Greenland crossing: food for ultimate Arctic adventure

Food is fuel. On a long Arctic expedition, proper food is a condition of survival. Greenland crossing was a test of choosing the right menu for 35 days of walking outside civilization, with no possibility of resupply. While selecting products for this trip, I’ve based on the experience of previous expeditions, including the winter crossing of Iceland, the winter crossing of Polish mountains and high mountain expeditions. My diet during this passage was well balanced and provided the right amount of calories.

The Arctic diet is often associated with fat, but I have not yet reached the point, where my body can be powered mainly by fats. My Greenland diet contained a lot of carbs. This increased the weight of my sled, since carbohydrates are less “energy packed” than fats. On the other hand, it prevented weakness during the march and improved post-workout recovery.

Much of my food came from Poland. Before departure, I portioned bulk products using a small kitchen scale. During the march, supplies were divided into daily rations. Each of them, packed in a 3-liter zipper bag, contained a set of meals for the next day. This made it easier to organize luggage and control the amount of supplies left.

1. Greenland crossing: Breakfasts

Mashed potatoes with butter and cheese – 25 servings. On Greenland crossing, I developed the final version of this dish. It has become my staple morning meal during winter, Arctic and high altitude expeditions. It consists of 120-150 g of potatoes puree powder, which I mix with boiling water and add about 30 g of yellow cheese and 20-25 g of butter. After a few minutes, both of these additives melt nicely. The dish is devoid of any distinct flavor, so I add a large pinch of salt to it at the end. Very digestible, as the semi-liquid consistency does not require biting. Works quickly, since it is based largely on carbohydrates, but at the same time filling me well, thanks to the addition of protein and fat. It kept my hunger in check for the first 3 hours of each day, during which we rolled up the tent, packed our sleds and walked the first kilometers in the lowest temperature of the day, reaching -30°C.

Morning, the coldest moment of the day.

Caloric oatmeal with fruit – 10 servings. Once my staple mountain breakfast, I now take it only as a addition. Not being able to compose a really good mixture, I buy oatmeal in 50 g sachets available in many stores. Such meals contain dried fruits, usually raspberries, blueberries or strawberries and powdered milk, which make oatmeal tastier. My breakfast consists of 2 such sachets (100 g together), to which I add about 100 g of fine oatmeal and 10-15 g of coconut flakes. I pour boiling water over the whole thing until it reaches a creamy consistency and add about 20 g of butter.

2. Meals during the day

  • Chocolate. Each day I ate 3 bars (300 g of chocolate). It’s total supply on my sled was 9 kg. I took a variety of flavors to mix during our walk, although I avoided filled chocolate, which tends to fall apart.
  • Halva. A sweet pulp obtained from ground sesame, full of fats and carbohydrates. On long trips a real treasure and energy bomb. Sesame contains about 60% fat and 23% protein. Due to the intense flavor, I tend to loose my apetite forr it quite quickly during every trip, but a portion of 100 g a day is a good supply in winter. On the Greenland crossing I had about 700 g, a small amount of which reached the eastern shore. Which shows that despite its high value, this snack is not one of my absolute favorites.
  • Hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds. Nuts and almonds are an excellent source of fat and protein, a snack on the trail or at the end of the day. For our Greenland crossing I took more than 3 kg.
  • Roasted broad beans. Since the winter crossing of the mountains of Poland, one of my favorite caloric snacks. Intense flavor adds variety to the diet. Good sources of protein and fat.
  • Nuts in chocolate.
  • Chocolate candy. Basically sugar, but it helped to survive the first few days on the icefall. Without much value other than calories to burn.
  • “Fudge” candies. If you come to Poland, krówki are among 10 thing you MUST try (beside pierogi/dumplings, pickled cucumbers and few others). Creamy canndies are insanely sweet, semi-soft or hard, depends on the maker. If you, by accident, live in a country where Polish minority is present, you have a chance to find them in supermakets. The 2 kg supply turned out to be at least 2 times too small. I secreted myself this treat, which gave me energy during the most difficult moments of the expedition and regretted that I took only 2 packages on this journey.
  • Sweet candies. In the high mountains I always take a small amount of them. They are almost 100% sugar, easily absorbed even during high exertion and at high altitudes, where oxygen supply is limited in the thin air. On Greenland they were the equivalent of energy gels, a source for crisis moments.
  • Stroopwafel cookies. A Dutch invention. Hard waffles with syrup filling, somewhat difficult to bite in the cold, but extremely tasty.
  • “This-1” nut bars. Natural bars from a Polish manufacturer, resistant to high and low temperatures. Proven on the winter K-2 expeditions and not only. They did not freeze even on the coldest days of our trip. Calorically dense and full of energy. I chose my favorites: with guarana and chocolate.
  • Jellybeans. I stashed a small package in my luggage without Mateusz knowing about it and in the depths of the land-ice I unexpectedly opened it. From then on, for 3 weeks, eating a few was our way of celebrating some important moment or ending a difficult day. I buried a few of them on the ridge of the Greenland ice sheet, at the highest point of the expedition, as a symbolic offering to the local spirits.
  • Dried apples. Although they took up a lot of space, dried sliced apples were one of my favorites. I always munched on them the moment we collapsed inside the tent after the day was over, waiting for the melting snow in the pot. During such a wait, when the stomach began to twist, 2-3 handfuls of these fruits killed hunger for a while. They were also a source of fiber, of which we had little in our diet. Their consumption prevented constipation, diminished afternoon hunger and regulated bowel movements.
  • Dried mangoes. Before leaving Poland, I added a 1 kg package of these fruits to my luggage. They were a fantastic dessert that we both loved.
  • Dried pears with sugar. A snack valuable in terms of micronutrients and tasty. Every now and then it was our dessert.

