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Thread: Greenland - Arctic Circle Trail, Disko Island & Ilulisat

  1. #1
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    I have written this in a Word doc, to paste as I can. I'm not sure how much I can paste at a time but here goes:

    It was an incredibletrip! The Arctic Circle Trail was good, but I'm glad I did the two ‚??add-ons', to increase the interest. The initial impression of the area was of, perhaps, slightly dull scenery. An Irish guy met at the first hut felt the same ‚?? ‚??I could have had all this by staying at home' he said. But it improved ‚?? and I've always appreciated the arctic scenery and its quietness.

    There are many lakes, but precious little running water, none seen for the first 3 days apart from a trickle between 2 adjacent lakes. The water is surprisingly warm, no doubt because of this lack of movement and I swam many times; mostly lakes, the river at the major crossing where the optional diversion to the bridge is, and in the fjord by the Kangerluarsuk Tulleq hut. Wild swimming, one might say?

    I saw more people than expected, mostly using Paddy's excellent book. I suspect use of the ACT has increased since its publication ‚?? there's a new German one too. At a guess, I met 30 ‚?? 40 on the trail itself, 2 days (on the trail) seeing no-one. This increased use has made the trail a little clearer but there was one morning of bad weather where finding the route of the trail after the Eqalugaarniarfik hut was less clear. The trail surface is mostly a delight but there are a few boggy sections.

    My first add-on was intended to ascend Pingu (1306 m), about the middle of the trail. I left the ACT at the above river crossing, climbing up through difficult ground which included scrambling and bashing through some horrible tangled willow, to gain a nice sort of plateau/ridge, which I followed til the end of the day to camp by a beautiful lake below Pingup Sallia. The last km was just wet enough to require waterproofs, but the light rain stopped once the tent was up. Hot and sticky after the exertions of the earlier ascent, with a few splattered flies on my arms and head and camped on sandy ground adjacent to a beautiful sandy beach ‚?? what does one do? Yep ‚?? I stripped off and headed for the beach! It was rather nice.

    The next day was very still, with a band of fog hanging over the lake, 100 - 200 m above it, very peaceful. The mountains here are steep, but with potential slightly less steep routes, but in practice, they are made of alternate very steep rock bands with easier(ish) ground between them. I was concerned at finding a route up through the bands, then not being able to retrace my steps in the fog. And what's to be gained by ‚??conquering' a mountain in the fog? Been there, done that etc. So I stuck around the tent, took another trip to the beach, watched and listened to the most amazing calls of Great Northern Divers (Loon), marvelled at an arctic hare wandering past my tent, read a lot, pottered about and drank tea. As I'd now been going 5-6 days with a heavy pack (30 kg at first?), a rest day was felt valuable. I loved being there!

  2. #2
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    My return route to the trail was a gamble, to avoid the scrambly bit. But I was forced onto an extremely steep rocky section at a lake upstream of the river crossing above (the gamble!), and progress was extremely slow. I had to keep ascending slanting weaknesses in the rock to then scramble down to the next one, etc etc. So once back at the river/trail, I simply had to remove more sweat and dead flies by another swim.

    There I met a German girl and we ended up at the next hut, with 2 (English/Scots going the other way) + 3 (English & Czech) others. It was a pleasant evening. It rained hard later that night, continuing until after lunch, the only bad weather of the whole month. I walked with the German girl until the weather improved ‚?? she prefers to walk alone but was uneasy in this weather. The section after the hut was the only area where the trail was less obvious as it climbed into the mountains. But we saw an eagle, which made up for it!

    The next hut was shared with the 3 + 1 above and an Australian family of 4 who were spending their 2nd night there, to leave at horrid-o-clock in the morning ‚?? which gave us more space. It was a big hut in a stunning location on a lake. The 3 and I met up for stops on the next section, then we all shared the next hut with the ‚??1'. There was just enough room!

    The ‚??3' and I walked together for the first part of the next day (to the Kangerluarsuk Tulleq hut by the fjord), and we had an attempt at catching the many large arctic char in the river. Somewhat optimistic using a safety pin, thin cord and assorted bait, but fun. The 3 carried on, their lightweight beach shoes ideal for the several river crossings. I was compelled to swim again in the lake before the hut, which the 3 and I shared, the German preferring to camp by the lake for her last night on the trail. The hut is in a stunning location and being north of the alternate closer to the trail itself, suited my plans for the morrow.

