Tag Archives: Travel

Arctic Cruise: Baffin Island and West Greenland Part I

Part I
Less than six months after leaving Summit Station Greenland, thinking I might never return to the Arctic, I found myself headed North once again. Never say never!

A few weeks prior I had received a call asking if I would be available to fill in as the trip leader on a 12-day alumni trip with my alma mater: a cruise to Baffin Island and West Greenland. I would be expected to give several lectures on my experience in the Arctic and be the point person for our group. Due to the size of the ship this would be a combined trip with alumni from three other colleges as well. I jumped at the opportunity.


After meeting as a group in the Canadian capital city, Ottawa, we continued via small plane to Iqaluit, Canada. Iqaluit sits near the head of Frobisher Bay and is the capital of the Nunavut Territory. At 63°44′55″ North and 68°31′11″ West it is south of the Arctic Circle, but the soil is so bare there are almost no trees. The landscape surrounding the town is comprised of glacially scoured hills dotted with lakes and ponds. That first day we got a tour of the town and had some time to explore on foot. The population of Iqaluit is roughly 8,000 and it’s economy is based on fishing, tourism, and the airport. Art is valued in communities all around the Arctic, and Iqaluit is no exception. Statues and sculptures can be found scattered around town and large colorful murals cover otherwise bare walls.


A giant polar bear mural


St Jude’s cathedral in Iqaluit

There are three official languages of Nunavut: English, French, and Inuktitut. While the spoken language is somewhat related to other Arctic Inuit languages the written Inuktitut language is based on the Cree syllabary in contrast to Greenlandic and the Alaska Inuit languages which are based on Latin.

Later that afternoon we were brought via bus to a beach where we were met by a handful of zodiac skiffs and crew. We boarded in groups and off we went!
The ship was the Akademik Sergey Vavilov – a retired Russian research vessel now used primarily as a cruise ship in the Arctic and Antarctic with oceanographic researchers on board during their transits between the two poles. Our luggage was already onboard and we were met with a welcome and safety briefing before settling into our cabins.
The next few days were spent sailing along the South Eastern shore of Baffin Island. Sea ice, high seas, and heavy winds prevented the first planned shore excursions, but we sighted several Bowhead whales, many sea birds, and some dramatic views of the rugged shoreline through the clouds.


Disembarking the zodiac


The Akademik Sergy Vavilov

Our first stop was a small village called Pangnirtung, Nunavut located just north of Frobisher Bay. Here we were given time to explore on foot and treated to several demonstrations at the local community center of traditional throat singing, some of the Arctic Winter Game events, and the lighting of a qulliq lamp by one of the elders. In town we toured craft shops displaying beautiful carved statues and jewelry as well as a collective weaving workspace and a renowned printmaking shop.
At the head of the bay is Auyuittuq National Park, a dramatic glacially carved landscape with tall peaks, sheer walls, and winding fjords.


Pangnirtung nestled beneath the fjords walls


Auyuittuq National Park in the distance

Our final shore excursion on Baffin Island was at Cape Mercy. Once a Cold War Distant Early Warning (DEW) line site, the now automated radar station still stands forlorn atop the hill. It was a grey day with a biting wind blowing, yet beautiful and raw. We spent several hours hiking around the beach and hills. One of the most exciting sights was the discovery of polar bear remains. The presence of the claws and skull indicated a natural death (these are the trophy items poachers rarely leave behind) and the dead grass around the bones suggested the skin had rotted away in place. The bones had been scattered likely by scavengers such as fox and eagle. On the zodiac ride back to the ship we cruised around impressive ice formations admiring their surreal shapes and brilliant light.


It was a quick visit and soon we returned to the ship and headed back into the Davis Strait. The hope was to sail North to find more solid sea ice, where we might also find polar bears, before turning East towards Greenland. During this time at sea, and throughout the trip, each of us leaders presented lectures on a variety of subjects: Current events and political issues, Marine mammal adaptation to warming ocean temperatures, Arctic Climate Change in general, the History of Arctic Exploration, Ice and Marine Ecosystems, Arctic Science Support and Winters on the Greenland ice sheet.

