This post is part 2 in a series about Greenland
Part 1 is the intro and can be found here.
This post will give some background on how I ended up on this trip, but will mostly discuss the gear required for a trip like this.
In October of 2015, I was sitting at my favorite restaurant in SeaTac airport waiting to catch a flight to Las Vegas. This was to begin my trip to the Eastern Sierras in California, with a stop in Death Valley on the way back. After my 2nd or 3rd glass of wine, I see an e-mail. It starts with “I just wanted to let you know that everything is now finalised for our expedition to the remote East Coast of Greenland and the incredible Scoresbysund fjord system in September 2017. As a prior traveler and early registrant I am pleased to be able to offer you one of the limited places available on the expedition”.
Oh right, I signed up to be on the notification list for this 7 months ago and almost forgot. I looked over the trip and I was hooked. So there I was, sitting at the bar in Anthony’s Seafood, filling out the form and sending it off. And with that, a 23 month countdown started until I was in the arctic.
New Greenland Portfolio
While creating the Greenland Series, I’ve added over 15 photos to be used in the various posts.
To view all of them at once, I created a portfolio for them all. I’ll keep adding more images as more posts are written.
I certainly had some preparation to do. But I also had time.
When you are going to some place that is difficult and expensive to get to, you have a tendency to really overpack and overbuy. For cameras, I went with the standard set plus an all-weather. A year before this trip, in late-Spring 2016, I went on a rafting trip with my cameras. For the rafting trip, I ended up buying a bunch of extra batteries and memory cards, partially so I could write to both cards at the same time. As a result, I had 7 batteries, 128GB of CF cards, and about 512GB of SD cards.
For computers, I brought my laptop and an external 1.5 TB mobile drive. This was more than adequate for the this trip, as I did not take many videos. After thinking about it, I ended up buying a new camera bag that could hold my chosen camera gear, a laptop, and a tripod on the outside.
After all of this, you might ask what is left – well, a trip to the arctic requires more than just cameras. You need gear, especially warm waterproof gear. And you need two of everything.
In the Arctic, there isn’t a store to easily replace items
You need to be prepared. Things can break, get wet, get too cold to operate, etc.
Space on boats is also limited. Cabins are small
It is the big dilemma
of a trip like this – you need to bring extra of everything, yet you are very limited on space in your cabin.
While the cabins are small, you don’t spend much time in them. Sure, you sleep in your cabin, but other than that, most people spend their time in the main room or out on deck.
At the same time, there are no stores where you can replace anything. If you lose a memory card, you may be able to borrow one, but if you rip your only pair of pants or break your only camera body, there isn’t much that can be done.
Due to a rafting trip the year before, I thankfully didn’t need to purchase much in the way of camera gear. When you are in the arctic, you don’t even need polarizing filters and rarely need a tripod. Since a polarizing filter is light, and I already had them, I brought 2. For a tripod, I brought the tripod I had also purchased for the rafting trip, a Really Right Stuff Series 1 ultralight tripod.
For the cameras, I chose my D800 and D750, the standard choice at the time. I also brought the standard travel set of lenses – 14-24, 24-70, 70-200, 24-120, and a 77mm close up filter.
One thing I did buy for this trip was a camera bag to hold everything (plus a laptop) and would fit comfortably in an overhead bin on just about any domestic or international airplane. This bag even fits on a CRJ, when the need arises.
The clothing, at least at first, seemed like a difficult thing to plan. When someone first thinks about the arctic, you typically think of cold, ice, etc. This really wasn’t true. While it was colder than back in Seattle, we went in September, before the sea ice freezes. Temperatures ranged from around 20F (-7C) overnight to 38F (3-4C) during the day with fairly low humidity. It was quite comfortable, although I ran into a problem where I had planned on it being around 10 degrees colder and some of my very cold weather gear was not used.
There are some basics that I always carry on cool/cold weather trips. I have two pairs of Under Armour Base Gear leggings, one a 2.0 and one a 1.5, which I originally purchased in 2011 and am still using today. I also have a single Under Armour Base 2.0 top, one from EMS, and a few REI branded tops that I purchased for $6 each. In addition, I have a handful of warm socks. Most of these socks are Smart Wool, which I have purchased over time and some of which were also purchased around 2011. Several pairs of these Smart Wool socks are skiing socks, but, they work really well for arctic hiking as well.
While your base layers keep you warm, you still need an insulating layer on top of it, one that is resistant to wind and water is even better. For pants, I use a pair of Arc’teryx Gamma MX pants, and a pair of Marmot softshell pants. The Arc’teryx pants have a lining, are warmer, and have better wind and rain protection, while the Marmot are lighter, more flexible, and thus are easier when using on hikes. I optionally also 2 pairs of waterproof pants which could be worn on top of the hiking pants. The waterproof pants were used when going on shore, riding in a zodiac, and when it rained.
On the top half of my body, I had several jacket combinations available. As a mid-layer, I carried an Eddie Bauer softshell jacket and a Patagonia fleece. If you have never had a Patagonia Fleece jacket, they are amazingly comfortable and soft. For a top layer, I had a combination of an Eddie Bauer winter coat, an Eddie Bauer softshell water resistant jacket, and a Patagonia waterproof/windproof rain jacket. While it was not an issue, I had 2 complete sets of jackets, in case one was too wet for some reason.
For a hat, I have a beanie from Columbia with their Omni-Heat lining. I don’t know how this works, but it is warm. I really like this little grey beanie. I also had an other beanie for this trip but did not end up using it.
Probably the most significant clothing purchase was cold weather muck boots. These boots are waterproof to just under the knee and are also insulated. I also carried a pair of Vasque winter hiking boots that are waterproof above the ankle and rated to -40.
While I had a few pairs of gloves, it wasn’t cold enough for me to really need them much and I’ve since forgotten what I packed.
And that is it, basically everything I brought for 10 days in the arctic on a boat. Even if it had been 10-20 degrees colder, I would not have changed much. Much of my gear was 5-6 years old during this trip, and I can’t think of anything from this trip that I don’t use today. These items are over 10 years old now, which just shows that when you buy a quality item, it can just last.
A part of me is amazed at how much gear was 6.5 years old at the time and that I still use today. A lot of this gear was purchased for a ski trip in 2011 and is still in use now.
Sometimes, when you are in insanely harsh environments, the reason that gear has a price becomes apparent. Expensive gear needs to last, and it needs to justify its price. But this is probably a long post for later.
Thank you for reading
I hope you enjoyed this post, there may be more like it in the future.