The best stories are always found where you least expect them. Sea kayak expeditions that require access by boat, seem to always have a good story. The kayak never seems to fit quite right, or often times some aspect of the boat or captain is questionable, or perhaps, the seas are terrifying! I have had my share of exciting, peaceful, and scary boat shuttles over the years of expedition guiding in the Arctic. One of my most memorable was a particularly noteworthy boat shuttle this past summer, that combined everything, and then some.
The late day pick up meant we were in for a long night. Even in good conditions, the sailing would take at least 8 hours in the small single engine open boat. The hamlet of Ittoqqortoomiit, on the North East Coast of Greenland, is said to be the most remote settlement in the Northern Hemisphere. The picturesque seaside town has about 400 people still living there. It is located at the mouth of the Scoresbysund Fjord, and about 350 Km East from where I am ending my expedition in Rype Fjord. A group of Inuit hunters will pick us up at the end of their hunting expedition.
My driver, as always, will be Åge. Åge is great friend, and although we have never actually spoken to each other, there is a mutual respect. He only speaks Danish and the Eastern Greenlandic language of Tunumiisut. His boat, like the others is a double hulled fiberglass boat, no more than 17 feet long. There are no seats, no washrooms, and no shelter. I stand at the back, beside a pile of hunting rifles, outboard motor parts, and a freshly caught Muskox, that will feed Åge’s family upon our return.
Wearing snowmobile pants under an old floater suit, Åge stares straight ahead through his sun faded, and cracked, homemade wind screen. He squints through the glare, and ocean spray. I give Åge my brand new sunglasses. A small gesture, but his face beams in excitement. We have only been underway for a few minutes, and I can feel the cold maritime air on my face. A chilly reminder of the long night ahead. I take aim with my camera, at the glaciers overhead, and the endless parade of icebergs. I am comfortably decked out in my colorful Kokatat gear.
Ø Fjord is an 80 nautical miles stretch, of shear cliff walls, towering peaks and hanging Glaciers. It is also a collection point for Icebergs, some of which would be larger than most stadiums. Ø Fjord is known to be a wind tunnel, channeling the powerful and sudden føn, or Katabatic winds. On this night, it is dead calm, not a cloud in sight, and the glow of the late summer arctic sun casts a golden light on the glaciers, bergs, and cliff walls. This combination of perfect weather, perfect light, and endless enormity can only be found here. We are some of the few people who have, and ever will see the most beautiful place on Earth.
The Halls Brenning is a formidable body of water. This North reaching arm make up the largest open water section of the Fjord system. We must cross directly, in order to get back to town on our remaining fuel. The golden light has slowly faded to a pink twilight. The mountain peaks fade into the distance, and the boats steer due East. No land in sight, only white Iceberg dot the horizon. We are 25 nautical miles from shore in any direction. I feel small in this vastness, and settle in for the remaining 5 hours travel.
Cap Hope. The second to last headland before the open ocean. For the most part, we have been protected from any significant swell. I had actually nodded off to the hum of the 4-stroke outboard engine, while gazing up at the almost full moon through the hazy twilight. I am jolted awake as we take a hard hit.
It is not dark, but the endless light has turned from a warm sunset glow, to a now spooky purple. There was just enough light now to make out the shape of the next breaking wave coming at us from the open sea. I try to steady the fuel tanks, and wait for Åge’s instructions. They usually come in the form of hand gestures, but both hands are needed to maintain control in the heaving seas. Somewhere in these rough seas, Åge finds a few broken words of English. I manage to switch the fuel tanks, without starving the engine. One slip up, and the engine stops, and we are at the mercy of the waves, and certain to get swamped or broached on the rocky shores of Cap Hope.
We reach the pier in Ittoqqortoomiit around 4 am. The families of the hunters gather to collect the fresh catch and welcome their family members home from the hunt. I give Åge a hand shake, and as he rushes to get to his family. Tired, and hungry, energized and humbled. Only a couple hours until check-in for the Helicopter flights to the Airport… and more adventure.
It is between the larger aspects of a trip where I find stories like this. The detail, the rawness and intrigue fuels desire for adventure. Sometimes it’s simply getting to, or getting home from the expedition that stands out over the destination itself. Looking back on my many expeditions as an Arctic, and Antarctic guide, it is here in these details where the most memorable moments are hidden. I will be back in the Scoresbysund Fjord in 2018. Maybe Ø Fjord? I hope so. But it will surely be different. And there will definitely be a story.
Sometimes, when traveling in the Arctic, it’s better to be lucky than good. Oh, and of course being prepared is paramount. My clients and guide rely on the proven performance of Kokatat. From Tropos Kayak Mitts to Hydrus launch socks, Habanero Liner to Meridian Dry Suit, Maximus to Poseidon PFD’s; Kokatat gear will keep you warm and dry even in the most remote places on Earth.
Happy Paddling in 2018. Stay Safe. May you find adventures, and may your hatches always stay dry!