Day 5 -10 : Umanak Fjord & Disko Island
Day 5 August 28 Friday: Umanak Fjord (Qaumarujuk Fjord – Alfred Wegener Gate to the Ice Cap); Noon Position 71º 08.6’ N 051º 13.7’ W At anchor at Marmorilik; Air Temperature: 6.5º – 9ºC; Weather: Overcast and rainy
I slept badly and got up before Jordi’s wake-up call at 7:30am. We had an overcast sky and the deck was wet and slippery. After breakfast, we all landed together at the head of Qaumarujuk Fjord, at the foot of the moraines of the retrieving Scheidek Glacier.
As usual, we had two options. A group could follow Denis in search of Alfred Wegener’s expedition. This would be a day long trek. As I was scared by the dark sky and a steep climb over slippery rocks, I decided to take two easy hikes with Jordi and have lunch on board. Denis’s group soon disappeared over the lateral moraine of the glacier.
Our leisure hiking group stayed on the lower areas. Our destination was the foot of the Scheidek Glacier. The walk over the huge ﬂat area, the typical “U” shaped valley sculptured by the glacier and ﬁlled up with sediments, is not demanding. We found many fragments of the minerals rich on lead were found on their way. Jordi showed us marble with pyrite, galena intrusions and minerals that were mined by the closely mining facility in Maarmorilik. We turned back after having great views of the Scheidek Glaciers and a lateral one next to it.
I returned to the boat for a delicious lunch. The boat then moved about 3.8nm and the zodiac took us ashore on the southern shores of the fjord around 2pm. We had another two hours’ walk climbing to a ridge running parallel to the shores and reached the top of the largest hill. Despite the poor weather, we still had good views of the whole fjord including two hanging glaciers and high cliffs on the northern shore, two large holes and the “Black Angel” on the cliff opposite the mine. We took the same route back and returned to the boat.
Then the boat moved back to the same spot to pick up Denis’s group. Apparently the sturdy hikers had a fantastic alpine adventure: they climbed over the highest moraines of the glacier, following the original path used by Alfred Wegener in 1929 for his pre-expedition and in 1930 for his last expedition. The glacier, an active one at the time of Wegener and connected with the fjord, has retreated since 1929 for several hundred meters. They were thrilled when finding several remnants of Wegener’s expeditions including tins, conserve boxes and even a gas bottle that was undoubtedly used to ﬁll his meteorological balloons.
The interface of the glacier and the inland-ice is located at about 1000 meters elevation. The group reached this location after about three and a half hours of walk. I do not think I could have made it at that speed: I am glad that I had not joined. Otherwise, I would have been a burden for them. Denis found several blocks of white marble which contains massive sulphides, such as pyrite, sphalerite and galena. These rocks are from the same formation that contain the “Black Angel” zinc-lead mine which was in production from 1973 to 1990 producing 11.2 million tons of ore containing 12 % zinc and 4% lead and some silver as by-product. The name comes from an angel-like feature on the wall which comes from a folded and dark schist band in the white marble.
A quarry was used for marble production before the discovery zinc and lead. During the operation of the “Black Angel” mine, some 350 people lived in the mining town of Maarmorilik. From here we started sailing towards Uummannaq Island. The wind coming from the inner Umanak fjords straight from the glaciers and the ice cap was too strong preventing the boat from getting into the small anchorage on the west coast of Uummannaq Island just off Sta Klaus House. The Captain therefore let the boat drifting and motoring slowly up and down the most sheltered and free of ice area close the whole night.
Before going to bed, I watched a documentary on Drygalski who led the German expedition to Antarctica 1901-1903. I know the name from the Antarctic Odyssey journey: we sailed past the Drygalski Ice Tongue. I cannot speak German and only get a vague idea about his life and contributions and his expedition to Greenland.
I picked up a book from the library and read about Jan Mayen, another island close to Greenland and Iceland which looks like another odd but interesting place to visit one day!
Day 6 August 29th Saturday: Umanak Fjord (Uummannaq and Store Island); Noon Position 70º 41.5’ N 052º 10.3’ W Drifting at Uummannaq; Air Temperature: 9º- 10ºC; Weather: Overcast and cloudy
The wind dropped to around 10 knots in early morning. The boat was therefore able to get closer to the landing site. We could even enter the small bay and had the boat anchored between shallows and rocks.