It was during this segment that we crossed the official Arctic Circle: 66°33’ North. Unlike the arbitrary lines of longitude, the Arctic Circle, like the equator, marks a physical aspect of our planet. Above this line the sun never sets on the winter solstice. Many of the guests on board had never crossed into the Arctic and were very excited. A small celebration was held with toasts and photographs.
After a day and night spent chugging through thick fog and rolling seas we finally reached the sea ice edge. All eyes were glued to the horizon as we scanned the sea ice and fog for polar bears…there were a couple of false alarms, until we indeed spotted one! It turned out to be a mother, with two cubs. She moved slowly, navigating through the rough and broken sea ice, her cubs in tow. We edged as close as we dared, given the ice and waves, and there they were: unmistakable through binoculars and zoom lenses! Our polar bear sighting achieved we departed Canada and sailed East for Greenland.


Fog, sea ice, and waves


First Polar Bear Sighting


The professional photographer


A mother bear and two cubs


Filed under Arctic, Canada

Arctic Adventure Part I

Part 1: Arctic Circle Trail

I have been working on the Greenland ice sheet since 2010, but have only ever been to Summit, Kangerlussuaq, and Constable Pynt. This summer I finally had the opportunity to explore more of Greenland – to experience the wild arctic tundra, sail down the SW coast aboard a ferry visiting numerous small towns and settlements, and visit a few of the towns in South Greenland.


Russell Glacier

Greenland is the largest island in the world and 81% of its landmass is covered with ice. With a population of just over 57,000 people it is the least densely populated country on earth. It is also one of the most expensive places to travel. Everything has to be shipped in, everything is a limited resource, and there’s just not much infrastructure to support tourism in general. There are no two towns connected by road so one must take a boat or plane to get from one place to another. Outside of the few largest towns there are so few visitors that there might not be any hotel or hostel. I spoke to several travelers who found families to host them, at a cost. Wild meat and fish is cheap, but finding vegetarian meals can be a challenge to say the least. Hiking and camping are free, but maps can be hard to find and there may or may not be any official or marked trails. Guided tours are the best way to see Greenland, but they come at exorbitant cost. There is an official Greenland tourism bureau: https://visitgreenland.com and it has a lot of great information and is a solid start.


The KISS Building

I had several friends who had traveled around Greenland in past years so I had quite a bit of advice and recommendations. Traveling solo and on a budget limited my options and made my choices pretty easy: hike the Arctic Circle Trail from Kanger to Sisimiut, take the ferry South, and poke around South Greenland. Due to ferry schedules and budgets I decided to skip the famous UNESCO Ilulissat icefjord and Disko Bay area – something to come back for!

I spent my first day off the ice repacking and organizing my gear in Kanger. I did not have a satellite phone to bring with me, so I made several calls home with instructions of who to call if I did not get in touch by a set date. People have gotten lost along this route.
In the afternoon I tagged along with a few researchers to the ice edge. I had been here several years ago, but in early spring. It was beautiful in the summer. At Point 660 the ice is moving very slowly and it forms a nice safe edge to walk on. Standing on the ice I looked inland – Summit is just over 450mi NE!

Russell Glacier is a little closer to town and a short hike from the road. The terminus here however, is an imposing wall of ice, awe-inspiring in it’s scale.


Russell Glacier terminus. See the person in red?

That evening I got a ride from a friend with a truck out to Kellyville (or as one Dane called it: “Killy Villy”). Kellyville is just 20km from Kanger and home to the Sondrestrom Upper Atmosphere Research Facility. It is also one place to start the Arctic Circle Trail. Alternate start points include Point 660 or Russell Glacier if you want to hike from the ice to the sea, or you can walk the ~25km along the road from the Kanger international airport. I had read that it could take 7-10 days to hike the roughly 100mi and I had a ferry to catch 10 days later so I decided to skip the road walk.

ACT copy

That first evening I passed a hut and several brackish lakes as I got my pack settled and found my pace. I had spoken to several people who had hiked this route years ago and was told that there might not be a visible trail, to expect cold wet days, and possibly to not see anyone at all. I had brought with me the small guidebook by Paddy Dillon and the three topo maps…in the end however, there was definitely a trail, and I saw other people most days. Still, there are some areas with more than one trail and the guide was definitely helpful. This area is one of the largest ice-free regions in Greenland and hosts herds of muskox and caribou. It is a very popular hunting, dog sledding, and snowmobiling area.

