methow grist 2011-2014 archive
  Summit Station
Working on Greenland's Ice Cap
Footsteps to everywhere. Footsteps from nowhere. Footsteps to nowhere.

Ed Stockard is working at 10,530 elevation on top of 10,016 feet of ice at the summit of Greenland’s ice cap. It’s plenty cold at the Summit Station, where he is serving this season as the station mechanic, attending to two diesel generators and a third emergency diesel generator plus being responsible for fuel, a water melting system, heavy and light equipment and general building utilities.

“As you may imagine, I am somewhat of a jack of all trades” he said. In fact, last year he was the station manager. Getting an arctic-proven mechanic for this season proved difficult, so Stockard agreed to step again into that spot.

“The ability to confront situations and adapt to problems can be serious. When generator breakers fry or equipment freezes or parts break that you don’t have spares for, it makes one be quite resourceful. The TV show McGiver comes to mind. And I’ve been there. Find a way to fix it and carry on,” he said.

“Dealing with temperatures of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and well below that poses another challenge. We are provided with great clothing but it still is crazy cold. Try threading a ¼ inch nut on a bolt with mittens, liners and fogged up glasses…”

Summit Station is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. It is home to the Greenland Environmental Observatory, designed to monitoring the climate, focusing on air-snow interactions. Scientists are working there to gather current data that will help them better understand the world’s climate and the deep cores drilled from ice sheets in Greenland and elsewhere.

“I work side by side with scientists studying climate change. I have been in Greenland to see this worlds’ largest island become a center of attention in this global concern. I feel I have a front row seat in the very real issue of changing climatic conditions,” Stockard said.

Stormy Afternoon
The ‘Green House’ at Summit Station, Greenland on September 17, when the winds picked up and the temperatures rose.

Three of the five people at Summit Station are scientific researchers, which means Stockard and this year’s manager share duties and collaborate on projects and issues that support the scientists and keep everyone alive. In the late spring through summer, when most research is under way, the station population can grow to 40 people.

Asked how he deals with the dangers of extreme cold at over 10,000 feet, he said. “You take precautions and you take calculated risks. I try to always go slow and think about consequences.”

The Summit Station crew celebrates August 31, designated ‘National Eat Outside Day’ by someone not living at Summit Station.

Stockard said the human factor can be intense too. ”Living in close quarters with a handful of others you don't choose at times challenges ones self.” He said during his last two stints at Summit Camp he’s worked with “wonderful folks with like attitudes and energy to get each other through long cold days and nights. We literally trust our lives to each other.”

The Antarctic came before the Arctic in Stockard’s career. In 1993 he began working with the US Antarctic Program.

“I was willing and wanting to be sent into the field outside of McMurdo Station,” he said. That led to extensive field mechanics in exotic places such as Siple Dome, Shackleton Glacier, Allen Hills and Mt Erebus. Two more winter-overs in Antarctica built his reputation and resulted in a phone call in late 1998 asking if he would be the mechanic at Summit Station for the summer season of 1999. He accepted and has now spent over five years of his life in Greenland, including over a year on the ice cap.

Stockard worked at Summit Station in 1999 and again in 2000. Then he worked at the station’s logistics hub in Kagerlussuag, which was a former US airbase, and is now the major international airport for all of Greenland.

“I returned to Summit Station last August (2010) after working in our logistics hub since 2001,” said Stockard. "I arrived this season at Summit on August 12 with co-workers in a ski-equipped C-130 Hercules aircraft, operated by the New York Air National Guard,“ which is the only organization which operates C-130s on skis.

Ed Stockard geared up for the outdoors at Summit Station
Stockard’s current work rotation at Summit Station is called ‘phase one’ of winter. “Five of us are left alone here for over two months until the phase two crew shows up at the end of October. We do a turn-over with that crew and fly back to Kangerlussuaq via ski equipped Twin Otter,” he said. The ski-equipped C-130’s are flying in Antarctica.

Stockard expects to be back in the Methow by mid-November, weather cooperating. He has racked up more than five years in Greenland, which includes over a year in the harsh climate and great beauty of the ice cap.

“The ice sheet, the Arctic and the Antarctic are uniquely beautiful. The everyday beauty of the Methow is always wonderful to come home to, but the sights I see here are other-worldly. Subtle shades of blues or pastels sharpen ones senses. The endless horizon is humbling. Since my return to Summit a year ago last August, I have seen and photographed optical phenomena that can be only found in extreme polar regions. Photography has me gripped.”

Stockard’s photographs have been published in various books and websites. Most recently, Optics Photo(s) of the Day have published photos with explanations of various sightings: lunar sightings; halos and arcs; and full-sky images of rarely seen or photographed halos. Last year picked up a few aurora photos. A Finnish expert on halos recently told Stockard his photographs were adding to halo history.

Stockard said he came to live in the Methow a few years after buying property in the late 1970’s.

“I was on the ski area bandwagon which I now look back at, and am thankful the valley survived without a major resort.” He worked seventeen years of mostly full time employment at Washington ski areas, which led to the Antarctic job offer in 1993.

“I moved from Roslyn, Washington soon after and built my home after spending a full year ‘on the ice’. I had to go back for another fourteen months to sink more cash into the home,” he said.

Stockard met his wife, Torre, in 1999 in Antarctica. “We married in 2002,” he said. “She was studying emperor penguins and that led me to one of the more interesting jobs--ranching penguins--along with taking care of her sea ice camp called “Penguin Ranch.”

Mid-day September 14 at Summit Station.
Stockard said he racks up a lot of frequent flyer miles with his work, and he likes to travel. He said he’s not seen around the Methow Valley too much. “But I love being home and sometimes it is hard to even leave the property,” he said.

He must not be able to get enough of the cold. “For the last few winters I have been grooming trails for the Methow Sport Trail Association and I plan to continue with that.”

To find out more about Ed Stockard, his work in Greenland, and his Arctic photographs, visit:

posted 09/20/2011