GREENLAND SNOWKITE: DAY 13 – If James Bond had a kite it would look something like this…


Day 13 – unlucky for some, lack of wind stopped play before it started. So this little snippet is from some handy hints my friend Dave sent me to combat tent fever. It got me thinking about how much trust we put in modern technology.


Forget all these fancy electronic navigational devices, and craft your own personal Sextant. An old geometry set will access a protractor, a vanity mirror from you make up set (see post on how to be photogenic) and the sight from the rifle and bob’s your uncle as the saying goes. No problem about getting a noon sighting with your 24 hour sunshine; then it’s just simple maths to subtract the declination to calculate latitude. Armed with a modern watch set to London time, longitude will be no problem at all. Think yourself lucky that you’re not hauling the bulk of John Harrison’s H5″


It was on the plane over here that we had a sudden realisation that we didn’t have a map. Early in the planning process I had vetoed the idea of purchasing one on the basis that I didn’t think we would be getting good value for money with a map that was just a blank featureless sheet of paper with a squiggly line down the left hand side depicting the West coast. But then I thought of the endless news reports in the Westmoreland Gazette with Nick Owen, the leader of the local mountain rescue team, chastising some ill-prepared walkers for getting lost and only having a mobile phone and no map and compass. So we panicked and to much relief we found that the Air Greenland in-flight magazine has a full page map of their routes. This page was duly pulled out, and stored, quite ironically, in the top of our technology bag. It is not the first time I have been so I’ll prepared, in my twenties I went to do the Haute Route from Chamonix to Saas fee and got the map out at the top of the Col de Chardonnay on day one to find it was the 1:50000 map of the Cairngorms.

Day 13 Photo 2

Leo studying our one and only physical map torn from the in-flight magazine.

But before our friend Finn at the Greenlandic expedition office reads this and sends a helicopter to pluck us to safety straight away, let me redress the balance of incompetence. The first time I had an appreciation of the power of GPS technology was one stormy evening above the Langdale valley. I, with three other rescuers were riding up to Pavey Ark in the big yellow Sea King to go to the aid of two trapped walkers stuck in a snow filled gulley in a storm. Their position had been roughly calculated by the police using their analogue mobile phone. It was too stormy to land the rocking and rolling helicopter, so we were winched out. Not sure of our exact position, one of the party, Bill, powered up his newly acquired GPS, and we got an accurate fix within a few minutes. Then by chance on the descent back to the valley the helicopter spotted what they thought was a light through a small break in the cloud. They took a GPS fix from the aircraft and radioed it to us. We dialled this in to our unit and then followed the track through the cloud and around avalanche prone gullies until we came to the position, and there they were flashing their torch and blowing their whistle. I think this was about 23 years ago, and as far as we knew at the time this was the first time anyone had been rescued in the UK using this technology.


And the last few days of snowkiting in whiteouts has brought back that appreciation of GPS technology. When we are riding in formation one behind the other in a whiteout the lead person feels the wind on their face, this gives a reasonable clue about direction of travel with maybe with an error of about +/- 20 degrees. The feeling of wind on your face has to be adjusted for apparent wind, which is the wind you generate through your own speed (Google it, to see how it changes the angle of wind you feel). We also use the sun, or in our case slight areas of brightness caused by the sun through the cloud. Together with knowing the time, we hold a mental view of what position the sun is in. Then every hour or so we check our heading with the two GPS trackers that we have. One of the trackers, the Delorme InReach uploads this data every 20 minutes to our tracking page (although sometimes it goes to sleep when we have a stop and doesn’t upload for 4 hours. Sorry, we can’t fix this in the field). We have a total of 7 devices with GPS receivers as part of our kit, we are very reliant on them. We also have plenty of electronic maps and spare batteries. If the GPS system gets switched off on our trip then it would be awkward to navigate. But at least we would not attract the wroth of Nick Owen in that we have our Air Greenland map and a compass somewhere as well…