  3. #3
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    Anyone who has been to the Kangerluarsuk Tulleq hut by the fjord (and other areas nearby)will have had their eyes drawn to a beautiful pointed peak beyond a glacier to the north. That wasthe 2nd diversion from the trail, to its top at 1347 m. The original intention was to one slightly higher, but the extended glacier crossing, and the sheer beauty of the ‚??pointy peak' as I had then christened it suggested this was a better choice, especially without ironmongery.

    The plan was to ascend through an area of small lakes at 600 m, to camp at the highest, 800 m. But my heart sank at the barrenness of the first lakes, their glacial green colour, nowhere for a tent, all boulders and rock. I nearly turned back, but something pushed me on, knowing that if I camped lower, the mission was probably over. A bit of scrambling and much difficult rocky ground brought me to the top lake, where my heart sand further. It was SO barren and steep, nowhere for my little Akto. But I espied what might be a ledge, a mountaineers' hunch, to which I ascended. Perfect spot! The water here was good, too.

    Next day, I traversed the lake to ascend out of the lake's bowl, then dropped into another small valley, more difficult ground, up the glacier (surprisingly grippy surface), more scrambling, along a broad ridge to the ‚??point'. This was clearly a scramble, if I could in fact make it. Leaving the sack, I climbed up ‚?? to find the top was a bit further ‚?? but this revealed an easier descent route, as I didn't fancy retracing my steps especially. And I was there! It was a bright sunny day, the views were outstanding, and although not religious, I was so blown away by the whole thing that I suddenly found myself with my hands together in prayer, eyes closed, giving thanks to the gods, to God, to fate, to whatever, for being there. I had never been so overcome.

    I still had to get down, and I was uncertain how the ice might change once the sun hit it, so back to the tent, noting more as I descended the glacier the amount of stones on it from the cliffs above. As I reached the tent, it started to snow a tiny bit. Thinking about the nasty rocky sections to be dealt with, I figured the best thing was to get the hell out of the area before these rocks became snow-covered or iced. So I packed up the tent and headed down, to camp at an area I'd noted the day before.

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    Then it was back to the fjord, where I celebrated with a swim in the ‚??sea'. The route after the hut is initially a bit soft, but then climbs onto a lovely plateau area as it heads for Sisimuit. I camped about 10 km from the town, in a beautiful spot with incredible views, just where the trail drops steeply off the plateau. As I approached the town, I rang a Danish guy I met early on the trail, who lives there. He'd invited me to see their sled dogs and he drove out to meet me. It was really interesting to see the dogs and learn more of the area. He dropped me at Paddy's bakery - it was good... Thence to the hostel in Sisimuit, where I met one of the ‚??3', with another 2 of their friends, and the German girl. She and I explored the town next day, I bought food for the Disko trip, then flew north on a twin-engined plane to Ilulissat.

    The whole route to Sisimuit took 14 nights, of which 6 were in huts. I swam many times, lakes mostly, surprisingly warm. It was a great 2 weeks. A few problems with nasty little flies (‚??knots' I was told) but no mozzies. Frosts don't seem to bother the knots too much. The weather was very good, and got better as we went west. I mentioned to 2 - 3 locals that I was surprised at this as the book said it was wetter here, but they said this is the norm now, things having changed a bit. I walked mostly in a light shirt and trousers, wishing for shorts at times.

    More to follow‚?¶

  5. #5
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    I spent the night in the hostel at Ilulissat, sorted food etc, walked up the Hotel Arctic for a superb dinner (cod and wolf fish), then at 7 am on the slow boat to Qeqertarsuaq, Disko Island. It was an awesome 4.5 hour ride through the icebergs, some really massive, but less frequent on the approach to Q. On the boat, I wrote a list of things to ask at the tourist office, as shown on the back of my map. It is hard to find out what walking here is like, rather an unknown quantity. I especially wanted to establish the need for a gun against polar bears. having been advised most strongly by 4 locals in a restaurant in Sisimuit that I MUST have a gun on Disko,(contrary to my own research and others' advice) ‚?? and surprisingly, a bear was shot in Sisimuit in May. I was now neatly 300 km further north, heading away from where people might see a bear to then shoot it‚?¶

    Ha! Tourist office? Forget it, none there it seems. I was desperate for a coffee, but nowhere was open. I was low in water, so asked a person where I might get some, to be shown a thing like a garden shed with a large and small outlet (heated against frost), where pushing a button initiates a pump and I filled my platypus there. I sat on its steps, feeling a tad apprehensive, really hoping someone might come by, get chatting and invite me back for a coffee. It didn't happen. So off I go to the mountains, to follow the coast west.