Quite a lot of the products I bought in large packages of 1 / 2 / 5 kg. I rely on the Polish on-line shop BadaPak, which I highly recommend (and this is not an advertisement!). Surely, most of you will find similar business in your country, something that sells bulk / semi-bulk packages of food.

During the day on the Greenland crossing, we ate a portion of about 500 kcal on every stop.

3. Crossing Greenland: main meals

Freeze-dried meals with instant rice and butter. Mateusz and I used ready-made meals from the Polish manufacturer Lyofood. The company equipped us with 40 large portions about 500 kcal each. These were a variety of dishes, which I selected a few pieces of each type: Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Tikka Masala, Farfalle with Gorgonzola & Spinach Sauce, Five-Spice Chicken, Mexican Dish, Penne alla Bolognese, Pork Loin in Dill, Pork loin in Green Pepper, Stew with Pearl Barley. Each of these created the basis of the meal, but did not make the entire course. At the end of each day on the ice sheet, we needed to replenish a large amount of energy lost. 500 kcal meals were too small for this purpose and I would have to eat 2 of them each afternoon. Instead, I enriched all the freeze-dried meals with additional ingredients.

Mateusz replenishing calories in the camp.

The first of these was instant rice. It resembles regular rice, but requires no cooking and is ready as soon as you pour boiling water over it. Before the expedition, I bought a 5 kg supply and added 120 g to each dish. To further reduce the weight of the food, I transferred most of the freeze-dried food from the factory packaging into a thin plastic bag. Once inside a bag, I topped it with instant rice, which enriched my lunches by 350 kcal each. While preparing the meal, I added 20-25 g of Danish butter to every dinner. Adding instant rice and butter to the original meal increased its caloric content from 500 to 900-1000 kcal.

Having only a few meals originally packaged, I used the same plastic package many times during the Greenland crossing. Later I switched to a better way: dinners were prepared in an insulated GSI Fairshare Mug. It’s a kind of large, screw-on mug in a neoprene cover. With a capacity of 1 liter, it allowed you to pour just the right amount of boiling water over the freeze-dried dish. This pot was given to me by Mateusz during the expedition. He himself rather used the original Lyofood packaging.

Soups. In addition to the main dishes, I took a set of several Lyofood soups on the ice sheet crossing. I regretted to realize: there were far too few of them! Cream of broccoli & spinach with mozarella & pumpkin seeds and goulash soup were great appetizers and a gave additional flavor before main courses. Instead of 5 pieces, I wish I had 30 with me. To save weight, I would also transfer them to lightweight bags, to prepare later in a larger pot.

Every time I packed the sled, it meant throwing in a supply of food. Over time, the 3 big drybags shrank to a small pack. By the end of the Greenland crossing, out of 40 kg of food about less than 500 grams had reached the eastern shore.

