Expedition guide Laura Mony has plans for this spring…
We’re used to our guides continuing their adventurous lifestyles outside the “office.” After all, these individuals were selected for their outdoors training and experience, so it’s only natural that their off hours should be filled with instances of mountains climbed, deserts camped, ice sheets crossed.
Well, the ice sheet crossings are a little less common – except in the case of Laura Mony, who not only plans to cross an ice sheet this spring but kite ski across one.
The ice sheet in question is the Greenland variety, and Laura’s ambitious plan to ski across it under the wind-powered thrust of a kite is something she and her father have been thinking about for some time. Laura, a French Canadian from Quebec City with a Master’s in Geophysics and Glaciology, will make the journey in April with her dad two other team members, kiting roughly 1,700 km (1,050 miles) across the Greenland ice sheet from north to south.
Naturally, we were interested in learning more. So we spent some time talking to Laura about the origins of this idea, the preparations needed, and her hopes for this extraordinary expedition.
When most people think of kites, they think of sunny days and parks. You think of skiing over an Arctic ice sheet. How did this idea develop?
We’ve been kite surfing and skiing for several years now, my dad and I, and it’s always been his idea to have an adventure with each of his children. This became our adventure, since we’re the only ones in our family who kite ski.
At first we were planning to do the expedition in Antarctica, since I was already working there as an Oceanwide guide. But we also looked at Greenland, where I was planning to travel before the pandemic broke out.
We found out it’s easier to get a permit for the ice sheet in Greenland than in Antarctica, and accessing the Greenland ice sheet is also easier. And since my dad and I both wanted to go somewhere we hadn’t been yet, we decided to go with Greenland.
And this plan, in a nutshell, is to kite ski across the ice sheet south to north?
Yes, though more northwest than straight north due to the curvature of the shoreline. We’re kite skiing from Kangerlussuaq in the southwest to Qaanaaq in the middle west.
This is not a new undertaking. It’s a classic road other people have trekked and skied. But for my dad and I, it’s a good challenge. Along the way, we want to raise awareness about how climate change has impacted the ice sheet and local communities.
How will that play into the expedition?
After we reach Qaanaaq, my parents will take a boat along the coast and visit various communities to find out how tourism benefits local people, what kind of tourism they’re looking for, and how climate change has affected that.
We’re already working on a podcast to deliver this information. Some of the interviews will be more from a scientific perspective and others from a community perspective, but in general we’ll just focus on responses we find interesting.
How long will the crossing take, and who else are you traveling with?
We’re aiming for 23 to 24 days starting around April 20, if the wind is good. We’re supplying ourselves for about a month, just in case. Out on the ice sheet is not the time to run out of supplies, just like it’s not the time to practice your kite skiing.
As for our team, I think we complete each other pretty well. My dad, Charly Mony, has been kite skiing a little longer than me, and another teammate, Greg Zepel, is also an accomplished kite skier. Our fourth member, Bruno-Pierre Couture, is a professional alpine guide.
Does starting in April give you any particular advantage?
It helps us avoid the warm weather of a later crossing. You can’t get a permit to go onto the Greenland ice sheet before April 15, but we wanted to go soon after that, since the place we’re climbing onto the sheet has a lot of ice rivers in late spring. If you go too late in the season, you usually have to use a helicopter.
What kind of training or other preparations do you need for this?
It’s a high-level expedition, so there is some physical training. Living in Quebec and working for Oceanwide, I’m used to winter expeditions, but for the other members of our team who have never been in really cold weather, we plan to do a week-long expedition beforehand. This will help us make sure everyone is prepared and our gear is in good shape.
Kite training is also a big part. The kind of kiting we’ll be doing in Greenland is a lot different than what you would do on a lake, where you have space to move around. On the Greenland ice sheet, we have to follow a certain path. Also, there will be a lot of downwind there. That demands a different kind of kiting, too.
Will you have to take any precaution for polar bears?
Only when we’re approaching the ice sheet, but not once we’re on it. On top of the ice sheet is a few thousand meters above sea level, and polar bears tend to stick closer to shore. We probably won’t bring a rifle, but we’ll set up bear flares for the two-day hike to the ice sheet.
What about the stability of the ice sheet itself?
It’s usually pretty stable, but due to climate change this is not always certain. The most dangerous part is getting up the edge of the sheet, where water might be flowing. We also have to be careful when we’re skiing. You can get going quite fast while kite skiing and not completely realize it, so we have to be careful not to get in our heads and forget the risks of the surroundings.
Since occasionally you’ll want to cut loose and just have fun?
Exactly. I’ve seen videos of people kite skiing this route, and some places on the sheet are so flat and windy that they’re practically flying. But if you do that all the time, you forget about getting tired and being careful, and that’s when accidents can happen.
Do you plan to keep in touch via social media or other means?
We plan to send continuous updates and pictures through social media, and we even want to set up a tracking map so people can follow the crossing as we make it. We have a Greenland 2022 Facebook page right now, but not much will be happening on it until we get closer to the trip.
We want to write blogs about the experience so people can read about it in more detail. Also, we will post podcast episodes before, during, and after our trip where we talk about the crossing and interview people about the different subjects I mentioned earlier.
How are you feeling as the date approaches?
I’m anxious for winter to get here so I can practice my kiting. But beyond that, I am super excited to be doing this. I like just thinking about this project. The closer we get to the day, I know I’ll get more stressed about some of the technical things we still need to do, but just the planning stage we’re in right now is exciting.
We look forward to hearing the story in person on our next Greenland voyage.
I look forward to telling it!