    It's interesting to see the LP guide, now out of print, states that the coastal route west of Q is straightforward walking. Is it hell! I doubt the writer had been there. It was exacerbated by some terrible gullies ripped out of the steep hillside by heavy rain in August, some gullies being 5 m deep and steep-sided, making difficult obstacles in places. It was obvious that the storm and its damage was a one-off, judging by the debris, the exposed bedrock and ripped roots of vegetation. It was sobering to think how close to my own time there this was. There are also quite a few more natural gullies across one's path, which required diversions up or down the slope. I went up to about 230 m in my 'contouring' along here, the advantage of elevation is being able to see the ground lower down, for obstacles and easier ground. Much higher was impossible due to the sheer steepness of the mountain. Progress was so slow I doubted I'd be able to complete my intended 9 day route, but improvements later on the second day allowed more ground to be covered and I was back on track.

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    It was with slight un-ease that I spent my first night in the tent by a beautiful bay, at the obligatory minimum height of 10 m above sea level. This is because when a massive berg turns turtle, it can produce a tsunami which would engulf anything in its path. At times, bergs exploded or crack and the noise can be like a massive thunderclap ‚?? but with no warning. They make you jump and there was one soon after I turned in. Then, the sound of a dislodged stone gave food for thought ‚?? was a bear creeping up on me? But no bears were seen on the whole trip.

    The morning was sunny and I hung around a bit photographing the bergs and the little waves breaking on the shore, splashing up over a small grounded berg. Off on more difficult ground, then the gradient eased. There were more bays, big inlets with ducks, geese, cormorants etc, 3 ‚?? 4 fishermen's' huts (apparently they apply to the government for a space to build on, and that's all. Some are really beautiful, wooden huts, lovely inside. The sea being generally flat, they can get there quickly from Q. I met a couple with their daughter building one ‚?? it was nice to chat, and he told me of 3 huts I could use over the next few days, left open by the community which cares for them. He also told me the ground was easier now, which it was. A long day saw me camp near the coast again, before a river, one of several I had to cross next day.

    Over the rivers, past the huge vertebrae of two whales, then up into the first block of mountains via a weakness I'd worked out would go. The alternative route to Nipisat (the NW end of this large peninsular I was walking around for 9 days) was a long valley, and I knew from similar places in Norway and Sweden, and from the ACT, that this would not be easy ground. Up onto the plateau, then into the fog. The summit was not obvious ‚?? certainly not as obvious as the map suggested, so there was a little confusion on my exact whereabouts as I'd assumed it was a case of going up to the top. I paced following the compass, to be suddenly confronted with a massive gully across my path akin to a miniature Lairig Ghru. Its sides, seen through the fog, were of frozen scree or hard snow, uncrossable. This made me question my whereabouts ‚?? I studied the map, checked this, checked that. The magnetic deviation is huge, about 40 degrees, changing fast, the maps having 3 different sets of lines across them. These are grid & geographic norths and the almost diagonal lines of magnetic north on which to align the compass for zero declination in the year of the map only, 2002 - 2006. So plenty of room for doubt and confusion when the ground doesn't look right! I got cold, put my jacket on, sat down, checked again, ‚??pulled myself together', etc etc. These mountains are mostly flat topped with extremely steep sides, so it is imperative to find the correct routes up and especially down. There is no escape route otherwise. It seemed I was in the right place, but the map simply didn't portray the land form adequately. The fog lifted a little to reveal a way of outflanking the ravine, which I did, down and up, to continue eventually to a perfect pitch by the first of several lakes. There were many Canada geese around, making me a little uncertain of the water (got from the lake), but it was ok.

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    Off to Nipisat next day, following the stream, but this channelled into progressively more difficult ravines so I climbed up to easier ground. The last 3 ‚?? 4 km to Nipisat was over horrible bog ‚?? it's a huge low-lying area with many pools. A few back-tracks required ‚?? I took a different route for my return.

