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Engagés Phone Home: Expedition Greenland

This article continues to be updated, as five French explorers have been traversing Greenland's toughest terrain and sharing their progress via satellite phone.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

NOTE: This expedition has now been completed. Make sure that you check out Max Lainé’s recap of the final few days of Engagé, in his article which you can find here.

Their goal is to complete 700km in 30 days. Here is a day by day breakdown of the obstacles they face and how they overcome them as a team. The Outdoor Journal will continue to post updates as we receive them from the arctic.

Day 31: the ceiling rises, maybe an opportunity this afternoon

Since day 29, a long wait of the group for conditions of favorable visibility for the helicopter transfer towards Kulusuk.

Day 28: All records day. 30 km covered in 14 hours of walking with a beautiful sky at the end of the day! We turn on the stoves at 11pm to make water and eat. Tomorrow, wake up at 6am for the last straight line: stand the dead!

Day 27: We have just traveled 27 km in 13 hours of walking, the snow getting ever deeper and at the cost of a terrible effort. Small comfort at the 9th hour: we think to superpose our pulkas to reduce the friction.

Day 26: 3rd white day, without seeing further than the end of our skis. Smile and face. Thank you to all those without whom this expedition would not have been possible: Enzo.L, Clément.H, Fabienne.T, Jean-Marc.T, Chloé.G, Véronique.L, Christian.L, Philippe.L, Thibaud.D, Élodie.P, Juliette.N, Gérard.N, Agathe.D, Isabelle.D, Vincent.D, Fabien.D, Christophe.B, Niels.D, Amelie.D, Bernard.S, Catherine.L, Maxime de C, Caroline.P, Patrick.D and Eric. B.

Day 25: Again a white day, we move painfully in 30 cm of freshly fallen powder with always this headwind that taunts us and freezes our face. Between yesterday and today we have traveled 53 km instead of the necessary 64 km. Hope the weather will be more lenient ..

Day 23: 25 km traveled and we have just passed the highest point! Our food rations are numbered from 1 to 30, one for each day. We have 7 rations left (7 days) to cover the remaining 195 km.

We have two options:
a) have an average of 28 km per day for the next 7 days, which we managed only once 🙂
b) divide our daily rations to be able to walk 32 days … but the most voracious of the team already cries famine. For the moment we leave for the option a) so much as to tell you that our days of walk will lengthen

To be and to last: what does not kill us makes us stronger is the theory.

Day 22: After getting up early to catch up with the previous day, we are greeted by winds of more than 60 km / h instead of the 40 km / h announced. We make the decision not to move the camp to conserve our energy for the next 250 kilometers. We are taking advantage of this stormy day to readjust our equipment and take care of everyone’s injuries.

Day 21: Today 40 km / h with a headwind, Maxime testifies with a face full of ice.

Day 21: First technical incident, one of Antoine’s bindings broke under the cold … Fortunately we have two backup bindings before going to scotch. This worries us a bit, knowing that there is at least 23 0 km to go. Hope this is an isolated event.

Day 21: Values ​​of Sport and Entrepreneurship: Today we are walking for Accuracy and its consultants. Thoughts of the walkers for the despacitos team: you are the best!

Days 19 & 20: 50 km in 2 days, we are approaching the highest point of our expedition 2500 m, forecast for the night -30 degrees. Here is an example of ration for two that we eat every day, our favorite ingredient is butter! Have a nice week end!

Day 18: Today 25 km, we go out of our comfort zone to show you the bottom of the expedition. 30 days, only one slip that smells good!

The weather seems more lenient late afternoon, the sun has started to set! The whole team can not wait to get back on their feet. Starting tomorrow morning, we are increasing our daily pace to reach Isortoq in time. “Nights” shorten so much that at the end of our expedition there will simply be no more; it’s the eternal day!

Day 17: The wind blew terribly loud all night, 80 km / h measured this morning … which did not stop us from sleeping more than 12 hours in one go. The cold has the annoying habit of waking us several times each night. But it seems that during this storm temperatures are rising! Around -5ºC, thank you south winds!

