Today we landed in East Greenland for the next part of our Arctic adventure!
Our first landing of the day was Frederiksal inside of Scoresbysund. This moraine field was once a glacier and is now a large U-shaped valley. There were musk ox off on a distant plateau. Because these animals are hunted by native intuits they are quite skittish. For this reason, the expedition staff decided that the entire group should go as one - so everyone might have an opportunity to see them closely. Ninety-five of us began the trek over small stones and sand. Ninety-five pairs of feet on stones sounds like thunder, and the nylon of our clothing made that tell-tale swishing sound. It was hard to imagine that the musk ox wouldn’t hear us coming!
Photo from the Expedition's Log
Our first obstacle was a rushing stream with icy rocks to ford. A few of the passengers turned back at this point. The leader took a few stops so the stragglers (me included) of the group could all catch up, and the musk ox seemed no closer. Now the rocks were rounder and the size of baseballs. Walking was becoming more difficult and still the group powered on. The terrain was mostly void of vegetation where we were walking, however you could see plants covering the slopes of the valley where the musk ox were grazing. It seems that when judging distances in the Arctic you estimate and then double your calculations!
At the point that the rocks became melon sized I made the decision to drop out of the march on musk ox. A few other passengers made a similar choice. I scanned the area with my binoculars and found more musk ox grazing on the opposite slope – no more than ant sized dots to the naked eye. I caught a glimpse of some white specs a bit closer, and with the binoculars I could make out that they were Arctic hare. That would be my quarry, and I set out to get as close as they would let me approach.
Along the way the plants became more plentiful – Arctic birch a woody plant that is no taller than a few inches. The most abundant plant was fireweed with the most brilliant red leaves. Caught in these plants was the fine under hair of the musk ox - qiviut. This wool is a softer and finer than cashmere and warmer than you can imagine. If I had only known I was allowed to gather it! I would have been able to make several sweaters since four ounces of this material is all it takes.
Finally I worked my way close enough to see the Arctic hare in my camera lens. I decided to record a video – it turned out to be quite short – hare munching on vegetation, hare freezes, hare hop, hop, hops out of the frame - less than 8 seconds - not worth a post on UTube. After watching the five remaining hare for a while I stumbled on my own musk ox sighting – a skull - a symbol of my abandoned quest.
As I meandered my way back to the landing spot, I observed intricate ice crystal formations and beautiful patterns in the sand. What I enjoyed most about my wanderings was the Arctic silence – wind and water only – no voices or sounds of machinery just quiet.
As I looked up from my puttering I saw a large group on the opposite side of the valley making their way back to the landing site. The beach was still a ways away and figuring that everything is two times as far as it looks, I had to abandon my solitude - I began to hustle back as well. We all felt we had earned our lunch this day.
Tune in for further adventurers from the Expedition voyage. Here is a link to Arctic trips aboard the Expedition and a link to native Alaskans working with qiviut. Let Polar Cruise plan your Arctic vacation that allows you to experience that amazing silence.
Blog post by Sharon Keating
Sept 10, 2011