    Nipisat had long intrigued me ‚?? a few photos on GE showed military green buildings but the satellite image of the area is very blurred. Apparently it was a radio/listening station built in the late 50s by the US, manned by Danes, at the height of the cold war, to be abandoned in the early 70s. The site is huge, very many buildings, mostly in ruinous condition, spread over a considerable area. They are linked by many kms of pipes and cables contained in boxed, insulated, above ground wooden conduits. One massive building contained 3 vast generators. There are assorted half-track tractors, diggers, an old Dodge 4 x 4 pickup, 2 pairs of big cylindrical tanks, one for water, one for fuel, etc etc. I had followed a big waterpipe across the bogs, this once drawing water from a stream 4 km away. The pipes are now split open by frost. There was a new fisherman's hut on the site of a now gone building, and two of the smaller old buildings are ok, with sleeping platforms and mattresses, used by fishermen ‚?? and me. From a rock outside mine, I watched the sun slowly set into the sea.

    Day 5 ‚?? heading back east, across the mountain range of Alanngup Qaqqai (861 m), the other side of the above low valley route, another day in the sun! The going was easy ‚?? but I found myself confronted by another massive ravine. In heading straight to the summit, I had drifted further south than intended and had to divert some distance to outflank it. The map showed the summit to be snow-covered but it was not, so it was fairly easy going. I walked a little way on a minor glacier. Then off the top, picking a route to avoid steep slopes and snow fields. My possible plan to camp by the first lake was thwarted ‚?? all rock and green glacial water. I carried on a few km to camp on an east-facing brow, looking along the northern shore of the peninsular. Happily the pitch was on firm ground with plentiful rocks, as that night I had the only strong wind, which started soon after the tent went up. I was glad of the bigger pole and doubled guylines as I feared this was the dreaded foehn wind! Info on the reverse of the maps states that these are common here, few tents standing up to them. The helpful advice is to collapse the tent and shelter behind a rock ‚?? but never mind, they seldom last more than 2 days!

  8. #8
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    Sounds amazing, look forward to any pics as well !

  9. #9
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    Thanks, it was! I have yet to learn how to post piccies on this site but wonder if I ought to open a flickr account with a link to that instead? There are some videos to show the boat trips and the ice whizzing past my penultimate camp site. I'll write that up soon, but some is on the relatedthread in the Travel section.

  10. #10
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    Great. Yep probably set up flickr or similar and do a link - you'll be able to upload better quality (larger) and more images than directly via OM. Then maybe youtube or vimeo for any video - if you want to !!

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    My apologies - this is turning into a very long TR. But I'm doing it in the hope it might be of use to/inspire others some time?

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    The wind bashed the tent for much of the night then went fairly still ‚?? the norm. I descended to begin a rather tedious following of the north coast at 100 ‚?? 150 m, across quite a bit of what is known by the locals as ‚??mattress'. It's a deep, dry vegetation, mostly moss, into which one sinks quite a few inches. It's tedious going, akin to plodding through snow. There was little opportunity to avoid it, the hillside being extremely steep above ‚?? serious crags, layers of fog floating around mid-hill. I ended up at a lovely hut, one I'd been told about by the hut-builder on Day 2. It was at the far side of a beautiful enclosed bay, 1 km detour off my route and I nearly didn't bother, unsure even if it was open. But it seems to be another run by the ‚??community' and sleeps about 12?

    There were various birds pootling about, including a couple of Great Northern Divers. One was doing a lot of, well, diving! Under for up to two minutes, again and again he came up with something pink and wriggly. A seagull showed its objection to my presence by repeatedly dive-bombing me. The evening sun painted a beautiful red hue on the mountains.

    Day 7 saw me following the coast over more of the mattress. I passed the long valley heading straight back to Qeqertarsuaq and in so doing, burnt my boats. I was now committed to 3 days' walking over the next 3 days, come what may. The ground became more tedious, a constant light spattering of rain wettened the tangled willow so when I was forced to walk through it, my trousers got wet. The fjord to my left turned into a vast area of shingle and sand, so losing its beauty. I became rather bored, not enjoying things terribly. Plod, plod, plod, plod.