After breakfast, we had a short zodiac ride and landed almost at Sta Klaus’s doorstep. I was here only eight days ago on August 21. From the guest book, I could see Sta Klaus had a busy time with visitors almost everyday! As expected, Sta. Klaus was not home today.
We then walked to the town of Uummannaq. I am no stranger here especially after having following the wrong ‘pink’ dotted route which has taken me to the top of the ridge. Denis seemed concerned about me and made sure I did not go off the trail again this time. Being Swiss, he is too serious and cautious!
While others headed off to the town centre to visit the museum and church, I headed to the children’s home to look for Ann Andreasen . Her neighbour knocked on her door for me but there was no response. I assumed she had gone to town. Today, the town was filled with tourists from a big cruise ship Ocean Diamond which was on its way to Iceland.I spent two hours strolling leisurely taking the side alleys. I found a very old grave yard close to the harbour and spent sometime in the fish market. We were told to be at the pier by 12noon. I was on time but our zodiac was no where in sight.
Then I saw Ann who asked me why I did not drop by her house. I told her I did. She was keen to take me to her place and I got into her car. The place is so small that it takes only a few minutes to arrive at her blue house which looks more like a museum with hundreds of books and her collection of Inuit artefacts. She gave me a book on Greenland as a souvenir.
When Ann discovered I had not visited the old yellow stone building close to the pier, she insisted I must see her gallery and playground for the children of the home. She is planning to take the children and show the film she has directed to Hong Kong. I would like to help and asked her to stay in touch. I am most impressed by her personality, energy, drive and determination.
By the time I arrived at the pier, I was surprised to find all passengers were still waiting. What’s wrong? We soon found out that when our boat was trying to moor alongside the pier, a rope, a chain and an anchor from a small boat in the port had gone into one of our propellers. Rembrandt was in trouble and could not move! Jordi, a professional diver, could easily fix the problem if he had proper gear including a wet suit, mask, an oxygen tank, and tools. He asked Ann to find a wet suit. Resourceful Ann managed to find one but there was no mask available.
While we were watching the children’s excellent performance at the dining room, Jordi was getting in and out of the water trying to cut the rope, remove the anchor and chain. The job was partially done and one of the two engines could function without problem.
In order to go ahead with the planned activity in Storoen Island, we set sail in a western direction towards the easternmost tip of the island. We had an early dinner and were ashore by 7:45pm. While we had fun ashore, poor Jordi continued to dive with minimal equipment trying to remove the things around the Port side propeller.
Denis told us before disembarkation that Storoen Island has very colourful soil and rock formation that resemble the Mars surface. Geologically the island is complex owing to a complex fold and thrust pattern. The most spectacular aspect is the strong coloration of some parts of the Island caused by the weathering of sulphide and iron rich minerals of the Paleoproterozoic turbidite sequences. The iron of these minerals have oxidised and stained the rocks in dramatic reddish-yellowish colors. Consequently, the sand has also showed a strong reddish-yellowish colour. This location has been used by NASA to test some of their equipment including the famous Rover mobile, later on used on Mars.
Once again, we were divided into two groups. I joined the party led by Denis on a 3-hour walk on the higher ground while the leisure group walked around in the flat area close to the landing spot. I found our walk not too strenuous as Denis stopped every ten steps to show us rock samples. We observed the many folds comprising gneisses of the Archean age which have been inter-folded with the younger Paleoproterozoic sedimentary rocks.
I was thrilled to see two snow white Arctic hares in a distance. They ran away later. But we found two soon before taking the zodiac back to the boat. Were they the same pair?
It was after 10pm when we were all back on the boat. As usual, many of us gathered in the bar drinking and chatting merrily! I was tired and did not hang around. I indeed had a good sleep.
