Greenland and at sea 15/08/14
Arrived this morning in Kejser Franz-Josepph Fjord, East Greenland and we have sailed from 80 degrees North at the top of Spitsbergen to 73 degrees North at our present location. Because we are 7 degrees farther south we are once again seeing sunsets at about 11:30 pm and sunrise at about 3:30 am.
The intercom went off at about 6:30 this morning, a call from the captain to tell us that a school of humpback whales were swimming and feeding around the ship and so we tumbled into our clothes and up to the 6'th level deck where there is an Observation lounge area surrounded on three sides by floor to ceiling windows and access to the open deck. Wind was chill and the temperature about 3 or 4C, frigid. Whales would spout and rise to the surface, breathe and sink back into the water, 1 or 2 at a time and about 200 or 300 metres off the side of the ship. They would rise and sink unpredictably so it was hard to know where they would come up and since they spent only seconds above the surface of the water, it was hard to know where to point the camera. When one was spotted by the time they were located in the viewfinder, they were gone.
Dressed warmly and in the zodiacs at 10 for a trip to Ymer Island in the fjord. Rough shingle beach and for those less energetic it was possible to stroll along the shore but because it was cold and overcast, there was not much to see. Just above the level of the beach the ground rose sharply into hills and highland plateaus that surrounded the island. The other option for the more energetic was to climb the rising hills and walk along the highlands to a path back down to the beach about a half kilometer away from the boats and then walk back along the beach to the zodiacs. We chose the latter course, but even though it was very chilly we soon became very hot on the climb and even though we were dressed in layers it was a moot point whether it was less burdensome to carry coats etc or simply to wear them. Since we needed our hands for balance in the climb we wore them and were hot, sweaty and chilled by the top of the climb.
No animal life to be seen and wide sweeps of tundra stretching to the snow-covered mountains that surrounded the fjord on all sides. Fascinating to see the small, brightly coloured tundra flowers hugging the grpound and nothing growing higher than a couple of centimeters including dwarf arctic willows that spread along the ground, like vines rather than trees and whose branches are only 40 or 50 centimetres long.
Surprisingly few birds, but several varieties of mushrooms pushing through the boggy ground. Slogged our way up and down the landscape, our boundaries, as is always the case on these walks, defined by bear guards armed with high-powered rifles who mark out the perimieter of our allowed territory. They are scattered on points of high ground and form an arc about a kilometer or two in diameter within whose bounds we can safely walk.
I climbed a rise marked by a flag, put there by the bear guards and which I expected to mark the path back down to the beach. The downward sea-facing slope seemed very problematic as a pathway but I scrambled and slid my way down and came to a sheer drop into the sea about 25 metres below. It was very apparent that the flag did not mark the path to the beach but rather the farthest extent that we were allowed to explore in our walk so I scrambled back up the scree to the top of the rise huffing and puffing and soaked in sweat as I watched the zodiacs begin to load and motor back to the ship.
Not a happy moment but found the path back to the boats and sodden with sweat climbed aboard a zodiac and headed for a very hot shower.
The boat sailed deeper into the fjord over lunch and by late afternoon we were once again on the zodiacs and headed for a very small and rocky island in a bay surrounded by glacier-covered mountains and whose waters were full of ice bergs. Afternoon was a small version of the morning, rocks, tundra, arctic flowers and mushrooms but without its intensity as we were constrained to a much smaller area of exploration and consequently much easier on the nerves and sweat glands. Back to the ship and my third shower of the day.