Across the Frozen Sea:
Sun shines over the hill, brightening the tent and waking me. Slight condensation damps the inside of the tent despite having the zippers and vents open. I struggle with frozen boots and head over to the tide zone for a pee - pressure ridges lend a bit of privacy. Lots of toilet paper roses dot the ice, I’m not the first.
Everyone is up and breakfasting. A simple affair of bread, cheese, jam, canned tuna with tomato sauce, liver spread, tea and coffee (with Bailey’s). Not exactly the traditional fare I expected but nourishing just the same. Especially the warm beverages!
Camp is breaking up – many sleds loaded with families and their gear have already departed. At noon, we are one of the last to still be packing. The sun climbs higher, warming the air from –10C this morning to –2C. Dressed same as yesterday (poly pro long johns, goose down pants, gortex rain pants, thin super wool hiking socks), I’m ready to sit on the komatik. (Top layer is thin poly long sleep turtleneck, light weight poly mid weight, 300 weight poly fleece, down goose jacket handy if the wind blows and wind stopper jacket).
Kaaleeraq drives the team south, keeping to the shore line where the ice is smoother. It’s slower going than yesterday, the snow heavy with moisture from the underlying sea. A detour west, we stop to inspect 2 men and 2 boys at a fish camp. They are baiting long lines for halibut in holes cut through the ice. They sleep out here overnight in a wood shack, only returning to town when they have a full catch. Undesirable fish end up as ‘collateral damage’ – skates, rays and some odd looking wolf fish - are tossed in the pile slated for dog food.
I taste a bit of raw halibut, Greenland sushi, but find it tough and unappetizing. Yesterday I tried air dried seal meat but found the dark meat too strong for my liking. Kaaleeraq buys about 10lbs of fresh halibut from the fisherman for tonight’s meal. Thirty minutes ago this fish was swimming under my feet so it couldn’t be fresher.
Steep red cliffs line the frozen sea - ravens engage in spring courtship rituals, cawing and croaking overhead. By 2:30pm, we hump over the final pressure ridge, coming to a stop at ‘Innarsuup Nuua’ a point of land that projects into the fiord. There are other groups of people here, apparently hunting seal and ptarmigan but so far, no luck.
Alfred and I wander over the snow free, smooth scraped granite rock. Patches of snow reveal tracks of the elusive ptarmigan, also fox and a set of ski tracks. “Tourists”, says Kaaleeraq. Round rabbit pellets have been rolled by the wind, collecting in the small rock divets that sprout grassy tufts. It’s a calm serene landscape, the peace amplified by the monochromatic whiteness of sea and sky where horizon is undistinguishable.
Scrambling up a short steep hill, a pile of rock marks the round summit. It’s a cairn rather than inukshuk. Inukshuks seem to be rare here, unlike southern Canada where every other city garden seems to sprout this symbol of the arctic.
Camp has been set up on a small level frozen pond. Dinner is halibut stew with rice and potato chunks, liberally sprinkled with black pepper corns. Delish! Out comes the Sigg bottle with the diminishing level of Bailey’s. The wind is calm but as the sun sinks lower, there is a definite chill in the air. A huge ring around the sun indicates weather change on the way. I write my journal from inside the greenlandic tent – with the kerosene heater going, sitting on a raised carpet of caribou skins, my fingers work better as does the ink pen.
Oli offers to build a fire. ‘How is this possible in a land with no wood?’, I wonder. Chipping a 2’ deep hole in the ice, garbage is tossed in and liberally doused with fuel. A match sets the trash ablaze, it burns easily. Heat melts the ice sides and raises the water level. More fuel is added, floating on top of the water, flames burn bright. The ice fire mimics the sky fire, both sunset and flames orange.
Libations continue around the fire until the vodka bottle is empty. Jokes fly, language is no longer a barrier. Everyone is relaxed and jovial. The moon rises, playing tag with the stars, hiding behind a thickening cloud mass. I turn in, chilled again. This time, I put the down jacket under my sleeping bag and it helps – at least only my legs are going to be cold.
At sometime in the early hours, I hear the clack of dog toe nails on frozen ground. They must have chewed free. Sticking my head out the tent, I see a furry rear end, the head buried deep in the dinner pot, trying to dislodge frozen leftovers. Alfred wakes Kaaleeraq and Oli to inform them but they don’t react – we guess the dogs won’t wander and they can’t be bothered to retie them. Chilled again, I fall back into a fitful sleep.