Breaking News: We have just this minute met our first Polar Bear of the trip, but more on that later.
We left Leicester Bugt and headed off to a potential anchorage we had spotted on the way past. However as we arrived the wind had got up to a steady 15-20 knots from the north which meant anchoring directly on a lee shore. After a little bit of deliberation we decided this probably would have made for a restless night for Ash and Giles who sleep right beside the anchor alarms.
One of the reasons the anchorage looked quite appealing was there was easy access to do quite a lot of things ashore and one of those was a 20 mile traverse through to the next bay called Skillebugt where the boat would sail around to. So a very last minute decision at about 1730 was made and Giles, Rod and myself (Olly) frantically got all of our gear together and got dropped off by Ash at the mouth of the river coming down the valley.
What was to follow can quite simply be described as a bit of an epic that we had underestimated a little bit......a common theme on this trip so far.
We set off on our hike through a mixture of boulders and vegetation and soon realised I had probably insulted the local population of Mosquitoes in my last blog by comparing them to the drone because they had soon picked their targets and started attacking. Defensive measures were employed in the form of our head nets which made it all slightly more bearable.
The first real challenge soon presented itself in the form of a river crossing to try and get across to easier terrain, we walked along its shore for maybe an hour without finding any suitable crossing points until we ran into a separate fast running stream being fed by Glaciers higher up that was joining it and blocking our way forwards. So up we went and ended up climbing about 200m of medium sized boulders and moraine until we were able to cross.
We quickly made the decision to stay on the left hand side of the river and to keep higher rather then lower as it was a lot quicker travelling along patches of frozen snow then it was over the mixture of loose boulders, vegetation and bog lower down. It also had the added bonus of being too high and cold for our thirsty little airborne friends.
The scenery was stunning but the going was incredibly slow and after about 8 - 9 hours we had only made about 5 miles. The decision was made to make camp at about 600m at 3am on a patch of snow which had a good view of the valley below. After the tent was pitched we melted some snow and made some food which disappeared quicker then it appeared and Giles took the first two hour "Bear watch" while Rod and myself got our heads down. The idea was to be there for 6 hours which would give everyone 4 hours sleep each. Sometime during Giles's watch the rain started with gusto and then soon after I had taken over on "Bear Watch" the fog rolled in which naturally meant there was a Bear only meters away every 5 minutes. You are likely to work out that we all survived the night with no Polar Bears out flanking and attacking us in the Fog. That's as much as I can write in one go so I'm going to hand over to Giles for the second half of our trip.
As Olly says, thankfully we didn't actually encounter any bears overnight as the fog really clagged in and it was impossible to see more than a 100 metres or so at times. We consulted the inReach satcom messenger for some weather advice and learnt that if anything the weather was due to worsen the next day. After our slow progress so far, this news motivated us to get moving again, despite the conditions, and we struck camp in gopping, persistent, drizzly rain and cloud.
Heading south, we battled our way across increasingly challenging terrain including bands of rock and scree of all sizes, including boulders up to the size of trucks, as well as a small glacier to cross. With the going so tough (it took us another 10 hours to make 4 miles in a straight line - luckily we're sailors and used to going in every direction but the one we want, while tacking upwind) we set our sights on the main glacier, called 'Apusinikajit', still some way distant, which would hopefully lead us all the way to the bay below and the boat.
True to form the access to the glacier threw up even more surprises, including another river crossing over large boulders, with fast flowing water between, followed by glacier disguised as rocky/muddy moraine, before reaching the 'sanctuary' of the main glacier.
This turned out to be very benign in character, as expected (for a change), with only a few very small crevasse/water runnels that could easily be stepped over. Finally we were able to make some ground up, although the 6 miles to the beach felt a bit like a forced march as we tried to make up time, with our feet and shoulders getting tired from the miles and heavy backpacks. Finally we reached the easy ground of the beach and gladly took to the soft sand leading to slopes of emerald green moss which would take us the final couple of miles to the pick up point where Ash would meet us in the dinghy. Our ecstasy at reaching easier ground was soon diminished by the swift arrival of Greenlands 1st Airbourne midge squad who kindly escorted us all the way to the dinghy.
Despite being 4am the rest of the team were kind enough to launch the dinghy, Ash picking us up, and welcome us back to the boat for a cold beer and bowl of noodles before bed, having been on our feet for about 26 of the preceding 34 hours. A great effort by all with a range of type 1 and 2 fun along the way. Nevertheless, we were pleased to be back aboard Umiak and on our way to more new places the next day.