I wake up to the sound of wind beating against my tent, the fabric walls flapping up against my sleeping bag and battering my head. Gusts of wind find there way underneath the corners of my tent and threaten to lift up the bottom. The flapping is so loud that I feel like I’m trying to sleep directly under a huge flag. Even before I open my eyes I can tell it’s bright out… But when I check my watch, it’s 2 AM.
North of the Arctic Circle the sun never sets in the summer. A bit disoriented, I pull my eye mask back on and try to curl deeper into the folds of my -30F sleeping bag as the wind continues to howl. I feel very small as I drift in and out of sleep.
These winds I experienced almost every night are called Katabatic winds - a wind carrying high-density air from a higher elevation down slope under the force of gravity.
In this case, the katabatic wind originates from the air cooling at night on top of the cold interior of the Greenland ice sheet. Since colder air is denser, the air will flow downwards and outwards towards the warmer coast.
The barren surface of the ice sheet provides no protection against the wind. To secure my tent, I had to drill a ring of holes into the ice around it and then insert bamboo poles into the holes and lash my tent to that. I never quite blew away, but listening to the sheer power of the wind each night was a very humbling experience.