Adventure Diaries: Greenland, Part 2
We dip back into the journal of photographer/filmmaker, Alex Ingle, from his ‘CALVE‘ research expedition to Greenland where he was documenting the team’s terrestrial and marine research…
02.08.16 – 04.08.16 / Days Seven to Nine
After all the effort to reach this remote site, we have a 3-day window to achieve all our goals. We had good weather getting out here, but forecasts were now saying that our luck would run out. Thankfully, the first morning at base camp proved them wrong. The microclimate we found ourselves in (protected by the ice sheet) ensured three days of spectacular weather.
There was always a risk that, after carting all of my camera kit and batteries up here, katabatic winds and/or rain would make the drone shoots impossible (and everything else pretty miserable). But, ever the optimist, I carried everything I could – in the hope of just one decent day. In the event, an entire week of low winds, clear skies and virtually no mosquitoes proved a great antidote to the bruises, blisters and aching bones.
Tailing the science team during their search around glacial lakes for organic samples, the next three days involved constant hiking up and down moraines and around mountains – returning to camp each evening in time to power up the satellite phone and check in with the marine team back in Nuuk. If we lose contact, they’ll assume there’s a problem… then things get complicated (and expensive).
Porridge-fuelled early starts, day-long hikes around the wilderness, dinner then lighting the fire; evenings spent overlooking the ice sheet, the rumble of calving icebergs in the distance and the crackle of the campfire next to us, listening as anecdotes were exchanged from years spent in the field. These few days follow a fixed routine… and I relish every moment of my first terrestrial assignment in a long while.
We cover a huge amount of ground every day, in fact by the end of it all between 75 and 80km, but knowing that you’re on your way back to an established camp at the end of the day makes a huge difference to morale.
Although we had a rifle, it was decided to leave it in the mess tent with our other supplies at the drop off point in Sandnæs. Shedding weight was our primary concern, and in any case there’s only a very slim chance of meeting a bear in these parts – only a handful of encounters in the past decade. Lots of reindeer, arctic hares and the occasional eagle… but no polar bears, thankfully.
But every now and then when your mind wanders, bears creep into your thoughts. Especially when you’re alone. You get that slight tingle on your neck, and a feeling that someone’s watching. A quick look over the shoulder, and a glance across the hillsides usually fixes it. One afternoon, however, a young reindeer gave me quite an adrenaline rush.
I was setting up a couple of cameras during a drone shoot, alone, while the team went off for a few hours to survey a site. Having had the old ‘tingle on the neck’ earlier on, and having checked I wasn’t about to get mauled, I cracked on with the shoot. A short while later I had the same uneasy feeling, this time accompanied by the sound of rocks moving and deep grunting. Cue the adrenaline spike. I turned round, not knowing what to expect, and just a few metres away (to my relief) was a young reindeer. He stuck around for a good few minutes, checking me out, grunting, sniffing, and eventually wandering off. Unfortunately my cameras were all tied up doing timelapses, but it was an amazing moment.
With such good weather, our time in the field flies by. The science team achieve their aims ahead of schedule, and I managed to get all the shots I needed within a few hectic days. After a couple of exchanges with the marine team over the sat- phone, we hear there’s a very narrow window for extraction – rough weather is on its way, making the boat journey out a little dicey. After a final trek down to the iceberg-filled fjord, using my last drone battery to capture the glaciers in all their majesty (nearly losing the drone in the process, a long story…), we’re back at camp by lunch and begin to pack up.
It’s decided that we’ll hike out early, departing later that afternoon. Feeling positive after a successful five days, being ‘field fit’ by this point, and as it’s the return journey, it’s much easier than before. We pass herds of reindeer, more Norse ruins, and camp in a tiny space amongst the willow on the banks of Tummrallip Tasersua for the night.
The final day arrives, and it’s the final push ‘home’. Heading for Sandnæs, where we’ll be extracted by boat the following day, some of us are faring better than others. A couple of us are limping during the final few hours, ibuprofens and walking poles are shared out, and we make it back to the Sandnæs mess tent and collapse in a sweaty heap. Boots off, and time to tend to our wounds…
05.08.16 / Day Ten
The sound of an outboard motor creeps up the fjord. Packed and ready to head back to civilisation, we meet the marine team on the shore. The sun’s shining, we’re already overheating in our thermal gear, but the boat journey home is always cold (so we’re told anyway).
We bid our farewells to two of the terrestrial team who’ll be staying in the field for another week and drop anchor at lunch, near a site where a core sample is taken. Two divers plunge into the deceptively cold waters, and disappear for half an hour.
When they resurface, we have lunch in a sheltered bay. I laugh with the team, saying ‘I could get used to this’. Spirits are high after an epic week, and a very civilised morning on the water… what could possibly put a downer on that?
Well, within 30 minutes of leaving the core site, the calm seas get rougher, but it’s all still good fun. We laugh it off, and enjoy the ride. They get rougher still, and after a few large waves hit us the laughing subsides. Our speed has to be dropped as the impact of the boat on the water begins to get a little ‘uncomfortable’. It gets even rougher as the wind picks up, and we quickly become much colder and wetter.
Our little open boat makes painstaking progress over the swell, constantly battered by freezing cold waves. We take on water quicker than one person can bail it out. Within a few hours, I’m ankle deep in seawater, soaked to the bone, hypothermic and paranoid about the damage that’s being done to my sodden equipment.
Shivering uncontrollably, and unable to think logically, I spend hours staring at the water by my feet – looking up occasionally to see our progress (or lack of it) as two people frantically bail. What began as a bit of fun, ends up being the most grim five hours I’ve ever spent on the water. But, like all good adventures, once we got back to civilisation and our core temperatures reached a normal level, it ended up being another interesting story to tell the folks back home. We laughed it off over dinner.