The Dream of the Greenland Crossing

On the 29th of July 2020, Tord Are Meisterplass and his team left the safe village of Kangerlussuaq with the goal of becoming the world's first tetraplegic (spinal cord injury in the neck) to cross the Greenland ice sheet on skis.
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A huge distance of 450 km along the historical Nansen's route. One push at a time.

A hand-picked team, consisting of Tord’s brother Even Meisterplass and their three friends; Carl Christian Sole Semb, Erlend Vastveit and Snorre Sulheim, is attempting the feat. Each team member is chosen for their skill and grit, and there is no lack of experience. Carl Christian has several trips in his belt, among them expeditions to Kilimanjaro, Elbrus and Finnmarksvidda. Erlend is a skilled climber, snowboarder and skier, with crucial survival skills from the Norwegian Army. Snorre is a merited glacier guide, skier and climber, with hard winter first ascents in New Zealand, as well as impressive ascents in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. In addition, Daniel Volle from Pandora Film AS, is recording the expedition and plays a critical role in documenting the trip.

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A hand picked team consisting of Tord's brother and their three friends.

The story begins with a serious accident in 2015, which for most people would have put a permanent stop to a dream of crossing Greenland. Tord was alpine skiing in Norway when he suddenly lost control, ejected from his skis and hit a tree head first. The impact resulted in a severe fracture in the lower part of his neck, leading to a complete loss of function in his legs and core muscles, as well as a partial loss of function in his arms, hands and fingers.

Globally, for a person with Tord’s reduced function, such an expedition would be assumed impossible.

In Norway, the expectations for Tord’s future life was focused around social benefits, isolation and caretaking. Although incredibly grateful for the safety and care that came with his injury in Norway, Tord refused to accept a new life without adventure. Few, if any other than Tord himself, actually believed that a crossing of the Greenland ice sheet would ever be possible. Even for a completely healthy person, it is very challenging to cross Greenland. For someone with a spinal cord injury, it is almost physically impossible. What Tord is now attempting will make history and has never been attempted before.

“It is a huge challenge that Tord is working on – but they have done a great job in their preparation, so I give them a fair chance that they will make it across”, says polar expedition expert Lars Ebbesen, who has been involved in planning the trip since 2018.

A lot of preparation

In addition to two years of training, organizing logistics, and recruiting sponsors, Tord has been busy innovating. Because Tord’s handicap is so unique, several new products had to be developed in order to make the trip possible. Most of them by Tord himself. With products ranging from a custom pulk on skis, including metal 3D-printed parts, to a mechatronic device that enables Tord to visit the toilet independently – nothing is left to chance. Almost.

The dream was close to coming to an abrupt end when the coronavirus struck the world during the spring of 2020, making international travel almost impossible – let alone irresponsible. All tickets were booked, and leaves organized from work, when everything was shut down. Furthermore, when two of the former team members could not reschedule their leaves from work, and had to give up on the expedition, things looked very grim.

For Tord however, postponing the expedition into an unforeseeable future was not an option. Now that the spring season was ruled out, the focus was quickly shifted to an expedition during fall. The idea was radical, but not impossible. While carefully monitoring the corona situation, Tord managed to recruit two new team members, Snorre Sulheim and Erlend Vastveit, at the last minute.

 

“To be honest, we didn’t actually know if we would be able to travel at all given the corona situation”, says Snorre.

Thankfully, travel restrictions between Norway and Denmark, and thus Greenland, were lifted due to the controlled situation in the respective countries. New tickets were booked only one week before departure, and the team left for Greenland on July 23rd, 2020. On July 29th, the team was helicoptered from the tiny village of Kangerlussuaq, onto the Greenland ice cap, starting their epic journey.

Now, well into the expedition, Tord and his team are daily gaining distance on the ice, covering around 20 km each day in challenging arctic conditions. Although they have already proven that an expedition with Tord’s spinal cord injury is in fact possible, the majority of the journey lies ahead.

Spinal cord injuries are incredibly complex, and each person’s experience, lifestyle, abilities and access to social benefits varies drastically depending on their individual situation. For Tord, with an incredible amount of dedication, support and sponsors, he hopes to make his dream of crossing Greenland a reality. Although not every spinal cord injured person would be able to complete such a task, let alone want to, Tord hopes to inspire disabled communities and individuals to work within their personal boundaries in order to complete their own dreams.

The expedition can be followed with regular updates on Instagram and Facebook under ‘Groenlandsdraumen’ 

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