    I was clinging to the hope that the very long spur/ridge/fold in the mountainside paralleling the next great valley south would be better. This led to a band of less steep ground, which I followed for many km, the next day too. I ascended to 400 m, where the stream in the fold ran out and having found a trickle, camped there. It was pretty cold, just above freezing, but a peaceful night.

  12. #12
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    Hi Rob. Only just spotted this. It all sounds amazing, but the second half sounds a quite daunting given it's remoteness.Looking forward to seeing photos.

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    Day 8: I forgot to mention a beautiful enclosed bay soon after yesterday's hut. The water was like glass, the reflections perfect. Some were ‚??doubled' in that one saw in the water the low hillocks behind the lake and the mountains the other side of the fjord too. A most beautiful and peaceful spot.

    I continued south, good going still on this easier band, as hoped. Past a ‚??glacial mess' ‚?? great mounds and walls of barren rock/moraine, as though a team of giant bulldozers had been at work in a most destructive way! The sun had appeared through the fog then thought better of it, then re-appeared. I sat by a lake in the ‚??mess', enjoying the glimpses of the glacier and crags through the fog. Then on, turning west mid-afternoon, to cross the pass of Tunusua at nearly 600 m. In my planning, this was a potential difficulty this late due to anticipated snowfall, but it was fine. My last camp was at 500 m, west facing to the icecap of Lyngmarksbraen, with a long, long sunny evening. I washed clothes and enjoyed the location and time to chill. The route was ‚??in the bag', just something like 16 km to go, downhill.

    So back to Qeqertarsuaq after the coldest night so far, down to about -5C. More mattress as I lost height, but I stayed as high as I could. A Snicker met its end by a pretty tarn, the icecap beyond, beautiful autumnal colours in the vegetation. Due to the mattress, it took a bit longer to reach Q than expected. A path appeared, the first in 9 days. I photographed it. A km outside Q, I stopped in the sunshine, another choccy bar consumed. Suddenly I felt quite overwhelmed. I had done it! The whole route, exactly as planned using the maps and Google Earth, had been completed. I had not fallen foul of PBs and I'd had some pretty good camps. Apart from the hutbuilders onDay 2, I'd not seen a soul, a wholeweek alone (one day more than my previous record). I felt hugely grateful to have been able to do this, alone, and not being as young as I was once‚?¶

  14. #14
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    Brilliant. My hat off to you.

  15. #15
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    'Glacial mess'... a great way of putting it. Even if you ran riot with bulldozers and did your damnedest... you couldn't 'improve' on the ugliness created by Mother Nature!

    Doesn't take long for summer to start turning to winter, does it?

  16. #16
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    Into Q, walked past the first (of 3) hostels as it was too far out ‚?? I was hitting town tonight! The next one, as shown on the back of the map, doesn't exist. I went to the supermarket in the first phase of stuffing my face, got talking to someone: in short, he took me in his car to a friend who had a single bedroomed house down by the beach, and that's where I stayed.

    I heard a toot ‚?? it was the hutbuilder, in the ambulance he drives. We had a long chat, a nice guy, who told me lots about the area.

    Hitting town? Hmmm. The place was dead again. The restaurant could have opened had I given them a day or two's notice. The pub? It's also the restaurant and only open at weekends ‚?? and this wasn't one. But a food kiosk near the hut was doing a nice line in muskox burgers so I had one, plus other stuff bought at the shop. Pig, pig, pig til full. The kiosk couple showed me photos of their days on skidoos, right up to the end of May. Such fun ‚?? they were brimming over with the excitement of it all ‚?? out over the ice, across the frozenfjord to the north I'd been walking by, out to other inaccessible parts of the island. I rather fancy the same one day ‚?? easier than mattress-walking!

    I had time in the morning to go the 2.5 km to the whale lookout hut on a spur to the south, but no whales. I bought food for the next ‚?? and final ‚?? two nights. Then it was on the high speed boat back to Ilulissat, but its arrival was delayed due to excessive ice, my own journey too. Unlike the slow but tough outward boat, this one is fibreglass, triple-hulled. It does about 30 knots on the open sea, which was a bit bouncy at first. Then we hit the ice, weaving our way in and out, the occasional reversing when it was looking too bad. The boat takes 14 and I was lucky to get a place, not having booked the return trip for flexibility (and in case of difficulties on the walk). I got talking to 4 Danes and we discovered we could go up on theroof ‚?? an excellent vantage point. But after a while, we were told to descend as our weight up high was upsetting the balance as the boat weaved through the ice. The sea now was as glass ‚?? the bergs reflected in it as we moved past looked just amazing, all shapes and sizes, some vast.

