Sea, Sledding and Snow:
Yesterdays clear skies have been replace by blowing snow and a murky sky. Sea water, open yesterday, has been skimmed with a rim of white ice; different icebergs have drifted into view. Suddenly, the friendly arctic feels harsh and challenging. I’m happy to retreat inside the greenlandic tent where the heater always seems to be going full blast. The double wall of canvas breathes, letting out water vapour yet keeping out those cutting, bone chilling winds. The combination of breakfast and heat is stupefying, I need to lift the canvas side for fresh air or risk falling asleep again.
We depart about noon, heading westerly, crossing Skiuiuitsoq Fiord. The fresh snow and colder temperatures have firmed the trail, yesterdays slushy spots a forgotten nuisance. It’s gorgeous going, the trail winding along the sea ice, threading between the frozen icebergs. These are not the monster bergs but more modestly chipped chunks – tipped over, they show bottoms of sea foam green.
The clouds are low to the ground but thin: every so often, a ray of sun pierces through the clouds, sparkling the fluffy new snow. There is a bitter head wind and I’m glad for the neoprene ski mask. Ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere are beautiful to look but their beauty is tempered by their crisp edges which seem to cut the skin. The fish camp we passed yesterday is abandoned except for frozen piles of dog shit, empty tent frames and a few bits of frayed green nylon ropes.
With only the shush of sled runners and Karleeraq’s quiet mono syllabic encouragement to the dog team, I get lulled into a kind of trance, aware but everything feels slightly opaque. The km’s fly by and time passes without interruption. When the body is warm the belly full and dogs seeming to run the sled themselves, I could imagine falling asleep while the komatik is in motion.
So when we reach Aattartup hut (where the kerosene was deposited 2 days ago), it’s a bit startling to stop. Kaaleeraq, Oli and Fazzee will return to Ilulissat with the dogs and we will continue our way on foot. Inside the hut, a family of four (the 11 year old boy with lime green hair) has spread their sleeping bags on the raised platform. Alfred talks to the woman, who speaks some English. I spread my sleeping bag too and take a cat nap – tired, from 2 nights of cold sleep – it feels great to be level and warm. The kids play cards, Dad fiddles with something outside, the murmer of voices inside quiet.
We are offered some food – marinated halibut with onion slices on bread. Very good! I prefer it to the 2nd course, a mix of curry spiced boiled eggs with too much mayonnaise. But it’s a change from the white bread and jam which had accompanied our previous days tea. Dinner is a taste exchange as well - the Greenlanders are not impressed with our instant pasta with mushrooms, olives and dried ground beef.
Outside, at 9pm the full moon is rising in a clearing sky. A soft inky black dusk creeps up mountain slopes in the west. With calm winds, it’s a lovely –12C. At 10pm, the sky is still pale blue overhead and light on the western horizon. The moon illuminates the snow so it seems to glow. No headlamp needed!
Inside, it’s a chaotic scene as three groups (another party of 4 has arrived) jockey for space to cook, eat, clean and rest. Coleman lanterns and cooking stoves come out, and the temperature starts to rise. After being outside for 3 days and 2 nights, my body has acclimatized to cooler temperatures. Its 20C inside and I’m sweating…by midnight, I’m on the floor, under the sleeping platform, modestly clad in poly pro legs and arms. Well, me and the Greenlanders. Within minutes, we nestle like long lost family. The Danish couple are on the platform, as is Alfred. Cushioned from the floor with a 2” foam pad and the same skinny blue foamy I used on the sea ice, in no time, my eyelids start to drop. Midnight, someone mutters in Greenlandic – the soft sounds melt, swallowed by the heat of the cabin. My weary body listens, lulled, deep into sleep.