BEST OF THE CANADIAN HIGH ARCTIC
Second largest town of Greenland, we moored right at the pier. The town lies 75 km north of the Arctic Circle and is Greenland’s northernmost year-round ice-free port. Sisimiut was originally inhabited for over 4500 years by the Saqqaq, Dorset and then Thule people. The area was settled by the Danish in the 1720s and the present town was established in 1764.
At one of the museum buildings, we had a taste of Greenland. VERY well done with reindeer soup, dried cod, shrimp, seal blubber, narwal skin, dried reindeer meat, dried whole tiny fish. It was really fun to try everything.
They also had a QIVIUT shop. QIVIUT, which comes from Musk-Ox, is softer than cashmere, warmer than any wool and can be washed in hot water not shrinking. Another very warm day. Sismiut has an airport tucked into rocky coast line, one of the most expensive places to fly anywhere in the world. We were entertained with a demonstration of traditional kayaking. And we took on fuel at the rate of 60 metric tons per hour for a total of 700 tons.
Jacobshavn Fjord is twenty miles long, we were only at the end. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, 2004. One walks from Ilulissat 1.3 km along a perfectly maintained boardwalk to the icebergs,
18-20 million tons of ice calve off the Ilulissat Glacier each day. With an annual flow rate of 7 km (4.5 miles), this 300 m thick glacier is the northern hemisphere’s most productive. Whenever glaciers encroach upon the ocean, portions of the end break off and float. Nearly all North Atlantic icebergs come from the great Greenland ice sheet and have been observed as far as 3,200 km (about 2,000 miles) from their point of origin. The Titanic’s ill fate was caused by one such exported Greenlandic iceberg.
“The place where the sky is low” Zodiacs to QILAKITSOQ, where on a hunting trip in 1972, Hans and Joken Gronvold discovered two graves near the abandoned settlement of Qilaqitsoq (pronounced Kilakitsok - ‘the place where the sky is low’).
The bodies found in the graves, high on a cliff, remained in their remarkable state of preservation due to their location in a cold site with circulation of dry air, all of which produced a natural state of mummification. The eight bodies have been carbon-dated to 1475, plus or minus 60 years.
The mummies were wearing beautifully preserved clothing that showed the consistent nature of this indigenous culture, unchanged for almost 500 years. Unknown how they died.
The setting is in a beautiful, quiet grassy cove with jade green water, high cliffs, masses of boulders. At the sea level are graves and ruins of winter houses.
During one of our “At Sea Days,” Our celebrity guest, CHRIS HADFIELD, astronaut from Canada, spoke brilliantly about what he is doing with his life after space, how he wants to be involved in ideas and projects that will: (1) - live on after he dies (2) - Change the world for the better and (3) - be enjoyable.
He spoke about his 21 years in the space program. He flew three missions and captained the International Space Station. He spoke of “seeing the planet as a whole instead of the small part one is from.”
Chris was ten when he watched the Apollo 11 crew land on the moon. He wanted right then and there to be an astronaut. He mentioned how courageous NASA was to broadcast it all live.
He said space was at the edge of human experience, but one needed to share that experience. He asked what are we all going to do with the experience we are having aboard this expedition vessel.
On the original spaceship to the moon, ALL the info to run everything was on a memory stick of 128K !!!! Difficult to imagine. The odds of dying in a lift off: 1 in 38. That is sobering.
World’s northern most palindrome. 460 pop, nice museum - A prominent combined memorial commemorates four of the Eskimo ‘collected’ by Robert Peary for the American Museum of Natural History. The inscriptions record that they were born at Kap York and died in New York; their remains had been interred at Qaanaaq in 1993. The sir names on some of the graves are Peary and Henson, who left descendants.
The area is ice-free only two months of the year.
Litter of ten puppies, narwal soup with blubber floating in it, fresh narwal and narwal skin, and a charming small museum with labels in three languages, Danish, the local dialect and English.
The village currently has 40 hunters, 10% of the population. It used to have 75%. He said they have a quota of six bears per year. Of course, he tows the line, “There are plenty of bears. He hunts for everything …
Land of musk ox, “the place that never thaws”, southern coast of ELSMERE ISLAND, tenth largest island in world 830km (520 miles) long, third largest in Canada. Vikings reached the island.
In 2006 the population of Ellesmere Island was recorded as 146, of which approximately 130 live in Grise Fjord. One of the two other settlements, Alert (population 5), is the northern most settlement in the world.
It was very stormy, we had to stay on the ship. School children, flown to our ship from Grise Fjord, entertained us.
We hiked in the McKinley Bay with the Chapman Glacier at its end. It is a branch of the Tanquary Fjord.
