Thursday, September 19, 2013

Arctic Journey: Skjoldungen Island, Greenland

The morning of July 22nd found us off the eastern coast of Greenland near Skjoldungen Island. We were well rested, for we had turned the clock back an hour twice in our voyage from Iceland, and now the Explorer was only two hours ahead of Eastern time.

As you can see from Google Maps, the Greenlandic coast is riven by deep fjords headed by glaciers. In this image, you can see that Skjoldungen is not an island off the coast, but a section of the coast transformed into an island by multiple fjords.

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As we drew closer the ice grew denser. The East Greenland Current is a major route for transporting ice into the Atlantic, and the fjords hold a mixture of sea ice and glacial ice. It was good to know that the Explorer is an ice-class vessel with a "DNV Ice-1A Super" rating on the forward hull.
The glacial ice is dirtier.
We gently eased through the ice, cautiously approaching a hooded seala species limited to the central and western areas of the North Atlantic. The Lindblad philosophy is to get as close to wildlife as possible without disturbing their natural behavior. Always keep your binoculars handy!

The views were impressive as we eased up the channel. But would we find a place to land??
The ice itself was fascinating to watch as we cruised.
I've got millions -- well, hundreds -- of ice pictures, but just one more for now.
There is an abandoned settlement here.
Captain Oliver Kreuss and Expedition Leader Lisa Kelley found the cove they were looking for.
After expedition staff scouted out the landing, the guests began to come ashore by zodiac. Several staff members were armed with rifles, in case a polar bear showed up. The first shot is a blank, to scare the bear away. If the bear will not be dissuaded, however, lethal measures can be taken.
Joan and I joined one of the "long hike" groups, and we set off up the sun-drenched slope.
Climbing uphill in the brilliant July sun, the group quickly decided to remove some layers.
As we worked our way up the slope the kayakers paddled into their adventures.
The hikers continued past a crest and discovered a snowfield, behind which lay a frozen pond or tarn and, ultimately, a pass.
Time and energy didn't allow for a dash to the pass, but we explored the melted portion of the tarn.
The waters were nearly transparent and astonishingly reflective (click on the photo to enlarge).
Here staff member Eric Guth is answering a question from the group.
The tarn empties from one corner and flows inevitably to the sea.
Then it was time to work our way back to the beach, downhill. Both Joan and I were a bit too casual about the cross-country effort; she tweaked one knee and I twinged an ankle. Fortunately, these incidents were more reminders to be careful than they were injuries.
This dwarf willow was unusually tall due to a sheltered and sunny location.
There was a lot of photography happening on the way down.
Then it was time to sail back out to the Atlantic and continue south towards the tip of Greenland. On leaving the Skjoldungen Fjord we discovered that the cold Atlantic air had created a low fog bank.
Everyone knew when the Explorer shoved aside a chunk of ice.
Peering into the distance we could detect icebergs worthy of the Titanic.
We passed a snoozing hooded seal, very probably the same one we had observed hours before.
A bit later a pebbled sky, backlit clouds, mountains, and reflections combined to create a scene that made me blink and rub my eyes to make sure that the vista before me was real, and not just spots before my eyes.
An hour later we encountered a pod of humpback whales. Every time we would see a whale flip its tail on diving, called "fluking," a collective "Ahhh!" would fill the ship. Here is a sequence of four photos from one such event.
The patterns on the underside of the tail are unique, similar to human fingerprints. They're used to identify individual whales and track their locations and activities. Here's a closer look at the fluking of a different humpback than the one above.
One whale swam close to the ship for a while. In this picture his or her blowhole is clearly visible.
In these clear waters the lighter-colored body parts can been seen when the whale is underwater. Sometimes you can even track them as they swim submerged, waiting for one to resurface. In this photo, the left front flipper is visible.
Joan and I also saw a humpback demonstrate a remarkable sinuosity, not just whole-body movements.
Then it was time for us to move on, enjoying the sunshine that had succeeded the fog.
It had been a busy day. We wound down from the outdoors excitement with a talk on Plants of the Arctic and dinner.


  1. I found your blog when I was searching the web for some corroborative info on Skjoldungen. We did a back-to-back expedition this year with Quark, but ours was focused entirely on Greenland. Our Skjoldungen landing was at the settlement you mention in this post. I'll be reading the rest of your blog posts even as I write my catch up posts ... a great way to relive a great experience.

    1. I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. You're spot-on about writing posts being a great way to deepen the experience of a trip. By any chance, were you on the ship at the same time as Candice (Candy) Andrews? We've traveled with her before.