They dreamed of skiing first couloir descents, and sharing a great band-of-buddies adventure… It’s mission accomplished for five French and Swiss freeriders, whose expedition to Liverpool Land in Greenland fulfilled their objective – and then some!
April 6, 2016
April 22, 2016
IT BEGAN WITH A â€˜â€˜PEANUT BREAKâ€™â€™
The idea of skiing in an unexplored land first came up in 2008, somewhere between the Simplon and Gotthard Passes in Switzerland:
“We’d been on a week-long raid with Renat,” recalls Marc Buschi, one of the five-strong expedition crew alongside Reynald Bourdier (aka Renat), Jean Collinet, Steve Muskens and Franck Richemond. “During those seven days, we saw absolutely no one – and that definitely increased our desire to repeat the experience. While enjoying a ‘peanut break’, we said to each other that it would be cool to go and explore some virgin playgrounds, without a single ski mark…”,
The east coast of Greenland – the renowned Liverpool Land in the High Arctic – soon impressed itself on the guys as THE destination, owing to its wild allure and the many Alpine-like couloirs that carve through the ice cap – one of those mythical territories that take root in the imagination of childhood.
It was time to build a team.
“Renat, Jean, Steve, Franck and I were used to taking trips together. We’d already been riding couloirs in Uzbekistan, Alaska, British Colombia, Kamchatka... We were all up for it, but the hardest bit was finding a diary slot to suit everyone!”
The years flew by, but the urge to behold the edge of the world resurfaced whenever they met up...
"We said to each other that it would be cool to go and explore some virgin playgrounds"
Liverpool Land (Greenland) is a massif towering over an ocean of ice.
Practically uninhabited, it borders Scoresby Sund, the world’s largest fjord.
WINNING MXP CLINCHED IT!
In the end, it was entering the MXP contest that set things in motion: “We completed our application in four days, and presented it to the MXP judges on April 16, 2015. The chicken was about to hatch, but we were full of doubts. Winning clinched it. Mountain professionals believed in our project, and showed us that our expedition was feasible.”
Then everything speeded up: they finished recce-ing the terrain on Google Earth, discussed their plans with the mountaineers from France’s High Mountain Military Unit (GMHM), and with dietary specialists to fine-tune the last practical details; then selected equipment for extremely cold conditions with Millet’s product managers and technical advisers… They also did some training, but no more than usual – the team was super-fit, especially as it was the end of the skiing season.
April 6, 2016: departure time, at long last. The team set off for Iceland, first of all, then for Constable Point, a small Greenland airport lost in the middle of nowhere, which has a weekly service with Reykjavik. Our gear – all 770lbs (350kg) of it – had arrived before us. On landing, all we had to do was prepare our pulkas and get going… Exciting moments!
“We had a three-and-a-half day approach walk ahead of us, But we’d deliberately opted to set up our first bivouac two miles from Constable Point, by the fjord, to sharpen up and test our gear in situ. It was a fantastic night, and we slept like babies!”
The chicken was about to hatch, but we were full of doubts.
The team set off again, feeling reassured! Conditions were good. It was bitterly cold, for sure, but they had top-notch equipment and there was plenty of sunshine. Practically without a hitch, the five skiers reached their camp site at the foot of their couloirs – just a few dodgy sections amid the ice, crossing a 800m stretch of D+ terrain with their pulkas…
“We set up a comfortable camp, and pitched the big igloo tent lent to us by Jean Annequin. We’d decided to have just one, to be together all of the time. We also carved a table and benches in the ice, plus a little corner for the stove, because we constantly had to make water… .”
For a week, they had a terrific time striking out from this “nest” in multiple directions. Their only contact with the outside world was a chat every two or three days with Sébastien Meylan, our weatherman, Isabelle Ménis, Marc’s girlfriend, “who we fed news so she could update our Facebook page Inuit Lines.”
And the word from the weatherman was positive. Despite a few very windy episodes, they managed each day to tame the surrounding landscapes – bagging sheer slopes, negotiating sections up to 50°, and searching for the best way into couloirs that are tailor-made for adventure.
And with each route, the opener gave it a name for fun. There were eight in total: “Dimanche entre amis” (Sunday with friends) for the very first, a particularly steep affair; “La Belle et la Bête” (Beauty and the beast), the second, “gorgeous but a shocker to ski down”; “Vous allez adorer” (You’re gonna love it) for the third, “thinking of our girlfriends back in France”; “Timoline” for the fourth, a blend of Renat’s kids’ names; then “Silence radio”; “Gropinopette”, Jean’s daughter’s nickname; “Baby Lou”, ditto but Steve’s; and “Tingerlaat”.
After their exertions, they didn’t stint on home comforts – as with this fondue, rustled up to celebrate opening their first route!
And with each route, the opener gave it a name for fun
A TREMENDOUS HUMAN ADVENTURE
“These superb couloirs were an excuse for a tremendous human adventure. We didn’t go there to carry off amazing feats – we were guided by pleasure. We spent the trip in isolation, which seriously intensified our emotions, but everything went really well. Our backbone was ultra solid, and everyone stepped up. We doubled down on essentials,” adds Marc, who admits to “learning a lot”, having embarked on the trip “hell-bent on succeeding.”
He also learned about giving up, when, right at the end, a health issue forced him to transfer by helicopter to Constable Point. A decision made after conferring with his teammates and the doctors at the mountain health center (Ifremmont) back in Chamonix, an MXP partner.
It was a tough call, depriving Marc of the 48-hour return walk and obliging him, anxious and stressed, to track this last expedition highlight via satellite.
But that too is part of the MXP winners’ mindset: pulling together, sharing wonderful experiences, and living their dreams to the full – but also knowing when caution is required.
This last trait was underscored by the challenging return trip. Bye-bye friendly weather! The team had to grapple with a zero-visibility white ocean, swept by glacial winds. They slogged non-stop through the storm for 12 hours before finding refuge in a trapper’s cabin, their last stop before getting back to base, and seeing Marc again, in a mood of relieved contentment.
Pulling together, sharing wonderful experiences, and living their dreams to the full – but also knowing when caution is required.
“We began the trip full of doubts but came back full of certainties,” concludes Marc. “And we know we’ll all do it again in two or three years’ time. We’ve got a few ideas… .”
MXP made it happen
“All of us were apprentice expedition organizers – the hangtags were still poking out of our backpacks! Winning MXP meant we could become part of a group and receive comprehensive back-up. Ahead of the trip, we had access to professionals who advised and reassured us… And for enlightened amateurs like us, that was of paramount importance.”