Our expedition to Greenland was made possible through maintaining drive in order to raise necessary funds, put logistical plans in place and risk assess operations in the Arctic. Organising expeditions is incredibly challenging but it really pays off when they go well.
As with any expedition, our story began far from the idyllic Arctic setting. It began nine months earlier in my student halls in the University of Glasgow. One of the other expedition members and I had just returned from our first tastes of expeditions with the British Exploring Society and very naively began to talk about organising our own to Greenland. From the start, our aim was to communicate the issue of climate change to the general public through the work we would do out there. Whilst nearly every aspect of the way we thought the trip would go ahead would be turned upside down over the coming months, this aim was something we always made sure stayed.
Step 1: Our first step in organising the trip was to find the area we would explore. To do this we found the main international airport of Greenland in Kangerlussuaq. From here we traced roads that led to the ice sheet and glaciers a mere 30 kilometres away. To our delight, here lay the Russell Glacier, one of the main outlets of the West Greenland Ice Sheet and a fantastic platform from which to tell the story of the changing climate.
Step 2: With our location set, we could then plan the logistics of getting to and safely operating in Greenland. For our trip it came down to five main areas: flights, food, equipment, local services and insurance. As we added up what each of these would cost, it soon became evident that this was not going to be a cheap venture! Our total budget was £9568.62. Initially this terrified us. As two nineteen-year-old undergraduates, we had never dealt with that kind of money before. However, looking back, of course it was expensive. These areas are difficult to get to but that is what makes them so special.
Step 3: Ahead of us lay the long process of fundraising. We applied to a lot of grant organisations and companies for sponsorship. There are so many sources of funding in the UK for young people organising their own adventurous trips and we found that, with an ambitious objective and a strong message to communicate about climate change, we could write a convincing application. With the first batch of letters and emails sent off in early December, we sat back and eagerly awaited replies. However, as our expedition inbox began to fill up, we were greeted with email after email rejecting our requests for support. In total we got several hundred ‘no’s. But for every one hundredth ‘no’ we received, we had one ‘yes’. And we needed no more than ten of these ‘yes’s to build a successful expedition.
Looking back on the months leading up to the trip now, I am so glad that we kept positive through all of the stress and uncertainty. As we didn’t get the success with funding and support as quickly as we initially expected and with the expedition growing closer and closer, we realised that the original plan we had couldn’t go ahead. Because of this, we decided to move our departure date back by a few weeks and keep our fieldwork slightly closer to civilisation.
At the time, this really felt like we were failing, but now it is clear that these changes are what allowed the expedition to be such a success. With this we learned our most valuable lesson: plan for change. What allowed us to achieve what we wanted was to constantly be open to changing plans as new challenges came up.
There were five main lessons I learned that allowed us to pull the expedition together:
1: Perseverance even when your goal seems unachievable: Expeditions will always face challenges, these are the moments that will make or break you.
2: Keep a clear vision of the meaning of your expedition: Supporters will buy into this. Be it education or personal development, keep the message clear.
3: Read expedition reports from your area: Learn from past expeditions logistics and funding sources. The Royal Geographical Society has a huge library of reports at Geography Outdoors.
4: Plan for change: Be prepared for any eventuality in planning and on expedition and don’t be afraid to drastically change your plans.
5: Prioritise safety: Not having the right protection and contingency could put supporters off and stall progress. Maintain thorough safety plans from the start.
At the start of the planning process, I expected that we would have everything organised and could relax by May and we could spend the last two months training and catching up with friends before we left. However, the actual moment when I was sure that everything had come together and could finally relax was when we boarded our flight to Greenland. We learned how important it is to have total faith in your plans right up to the last minute as the last puzzle piece of support you need may come the day before you set off. This certainly was the case for us!
After all, we didn’t go on expedition for things to be easy, we went for the challenge and that is exactly what we got from day one of planning our trip.