Adventure Diaries: Greenland, Part 1
Alex Ingle is a glaciologist turned photographer/filmmaker who specialises in marine research expeditions. Most recently he joined the ‘CALVE’ research project on assignment in Greenland, for an expedition involving both terrestrial and marine field campaigns. We dip into Alex’s journal as he meets the team and prepares for the adventures ahead…
27.07.16 / Day One
Here we go again. Leaving Scotland behind, a long two days of travel await. After a quick flight down to London Heathrow, and a couple of hours to gather my thoughts, the announcement comes that our flight to Reykjavik is delayed. I use the next hour or two to check Greenland weather forecasts, work through my plans, and make a few calls. Looking at the weather, it seems I’ll have a very narrow window of opportunity to get the drone airborne during the terrestrial expedition. Fingers crossed on that one… just have to take it as it comes.
I receive an email from the science team saying they’re having a beer if I’d like to join them, followed swiftly by another announcement ‘..further delay to flight FI455…’. Beer it is then over at Terminal 2 until our flight is finally called. By the time we reach Iceland, and wait an hour for the bus, we get to bed at 3.30am. Sunset turns almost immediately to sunrise. Up at 7am to catch a connecting flight to Nuuk, Greenland.
29.07.12 / Day Three
With one night to turn around, we assemble at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (GNIR) in Nuuk at 7am – ready to head into the field. Unfortunately one of the terrestrial team is struck down with gastroenteritis, so we delay for 24 hours and take stock the next morning. That gives us time to sort our kit, test flares (which over-wintered in Nuuk), and properly prepare ourselves for the adventure ahead. A group of field biologists heading home leave some supplies for us – freeze dried food, porridge and a box of Russian rifle ammo (a reminder of the slim but real possibility of encountering a bear). We enjoy a final night of ‘luxury’ before heading inland tomorrow.
30.07.16 / Day Four
After spending a night camped on the floor, everyone’s up early – packing bags and prepping kit before we take to the water. Loading up the boat, I’m reminded how deceptively cold the trip up the fjords is. We layer up. Thermals, insulated layers, down jacket, gore-tex shells, the works… we start to bake in the shelter of the harbour.
After horror stories from the previous field season’s boat journey, we strike it lucky with the weather. Flat calm water and, after passing through the haar, blue skies with barely a cloud. It’s still freezing with wind-chill, and the occasional iceberg reminds us where we are.
Reaching our drop-off point (64° 14′ 36.5892” N, 50° 10′ 35.3172” W) in just two and a half hours (sooner than expected), we make camp for the night before beginning the trek tomorrow. Dotted around the fjord are the boats of hunters who have disappeared into the wilderness in search of reindeer. All around camp are the overgrown ruins of ‘Sandnæs’ – the largest Norse farmstead in the Western Settlement of medieval Greenland (AD 1000). Campfire lit, whisky poured, a last chance to take everything in before the hike begins tomorrow.
31.07.16 – 01.08.16 / Days Five and Six
With bellies full of porridge, we manoeuvre our rucksacks onto our backs – easier said than done. That’s the moment I realised that ditching a couple of extra lenses was a good idea. My pack was a particularly unwieldy beast with a tripod, tent, my Assynt 28 and camp mat lashed to the back and sides. After the initial ‘ooft, bloody hell’, a shift of balance and a swift tightening of the straps… we’re good to go.
With 26kgs of camera gear and supplies on my back, plodding up, down and around mountains for the next two days proves just as tough as I imagined. Though, with incredible weather, we dig deep and push hard – hiking for a solid ten hours on day one, making it all the way to the end of a huge lake, Tummrallip Tasersua(64° 18′ 26.9028” N, 49° 57′ 48.0384” W), and leaving a more manageable trek for day six. Without that weather window, it might have taken twice as long.
We make camp and rest our aching joints now that the most challenging scrambles are behind us. Just one last tough climb tomorrow, then it’ll be plain sailing as there’ll be very little height between us and our destination. Moments like this give you a chance to take it all in. Sitting in camp, looking over the ruins of Norse settlements, you realise what stern stuff these people must have been made of. With modern equipment, great weather, and only a short stint in the wild, it’s still hard going for us. The Vikings made it out here into the absolute unknown, through incredibly testing conditions, settled, and survived for generations.
We turn in for the night and push on the next morning. As the ice sheet edges into view for the first time, I hear a ‘right, this is it…’. We finally lay our rucksacks down. This is ‘home’ for the next few days.
Until next time, follow Alex on Instagram at @alexinglephoto