Stefan Glowacz frequently tests the limits of his mental and physical resilience. Now the extreme climber and BMW outdoor ambassador has managed to cross Greenland, overcoming a tough series of challenges along the way. In his coast-to-coast expedition, he took a completely sustainability-centred approach – from his departure in Munich to the way he disposed of waste.
When Stefan Glowacz got back in the BMW i3 in October last year, he had under his belt an expedition that had stretched him and his team to the limits of human performance over a 100-day period. It had brought him from Munich to Greenland, where he trekked from one side of the world’s largest island to the other – then took him all the way back to Bavaria. The extreme trip subjected the 53-year-old climber to frozen wastes with an unforgiving hostility to human visitors; punishing, sub-zero temperatures; storms; seasickness; and the need to endure spells of “demoralising drudgery”, he later reported. Nonetheless, Glowacz says, it presented him with a unique opportunity to experience the untamed intensity of the landscapes and the forces of nature, before returning to civilisation to “lick his wounds” and reap the rewards of what he had achieved.
In early July last year, Glowacz and his two companions set off from BMW Welt in Munich on their coast-to-coast expedition, which was to last for about three months. The various legs of the voyage saw them travel to Scotland, across the Atlantic, then onto the ice plateau of Greenland – the largest island in the world – at an altitude of over 3,200 metres.
One of the key objectives for the spectacular journey was to inspire people to reflect, while raising awareness of sustainability. Despite the gruelling nature of his trip across Greenland, the steps Glowacz took included bringing his plastic rubbish back with him, allowing him to eventually dispose of it properly. “And sustainability was why we consistently made sure to seek out the eco-friendliest means of transport possible,” Glowacz notes;
it was for this reason that the BMW i3 was the “icing on the cake for a perfect sustainability expedition”. He and his companions would drive the i3 from their starting point in Munich to the Scottish town of Mallaig, as well as using it for the return journey. In Mallaig, the three adventurers and a crew would board a 14.5-metre-long sailing yacht, the Santa Maria, and make for the west coast of Greenland. There they would begin their trek east across the island by ski, sled, foot and climbing rope. In the end, the team would then be picked back up by the Santa Maria.
Or so the theory went. But in practice, the three-man party faced a far more dramatic set of circumstances. How were they to weather up to 40-knot storms forcing the relatively small vessel to tilt by as much as 45 degrees at a time – especially if those aboard included sufferers of seasickness, as in Glowacz’s case, who never wanted to set foot on a boat again? How could 400 kilograms of luggage be hauled off the yacht, across Greenland’s rocky terrain, then onto a plateau to give the team a base camp for themselves, along with their sleds, tents, protective clothing and climbing equipment?
After all, every member of the expedition would consume at least 5,000 calories a day, with some 2,500 vertical metres to cover as they traversed the island. And much of the time, all that would need to be accomplished without the wind at their back, which they had been counting on to propel their kite-drawn sleds. In these conditions, the team had to walk around 30 kilometres a day, negotiating snow and ice while pulling their sleds behind them, sometimes in frightfully cold -40°C temperatures. “Every morning when I lifted my arm out of my sleeping bag, it felt like I was reaching inside a freezer,” Glowacz recalls. His problem? “The rest of my body had to follow closely behind.” Add to this the whiteout conditions, in which heaven and earth merged into an indistinguishable wall of white. At that time, Glowacz recalls, it was quite simply “an endless slog in a place hostile to humanity.”
The trio needed around 30 days for the 1,000-plus kilometre route through the icy wilderness until they were able to go back aboard the Santa Maria on the other side of Greenland. On the way back, heading towards Iceland, they were rewarded for their efforts by the sight of the northern lights. But then the boat passed back into a violent storm. Up to six-metre-high waves gave them a formidable final demonstration of the power of nature.
After around 100 days, the group led by Glowacz managed to return to Mallaig in Scotland – at which point they made sure to turn up the stereo on their return trip in the BMW i3. One song, Glowacz says, was played especially loudly and especially often: Heroes by David Bowie.