Day 7 August 30 Sunday: Umanak Fjord (Qaqugdlugssuit Peninsula – Amitsuatsiaq and Qeqertánguaq-); Noon Position 70º 44.1’ N 051º 06.9’ W; Air Temperature: 5º-10ºC; Weather: Overcast in the morning, partially overcast later on, rainy and fog banks with low clouds hanging over cliffs
We spent a quiet night at anchor on the eastern shores of the Storoen Island. Jordi and DJ had dived around 5am and hoped to remove all the garbage. Unfortunately, without proper diving gear and cutting tools, it was impossible to fix the problem. As the boat could manage to motor on on one engine, the Captain made arrangement for it be fixed in Aasiaat.
Early in the morning the boat started the motor moving towards the Qaqugdlugssuit Peninsula. The full-day hikers would be led by Jordi while Denis would take the leisure hikers on two short hikes in two locations.
We had 11 persons in Jordi’s group. It was drizzling when we began walking northwards aiming at reaching the highest ridge/point which would afford spectacular views of the fjord and glacier. Soon, we were walking between amazing cliffs and big walls as we got deeper into the Amitsuatsiaq fjord, ornamented by hanging low clouds and morning fog, giving the landscape even a more enchanting and mysterious look.
The tundra foliage colours are exquisite and unearthly beautiful. It is the first time in my life to see Arctic beech, lichen, moss and all sorts of Arctic vegetation in such vibrant colours ranging from purple, red, orange, pink, green, yellow, gold, cream and white. My camera has not been able to fully capture the colours.
First we climbed up to approximately 300 m high to a saddle over the ridge with an East-West orientation. After passing several lakes on our way we reached our ﬁrst lookout point over the icy waters of the Itivdliarssup Kangerdlua Fjord to the north.
Then we walked along endless rocky ridges and hills after hills. As we kept gaining altitude over the rounded never-ending succession of hills, the views over this fjord and the two huge glaciers at its head got better and better! The contrast between the autumn warm colourful tundra and the dark rocks on the island, between the whitish icebergs ﬂoating in the fjords and the spectacular cliffs on all sides of the fjord is awesome and unearthly beautiful.
The weather kept changing all the time, getting clearer or cloudier by moments: I could see fog banks growing from the surface of the sea as the moist air touched land at one corner while sun lit up the cliffs on the opposite side of the fjord. I lost count of the number of high points and hills we had climbed. Finally we reached the highest point of 430m above sea level where the first group to arrive spotted a group of Ptarmigans nearby. I was almost the last one to arrive and by then the frightened birds had flown away.
Once on top we had to search for a way down between all hills, rocky ridges and cliffs surrounding the area. It was about 2pm when we began to find a way to reach the boat waiting for us on the other side of the island. Slowly and zigzagging we walked through the tundra and rocks.
It started to rain. Instead of following Jordi who was walking along a lake through the tundra, I tried to walk along a rocky ridge. All of a sudden, I fell when stripping over a rock. It was very painful and I worried that I might have hurt my ankle or broke my bones. I called Jordi who was already quite a distance away. Jan was nearby and both of them rushed to help me. I tried to keep calm and massage both the knees. After resting about ten minutes, I felt better and was able to stand and walk. What a miracle! Jordi jokingly said that he could carry me downhill if necessary!
Today’s hike is probably the memorable one I had in Greenland. Storoen Island has an impressive topography: a mountain range with vertical cliffs of 1000 metres high on one side of the island and a series of rocky ridges on the other side with a valley between the two. Hence my view during the walk was neatly framed by the vertical cliffs of the island on my left side, countless icebergs in the fjords and cliffs of all shapes along the fjord on the right, spectacular glaciers and ice cap behind me and more rocky ridges/tops in front. The tundra foliage is most colourful and awesome. Rocks of all shapes and colours add a surreal or ‘zen‘ feel. There are dozen of lakes and ponds. Despite my fall (and near injury), I really enjoyed the walk and the breathtaking landscapes from the start to the end.
We were all hungry. At 7pm, we enjoyed a surprise barbecue dinner. Great ﬁnish point for another fantastic day in Greenland! I was tired, went to bed early and a good sleep.
Day 8 August 31 Monday: Sailing off Umanak Fjord, around Nuggsuaq Peninsula Southwards along West coast of Disko Island; Noon Position 70º 37.2’ N; 054º 57.0’ W; Air Temperature: Around 6º C all day; Weather: Foggy and rainy early in the morning, sunny for a few hours during the day; later cloudy
The sky was grey with drizzling rain. I got up at 7am still feeling tired. The boat had been motoring overnight under Port engine, as we rounded Nugssuaq Peninsula on our way out of the Umanak Fjord and to get to Bjornefaelden.