In the morning, little respite, the tents and our pulkas are buried under a meter of snow. We are forced to go out to clear snow before being engulfed. The rest of the day is spent on repairs (gloves, sealskins, shoes), and writing for the poets of the team!

Day 16: We advance painfully for 5 hours with a headwind, at 13h the wind reaches 70 km / h and we decide to set up the camp before it is too late, in a stormy atmosphere.
When assembling tents the wind whistles so loudly in our ears that it blocks all communication between us. The tents slam and fail to fly but our actions and our roles are now fully honed. The word is superfluous: it is even the guarantee of our security.
In the tent it’s a whole different world. Confined certainly but we finally block out the screams of the wind … and spend the afternoon around endless hot chocolates to consume our rations. It’s warming up ! The tent is our cocoon – it only lacks a fire to perfect the atmosphere. We’ll suggest the idea to The North Face uopn returning 😉 Our stoves will do the job for now …!

Day 15: A “normal” day is 8 hours of walking. How much do you like the effort? In photo, our daily debate on the possibility of making a ninth hour or not?

An hour that earns miles but also nibbles our sleep, our energy and our mind.
Today 21 km of gained, 200 m of elevation gain, we install the camp at 2200 m altitude. In 5 days we will reach the highest point of our expedition at 2600 m.

Day 14: After two days of storm, we were able to advance 28 km in 11 hours of walking with a headwind of more than 30 km / h. It’s certainly the hardest day since we left!

Small gift on arrival: we finally reached the US military base of DYE. It was seen for more than a day of walking! This military base was built during the second world war to allow the American aviation to refuel on the way to England. It is a cubic building of more than 40m side that can accommodate fifty soldiers, doubled by a huge airstrip. It was informally used as a surveillance facility throughout the Arctic Circle (and beyond). The building was totally abandoned in 1988 at the end of the Cold War, but the airstrip still works (for military purposes).

Day 13: A second day blocked by the storm, we take advantage of a lull this morning to make an igloo, we can not wait to leave.

Today, Sunday (Day 13), strong winds continue to blow on the expedition with an improvement in the night. Restart the progress tomorrow morning.

We hope to be able to leave tomorrow morning, but the weather is uncertain, in the meantime we discuss, eat and write in our travel diaries, the adventure continues!

Day 12: Sleeping late, we got up at 8am, we stayed in the tent all day. Winds greater than 95 km / h were measured with Maxime’s anemometer. Our tents are covered with snow and slam with the sound of the wind.

Day 11: We advance 16 km despite a wind of 30-40 km / h from the Southeast, our bright cheeks begin to peel a little … (especially that of Max and Thomas). We end the day by mounting a wall of snow and taking 2 food rations per tent, the weather looks bad with winds of more than 80 km / h from midnight and Saturday all day.

Day 10: First stage with more than 20 km traveled, we take an extra ration of butter, Yum!

Day 9: 19 km, 1730 m high blue sky, we exceeded the cumulative 115 km. Our bodies and our minds are getting used to the effort and our pulkas are lightening day by day.

Tip of the day: At night, the temperature is around -25 ° C, it is important to brush the down to wake up to remove the ice that has formed, the risk is to meet one evening in an ice cube.

8th day, big blue sky, 18 km. The thermometer showed -22 ° C this morning at the exit of the tent, we start to have a little trouble out of the duvets 🙂
We prepare a little surprise for you in 5 days, stay tuned!

Day 7: 17 km, 150 m of elevation gain, big blue sky! We advance on a false flat amount. The landscape is white as far as the eye can see and sometimes some clouds come to play the disturbances. Maxime and Valentin, are illuminated by light bulbs, the morale is good.

Tip of the day: our daily rations are for two and numbered from 1 to 30 corresponding to the number of days.

Today: 19 km, 150 m elevation gain with typical Greenland weather, cloudy, white at the top and bottom.

