En route to Ilulissat
-3°C / 25°F
Four km winds from the north
Sunrise 7:14, Sunset 19:16
“It is better to travel alone than with a bad companion,” announced Stefan Kindberg at our 07:00 wake up call. There doesn’t seem to be any bad companions on this voyage, though.
We arrived at Iulissat (formerly Jakobshaven, population 4,500), which is 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. It’s renowned for the massive amounts of ice that calve off the glacier and are discharged into the ocean, floating southward to the Atlantic. At 09:00, we zodiaced to the small, busy dock in Ilulissat’s inner harbour for a full day ashore.
Landing at the dock was a great way to view the local maritime lifestyle. A man moored at the dock who had just come from a caribou hunt. He made a number of trips up and down the gangway from the dock to the wharf, carrying parts of caribou carcasses. He wore a set of hind legs slung around his shoulders while he carried the head.
Another gentleman dragged a seal up from his boat, tied it to the bumper of an SUV and drove off, dragging the seal behind him. These are not activities we southerners are accustomed to seeing.
I met up with passengers Kathleen and Paul who were trekking through town towards the icefjord at the mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the Greenland icecap glaciers that reaches the sea. Apparently, the glacier calves off 30 billion tonnes of ice a year into the ocean.
From the wharf, we hiked straight up the hill to the centre of town, where there were souvenir shops and a restaurant that served the best bison burgers. We continued our hike out of town, past where husky dogs are tethered. A man arrived to feed his pack and the dogs set up a cacophony of howls. The road ended after the kennels, and a long boardwalk began that led directly to the ice field.
A sign at the end of the road announced this as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The boardwalk meandered over the tundra and field of grasses and Arctic cotton. The walkway descended between rugged bare rocky hills to the edge of the ice.
Mammoth icebergs, recently calved from the Greenland ice sheet, were corralled in a valley at the snout of the glacier before being released into the ocean. The ice is a spectacular sight, defying language and photography, though we tried to capture it with our cameras.
We scrambled over the rocky hillside to get optimal views of the sun glinting off the ice under the azure sky. To the right where the icebergs met the ocean, we could see little fishing boats moving among the giant mountains of ice. A most dangerous prospect considering part of the glacier could break off without warning before you could say the word ‘capsize.’
We met Lynn leaving the lookout and we headed back to the ship together. In the early evening, we bundled up for a zodiac cruise through the icebergs. It was absolutely phenomenal.
The sun set in a golden swath across the sky, reflecting in the water and gilding the icebergs. The evening ride was made even more magical when three humpback whales surfaced near one of the golden tinted icebergs.
All the stormy seas and times we couldn’t go ashore were redeemed in this stellar day at Ilulissat.
We finished up the night with a sing along and party in the Nautilus with the musically talented AC staff. And for those less musically inclined we had Last Days of the Arctic, the Explorer’s Club Film Festival movie.
Edna’s Inuktun word of the day was appropriately piqalugait – icebergs.