As wind changed to more northerly, the Captain ordered Staysail and Schooner be hoisted hoping to add almost a knot to the speed. We motor-sailed in this way for a couple of hours making 5.5 to 5.7 knots until reaching Bjorneafeladen about 10am. Unfortunately, the weather (over 20 knots of wind) and sea conditions (a couple of meters swell from the west) were too rough for a landing. Too bad!
As the wind was blowing in the right direction, the Captain decided to set more sails. Inner jib and Main Sail joined the Schooner and the Staysail. Then the Outer jib was set as well. As we got good speed out of the sails, the Captain ordered the engines be turned off for the rest of the afternoon and evening. The engines were turned on late in the evening when the wind dropped off. In any case, the engine and the canvas set had enabled the boat keeping a speed between 5.5 and 6 knots.
Some passengers had seasickness. I was alright but lazy: I slept after breakfast till DJ summoned passengers to take lunch at 12:30pm. I returned to my cabin after lunch skipping Jordi’s afternoon talk about the polar ecosystems. I only ventured outside briefly to watch sunset after dinner hibernating in my cabin.
Day 9 September 1 Tuesday: Disko Island – Kuanit and Qeqertarsuaq & Sailing overnight to Aasiaat; Noon Position 69º 15.4’ N 053º 24.2’ W; Air Temperature: 6º- 11º C; Weather: Overcast all day, low clouds over the cliffs and mountains and fresh snow on the mountains around the southern tip of Disko Island
Jordi’s original plan was to arrange a zodiac cruise after breakfast to show us the basaltic rock cliffs in Kuanit in the morning, sail to Aasiaat in the afternoon and have a diver to fix the problem of the propeller there.
The weather was not good: grey and a bit miserable. I could see fresh snow on the mountain tops behind the town of Qeqertarsuaq, which I visited on August 9. After breakfast 18 of us got into the zodiac with six decided to miss the fun and stay on the boat.
As I had taken this cruise cruise to see the 62- 54 million years old basaltic rock cliffs, I had good ideas on the photos I would like to retake. As our zodiac driver by Jordi had 11 passengers, it was a bit crowded and not easy to take photos. We cruised along all those spectacular formations, icebergs, and even a Humpback whale showed up. Denis explained the formations in great details as last time. After two hours, we had to return to the boat.
Instead of leaving for Aasiaat right away, Jordi told us that we had to change plan and to wait for a diver on a supply ship coming to Qeqertarsuaq around 7pm as there was no diver in Aasiaat. Hence, we had a free afternoon to spend in Qeqertarsuaq. He suggested us to go ashore to visit the museum and follow Denis on a walk to the waterfall at 3pm. The last zodiac would be leaving the pier at 6pm and the Captain’s farewell drink was at 6:30pm.
As I had taken the walk to the waterfall on my last visit, I spent the afternoon wandering leisurely in town visiting the museum, the church and the graveyard. I met some kids on the street and had fun talking with them. I also saw three puppies that were one-day old! By 5pm, I was ready to return to the boat. As a matter of fact, all were back on the boat before 5:30pm.
Around 6pm, our boat came alongside the pier to wait for the arrival of a diver to get rid of the garbage tangling at the propeller. Things in Greenland often do not work out as planned. The diver from a supply ship did not turn up. Instead, the crew miraculously found a diver with full gear in town. Hence before the farewell drink, the local diver had already done the job! Bravo!
At 6:30pm, we all gathered in the dining room to greet Captain Sven and his crew, Jordi and Denis. We were blissful and more than satisfied with the trip. We heartily thanked Captain Sven and his crew, Khabir, the excellent chef in particular, Jordi and Denis for their hard work and professionalism without which we would not have had such a wonderful programme of activities.
In the evening, everyone was busy downloading the digital souvenir prepared by Jordi with detailed information and amazing photos (he is a professional photographer). I returned to my cabin after 11pm to pack and sleep. I was awaken by engine noises around 2am. I went out to see what had happened. Wow, our boat had just come side the pier in Aasiaat. With the engines turned off for the rest of the night, I was able to sleep.
