Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 10 - the first taste of fog

Leaving the white sands of the previous campsite, I stole along the coastline, heading up the fjord towards the next settlement of Ukkusissat.

The photographs I would loved to have included in this blog post are just not good enough to show you the three tiny Arctic Fox cubs I found playing among the boulders a kilometre or so beyond my campsite. The small camera I had in my buoyancy aid just couldn't capture them. I contemplated pulling into shore and taking photos with the larger DSLR but didn't want to disturb them. I contented myself with observing them from a few metres distance as I bobbed among the icy debris from calving icebergs.

After spending so much time over the rifle I had found, cleaned up and put back in its proper place, I was paddling into the morning on this lonely stretch of my journey. After a short break on a beach, enjoying the last of my year-old Starbars, a present from Hilary and family, I put into the water again. Once firmly back in the seat and getting into a rhythm, I noticed the icebergs in the distance were being swallowed, whole, by the fog. Around 2 am I began to feel more than a little threatened by the encroaching blanket of white.

I have not paddled much in fog. I had never, up to this point, paddled in fog around icebergs. My worst nightmares were coming all too true. I could hear calvings in the near distance, but I could neither see the iceberg nor the direction in which the wave and debris was heading. It felt a little like playing Greenlandic Roulette with several thousand tonnes of ice that I couldn't see. I was more than a little on edge.

Infuriatingly, as my world became smaller, more intense, I was illuminated by a light orange glow from the midnight sun, somewhere above me. I don't think the fog was more than 10 metres or so high, but it was not evaporating any time soon. I considered pulling into the shore but I was not heartened by the steep-sided cliff faces and lack of suitable parking places. After a few more minutes of bobbing undecided about, I figured it was safer to crack on and not worry too much about what lay ahead. I would deal with that as and when it became necessary.

The first potential campsite I found around the point I vetoed on account of it not being close enough to Ukkusissat. I did want to get off the water as I could not see anything beyond the wall of fog, but I wanted to find a decent spot to camp. Then, shrouded in mist, "my" beach appeared and I headed straight for it. The usual camping routine was a welcome relief to the stress of being alone at sea with the bergs.

Well into the early morning I crawled into my tent and fell promptly asleep only to realise, a little later, that I had pitched the tent side on to the sun. As the fog burned away I was at once forced out of my sleeping bag and into the bright morning of a new day. There are some downsides to paddling through the night in the Arctic.

Knackered, but happy, I found little to complain about regarding my new view.

Ready for my first junk food of the trip I decided to walk into town, never mind how tired I was. I also needed water if I was going to keep up with my serious camp-coffee addiction. I found water, lots of it, but that was part of the problem. It might sound ridiculous but there was no way I was going to cross this raging Arctic river. I did walk up and down the sides looking for a suitable crossing point but I found nothing that wasn't going to require me wading through metre-deep icy water gushing down from the mountains above. On another day it might have been different. Recently, however, Greenlanders and Norwegians alike have closely followed the story of three Norwegians believed drowned in a river around Kangerlussuaq. I was not aware of this but I decided to return to my new camp anyway.

The settlement of Ukkusissat could wait a day and I decided to paddle in following a good night's sleep. Filling up my MSR water bladder - a seriously good bit of kit - I plodded back home, stumbling a few times out of tiredness.

Concerning camp abolutions I am reminded of a quote about which I can neither remember the author nor the exact words. It wasn't Edward Abbey, although he has plenty of excellent words to describe the wilderness. However, several cups of coffee later and I was reminded, not for the first time, of a few lines of particular aptness that I would like to paraphrase for you all now:

"If you are going to take a shit in the wild, choose a John with a view."

Several cups of coffee and a hot camp meal later and I was ready to choose my John with a view. The timing is critical. Too late and it is too cold to enjoy the moment as the sun has moved behind the tallest peaks. Too soon and it is hot enough for the mosquitoes and friends to make life miserable, or at least cause one to rush over the latest edition of the Financial Times.

In true Abbey-style, that night I got it just right!

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