4th day: 15 km in 7 hours of walking with 200 m of elevation gain. After one night at -20C, this is our first day entirely in skiing and it feels good to advance a little. We definitely leave the glacier on the west coast and the landscape becomes entirely white.

3rd day, we leave the glacier, tomorrow we leave the skis and we attack the cap !!
For more details, check our voicemail, number on our Facebook page;)

Second day, Storming the glacier! Having an ideal time, we walk on a sea of ​​ice. We move quickly, few crevasses, slight headwind. Second camp in the sun, trick 1: always put the tents back to the wind so that the first tent protects the second and third …

Bernard, Valentin, Maxime, Antoine, Lucas and Thomas started their expedition. Deposited Tuesday afternoon at the foot of the ice cap, they started their progression this Wednesday morning. To be continued…

Follow live the adventures of Valentin, Maxime, Antoine, Lucas and Thomas, who will try to cross Greenland from west to east, an adventure of a month, guided by Bernard Muller.

DCIM100GOPRO

After a beautiful expedition in April and May 2017, we always leave accompanied by Bernard Muller, one of the greatest French guides. At 5 participants, we will experience a unique polar adventure along the Arctic Circle. We leave Kangerlussuaq on the west coast of Greenland to get to Isortoq, a small fishing village on the east coast. In total, some 600 kilometers skiing in a raw and fascinating nature. We will need a flawless team spirit for this extraordinary expedition that Expeditions Unlimited is the only Francophone organization to offer.

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Running the High Road: The Advent of Distance Running in Ladakh

Very few places on Earth can produce athletes with the physical capacity of Ladakhis.

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WRITTEN BY

Siddharth Seshan

Coupled with great ambition, they hold unrivalled potential. There is something brewing in the North of India.

Sidharth Singh is a documentary filmmaker and sports broadcaster. This article compliments Sidharth’s film about Ladakhi athletes, which you can find at the bottom of this article. 

I was in the broadcast control room at the Mumbai Marathon in January 2017, overseeing the full technical rehearsal, when I noticed the South African graphics operators struggling with two names on the Indian Women’s Top 10 list. The names didn’t sound Indian, they said, and were sure there had been a mistake. I looked at the list and couldn’t contain my smile. Though the names were Tibetan in origin, they belonged to two young Indian athletes from Ladakh, Jigmet Dolma and Tseten Dolkar. I had been waiting for this day since 2014 when Nepalese ultrarunner Mira Rai burst onto the international skyrunning scene and I knew that it was just a matter of time before the mountain folk of India would do the same. The Ladakhis announced their arrival on the distance running stage with Jigmet securing a podium finish in Mumbai last year.

Jigmet is second from the right. Picture courtesy of Ladakh marathon archives

The youngest of three daughters born to Tsering Dolma, a subsistence farmer from Igoo village near Leh, Jigmet showed signs of athletic brilliance from a young age. When she wasn’t helping her parents in the fields or selling vegetables in the market, she took part in school athletics competitions, winning most of them. In 2012, she got an opportunity to run a half marathon for the first time, at the inaugural edition of the Ladakh Marathon, a landmark event in Ladakh’s sporting history. Subsequently, the promoters of the event, Rimo Expeditions, began taking the top Ladakhi runners down to Delhi and Mumbai to participate in other marathons and get professional training. By 2017, Jigmet had secured podium finishes at marathons across the country and stacked up career earnings of more than five lakh rupees, a huge amount for the daughter of a poor farmer, who used to get laughed at for running around aimlessly. When she returned to Leh from Mumbai last year, all her family and friends came to receive her at the airport. She shares half her winnings with her family and even helped her older sisters set up a roadside restaurant in Karu, on the Leh Manali highway. This is a small example of how the power of sport could be harnessed for social transformation among remote mountain communities.

