Harry Newmark shares his thoughts and wisdom on how to prep for a demanding climbing expedition.
All photo credits in this blog go to Harry, Eve and Oliver
The Expedition: one month of mountaineering in the Ikâsartivaq Fjord, East Greenland
The Challenge: how on earth do you plan the food for this?
Who, what and where?
Harry Newmark, Eve MacCallum and Oliver Smaje were excited to travel to East Greenland in August 2023 for a month-long mountaineering and climbing expedition. The University friends all had experience climbing in Scotland and abroad, but had never participated or even planned an expedition of this scale before.
This blog covers the questions that they had before going and the tips and lessons they learned.
Here is Harry’s account:
“It quickly became apparent that the crux of our logistical challenges would be finding out how to keep our large appetites satisfied for a whole month of exercising and living outside. We would be in a very remote location and completely on our own without access to more supplies for the whole trip.
There were big uncertainties about how we would achieve this:
- What food was available in the local town, Tasiilaq, prior to our boat transfer into the wild?
- How much food could we carry with us from the UK?
- How could we store the food to avoid attracting polar bears or arctic foxes?
- What fuel was available locally and what stoves should we bring?
- How should we plan for redundancy, or contact help if we need it?
We did as much preparation and research as possible to answer these questions, but still started our trip with a degree of doubt and an uneasy feeling in our stomach - almost sensing the potential privation we could potentially endure.
After packing our mountaineering equipment we stuffed the remainder of our luggage with as much food as possible. This included many kilograms of TentMeals, other dehydrated expedition meals and lots of energy bars.
On the flight, the neatly packaged TentMeals were great to store in jacket pockets to help avoid overweight fees. On arrival in Greenland, we had just 24 hours to find and purchase the rest of our provisions, which proved to be extremely difficult. The local store lacked many basic ingredients and familiar foods, so we had to get creative in our meal ideas. A stressful 24 hours later, we packed up the boat and left with what we hoped would be enough food to last us a month.
Here is our advice to you if you’re planning on undertaking a similar trip:
Take Extra Luggage
It almost certainly would have been easier and cheaper to book an extra bag on the plane so we could take more food with us. Other larger expeditions in the area shipped their supplies months in advance (although sometimes these shipments never arrived…) This would not have been cost efficient for our small group.
Protect Your Food Supplies
To store food while at basecamp, we borrowed some large plastic containers. These were essential - anything left out would be a meal for the Arctic foxes and we definitely did not want to attract polar pears! The containers were widely available in Tasiilaq from tour companies or can be bought.
Use Liquid Fuel Compatible Stoves
To cook food we had one multifuel stove and one gas stove. Liquid fuel was cheap and widely available but we were lucky to purchase the last 3 bottles of canister gas in Tasiilaq - if we were unsuccessful that would have left us with 1 stove for the whole trip. Do not rely on this! TentMeals had the added benefit of being able to soak and eat without heating should we run out of fuel. This was never tested but gave us comfort as a backup on multi-day trips.
Food and Calories
Perhaps the most important thing to consider (even above taste) was to ensure we ate enough calories. Our lowest points were often when we were hungry or stressed about food rations. We spent a lot of time calculating the calorie to weight ratio of food in the shop in Tasiilaq. Here are some of our thoughts:
Add Milk Powder:
We bought a large tin of milk powder in which we added to our porridge and tea in the mornings, and was very calorie dense. Expensive but well worth it.
Simple, cheap, and filling - a camp staple.
They packed down to a much smaller size than other expedition meals and had more calories, so were our choice on big mountain days.
Eat simple pasta
We became very fond of heaps of pasta with garlic, onion and lots of oil. Filling and calorie dense.
Bring more than you need
It seemed an absurd amount of food initially but overall I think we would have preferred slightly more. We had to constantly ration and re-evaluate stores, and there was definitely an element of food anxiety. If we were stuck out in the wilderness for any longer we would have quickly run out.
Taste, texture and variety
This was arguably the most difficult to do well, especially with a very limited supermarket. While eating kilograms of carbs may give you energy, a beige, bland, mushy meal becomes very unappetising after a while. Bags of salt, pepper, basil and paprika were essential in adding taste to meals. Luckily, we also brought packs of dehydrated vegetables and beans from the UK which turned out to be excellent to add texture and colour to our carb-heavy meals.
These were particularly difficult to buy locally, and we cleared the shop of wraps. Thirteen packs of wraps may seem a lot, but it only amounted to one wrap each a day! We bought lots of rye bread to supplement this, to which we added salami and hummus, but were slightly sick of this by the end.
In retrospect we should have taken more lunches to cook and eat using the stove, as we were often in basecamp or had time for this.
In the mountains, a variety of expedition meals were used. TentMeals had excellent texture and taste, and we liked to add in other expedition meals for variety and when we wanted a more saucy meal.
Foraging and fishing
The hillsides were often covered in patches of Bog Blueberries and it was a delight to occasionally stop and pick some berries and admire the view when lugging heavy loads up the hill. They were also tasty additions to morning porridge if you had the discipline to go picking before breakfast. We took a fishing rod which Ollie used very successfully to catch Cod and Arctic Char to supplement our diet. This helped to pass time on rest days and was a moral boost to fill our stomachs with incredibly tasty fish.
“Just make sure to take a good variety of ingredients, and if in doubt, throw in an extra TentMeal or two!”
Overall, we loved all our meals (apart from hummus wraps by the end!), and cooking and chatting round the stove was often the highlight of the day in a successful trip.
The meals we had were enough to fuel us while climbing multiple new routes and summiting unclimbed peaks. We definitely made some mistakes, but overall did a good job of keeping our bellies full most of the time. Just make sure to take a good variety of ingredients, and if in doubt, throw in an extra TentMeal or two!"
If you'd like to find out more about Harry, Eve and Oliver's adventure in Greenland, here is the link to Eve's Instagram account.