Over the next seven days I hiked along brilliantly cold, clear lakes, through scrubby northern willow and dwarf birch, along ridges and down valleys. Late summer is blueberry season and the ground was blanketed in low blueberry and crowberry bushes. In rocky areas succulents, lichens, and rock cranberry found footholds. In a few sheltered spots between boulders along the lakes I found small ferns and moss, though conditions elsewhere are too harsh. I saw perhaps 15 people along the trail, most heading East to West. While there are huts along the way they were of varying quality and cleanliness and swarming with mosquitos and flies, so I opted to camp most nights. The weather was phenomenal and my biggest concern was the lack of shade!


As for wildlife I saw tons of birds – little Northern Wheatears running down the trail ahead of me, Common Redpolls trilling from the brush, molting Canadian Geese, Red-throated Loons, and a few hawks and eagles. I also saw several Arctic Hares and a handful of caribou. Caribou hunting season began halfway through my hike (on Aug 1) 170730_Greenland_40so they were pretty scarce however, their bones, pelts, and antlers littered the entire trail. Wolves aren’t found this far south, so I didn’t need to worry about them and while it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a Polar Bear to show up, it is so rare that I didn’t lose too much sleep over that either. I was a little worried about mice or other rodents – not having any secure place to store my food, but I never saw a trace. Mosquitoes and midges caused the most annoyance, but even they were far less numerous or troublesome than I imagined.


Near the end of Amitsorsuaq Lake I encountered a wildfire. I had smelled smoke for several days prior, but when I rounded a curve in the lake and could see the fire I noted that it was mostly just smoldering tundra – more smoke than flames. I stopped for a snack and to watch it for a while, letting a few hikers behind me catch up. We hiked toward it together stepping off trail to give it wide berth. It looked like it had started right along the trail near a canoe rack on the East edge of the lake, most likely caused by someone’s discarded cigarette or burning trash. Unfortunately these type of fires can burn for months underground and Greenland simply does not have the resources to attempt putting it out.


Hiking around the wildfire.


Scars from a fire in 2016.

While I did see a few people there were whole afternoons or morning that I saw no one. There are no trees to block the view and most of the hills are gently rounded by ice. You can see for miles. In the evening I tried to find a depression or a rock for shelter and often didn’t even bother with the fly as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. So immensely quiet. In the afternoon calm I walked past perfectly still lakes mirroring the mountains. At night eerie loon calls echoed around the hills and it was perfectly peaceful until a startled duck or goose tried to take flight clumsily from the center of the lake splashing and screaming. I was close to the Arctic Circle, paralleling it. The nights were short, the sun setting around 11pm and rising again at 4am (times for all Aug. can be seen here).



The trail is marked by rock cairns painted with a red half-circle. Often these are adorned with antlers. The trail wound up glacially carved rolling hills, down long wide valleys, and along numerous lakes. There are a few highlands, which the trails climbs straight up and over, but these only reach about 1,500ft. There is water everywhere and many people drank it unfiltered, but given the number of people using this route, the ubiquitous toilet paper on the trail and in the bushes, and the animal population I chose to filter all my water. There was only one real stream crossing and with the dry weather it was no problem.



I spent one night in the Innajuattoq hut, aka the “Luxury Hut.” Most huts had a logbook where hikers noted their progress, plans, and stories. I had been reading about this particular hut in the logbooks from people before me and it did not disappoint: Newly constructed, clean, with beautiful views of the surrounding unnamed mountains and right next to a large lake. I arrived just after noon and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon swimming, reading, and conversing with two Danish couples that I had seen several times along the trail. We all realized we were ahead of schedule and cooked up a feast for dinner to lighten our food bags.


From here the trail climbs over a pass and then follows a gentle valley all the way to the sea. The last night on the trail I camped along the edge of the Kangerluarsuk Tulleq fjord. Not the flattest campsite, but one of the best views of the hike! Small fishing boats skimmed the water below and the shores were dotted with tiny spots of bright color, little hunting and fishing huts.


