The Arctic Desert
I’ll start by observing how blessed I am to have seen a fair chunk of the world and yesterday may hold the record for the greatest single day contrast thus far.
It began at 0600 in Copenhagen in a hotel and thanks to the wonders of jet travel, ten hours later I was standing with friends on Point 660 on the Greenland Ice Cap.
That’s a long day, but very much worth it.
Kangerlussuaq (don’t ask me how to say it because I can’t) dates from 1941 when it was created by the US during the opening stages of WWII.
It was handed back to Denmark in the early 90’s and is today the hub for Air Greenland, flying their single A-330-200 back and forth between Copenhagen and here.
The same flight crew does the round trip with about a three-hour rest break in Greenland.
The pilot has been doing the run for 17 years so I guess he has the approach pretty well down.
Kangerlussuaq is above the Arctic Circle and inland a bit, at the end of a fjord.
It has a substantial runway and base where Denmark’s Arctic Aircraft Command is also quartered.
It’s an “arctic desert” with less than 150mm of rain and snow a year.
The trip up to the ice cap is a grueling two-hour bumping and swaying ride in a Mercedes high-clearance truck which had no ventilation in the passenger area on a day where the outside temperature was sunny and in the 60’s and the interior temp had to be near 80.
Layers were shed.
And then, to top it off, a backpacker spilled stove fuel–I waited, thankfully in vain, for the sound of retching.
The glaciers on the way up are immense.
The terrain is permafrost and scrub and, it turns out, filled with reindeer, musk ox and even an arctic hare.
There are several very turbid and fast rivers draining the glacier and the area is also dotted with lakes, several quite large.
It may be a desert but within 200 yards of the ice cap there was plant growth, some of it quite beautiful.
On the way we passed the site of a 1968 air force aircraft accident when a flight of T-33s on their way to Canada were unable to land at Kangerlussuaq due to bad weather and eventually the crew bailed out when they ran out of fuel.
As you can see, the remains are quite well preserved.
We stayed at the Polar Lodge last night, (think Motel Eight with shared baths), where dinner was a microwave meal purchased at the grocery store.
If the sun went down I never saw darkness though I gave up and put on the sleep mask eventually.
Greenland is rugged, epic and filled with some very nice folks.