The Nokian Hakkapeliitta 44 tyres faced a severe test. The adventure, titled Expeditions7, started from Isortoq in the southern tip of Greenland and headed north toward Wulff Land at its northern extreme. For the most part, the journey took place on top of the continental glacier, which is several thousand kilometres long and over three kilometres thick at certain points.
During the journey, the members of the expedition logged weather information and collected snow and ice samples they later handed over to universities for research purposes. The expedition lasted nearly three weeks before the group arrived in the Sisimiut village on the west coast of Greenland. The total distance traveled was 5,169 km.
Moving forward despite challenges
The severe conditions in Greenland stretched the strength of the drivers and vehicles to the extremes. In fact, during the preparation process one of the vehicles fell partially into an ice-covered river.
"The hardest part was setting off and finding a safe route from the sea ice onto the thick continental ice sheet," said Emil Grimsson, one of the founders of Arctic Trucks, who also took part in the expedition. "We were driving on the thin river ice when one of our vehicles fell in. Fortunately, it was the worst thing that happened, and we were able start our journey only a few days later than planned."
The expedition faced a number of other challenges along the way. Varying winter weather conditions and white-outs with zero visibility made progress slow at times. On the slowest legs of the journey, the vehicles could only manage 10 kilometers per hour. The lowest recorded temperatures were -40°C.
However, Greenland also showed off its beauty during the expedition.
"Seeing the size of the glacier in its entirety was breathtaking," Grimsson said. "Arriving in Wulff Land after days of driving on ice was also memorable. The place was impressive…almost surreal. I’m not sure anyone has ever driven a car that far north.
Pushing the limits of the equipment
Greenland's barren, beautiful and untouched landscape is not an easy route, even for the most experienced winter drivers. That’s why the expedition relied on state-of-the-art equipment to survive glaciers, rocky terrain and soft snowbanks."
The team chose three custom-built vehicles from Iceland-based Arctic Trucks – the same types of vehicles used for Antarctic expeditions. The newest of the vehicles was equipped with high-performance Nokian Hakkapeliitta 44 tyres from the world’s northernmost tyre manufacturer, Nokian Tyres. The tyre has a tread compound tailored to offer both grip and durability in very cold conditions.
"I wanted to use Nokian Hakkapeliittas based on my earlier experiences with them. These tyres master extreme conditions and work unbelievably well even in temperatures as low as -40 degrees," Grimsson said.
One Nokian Hakkapeliitta 44 tyre weighs 70 kilograms and is over one meter in diameter. The rugged tyre came to life a couple of years ago as the result of a long cooperation between Nokian Tyres and Arctic Trucks.
"In soft snow, you need large tyres with sufficient room for air," Grimsson said. "You can adjust the length of the tyre’s contact surface by regulating the inflation pressure. A wide tyre has better load-bearing capabilities and will not sink as deep into the snow as a narrow tyre."
Will we have enough fuel?
One of the most important steps in the pre-planning process was to calculate the fuel consumption accurately. There are no service stations on the glacier.
"Luckily, we ended up consuming less fuel than we had estimated," Grimsson said. "The Nokian Hakkapeliittas have good fuel economy."
The team carried more than half the fuel in sleds towed behind the vehicles.
"This was the first time we had ever pulled fuel in bladders on sledges behind the cars," Grimsson recalls. "We struggled to secure the bladders on the sledges and to keep the sledges from falling apart on the hard-packed terrain."
An experience like no other
The three week adventure forged the seven expedition members into a close-knit team where everyone did his part, from cooking to vehicle repairs to photography.
So, what was the trip like?
"Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Grimsson said. "Trips like these take you to another reality. You can only focus on the here and now, enjoy the moment and forget about everything else."
The members in the expedition team were: Greg Miller (leader), Scott Brady, Clay Croft, Dr. Jon Solberg, and Kurt Williams from the United States, and Emil Grimsson (co-leader) and Torfi Johannsson from Iceland.