The last day climbed up and over one last highland area, Qerrortusup Majoriaa, down past the Sisimiut ski hill, and right into the town of Sisimiut. It was a bit of a jolt coming back into society – walking along the main road past stores and trucks, young mothers pushing bundled strollers and elders waiting for the bus. Caribou carcasses lay in front of houses, fishing boats crowded into the little harbor. I found the hostel and paid for a bunk noting the mountain of hiking boots near the front door. Almost everyone here had just finished or were about to start the Arctic Circle Trail.


Looking back from the final pass



If you’d like to read more about the Arctic Circle Trail check out these other blogs:

http://www.northernadventures.co/arctic-circle-trail – This group of guys hiked the trail in late August 2014. Beautiful layout and phenomenal photographs!

https://expertvagabond.com/arctic-circle-trail-greenland – A solo hiker who completed the trail in 2015.


Filed under Arctic, Greenland

Ice to Ice

Phase II has come to an end. It was a great season and an especially interesting experience with both summer and winter operations. The new crew arrived right on schedule on October 8th via two Twin Otters from Akureyri, Iceland. The following week was a whirlwind of turnover with the new crew: training them on equipment and procedures, reviewing protocols and paperwork, getting them accustomed to the 10,550ft elevation and -30F temperatures and helping them get settled in with all the various idiosyncrasies that make up Summit Station.

On October 16th we officially handed over the reins. Two Twin Otters were scheduled to land just after noon, but the day had dawned with 20-25 knot winds and a fair bit of blowing snow in the air. Visibility was below their minimums with a worsening forecast. Still, the weather in Akureyri, Iceland and in East Greenland was clear and beautiful and they were going to try. As the day progressed we continued to submit hourly weather reports – the Phase III manager doing the observations. I stood by to answer any questions and assist with preparations for the flight. They had off-decked that morning on time, so while we were mentally prepared for them to cancel we also had to be ready to go. As their ETA drew closer the visibility stayed between 300-400 meters. The SOB was barely visible from the Big House.
The first Twin Otter called on the Air to Ground radio when they were about 15 minutes out asking for a current weather observation and confirming that they would attempt a landing. They could see the skiway markers, it was a localized storm, only a couple hundred meters high, and the wind was coming straight down the skiway. The mechanics pulled the loader and fuel tanks out to the taxiway, turning all their lights on to increase visibility, and the science techs readied their snowmobiles to transport freshies to the Big House and pax bags to the plane. We held our breaths and strained to see the plane in the whiteout as they reported over the radio that they had landed safely…”Norlandair 4 is on deck…but, we’re having a hard time seeing the flags, would it be possible to get a snowmobile escort to the fuel pits?” We escorted them in, began fueling, and unloaded the fresh food for Phase III. The pilots were unfazed and friendly. The second plane landed a few moments later without issue.

The first plane fueling with blue sky above

The first plane fueling with blue sky above



When we deployed in June 2015 we flew commercially to Scotia, NY where we boarded Air National Guard LC-130 Hercules planes and flew north to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland via Goose Bay, Canada. After a few days in Kanger we continued onwards up to Summit still on the Hercs. Redeploying now in October the LC-130s have flown South leaving Greenland for a period of maintenance before beginning the main summer season in Antarctica. Travelling to and from Summit then is done via Twin Otter – flying East with a quick stop in Constable Pynt on the rugged and isolated coast to refuel and Southward to Akureyri, Iceland.

I’ve never been East of Summit in Greenland and at first it’s the same flat white. The storm is indeed localized, not 15 minutes away the clouds clear and the sastrugi glitters in the sunlight as we cruise above.


