30 Aug Encounters with Ice at Base Camp Greenland
Four elements define East Greenland: ice, sea, rock and sky. At Base Camp Greenland, Natural Habitat Adventures’ new expedition camp on Ammassalik Island, these primal surroundings form the backdrop for an Arctic adventure in one of the most remote wilderness areas on the planet.
Here at Base Camp, located just below the Arctic Circle near the outer edge of the Greenland ice sheet, I’ve joined 12 camp guests to explore glacial valleys on foot and paddle kayaks — a Greenlandic invention — in the protected bay in front of camp. But it is an all-day Zodiac excursion on Sermilik Fjord that offers an encounter with epic ice.
The channel is swathed in fog as we set out, weaving our way among flat slabs of sea ice and towering bergs. A few tall peaks poke through, pointy teeth jutting above the cloud layer. The morning palette is monochrome: all in view holds a place along the continuum from black to white. The sea color shifts as we slice our way through the mirror of water, from charcoal to gunmetal, steel to silver, casting ripples in our wake. The fog is paler gray, like a gull’s wing. The ice is every shade of white.
As we make our way north, we discover the ice is blue, too. Opaque water turns to teal along the edges of drifting icebergs and glows aquamarine below the waterline. Some icebergs emanate a luminous blue light, their translucent surface composed of ancient, compressed crystals that absorb all other colors of the spectrum. Iceberg blue is often milky-pale, though sometimes they are the color of a swimming pool, or strafed with deep royal-blue cracks.
The giant icebergs are both awesome and whimsical, shape-shifting as they float their way down the broad fjord, bound for the North Atlantic. Some, like those calving off the highly active Helheim Glacier, are as big as city blocks and as tall as 10-story buildings. We watched five massive ships — all made of ice — parading in a row down the horizon. We also saw a Chinese dragon, a jackrabbit with tall ears, a pig’s snout, a huge sitting frog, several toadstools, a replica of the Sydney Opera House, and an ice cathedral with a symmetrical spire illuminated by a beam of sunlight piercing the thin clouds.
When the sun finally burns the mist away, blue saturates the scene: cornflower sky and sapphire sea, dazzling with diamonds as the rays dance on the glassy surface. We step ashore at the Inuit hamlet of Tinit and survey the expanse of Sermilik Fjord from a hill above the village. A cold summer has kept the huge tabular pieces of sea ice from melting. Carried southward by the Greenland current down the island’s east coast, they have pushed their way into the fjord to collide with the flotilla of icebergs calving off the many glaciers that feed these waters. The result is a jumble of ice, a constantly shifting frozen tableau.
All photos ©Wendy Worrall Redal
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