting exploits of talented British climbers. In later life, I enjoyed reading the resulting books enormously. They comforted me in a way that is hard to describe. The best I can do is to tell you that it wasn’t so much the climbing of mountains that grasped my imagination but it was the way these driven climbers lived their dreams with passion, bite and fire. This was a time in my 20s when everything was indescribably grim. It felt like there was no way out and I fought my battles alone. But eventually, because I didn’t give in, I found a way to break free.

Now living a life full of adventures with my dogs, I clutch the dream close without ever a thought of letting it go.

Most of the stitches held while setting up the depot.

For more information about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com

18 August 2011


Despite being stuck in Nuuk for a month last spring, on my return I was quickly out again deploying two food and fuel depots for the coming winter. 200 kilometres out I ran into two Russians climbing mountains previously never summited.

On the 13th of August I was going out again. This time beyond the second depot to suss a route for a journey I have planned with my dogs next winter and to determine where I wanted a third depot.

After boating for 30 hours without sleep, the boat was anchored and I stepped ashore. I carried my survival gear which included Rab clothing, my Gerber mulititool, Zeiss binoculars, medical kit and because I never trust satellite phones, an ACR location beacon packed neatly into my Lowe alpine backpack.

For the next nine hours I explored and came back having seen what it was I feared about this section of the route. I suspected the area I was making for was going to be crevassed. And it was.

Two months previously I ran an advert on mountaineering websites, free of charge, thanks to kind editors. It ran something like this:

Ski-Mountaineer Wanted For Greenland Dog Expedition

Winter journey planned through crevassed areas
Timeline? February – March 2012
Crevasse skills vital
No experience with expedition dogs necessary
Expenses are your own

Once the advert was posted I forgot all about it. There was work to be done.

The reconnaissance trip was a success. Now the immediate plan was that in two weeks time I was to return, again by boat, to where I’d stepped ashore previously.  But this time with hefty supplies that included dog food, human food and fuel to cache into a depot crate.

To establish a depot I had to make a crate in sections so that it could be dismantled easily, transported by boat, taken ashore and carried to where it would be screwed back together again to safely house critical supplies.

So for the wood I went scrounging. I helped take down an old building for what I needed. I might add that the building was lawfully dismantled.

For what materials remained elusive I visited the dump for more salvage operations before setting about building the depot crate.

In the middle of August, as happened in July, we had snow flurries and the temperature remained unsympathetic to painting outdoors. So, undeterred, I carried each section on my back across Ittoqqortoormiit into a heated workplace to paint my handiwork.

Before heading to sea once again, one of the many other tasks I had to do was make crevasse marker poles, more gear  to be left in the depot crate.

For more information about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com

10 August 2011

Coffins, Tapeworms And Surgery

We had a vet visit. There’s nothing noteworthy about that unless you know that they had to fly 1,500 kilometres (as the raven flies) to get here. This was only the second vet visit to Ittoqqortoormiit, on business, in five years. They made their rounds and I made an appointment. I had dogs to be examined for minor ailments and medicines were ordered. During conversation the vets mentioned to me that the dogs of Ittoqqortoormiit appeared to be the healthiest, biggest and best cared for in the whole of Greenland. Heady praise indeed and it had to be shared so I made a point of mentioning it to friends here. The news brought lots of smiles.

Now I had peace of mind that all continued to be well with my dogs.  The dogs set back to relax and enjoy summer, sniffing the air as melting snow finally gave way to bare ground and different smells. I like to think that there were plenty of dreams of fresh snow and new adventures.

The first supply ship of 2011 was two weeks late because its slow and awkward passage was prolonged by masses of sea ice along Greenland’s east coast.

The ship anchored offshore and the supply containers were lowered on to a barge with a shallow draft. Fitted on the backs of trucks were cleverly designed hydraulic frames that lifted the containers off the barge before being driven ashore and distributed accordingly.

The rich and varied assortment of goodies and essentials brought ashore included, of all things, coffins.

After two days of kerfuffle getting its cargo ashore the ship blew its departure whistle, lifted its anchor with a chain that clattered loud enough to wake the dead and set sail. I was running at the time but I am sure that I wasn’t alone in inwardly thanking the crew and their captain for bringing us yet another year of supplies.

Work continued and I had jobs to do that included worming my dogs, to rid them of possible tapeworms and ascarids (roundworms).

It wasn’t a relaxing time. I still had the metal plate in my hand and the doctor was making noises about removing it. I finally relented after he reassured me that without mistake the screwdriver needed to remove the screws had been delivered. Injected with a local anaesthetic, and at ease, I settled back with my hand already sliced open, listening to the Ramones on my headset and enjoying the show as the doctor, with scalpel and screwdriver, set about what had to be done.

At this juncture it has to be said that I have a sense of humour that is based on the puerile, the insensitive and the uncouth.  So when the doctor said to me that the screwdriver was the wrong one and that the operation could not be completed I laughed out loud in appreciation of what a great joke that was. The room fell heavy with tension when everyone looked at my face realising he wasn’t kidding.

As I lay there, with my bloody gaping hand and with the inkling it was going to feel a little sore later on, I could not help but feel really bad for the doctor. He was not to blame because as far as I know those who had implanted the bloody fixture in the first place were the ones who sent him the tools for the removal job.

Suffice to say my hand was stitched back up and we discussed a future appointment. There wasn’t much laughing by this stage.

For more information about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com