Fair weather just away from Summit

But then darkness appears on the horizon: mountains. Undulations form on the surface and a slope becomes apparent. I can see the ice flowing together and pulling apart, forming a more defined glacier – crevasses gape, indicating an increase in veloIMG_2677city. There’s no scale to show how huge they are. A nunatak appears, the tip of a mountain peaking above the ice. Then more – the ice lowering gradually, revealing mountains. Soon the ice is flowing between rock. Sheer granite walls rise above massive, epic, classic glaciers. Jagged peaks reach to the sky, dribbling rocks down their flanks to the ice below. Perhaps it is simply because I’ve seen only the flat white since May, but it is stunning and I can’t contain my excitement as I move from window to window. The sun is starting to set and the light is beautiful. It’s an inhospitable land: impossible to traverse. Perhaps some lichen or moss exists here, maybe the occasional bird, but there can’t be much else. Precipitous cliffs press against crevasse riddled ice as far as the eye can see. Further on, liquid water appears and the ends of the glaciers crumble into the dark reaches of the fjord. Icebergs! The sun sinks lower, behind the mountains, bathing the landscape in gold and pastel pinks and blues and we begin our abrupt descent to Constable Pynt. Not much more than a landing strip scraped clear of snow and some fuel tanks, it’s a quick stop and then we’re off over the far North Atlantic, heading south now to Iceland.

Inside the Twin Otter - the pilots up front, then the ferry fuel tank (extra fuel for the long flight) and us in the back.

Inside the Twin Otter – the pilots up front, then the ferry fuel tank (extra fuel for the long flight) and us in the back.










Constable Pynt, East Greenland

Refueling in Constable Pynt

Refueling in Constable Pynt

Arctic foxes (one white one brown) at Constable Pynt

Arctic foxes (one white one brown) at Constable Pynt


It’s dark when we land in Akureyri. The town lights gleam and the air is laden with the smell of fall; the sweetness of decaying leaves, the hint of fresh grass and life, the salt from the sea. It’s windy and we couldn’t be happier. The next morning we fly on to Reykjavik and after a long layover, back to the U.S.

Reykjavik Cathedral

The cathedral in Reykjavik, Iceland Oct 17

It was a record fast turnaround for me this year. Less than 48 hours to unpack and repack, take a bath, enjoy some crisp fruits and veggies, then back to the airport. Greenland to Antarctica in less than a week!
This year I’ll be working as an equipment operator on a small traverse shuttling materials from Byrd camp to WAIS Divide. There are no plans for a camp in the near future at Byrd, so much like last season (Pig DiggersWAS Recovery) it will be a skeleton crew working to return material back to McMurdo where it can be used for other projects. WAIS Divide is a fairly significant camp as far as deep field camps go – a staff of 15 will support a number of science groups operating out of there. Byrd however, will have a crew of just 4; their primary task being to excavate the cargo stored out there and either return it to WAIS Divide via our traverse or fly it back to McMurdo via LC-130 Herc. As far as traverses go ours will be pretty minimal with just two of us driving Tucker Sno-cats over the 100-mile stretch between the two field camps. In the field, far from the main stations, we will have no internet access though we will be carrying satellite phones and a portable HF radio.

Byrd has a long and varied history – from a year-round station to a summer only field camp. The Antarctic Sun did a nice piece on the history of Byrd history: Antarcticsun.usap.gov

I also reviewed some of it’s history back in 2012-13 when I was working as the equipment operator out there for the summer: antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/byrd-surface-camp-2012-13

So thanks for following along this summer! And stay tuned for the next grand adventure…The West Antarctic Support Traverse 2015-16!

Kiwi graffitti

Kiwi graffiti in Christchurch, New Zealand Oct 22

Welcome to Antarctica!

Welcome to Antarctica! Getting off the C-17 in McMurdo, Antarctica on Oct 23

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Filed under Arctic, Flights, Greenland, Winter


BLI-SEA-SFO-SYD-CHC! Over 20 hours of flying.
We’ll have a day for training and final prep in Christchurch, NZ and then it’s another 5-6hr flight to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Things get a little confusing with flying over the international date line. On my way westward I will leave the US on the 11th and arrive in Australia on the 13th, even though it’s only a 14hr flight. On the way home it’s not unusual to arrive before you’ve departed…

Meanwhile, here are some spectacular photos from the Antarctic:

The tags issued for checked luggage. The airlines are given notice to send all lost bags with these tags to Christchurch, NZ.


Filed under Antarctic