4. Meal additives

Yellow cheese. We bought it in Greenland, in Kangerlussuaq, before starting the crossing of the ice sheet. It was sometimes a snack on its own, but most often I add it to my meals. Mainly the breakfasts mentioned, but not only. I quickly noticed that 1.5 kg supply was painfully too small, forcing me to save it like a precious resource. For a similar trip, I would like to have about 100 grams of gouda-type cheese per day – twice that, what I’ve taken. In addition to it, also a few big pieces of hard cheese like cheddar or parmesan.

Butter. A universal addition to every breakfast and lunch, a source of fat and calories therefore. On the winter crossing of Iceland, I was tempted to take olive oil. This idea was misguided: the liquid fat has freezed in the bottle. Since then I have been taking butter, which is easier to portion even when it freezes into a stone. Each day we ate about 50-80 g, but if we could, we would have doubled the amount. The 2 kg supply proved to be too modest for our appetites, and we would have easily consumed twice that amount in Greenland.

Coconut flakes. A very caloric ingredient for oatmeal. I took 0.5 kg.

Meat. Although I lost a chunk of tooth on it, salami with hazelnuts was a fantastic meal enrichment and snack. It landed in breakfast mashed potato and was nibbled on by us while waiting for dinner. I’m almost vegetarian on a daily basis, but winter trips definitely change that. I suppose such a “winter” hunger for meat is more psychological than caused by a real need. For winter and Arctic expeditions, however, I take a fair portion.

80 km to the east coast. Meal during the rest in the middle of the day.

Bacon. The cheeriest addition of all! After 2 weeks of walking, we found 3 packages of frozen Norwegian bacon at the former DYE-2 station, left there by one of the previous expeditions. From then on, using the second stove, I fried it and added it to our lunches, blessing our anonymous donors!

5. Supplements

My 35-day diet was one of the best I’ve ever created during an expedition. However, it was clear that it would not provide me with ALL the ingredients I needed. I used supplementation with several components. These included:

  • probiotic (daily)
  • vitamin D3 (daily)
  • vitamin C (daily)
  • iron (every 2-3 days)
  • multivitamin (every 1-2 days)

I have tested such a combination before on the winter crossing of Iceland in 2020.

I also took a dozen packs of Runtime nutrition food, the effectiveness of which I tested 2 years ago, crossing 1098 km of Polish mountains in winter. Rich in protein, it facilitated recovery and enriched the diet with a set of vitamins and minerals, increasing the daily energy intake by 400 kcal.

6.Electrolytes and drinks

Once on the ice sheet, all the water we consumed in meals and drinks was created from melting snow on the white-gas stove. Thus, it was almost distilled water, with zero minerals. Drinking it would deplete us, so I added a small amount of soluble electrolytes to each meal and water portion. It was mainly very good Isostar Power Tabs in tablets, 40 in total. The amount of minerals I added to water was negligible compared to the manufacturer’s indication. Instead of 24 g of powder/0.5 l , it was more like 1g/2 liters. Such a solution had no taste and was a base for brewing tea or pouring over dinner, but it made the snow water similar to regular sweet water.

Additionally, my food bags contained about 120 tea bags and a dozen sachets of instant coffee. The latter has little in common with real coffee, but in the middle of the white void it tasted like the best americano ?

Melting ritual. Each day we needed about 9 liters of water, obtaining it entirely from the collected snow.

7. Summary of supplies for the Greenland crossing

Below you will find a summary of what was in my Acapulka sled for the Greenland ice sheet crossing. The total weight of supplies was 38.5 kg, so it was almost half of my load (the sled weighed probably 90 kg). The daily intake reached 5 000 kcal, but it did not replenish the entire energy spend during the expedition. I arrived at Isortoq on the east coast about 4 kg lighter, but I made up the loss in a dozen days.

chocolate - different types9501045090
freeze dryed food - 40 szt.4,5470021150
instant rice - addition to freeze-dried products236007200
roasted broad beans146704670
dryed mango120502050
dryed pear2,5276690
fudge candies240908180
stroopwafel cakes145604560
This-1 bars0,622501350
nuts in chocolate0,557102855
chocolate dragees0,24700940
coconut shavings - addition to oatmeal0,565103255
porridge - ready-made meals1,338004940
oatmeal - a supplement to porridge0,537201860
salami sausage with nuts148604860
nuts and almonds3,1600018600
Runtime meals1,540906135
yellow cheese1,535505325
TOTAL38,55 KG171440 KCAL

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