We rarely travel with tour groups. A guided tour makes sense in a place like Greenland, if you want to see a lot in a little amount of time. So, off we go, on a four and one-half-hour flight from Copenhagen, Denmark to Kangerlussuaq (which we call the “K town”), Greenland, for a three-night stay in a hostel with shared bathrooms. From here, we’ll fly north to Ilulissat (the “I town”) for four nights in a hotel with private bath. Our first sighting of Greenland’s ice cap comes from the plane on this clear day.
“Albatros” and “World of Greenland” tour companies take over our lives for the next activity-filled eight days, with little time to rest. Our core group consists of a couple from Australia, a couple from Denmark, another couple with a twelve-year-old from Denmark, and the two of us.
Relationships are awkward the first few days, especially standing in line for the “toilette” (they don’t understand why we call it a bathroom in the US). We see each other constantly. Everywhere. A bit embarrassing and irritating at first, but soon we engage one another, sharing the wonder, as well as jokes about forced intimacy.
Let’s go see some stuff. Hop aboard the studded tire bus for a brief ride around the small “K” town, which would not exist on the World’s largest island if not for WWII. Greenland is an autonomous constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark. The United States built a military air base here in “K town” that among other duties would refuel planes during the war. They built the infrastructure of roads, housing, plumbing, and of course, a bar. The 500 or so population would not be here if not for that, outside of the original inhabitants, the Greenlandic Inuit people.
After the war, and during the cold war, the base was used for radar surveillance on Russia. After the cold war ended, the US sold the base to Denmark for one dollar, under conditions that they would do no clean-up, and can use it in the future if WWIII starts.
The melting season has begun. The slush of the day turns to ice within minutes during sundown, but temperatures range in a “balmy” 25 degrees F to 35 degrees F. Mare and I sleep for ten hours this night in our tiny dorm room, waking to a crowded breakfast of bread and cheese, and most importantly, coffee.
Off to ice fishing on the frozen, sea-covered fjord. This morning our guides, Claus and Thomas, pile us into an “Armageddon” machine with chained tires. We drive to the main dock, wearing six layers of clothing which must contain at least twenty-five pockets.
The wind whips our jackets while we stand and fish through freshly drilled holes in the ice. Cod dominates the catching this time of year.
Our group catches two minnow-size cod fish, which the guides keep. I catch nothing. That’s why they call it fishing instead of catching.
After meat sandwiches instead of fish, we hop into the “Armageddon” for a fascinating several-hour drive up through frozen, tundra-carpeted mountains. The road passes the Russell Glacier, and large Aajuitsup Tasia freshwater lake where the UNESCO World Heritage Site starts.
Tears roll down Marilynn’s cheeks from the awe and inspiration of our first sighting of Greenland’s Ice Sheet, which covers around 85% of this island, and looks like a frozen, stormy ocean.
We disembark the bus and walk a mile to the Ice Sheet, which is also called an Ice Cap. This walk used to be short, but the ice has melted so fast during the past twelve years, that the walk is now much longer. To witness the ice melt with the naked eye proves to be more formidable than just reading just about it.
Here’s a few mind-blowing stats: the ice sheet covers 1,710,000 square miles (4428879,67 K). It’s 1500 miles long (2414,016 K), and 680 miles wide (1094,354 K).
It’s the second largest body of ice on earth after the Antarctic Sheet, and runs 6,600 feet (2011,68 M) to 9,800 feet (2987, 04 M) deep.
It covers about 85% of Greenland, not counting the 68,000 square miles (176119,192 K) of isolated glaciers and ice caps.
We stare into the eerie infinity of black ice, which is void of all air. It sinks ships, as it’s invisible in water. Incredibly dense, melting snow exposes more of the black ice, which is void of color, but absorbs it when exposed to the sun. Currently, about 25% of sea level rise comes from this melting sheet of ice.
On a lighter note, the twisty road is very bumpy. So bumpy that the ride registered 35,000 steps on my cell phone! The Volkswagen car company initially built this road to secretly test vehicles under harsh conditions. It made for great press. Once “industrial spies” caught on, they shut down operations.
Back at Old Camp Hostel, ready to bed down, we witness a taste of Northern Lights. What a fascinating day. We literally saw some cool stuff!