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East Greenland - In the tight grip of the pack ice
Markus Ziebell

Author: Markus Ziebell, Photos: Markus Ziebell, Translated by: Carmen Chaplin
This trip was made in Juli/August 2007

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In the tight grip of the pack ice

An account of a four week solo kayak tour through the Scoresbysund in East Greenland

At a length of 314 kilometers, the Scoresbysund is the largest fjord in the world. I intend to circumnavigate 600 kilometers of the Milne  Land.
  When I am dropped off full of expectation at the heliport of Ittoportomiut on the morning of July 25th after a 24 hour journey, I have more than nine months of preparation behind me. As all my attempts to find suitable travelling companions have failed, my anticipation is mixed with a certain amount of suspense. I wonder whether I am equal to the challenges ahead. But I have trained hard during the last months, and I am determined to succeed here.
In front of Scoresbysund, with its 500 inhabitants the second largest town in East Greenland, lies a dense ice belt. The east wind often pushes ice from the Atlantic into the fjord, which blocks shipping.

During the approach, I can already see that the entire bay is covered by thick drift ice. Just before leaving Germany, I had received an email from Karina, who works for the local  >Nanu  - Travel<, that ice conditions are difficult at present. Once here, though, I am given hope that this may change at any moment. And sure enough, by next morning the ice has opened up a bit. So I pack my gear early, take the 7 - shot pumpgun in case of polar bears, and pick up my boat from the port authorities. My sea - kayak already started its journey 6 weeks ahead of me, on a Royal Arctic Line cargo ship at Aarlborg. Finally, everything is ready, and I embark on the first leg, making my way through the maze of ice floes. Because of my low sitting position, it is hard for me to see which channels go on and which ones end in a dead end after a few meters. Again and again, I get out of the boat when possible and up onto the ice floes, and that's how I first get acquainted with pack ice and all its obvious faults. After only a few hours, I pitch my camp just before the small settlement of Kap Hope. While I'm eating, a family of hunters joins me on my rocky coast. Hidden behind a stone rampart, they lie in wait for seals, which rest on floes here. For most of East Greenland's inhabitants, hunting for seals, musk oxen and whales still constitutes a large part of their living. Even though the Inuit wear mostly modern clothing today, the kill is still fully utilized in the traditional way. It only takes about an hour before a loud bang tears the silence, and father and son rush to recover a fully grown ringed seal by boat. Thus, this family now has enough meat for a few days. I, however, stick to my spaghetti for the next few weeks, which I enrich with a little ready - made Pemmikan. For even without seal blubber I need about 4.000 calories a day.

  When on day three the sun finally comes out , I'm in high spirits. I am right on schedule and feel totally fit.
  After crossing the Hurry Fjord, the ice becomes more open and consequently, my daily performance increases. To realize my plan to circumnavigate the Milne  Land I need to paddle about  23 kilometers a day. That sounds quite easy-going. But bearing in mind all the things that might happen on a 600 kilometer trip, my ideal daily target is 30 kilometers, just to be on the safe side. On the third day, I finally tackle the planned fjord crossing south towards the Volquards - Boons - Kyst. That morning, almost 40 kilometers still separate me from the impressive mountain range in the south. Numerous glaciers plunge down the steep slopes directly into the sea. Because of the clear air and this tremendous, 2.000 meter high wall, the coast seems within my grasp after the shortest time. But it still takes hours before I reach the first ice fields that herald the coast.
  A closed ice sheet that stretches to the horizon bars my way. Too thin for walking on, and much too thick for paddling through.
DThe ice fields grow ever denser, and about 6 kilometers from the coastline I run into an uninterrupted flat layer of sea ice. I get a better view from a higher ice ridge, and discover that the coast is inaccessible. I search the horizon for a way west. Without success ! The barometer promises stable weather conditions, so I decide to pitch my camp on a 30 meter long floe that appears strong enough.
  I am aware of the fact that this very area is the habitat of the polar bear. I spend a predictably uneasy night, with one ear permanently at the wall of the tent, and one hand on the loaded gun. I don't hear from the King of the Arctic that night, but I am treated to a loud creaking and bubbling when a small iceberg turns in close proximity to my floe. In the morning, I'm relieved that the floe hasn't been moved by the current, or been surrounded by pack ice, but I discover that a strip approx. 5 meters wide has broken off. At this point, I remember the stories by Fritdjof Nansen, who spent weeks sitting on ice floes that kept breaking underneath his feet. After breakfast, it takes me hours to move along the edge of the ice hand over hand, and I try to follow countless channels towards the west, only to find out that there is no getting through. As I discover later, the closed sheet of ice stretches northward for about 50 kilometers, to a latitude north of Kap Leslie. Around noon, I notice that a weather front is approaching from the south. Since I don't fancy spending another night on the ice, I head back towards Jameson Land. A few hours later, the first slight gusts of wind start blowing across the water, pushing me on from behind. Today, I only reach a suitable beach after 13 hours in the kayak. The next morning, my body is still so tense from the frustrations and 60 kilometers of the previous day, that I take a break for a day.
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