Picture courtesy of Ladakh marathon archives

The founder of Ladakh Marathon, Chewang Motup Goba, is an unassuming gamechanger. An experienced mountaineer himself, Motup is a man who has always dreamed big. In 1983, at the age of 18, he attempted a solo ascent of Everest along the sidelines of an IMF expedition. Though he didn’t make it to the summit, this audacious attempt was representative of the die hard spirit of the Ladakhis. By the turn of the century however, all that Motup saw among the youth of Ladakh was a spirit of rebellion and decadence. This was most evident in the long winter months, when the region remains cut off from the rest of the world. Youngsters had taken to smoking, gambling, playing snooker and largely spending their time indoors in dingy spaces. The only outdoor sporting activity available during the brutal Trans-Himalayan winter was a primitive form of ice hockey that the locals played on frozen lakes, wearing old cricket pads. Through a friend in Canada, Motup contacted the National Hockey League Players Association, a body that promotes ice hockey around the world. The NHLPA sent 50 professional ice hockey kits to Ladakh and triggered the now famous Ladakh ice hockey story. Motup says, “My idea in life is that if someone is good at sports, he can survive in any condition. Most of our youth are not exposed to good education and cannot compete with people from other parts of the country, but being born at this altitude, with our god gifted big lungs and hearts, we have a natural potential to be good at endurance sports.”

Picture courtesy of Ladakh marathon archives

In August 2010, Ladakh was devastated by a flash flood that caused unprecedented damage to life, property and public morale. To inspire the youth and send a strong message to the world that Ladakh was up and running after the disaster, Motup decided to start the Ladakh Marathon and Khardung La Challenge Ultra. The idea of organising an international running event in Ladakh however, had been brewing in Motup’s mind for a long time.

In 1987, the Sports Authority of India launched a programme called the Special Area Games to scout for talent among remote tribal, rural and coastal communities for achieving excellence in sports. Rigzen Angmo, then a teenager from Skarbuchan village, was picked up under this scheme to run middle and long distance races. By the mid 90’s Angmo had won the Rath Marathon in Delhi and continued securing podium finishes across Asia with victories in Bangkok, Kuala Lampur and Kathmandu. She was counted among the top female marathon athletes in India at the time. Angmo’s misfortune was being a Ladakhi athlete in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmiri dominated state sports federation never selected her to run for the state team and therefore she never had the opportunity to represent India at international events like the Olympics. When the Special Area Games were scrapped, Angmo was lucky to find herself a job with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) where she currently serves as a Lieutenant Colonel. The irony is that while Rigzen Angmo’s athletic celebrity vanished into oblivion, it was her sporting talent that eventually provided her a livelihood.

This was the precedent Motup had in mind when he instituted the Ladakh Marathon. He knew that in order for Ladakhis to cut through the red tape of India’s sports federations, he had to put systems in place that would ensure that talent like Angmo didn’t fade into obscurity. Which is why he made the effort to engage Hugh Jones, Secretary of the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) to personally measure and certify the courses for both the marathon and the ultra. In doing so, Motup became one of the few private promoters in India to get an AIMS certification for his event. The certification brings the race into the fold of the timing-based system of qualification to run international marathons. Future athletes from Ladakh will thus be able to bypass the selection politics of sports federations to some extent.

Picture courtesy of Ladakh marathon archives

The icing on the cake is that both the Ladakh Marathon (3500m) and Khardung La Challenge Ultra (5370m), are currently the highest altitude AIMS certified distance races on earth, making them very attractive for international runners. The 2017 edition saw a participation of 6000 people from more than 35 countries, across 4 race categories. The Khardung La Challenge was capped at 150 participants and had 78 finishers, a big jump from the previous year. The gruelling 72k race across the world’s highest, all-weather vehicle accessible pass, has so far been dominated by young Ladakhi athletes from the Ladakh Scouts, a decorated infantry regiment of the Indian Army that specialises in high altitude mountain warfare.

