"KUSANAQ" / by Angela Payne

“KUSANAQ” = “It is beautiful” in Kalaallisut, the official language of Greenland

YEP, it was beautiful.  Understatement of the year.  

YEP, it was beautiful.  Understatement of the year.  

Keith Ladzinski, Mike Libecki, Ethan Pringle, and me =  The Greenland Crew!

Keith Ladzinski, Mike Libecki, Ethan Pringle, and me =  The Greenland Crew!

I just returned from three weeks in Greenland.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  The journey included so many things—tons of transit, unique personalities, unforgettable learning experiences, frustration and success, and, of course, climbing.

I intend to write about all of it in due time, but first I want to share what stuck with me most: the unparalleled beauty.  For three weeks, I tried to take a photo that captured this beauty. More than a thousand photos later, I still don’t feel that any of them does Greenland justice.  I am sure that I will be equally as unsuccessful explaining its brilliance in my writing, but taken together, hopefully the photos and words will paint a rough picture of the insane beauty of the place I was lucky enough to inhabit for a short time.

 

On the boat with our navigator(s)!

On the boat with our navigator(s)!

A preview of the climbing.  More to come on that later...

A preview of the climbing.  More to come on that later...

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I have never seen as much raw beauty as I saw in Greenland.  It is the kind beauty that is laced with volatility and unpredictability, the kind of beauty that makes one feel small and insignificant and intimidated.  The scenes in Greenland are what coffee table books are made of. The sea is a perfect shade of emerald speckled with icebergs ranging in color from pure white to the most brilliant blue I have ever seen. Some of them are monolithic, others are glorified snowballs, but every one of them is a work of art. The icebergs are stunning monsters of the water and the lines on them are the most beautiful I have seen in nature.

The land, of course, has its own beautiful giants.  Massive rock walls dominate the landscape, and huge glaciers sit in just about every cirque.  It is an incredibly peaceful scene at times, with all the enormous land features quietly looming.  But the serenity was often punctuated by loud explosions of rock fall, cracking icebergs or calving glaciers.  The sounds made me cringe, but Greenland had a way of quickly restoring a feeling of temporary comfort by hiding the source of the noise from my sight; very rarely did I spot the fallen rock or broken ice.

The cirque we called home for two weeks was located near the 67th parallel and took about seven hours to reach by boat after we departed Tasiilaq.  It was a spectacular place, that cirque.  The uninhabitable earth beneath the huge walls stood in stark contrast to the Shire-like paradise down by base camp.

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The glacier was terrifying to me.  Its crevasses were like venus fly traps, just waiting to swallow me up at any moment.  I felt incredibly anxious during every moment I spent on the glacier’s surface and I stepped with incredible caution so as not to awake the monster that I am certain lived underneath the mess of ice and rock.  Even after leaving the glacier, I was weary of it, since the glacier monster would sporadically throw rubble down the wall of ice on the glacier’s front end (seen in the photo above).  Nothing about the glacier was conducive to life, and the land surrounding it within a quarter of a mile looked like some sort of post-apocalyptic war zone.  Giant piles of talus create a maze of jumbled terrain, with a muddy river snaking its way through the middle.  Visible signs of life were hard to come by, save a few courageous flowers and ptarmigan that were brave enough to exist in close proximity to the glacier monster’s home.

Between the glacial zone and the freezing emerald water of the sea sat a small slice of paradise.  It was a beautiful place in all respects, and was elevated to an entirely new level of beauty because it stood in stark contrast to the desolate world just above it.  Anyone who says Greenland is a misnomer hasn’t seen the small patch of heaven on the shores of this random cirque somewhere near the 67th parallel.  The colors were spectacular: the bright lime green of the moss, the brilliant purple of the flowers, the greys, tans and blacks of the rock, and the deep green of the grass.

And then there were the Northern Lights.  So as not to be overshadowed by the beauty on the ground and in the sea, the sky came through with a spectacular show of its own.  Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my “Bucket List,” and I was not disappointed by what I saw in Greenland.  The first night I got a peek of the lights was while we were camping under the stars at this campsite:

It was just a small glow of green that I saw that night, but I was very excited nonetheless.  A few nights later, the real show began.  The photos, like all the others, don’t do it justice, but here’s an idea of the dancing lights that graced the sky above our camp on the shores of Greenland.

So, Greenland was the best.  The trip was like nothing I have ever done before, and the whole experience was surreal in so many ways.  Even after being there and living it for three weeks, I still have a hard time believing a place like Greenland actually exists.  I have been pouring over the photos (SO many photos) and remembering the stories (many of those too) and still it is hard to believe that I was there.  

I will post so much more about it in the days and weeks to come, so stay tuned!