The big thrill was seeing five arctic hares!
TANQUARY FJORD / McDONALD VALLEY
Our farthest point North was: 81˚24.686m / West 76˚56m
We landed at the park headquarters, now closed for the season then hiked into the MacDonald Valley… 9.6kms! A four hour excursion. The epic beauty encompasses sweeping monition valleys under huge Arctic skys.
BBQ lunch served on the bow. I thought it would be murder in the cold, but it was really nice. The nicest of the three legs so far. The sun came out enough to beautifully light the mountains along the fjord. The food was great. Too much, but delicious. Minestrone soup, ribeye steaks, lamb chops, ribs, sausages, salmon, prawn skewers, baked potatoes with garlic sauce, corn on the cob, baked apples with custard sauce and cookies. Also nicely hot mulled wine.
Helicopter rides to land on Chapman Glacier.
Eureka, at 80°18 ́N, 86°56 ́w, is one of Canada’s far northern meteorological stations.
High altitude balloons are released regularly to determine conditions in the upper atmosphere which are particularly important for the many intercontinental flights over the Canadian Arctic.
In summer about 16 people are present but this is reduced to about half during the eight- month winter period.
We were treated to a viewing of the weather balloon launch. They put up two a day at this time of year. Although today they did three so the other group could see one as well.
A beautiful, long blond haired meteorologist, Cassandra, was the one in charge of filling the balloon with helium and explaining it all to us. Her tour is usually three months at a station and then she moves on to another one. The balloons which can go to heights of 35,000’, last two hours in the sky, then burst apart. Each costs about $130….
VERY cold now, snowing
AXEL HEIBERG ISLAND
Four hour hike, one very nice musk-ox, last vestiges of summer, the transition between summer and winter in the High Arctic is sometimes quite literally an overnight affair. Last vestiges of summer with some Arctic cotton flowers peeking through the snow. We crossed a small frozen stream with the delightful experience of crunching the ice beneath us. Beautiful small icebergs floating in the bay and along the beach.
FINEST POLAR BEAR SIGHTING
Of the entire trip. While having dinner, a polar bear was spotted on the ice. I was not going out because he was so far away, but as Vladimir had suggested, turn off the engines, float and he will come to see us. After about an hour, he did just that.
I then ran outside to the frigid bow and began taking photos. The bear was wonderful, relaxed, interested, inquisitive. An approximate two year old, he hung around for another hour or so! Walking in his gorgeous ambling gait … huge paws, lovely face. Sipping water, yawning. He was a quintessential Polar Bear, beautiful, powerful looking, an ecru, honey white color.
Walking on the ice, It was fun and unexpectedly undulating. From the ship the ice looks fairly flat, but in reality, it is quite hilly with pools of water hidden by the new snow.
RADSTOCK BAY / CASWELL TOWER POLAR PLUNGE
There was a layer of fresh snow over everything, so, except for the bare shapes, the Thlule settlements were not exposed to us.
74˚ 41’ North, longitude 091˚ 11’ West.
POLAR PLUNGE SWIM!!!! It was FREEZING while I undressed. My good fortune was in having Chris Hadfield there at that moment. He helped me into the water, over about a foot of fresh snow, then black sand and rocks into the water.
It was the coldest water I have ever been in, -0.3 ̊C. Bud would have been proud. Utterly bone chilling. But I was determined to swim some strokes and did so towards the zodiac Vladi was bringing in... then I turned around and swam back.
Chris was there to lend me a hand as I emerged. With my hands and feet not working due to the cold, Chris helped me get out of the bathing suit and into my clothes. After some hot chocolate I got on the next zodiac back to the KK.... Thought I wanted to take a sauna but it was broken, good thing. One has to thaw gradually with tepid water in such cases.
This small island, on the southwest corner of Devon Island, is one of the most important sites in the history of exploration of the Canadian Arctic.
During the 1845-1846 winter, Sir John Franklin’s ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror anchored off the eastern coast and deployed some facilities ashore before they disappeared. Three of the compliment died and are buried on the island. The fourth grave on the island is that of a sailor from HMS Investigator, who reached the site from the Pacific Ocean.
I then walked around a circuit to the perimeters set up by the staff. Joining me was David, the helicopter pilot who flies the white chopper. It was late, around 7:30. They bay was ringed by black sand, the clouds had touches of pink and beige and yellow. Beautiful scene.
RESOLUTE - DROP OFF, PICK UP 4TH LEG
DROP OFF, PICK UP 4TH LEG, very difficult weather for transfers. Instead of zodiacs, the helicopters had to be used.
END THIRD LEG: 14 Days, 2,896 Nautical miles