In 2017, Shabbir Hussain of the Scouts broke his own course record finishing the 72k race in 6 hours and 23 minutes. Hussain and his compatriots Rigzen Norbu, Tsering Stobgais and Tsewang Tokdan have won all the previous editions among them. Most had never heard of an ultramarathon before they ran the Khardung La Challenge, happening in their own backyard. The marathon has become a successful recruiting ground for the Ladakh Scouts who have enlisted a number of local athletes in the recent past, based on their performance at the event. This prospect of job security has helped the event gain popularity within the Ladakhi community, that has now begun supporting the idea of sport as a means to livelihood. Seeing the potential of their athletes at high altitude ultras, the Scouts are now taking a keen interest in training them to compete internationally. And the best place for them to do so, is another world-class high altitude race that happens in Ladakh. One that has developed a cult following as ‘the cruellest foot race on earth’, known simply as La Ultra – The High.

Founded by the maverick Dr. Rajat Chauhan, who calls himself a ‘student of pain and running’, La Ultra is the holy grail of skyrunning in the Indian Himalayas. Writing for the Mint newspaper in August 2017, Dr. Chauhan says, “The flagship category at La Ultra is 333km that has to be covered in 72 hours, then there is 222km and 111km to be covered in 48 and 20 hours, respectively. As much as people get carried away by these numbers, it’s not the distance that is the deal here. It’s the conditions—altitude, the extreme temperature variations and weather—that participants are expected to run in. At the highest points, the oxygen level is as low as 60% of what we breathe at the plains. The temperatures can vary from 40°C to -10°C within a matter of hours. There could be a snowstorm followed by a dust storm. In this run, you can have frost-bite while having a heat-stroke.”

Picture courtesy of Ladakh marathon archives

Started in 2010, La Ultra was largely perceived as a race for international runners with people from 22 countries having run so far. But the 8th edition in 2017, signalled a turning point when it saw a major increase in participation among Indians, with close to 35 of them running across the 3 categories. It came as no surprise then to see the same boys from Ladakh Scouts, Stobgais, Norbu and Hussain smash the course record in the 111k category by more than 2 hours. The Ladakhis have begun taking control of their turf. With the right training and infrastructure in place, these athletes have the potential to do extremely well on the international skyrunning circuit.

Empirical evidence of this long held theory arrived in February 2018 when Dr. Aashish Contractor, Head of Department Rehab Medicine and Sports Medicene at Sir H. N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, conducted some tests on Ladakhi athletes. In a Facebook post he wrote, “Tested the VO2 Max of talented runners from Ladakh. Happy to report that they have world class values of more than 70 ml/kg/min of oxygen carrying capacity. This is the gold standard marker of their cardiorespiratory capacity, an indicator of success at endurance events like the marathon. With the right training and support these runners should make us proud at international sporting events. And who knows, maybe this will unlock a pool of talent, just as was done in East Africa (Kenya and Ethiopia), a few decades ago.”

Savio D’Souza, a former national marathon champion and popular running coach in Mumbai, has taken some of these Ladakhi athletes under his wing. He believes they have the right combination of ambition, discipline and physical capacity to make it to the top. He says, “The Sports Authority of India talks of working at the grassroots, well, this is where the grassroots is, in places like Ladakh. They need to take charge of these athletes and train them professionally.”

The Indian authorities need not look far for further evidence of Ladakhi potential. A glance across the Himalayas into China would be an eye opener. In 2017, the breakout stars at the 13th National Games held in Tanjin, in north east China were Topgyal, a marathon runner who represented China at Rio 2016; and Cheoying Kyi, a race walk silver medalist from London 2012. Both of them are of Tibetan origin and come from the same genetic stock as the Ladakhis. As usual, the Chinese are ahead of the game. Even the Nepalese have managed to identify and tap into the tremendous endurance potential of their mountain communities and fielded a men’s and women’s team at the Trail World Championships in May 2018. With two world-class distance running events taking place annually in Ladakh, a symbiotic feeder system, from a common talent pool could be created and nurtured to perform on the international stage. This requires participation from all stakeholders within sports federations, the government, the private sector and most importantly, the people of Ladakh themselves.

Running The High Road from Harvest Pictures on Vimeo.

Sidharth Singh is a documentary filmmaker and sports broadcaster. He runs Harvest Pictures, a film production house based in Mumbai.

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