    Into Ilulissat, and off, rather later than expected, south along the ‚??Yellow Route' overlooking the sea and icebergs. There are several such trails, well-marked and popular. It lies very close to the northern hemisphere's most prolific iceberg-produced. From Wiki: 'The nearby <a href='http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilulissat_Icefjord' target='_blank' rel='nofollow'> is a <a href='http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UNESCO_World_Heritage_Site' target='_blank' rel='nofollow'>,<a href='http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilulissat#cite_note-7' target='_blank' rel='nofollow'> and has made Ilulissat the most popular tourist destination in Greenland.<a href='http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilulissat#cite_note-8' target='_blank' rel='nofollow'> Tourism is now the town's principal industry.' It has a population of 4500.

    I walked about 5 km and looked for somewhere with a good view of the sea etc. A sled dog followed me, too far, too persistent and I had visions of it grabbing my food during the night. I found a spot, started to put t

  17. #17
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    Not sure what's happened above but here is the last para again:

    I walked about 5 km and looked for somewhere with a good view of the sea etc. A sled dog followed me, too far, too persistent and I had visions of it grabbing my food during the night. I found a spot, started to put the tent up, then decided the ground was too shallow for safe pegging in such an exposed location. Get it wrong and the tent blows into the ice below. So I walked back a little, found a superb spot, a grassy spur protruding towards the ice. Perfect. I turned in, quite happy with things.

    After a slightly dull evening the day before, the morning improved rapidly. The view from the tent was just mind-blowing, looking out to a huge berg of about a km in length. It was stationary but between it and me, there was a constant stream of bergs, all sizes, motoring past at (for a berg) significant speed. The glacier upstream is 4 ‚?? 5 km wide. It moves at 40 ‚?? 100 metres per day, popping ice into the sea at a staggering 20 million tons per day. The biggest bergs are 1.5 cubic kilometres in size, some grounded in 1500 metres of sea. The scale of the whole thing is simply staggering.

    I sat there, transfixed, jaw dropped, gob-smacked. I got talking to a Swedish photographer who was based on another spur nearby, who had been out the evening before.

    I was blessed with perfect sunshine and the air was clear. Round to my left were more vast bergs.One or twoare akin to hills and I found myself working out the best route to the top of one, as if I was going to ascend it. What one sees is colossal, but this is only 1/7th ‚?? 1/10th of the whole berg. With the flow of ice, the view is ever-changing. A small island of about 60 x 150 metres sits 50 m from the shore, close to my tent. Ice moves through this gap, then the mouth of the gapgets jammed up. Clear water results, and I rather hoped that a whale would appear (they were seen nearby the day or two before, but the clear water had gone). Then the ice blockage is breached, a flood of small bergs comes down, and so on. The ice flow is not tidal; it is constant, constant, propelled by 20 million tons of the stuff upstream, making its bid for the sea and freedom, each day. Picture it?

    Tempted as I was to spend the final night there, I figured it would not get any better, and there were places to go‚?¶ And, I expected, people to see. So I up-sticked and moved south then south-east, only about 5 km, not able to go too far due to my flight the next day. I found a good spot by a bay, with a good stream ‚?? and the obligatory 10 ‚?? 15 m above the sea. A barmaid in the Hotel Arctic had told me that here, where the map shows a small area of water rather than ice, the sea is not as cold as one might expect and she swims there. I fancied the same, in a funny sort of way. That would be wild swimming! But it was pretty well all ice so I desisted.

    My last night ‚?? a strange, wistfulness. I turned in.

  18. #18
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  19. #19
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    My veryfirst photo uploaded. I really don't quite understand how to do it - and how to make this one bigger?

    Spot the Akto...

  20. #20
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    9,267


    Ha! Now everyone will want to camp there!

    I've only camped beside icebergs once, and they're fascinating. Always on the move, and sometimes breaking up dramatically, when each piece has to roll over and find its new centre of gravity before stabilising in the water.

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