A Scottish Glen with Glaciers

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Fri 6 Aug 2010 01:13
70:24.026N 51:13.950W Thursday evening

We left our anchorage yesterday morning to see how close we could get to a glacier. There are several of them calving bergs into the Umanak fjord and the largest ones join directly to the central icecap which covers 70% of Greenland. This icecap is up to 2 kilometers thick and so heavy that it has pushed the middle of the island down to below sea level.

There were several possible anchorages on our way to the glaciers and I wanted to check them out as we went along so we would know how far we needed to retreat later on. We went into the first one and did our usual survey to find that it was pretty well perfect - a broad bay with plenty of room for us to swing to our anchor. A wide, strongly-flowing river entered in one corner and there were some ruins marked on the map. A small local boat was moored to some rocks and it all looked idyllic. We got underway again to scout out the next possible bay.

By the time we reached there, the ice was starting to get much less navigable. We explored behind a small island and into a bay behind it. There were signs that locals use it to moor their boats and the lines left behind limited our room for manouever. We decided that, although it was a decent enough harbour, our earlier one was much better so we'd go for a look at the glacier and then retreat back to bay number 1.

By this time, we were about 4 miles from the snout of the Large Glacier. It was appropriately named. Where it meets the sea, it's about 4 miles wide. Looking at it, there is a jumble of shattered ice all the way from the edge, right back up until it meets the icecap miles inland. The icecap itself looks smooth from this distance and, with the sun shining on it, you could imagine it going on forever. The forces involved are too much for me to comprehend. The majority of the icecap is held in place by fringing mountains so the few gaps where it meets the sea must by like letting the cork out of a bottle of Champagne. It was possible to get some idea of this by the amount of ice in the water. Bergs of every size mixed with bits and pieces.

We very soon had to cross a line of fast-moving chunks. To say it was unnerving is an understatement. We got through OK but I was worried that we'd get stuck on the wrong side so we quickly turned around and headed back for the relatively safe waters behind the island. That was easier said than done and we had to push through another band of floating bits, making a horrible scraping sound as we went and making sure that the propeller wasn't turning. It might sound exciting but I wasn't enjoying myself one bit and couldn't wait to get back into clear water. Behind the island, things got better again and we had time for a lazy circle to look again at our surroundings.

Andrea was enjoying the moment of "touching the heart of Greenland" or at least being able to see it in the distance. I was a bit too freaked out about it all to really get into the spirit of the place. I think I was hoping for a close encounter with the glacier edge that would provide some kind of overwhelming impression of the sheer scale of the inland ice. As it was, it felt more like looking at a picture - I just couldn't feel it. The facts are amazing - unbelievable, really - but the immensity of all escaped me so it was an odd day, in the end. I got even more disconcerted when I realised that we'd damaged our forward-looking sonar, probably by hitting it on some ice. We'll have to see if it's fixable but I doubt it and we don't have a spare transducer for it.

We headed back to the first bay that we'd found and came straight in to anchor at the waypoint we'd placed earlier. There were now two small boats moored against the rocks. We got stuck into our regular delicious dinner (fish wraps) and were then lounging in the cockpit enjoying the evening sun. One of the boats from the shore came over to us with two young Greenland women aboard and they invited us to join their party on the shore where they were eating traditional Greenland food. We soon got ourselves sorted out and headed over to see what was going on.

There were about 9 of them - a kind of extended family - having a lovely time. One guy had caught 4 fish in the river - we debated what they were but it turns out they were Atlantic Salmon - and he was now celebrating by jumping into the sea in his wetsuit. They had a small fire going and several of them spoke excellent English so we were able to have a good chat. One man, Peter, worked in the media in Nuuk but loved coming back to Umanak to get back into the traditional life. One of the young women was studying to be a doctor in Denmark, where all the Greenlanders have to go to get Higher Education. She told us how homesick she felt when she was away studying and I can well imagine that, the contrast must be so intense. We shared some of our tuck and they shared theirs. They had some dried fish which was OK and some Narwhal skin and dried whale meat which Magnus tried and said was tasty (but I don't think he could eat a whole one).

At about half past ten, they packed up and set off back to Umank in their boats but not before the young guy gave us the three fish that were left. It was such a lovely gesture and they all made us feel completely welcome to their party. By the time we'd got back to Saxon Blue and had some hot chocolate, it was gone midnight, hence no blog last night.

Andrea and I were very lazy this morning so it was after lunchtime before we managed to achieve anything. We all headed ashore although Magnus and Kali were taking it turns to keep an eye on Saxon Blue as she was being threatened by an iceberg that was circulating in our bay. In the end, Magnus pushed it out of the bay with the tender! We did some filming then walked up beside the river to the lake at the top where we tried to catch some more fish with no success atall. It was beautiful, though, exploring in the sun. Kali even found a Ladybird - the only species of them that lives up here. It looked so unlikely to see such an English creature walking over her hand in this harsh landscape.

For dinner, we ate the Salmon that the Greenlanders had given us last night. It was fantastic. We're sitting here on our boat, looking out at the river where the fish were spawned and where they were caught at the end of their lifecycle. It was a shame to eat them and I hope enough of them made it up to the lake to breed but they were absolutely delicious. I feel honoured to be able to eat such food in such a place - it felt such a part of our trip with the combination of people and location. So, in the end, I could connect with the salmon but not with the glacier which just goes to show how limited my imagination is.

It's getting late again now but the sun is still shining low and red onto the rocks around us and the bergs in the fjord give off a huge crack every so often which makes us all jump. I think trying to understand this whole place is too much but I'm starting to understand some small parts of it anyway. The parts that are on a more human scale.

PS We were just outside watching the sun setting behind the mountains to the North. The whole sky was lit red with whispy clouds. I looked to the shore and saw two Arctic Foxes running around the old sledge and the smoking hut there, looking for anything they could eat. To the North West, the first crescent of the moon sitting above the horizon. Slightly to the East, a large berg that's been menacing us all day but is too deep to make it into our harbour. As I watched, the right hand end of it fell off and collapsed into the sea creating a huge wave which subsided instantly, leaving just a mass of ice. It's the first time I've actually seen a berg disintegrate and, oddly, it was almost silent. What a place.


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