Day 10 September 2 Wednesday: End of trip & Fly to Kangerlussuaq and Copenhagen I got up before the morning call at 6:30am. Before breakfast at 7am, I had already put my suitcase on deck, stripped the bed sheet and quilt cover. After a quick breakfast, I made my way to the seaman’s hotel in order to get online for half an hour to check emails and messages.
By 8am, all the passengers were off the boat and waited for transfer to the Aasiaat airport. I gave a big hug to DJ and Jordi and said farewell to Captain Sven and his crew. All of us together with Denis took a 35-minute flight to Kangerlussuaq. Then we boarded our Air Greenland flight and arrived in Copenhagen four hours later.
Randi and her mom, my Danish friends gave me a lift to town. I arrived in good shape in Urban House next to the train station before 10pm. But as Denmark is four hours ahead, I could not sleep till almost 3am!
I have spent 32 nights in Greenland including six nights in Kangerlussuaq and 26 nights aboard S/V Rembrandt van Rijn. I heard wonderful remarks about Greenland while I was on the Antarctic and Atlantic Odyssey. My curiosity prompted me to revisit Greenland.
I was on an expedition from Svalbard to Iceland via East Greenland aboard Polar Star some ten years ago. The only things I remember are my first sight of a polar bear on ice on the way to Greenland, the fiords and a small settlement in East Greenland. This time, I am lucky to see Greenland at its best on board on a small sailing boat with two fantastic guides, Jordi and Denis, with an awesome and unforgettable experience.
My Western Arctic Greenlandic Experience
Emptiness. Greenland is the largest island in the world with less than 60,000 people. While Antarctic is much larger without permanent inhabitants, it is inaccessible unless one joins a tour. Even that, one cannot normally roam freely. But in Greenland, I can walk safely on my own to experience and appreciate its vastness, emptiness and surreal beauty.
Landscape. Greenland has the world’s largest ice sheet after Antarctica. It has some of the oldest rocks on Earth, spectacular landscape with fiords, glaciers and icebergs, coastal plains, mountains and rock formations. Though the majority of the land is white covered in ice/snow most time of the year, its coastal areas are green in the summer. It’s amazing to watch the ever-changing and dramatic landscape as the boat sailed along the coast.
Timing. Late August is an excellent time to visit Greenland. I watched the changing colours with amazement. Summer is short in high Arctic: when I arrived in Kangerlussuaq at the beginning of August, the air still had a summer feel with high temperature under the sun. Towards the end of the voyage, we were already in late autumn with ice floes, snow falls and pack ice. I find the foliage most beautiful and captivating: I have never imagined the ground could be covered by such bright orange, red, purple and pink leaves in High Arctic. The foliage looks particularly striking against the backdrop of magnificent fiords, white glaciers, lakes, rocky cliffs and dramatic mountains. The sun did not set till 2-3 am on our way to Thule. I therefore spent many nights on deck to watch sunset. I was very lucky to see the blue and green flash a couple times. I also saw Northern Lights once.
People. I feel at home in Greenland as many of the indigenous people look like my lost cousins! Even the Dane in the hostel in Kangerlussuaq asked me whether I came from Greenland. Ann, Director of the Children’s Home of Uummannaq, is so energetic and inspiring. I love to return and work as a volunteer for the community one day.
History. The history about human migration from the Canadian side to Greenland, the Thule culture and remains, the Viking settlements and ruins and the discovery of Northern West Passage is fascinating. It is however weird to see how an enormous American military town has been built in Thule since the Cold War.
Wildlife. I had three magical encounters with wildlife in Greenland. First, we watched and followed a group of muskox for over two hours. Second, I saw a couple of muskox in close range during a hike. Third, I saw for a split second four humpbacks popping their heads with open mouths out of the water on a magical feeding display. The only thing I have missed is a NARWAL!!!
I had a great time. The boat is comfortably with good food. Jordi and Denis are excellent guides and I hope to meet them again. My fellow passengers are pleasant especially Nivi, the youngest passenger on the boat who has brought us lots of fun and laughter!
Greenland is enticing and enchanting: I shall definitely return.