Another fun and eventful day – and the best day of the trip thus far!
After breakfast I spent some time relaxing and reading Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman before we ventured out on our excursion. Today’s agenda had us going to the polar ice cap, which sits on top of a glacier. The road to the ice cap is the longest in Greenland at around 40km; the first section of which was built by the American military, while the longest portion was built by VW so they could test drive their cars on the ice cap to see how they handled the cold (VM only used this for four years before abandoning the project as too expensive). The road was merely a gravel pathway, nothing was paved.
En route we made two photo stops as well. The first was the remains of an American military airplane crash. Several T33 jets had been planning to land at the military base here, but a whiteout caused their landing to be delayed. As the planes circled in the air, they ran out of fuel; the pilots ejected and were safely rescued, but the planes themselves crashed. There was not much left of the plan, but it was fascinating to get to see; we were able to walk right up and touch it as well!
The second stop was at an overlook of the Russell Glacier (which we are visiting tomorrow). It was very windy and bitingly cold, but the view was incredible! The glacier was so massive. After about 10 minutes we continued on to the ice cap…
We parked the truck several hundred meters from the actual ice cap and hiked our way there. We came upon an immense wall of pure ice, which was strikingly blue. We had a brief stop for photos. The top of the wall was covered with rocks and boulders; there was a large boulder at the top of the ice wall that we needed to keep an eye on as it could easily have rolled off and stuck someone.
We hiked out onto the ice cap itself, where the wind picked up and the temperature dropped; it was freezing!! We had to stick together as we hiked out as the snow had covered any potential crevasses; should someone step in the wrong place, they would have fallen into the crevasse. The view was incredible: snow and ice as far as the eye could see. Outcroppings of solid blue ice appeared like waves breaking over the sea of snow. Several areas were covered with rocks, which turned out to merely be covering the solid ice below. We made several stops along our path for photos, including one area that had several demolished igloos. They were impressively still quite solid and we couldn’t knock them down (yes, the kids tried…).
Our final stop on the ice cap was a massive sheet of pure ice with no snow covering it at all. We carefully walked out onto it for some great photo opportunities. By this time clouds had begun to roll in and snow was starting to fall, which unfortunately prevented my pictures from fully capturing how crystal clear and blue the ice was, but this did not prevent me from taking numerous pictures of the landscape. It was a barren wasteland, both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. This rivaled anything that I had seen during my time in Svalbard in 2014.
There was a couple from Sydney, Australia on the tour and we three began to chat and took turns taking photos of one another. I had seen them several times since arriving, but had not had the opportunity to speak with them. While walking back to the truck, we stopped and broke off part of the ice cap ice; a few of us (myself included) ate some of the ice. It was nothing particularly unique about the ice, but now I can say that I’ve had ice cap ice! (Similarly, the glacial ice that I had in Svalbard – which the tour guide fished from the sea in front of the glacier and served to us with whiskey – was nothing special to taste, but both that ice and the ice cap ice were crystal clear.)
On the drive to and from the ice cap we saw several reindeer, including what appeared to be a small family of three reindeer together. They were all quite close to the road, giving us a chance to see them quite well. I was amazed at how well they blend in with the landscape; their fur colorings and patterns make for excellent camouflage.
After returning to town, we met for our drive to dinner at 19:00; back to the same restaurant for the Greenlandic buffet. During the drive there, our driver pointed out that the Northern Lights were beginning directly in front of us. Thankfully the restaurant was so far from the city that we were able to see the Northern Lights incredible well.
They were dawning over a large hill in front of us: first just a large cloud of greenish haze, then brighter streaks of light would appear as the Lights moved around. I had assumed that the Northern Lights were quite bright and vivid, as is usually seen in pictures and videos; in reality, they look like hazy green clouds dancing in the sky. You can clearly see the bands moving and the light columns, but the bright and vivid colors only show up in photographs. By bad luck I had decided to leave my camera at the hotel, but luckily the Australian couple and a guy from Mexico had brought theirs, along with tripods. The photos they took before dinner are stunning, showing the full green color and bright intensity of the Lights, which is impossible to see with the naked eye.
After watching the Lights for a while, they began to fade and we headed in to have dinner. Again I sat with the Danish couple; the young son delighted in speaking English with me, telling me about how much he is enjoying Greenland. The mother very kindly bought me a small Greenlandic beer made with local berries in the area; it was a sweeter beer, but quite good!
The food was again quite delicious; there were three courses: a cold dish setting, a warm dish setting, and dessert. The cold food selection consisted of smoked salmon, muskox fillet, halibut fillet, reindeer jerky, shrimp, salad, and whale skin. I tried everything except the halibut. The salmon was alright (thankfully there was a sauce that helped cover the taste); the reindeer jerky tasted like any typical jerky; the whale skin was like chewing rubber (it reminded me of when I ate the raw octopus in Tokyo). The warm selection was smaller, but equally good; I failed to realize the second course had been laid out until the food was nearly gone, so I simply got a tasting. There was fried halibut with pasta, reindeer meat, muskox and steaks. The reindeer was my favorite part of the dinner and reminded me of the reindeer stew I had in Nordkapp. Dessert was a blackberry pie, which I did not eat.
During dessert the servers made several Greenlandic coffees, which is a mixture of whiskey, Kahlua, coffee, whipped cream, and Grand Marnier. The spectacular part is when the Grand Marnier is added to the drink; all other ingredients have been added, the cream being on top to represent snow. Then they pour the Grand Marnier into a ladle and light it on fire; ever so slowly, this is then poured into the coffee glass and the fire streams down as it is poured, making it look like they are pouring liquid fire. As the server pours this, she is raising the ladle higher and higher, making the stream of fire longer and longer. This is to represent the Northern Lights.
After dinner I rejoined the Australians and the guy from Mexico, Peter, to watch the Northern Lights, which had returned. Again, to the naked eye it appeared as greenish clouds moving around the sky, though now that it was considerably darker outside, the Lights were much brighter. They began to take more photographs and we were stunned by what they revealed: the lights were now a bright orange and red! Picture after picture revealed these stunning colors, which were impossible to see with the naked eye. Standing there looking at the lights I was amazed at their beauty, dancing around the heavens; they would fade and return with more intensity. Peter said it was light watching a symphony of lights in the sky, which is perhaps the best way to describe the Northern Lights.
The truck picked us up after about 45 minutes of watching the Lights; when we returned to town we were amazed that the Lights were no longer visible (the small amount of light pollution in the town was enough to hide them). I grabbed by computer and followed the Aussies back to their hotel room (they were staying at the airport hotel); they let me copy over the photographs that they had taken during the evening. Peter let me copy his pictures as well. We are all looking forward to our hunt for the Northern Lights tomorrow night, but we’re quite pleased that we were able to see them tonight as well.