JOURNEY / by Angela Payne

I have been back from Greenland for a week now.  I am enjoying the pieces of home that I missed the most, and spending time reflecting on my recent trip as I pour over the many photos I brought back with me.  I touched on parts of the trip in previous posts (Greenland, Iceland, Adventure, “Kusanaq”), but there is still so much to share.

I knew that this trip would be a unique experience, but I am only now realizing the extent to which it affected me.  Maybe it is because this was my first trip to a remote location, or maybe it is because this trip was more challenging for me to undertake than most–whatever the reason, it was extremely good for me.  Something about simply knowing a place like Greenland exists provides perspective in my life.

The first few days of the trip were full of frustrating travel hurdles.  We spent an extra day in Tasiilaq sorting things out and got to enjoy the beauty of the town in the meantime.  Here are some scenes from Tasiilaq:

IMG_5061.jpg
Our boat!

Our boat!

After three long days of travel and waiting, we finally made it onto our boat, The Discovery.   As we headed away from civilization, the water was rough and some of the team got a bit seasick.  Luckily, I avoided falling victim to the waves and was able to enjoy the moment when the boat passed out of the fog and into the sun.  It was the first turning point of the trip for me.  After feeling antsy and somewhat frustrated for three days, I suddenly found myself sitting in the sun on the back of the boat, sipping my coffee.  Almost instantly, everything seemed to be in its right place.  It was one of many memorable moments of the trip.

Mike Libecki stand up paddle boarding by an iceberg.

Mike Libecki stand up paddle boarding by an iceberg.

The boat ride was fantastic.  I got my first views of the icebergs and the incredible scenery that I was about to be immersed in for 2 weeks.  I felt progressively smaller and smaller as I attempted to grasp the enormity of this place.  At one point along the way, Mike got excited to use his inflatable stand up paddleboard.  As I stood on the deck and shivered, I got my first glimpse of the Adventure Machine that is Mike Libecki.

A few hours later, our boat stopped at a tiny village for gas.  Mike and Ethan played soccer with the locals while I shot some photos and tried to imagine what it would be like to live in such an isolated place.

That evening, we arrived at our destination, but it was too foggy to spot a place to camp, so the captain opted to anchor for the night and drop us in the morning.  We drove to the end of the fjord, where we watched a gorgeous sunset over a gigantic glacier.  I am a huge fan of sunsets, and this one did not disappoint.

Ethan Pringle watching icebergs from the boat.

Ethan Pringle watching icebergs from the boat.

The search for a spot to anchor the boat was one of the most surreal and eerie things I have ever experienced.  A fog had settled in on the water, hiding the icebergs from our sight.  Their presence, however, could still be sensed, and in an instant, one would emerge from the fog just yards from the boat, only to slink back into hiding moments later.  It was an intense, yet somehow peaceful process of motoring slowly through the fog.

Dodging icebergs in the dark.  

Dodging icebergs in the dark.  

I slept in a cozy nook of the boat that night, with the survival suits at my feet and the captain’s rifle by my side—just a few reminders of the extreme environment we were in (in case the iceberg looming off the back of the boat wasn’t enough).  Somehow, I slept better that night than I would the rest of the trip.

The next morning, we got dropped off at our cirque in the rain, which continued to fall for another day.  As it let up, I left the tent to explore the area in the lifting fog.  It was, as I have mentioned, gorgeous.

In the Hoopster!

In the Hoopster!

Fog in the talus.

Fog in the talus.

The glacier in our cirque.  

The glacier in our cirque.  

When the weather improved temporarily, we set out on a team summit attempt.  Mike decided that we would try to reach the top of the most prominent peak in the cirque via a ridge route that would take us up the less steep backside of the feature.   I found the ridge attempt to be one of the most difficult parts of the trip.  The hill we traversed was covered with loose talus, slabs, and vegetation, and I became more convinced with every step that I would slip straight down into icy water below, never to be seen again.  After surviving the hill traverse, we were rewarded with a perfect little camping nook, complete with …yes…you guessed it….a breathtaking view.

The prettiest campsite in the world.

The prettiest campsite in the world.

The glacier.

The glacier.

After a lovely night of sleeping under the stars, I had to face the glacier and, of course, its resident glacier monster.  It was imperative, according to Mike, that we employ “ninja tactics” to get onto the glacier.  What that meant is that we had to tread lightly and quickly over the death blocks that were precariously (and very temporarily) lodged between the edge of the glacier and the slabs of the surrounding cirque.  It was unsettling, to say the least.

Next, we walked across the glacier, and towards what looked to be the remnants of a recent landslide (seen in the right photo above, descending from the most obvious notch in the ridgeline).  I’m pretty sure the only reason that I decided ascending it was a good idea is because I was so anxious to get off the glacier.  After all, one can only spend so much time on the surface of the glacier before the monster awakens and gets hungry.  So, up the gully we went.  I have never walked on such volatile terrain, and I was terrified.  EVERYTHING moved, and I was certain my foot (if I was lucky) or my whole self (if I was realistic) would be crushed by the shifting talus.

The death talus.  

The death talus.  

Somehow, the earth stood still long enough for my bumbling self to make it to the top of the gully, where we ended up getting rained out of our attempt.  So, we had to go back the way we came, but with rain added into the equation.  I found it all to be quite scary and difficult, and I may or may not have shed a few tears of fear and frustration along the way.  But, in the end, I was glad I went on the excursion.  It was a great learning experience, and I have a whole new respect for people who do this type of climbing.  Mike seemed completely at home in this terrain, so much so that he returned the next day to climb the ridge solo and reach the summit.  The man is a machine, and I have the utmost respect for his abilities.

The view from the notch.  

The view from the notch.  

And so, that was our first team outing.  We returned to camp mostly unscathed and waited for the sun to show itself.  When it did, another phase of the trip began: development of boulders!  I have much to share on that front, but I am still waiting for some of my photos to be rescued from my memory card….so….that will come soon enough.  

Until then, here are a few more photos from basecamp in Greenland:  

Stay tuned, more to come!