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Through Silken Waters – Greenland 2023…

I rarely go to the same place twice.  Perhaps I want to keep my memories as they were and enjoy seeing new places, but as Heraclitus said – “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”.  The fjords of Greenland are no different.  Their ever-moving ice bergs and glaciers are never the same from one moment to the next.

Once again, I joined Norwegian friends Laila and Christian, with Nic, Graham, Emily and Anna (all have connections to the Kendal Mountain Festival), and Katrin from Norway.

The ice looked its usual self as we landed at Narsarsuaq, but it soon became clear that the fjord at Narsaq was packed with bergs.  The glaciers inland had dropped huge quantities of ice over the spring and early summer, jamming the entrance to Ikersuaq Fjord.  As ever with trips such as this, flexibility is the key.  Whatever plans we make can change in an instant, as should we.  After a lot of bashing and banging on the hull, the transfer boat fought into Narsaq harbour, and we spent the afternoon preparing for our journey.  Laila and Christian had established a base in town, where we prepped our boats and considered the route.  Sea Kayaks may be small and nimble, but pack ice was going to be an issue.

We launched from Narsaq the next morning and headed south into Tunuaraq Fjord, passing by a tremendous amount of floating ice.  Many of the crew were experienced white water paddlers but had barely sat in a sea kayak.  They’d only seen days like this in pictures and swept over the water at great pace.  Soon the air was filled with gasps and giggles (particularly when we saw a whale blow) and I was a very happy man.  Inviting people to join such trips always fills me with trepidation.  What if the weather is bad, or the sea conditions difficult..?  Thankfully the Gods were on my side.

We slipped across silken waters for the whole day, joined only by a few birds, before making camp on the only flat(ish) grass that we could find.  There is no such thing as a campsite here, not much in the way of level ground and searching for drinking water is a constant mission.  Still the weather was good, the day long and the sunset beautiful.  I opened a fine bottle of Scotch Malt Whisky Society (78.54 Fruity Swagger), and we celebrated our first day together in the kayaks and longed for more excitement.  We didn’t have long to wait…

The next morning, we entered an inlet guarded by two huge sentinels of ice.  They silently looked down on us as we quietly slipped by, all in awe of their colossal size.  They’d been trapped on the shore either side of the inlet and were no doubt there for the duration.

We paddled onward, noticing hunting cabins high on the hillsides and the biggest pile of antlers I’ve ever seen in my life.  Some like hunting, some don’t.  Some like trophies, some don’t.  The Innuit certainly hunt Reindeer (and many other animals) en masse if this pile is anything to show, and they make good use of all the meat, skin, and bones.  Even on the flight, you could buy a bread bag lined in seal skin.

Then came a 400m portage.  All our boats, kit and ourselves was hauled out the water, over a small hill and launched again in the Ikersuaq Fjord.  It should sound hard work and it was, but there was a great amount of laughing and joking on the way.  We had good weather and modern equipment.  Apparently the Vikings used this portage with traditional wooden boats..!  We then launched and crossed the 5km of water to make camp as a rainbow crossed the sky.

The next morning, we turned towards the glaciers, and I was back in waters I knew.  The surface was like glass as we hugged the cliffs, still weaving through fields of bergs as we approached the ice cap.  Occasional Seals popped their heads up for a look, and a pod of Dolphins said a brief hello.  The air felt cooler as we rounded the headland to the main Glacier and the grey moraine fields darkened the day.  We’d paddled here last year but camped on the East side of Qalerallit Imaa Fjord.

This year we were on the opposite, Western side.  The beach was of grey sand, littered with small bergs.  We built our tents high on the moraine field, before returning to swim – yes, swim.  Actually, it wasn’t that cold (I didn’t think so) and a number of us took a few strokes in the meltwaters.  Now, you might think us all mad, but many folk swim in the open air these days and I certainly thought the rivers of the Peak District were colder.  Global warming in reverse..?  Talking of which, we were camped a good couple of miles from the ice, with the Glacier glinting in the distance.  When I was born, the ice would have been in the campsite – such is the changing of our world.

The next morning, we struck camp and headed straight for the ice.  It boomed and crashed with regularity and dropped huge blocks into the sea, causing waves to fill the meltwater.  I sat and peered into the cracked and weathered face.  Much was indiscernible, but one patch stood out.  Last year I had seen rocks peering out from the centre of the face.  Now there was a much bigger gash, with a huge patch of deep grey standing out.  Rock absorbs much more thermal energy than ice and this gash will only get bigger and bigger.  The world is changing, and the speed of change is disturbing.  I’ve heard lots of people saying, ‘go and see the ice now, while you still can’.  A frightening prophecy indeed.

We were all sad to leave the ice but had to begin the long journey back to base.  We briefly stopped on a tiny shingle beach, which was strewn with even more bergs, before rounding the corner to camp for the night in an ancient Inuit settlement.  Respect is a word often used, but rarely executed. We had entered an historical site where people had lived and died for centuries.  The rings of their houses filled what little flat land there was, and graves littered the hillsides.  We camped on untouched patches and paid due reverence to the grave sites.  Sadly, I’ve seen many people do quite the opposite to this world, but the ethics of Leave No Trace are in my blood.  Graham and I tried a spot of fishing with no luck whilst the camp filled with laughter as the girls launched a huge inflatable Unicorn.  Well, you just can’t take some people anywhere..!

Our final camp was adjacent an ancient Viking settlement, which has a beautiful babbling brook of pure water running through it.  The area was huge, flat, and interspersed with herbs and berries.  It’s easy to see why it was settled all those years ago.  We walked up a nearby hill to see if our hoped route home was available, but the ice stood in a line across the fjord.  We’d have to circumnavigate it and hope for good weather.  The next day dawned clear and still.  We had the paddle of our lives retuning to Narsaq on waters of glass.  The only sounds were of calling birds and breaking ice, until the first motorboat from town raced in the distance.

We entered harbour, and packed everything away, before a well needed shower and change of clothes.  My skin grafts were sore, but my soul at peace.  Trips like this wear at my physical injures and I have to take care, but the peace I feel is worth every blister and sore…

My thanks to Terra Nova Equipment for supplying me with an Axis 2 Tent for the expedition.

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