19 September 2018
We have travelled overnight so that we wake up in the morning at a bay called Eskimobugt on the north side of inner Nordvestfjord, southern Nathorst Land. After a relatively early breakfast we set off on the morning’s expedition to the shore. This excursion is a bit different from others in that it is a ‘perimeter walk’: the crew have staked out an area and have sentries stationed at strategic spots with their rifles on polar bear watch, and we are free to wander at our own pace within the perimeter. Subject matter experts are positioned at strategic spots to tell us about the cultural site – which has only been visited by a rare few individuals.
This site has well-preserved Thule ruins, known since the 1930s. There are six Thule winter houses (much better preserved than the last ones we saw) tucked into the edge of the bay. These were semi-subterranean houses entered through a 3m tunnel at the front leading into an oval shaped hollow which would have had a domed roof with wooden rafters covered with seal skins and then covered over with dirt and turf. They burned whale or other oil that doesn’t smoke so they would have been warm and snug inside.
Outside there are rock piles marking meat caches and they have discovered quite a range of different tools made out of bone for sewing and hunting. There was even an ingenious multipurpose tool encompassing a snow-cutting knife and a sled runner lubrication tool (you spat on it and ran it along the runners and it would quickly freeze forming a good edge).
Further along there is a gravesite area with further mounds of rocks. They know that these are graves rather than meat caches as you can see a skeleton inside one of them.. This is a great site for a winter retreat (if you actually have to winter out here): there is a flat plateau above with a waterfall at the side which would have provide water for most of the year, we see musk ox roaming around as well. A climb to the highest point provides a magnificent view out over the bay – perfect for spotting game out on the ice or in the water.
It is very cold out there today and we all stay rugged up even when climbing the hillside. When we get back on board the ship we are greeted with Beach Boys music and the chef in a Hawaiian shirt serving us hot chocolate with Tia Maria to warm us up.
We then have time to relax until another wonderful lunch and then a seminar by historian David (Burtie) on ICEollated Coast whilst we travel further down to the mouth of Nordvestfjord.
Our afternoon landing is at a small island called Immikkeertikajik. The Greenlandic name means little island but it is also known as ‘Ruin island’. Here there are traces of Paleo-Eskimo habitation: possibly from the Saqqaq and/or Dorset cultures as well as more recent Thule remains (1000-1600 AD). The nutrient riches of the nearby fjords as well as a polynya (an area of open water within the sea ice during winter) attracts marine mammals as well as land mammals and birds to the area. A hunting camp used by more recent hunting expeditions which is also still in use occasionally by today’s Greenlanders can be seen on the opposite shoreline, at Sydkap.
The Medium-fast group is fortunate to have David as our guide today. We head up the comparatively gentle rise and start to see the tent circles and meat caches that indicate a summer living area. David spends more time showing us the vegetation than we have had previously and once you start looking more closely, the barren tundra yields riches: we see bilberries, cow berries (these taste quite nice), and bear berries which would have supplemented their diet, all sorts of different flowers and even several sorts of mushrooms (apparently all edible).
As we walk over to another bay we see a pair of ringed seals pop their heads up out of the water to study us. David shows us how the ancient people would have trapped foxes by making a hollow pyramid of stones with meat in the middle – the fox would go in and then realise it couldn’t get out. We see remains of more modern fox traps that use an ingeniously simple contraption made of wood and rocks – when the fox takes the bait the rock-laden wooden structure collapses on top of it, killing the fox without damaging the pelt.
We learn that there are over 60 tent sites on the island and several winter houses as well. These rich hunting and gathering grounds supported many hundreds of years of populations. David told us that there is a 700 year gap where there is no evidence of any population so people believe that the climate was too harsh back then.
As we see the other side of the island we get the spectacular view of a huge bay filled with enormous icebergs. We are at the most open part of Scoresby Sund and can see the southern and northern arms and also Greenland’s largest island (which is absolutely dwarfed by the 2500m mountains towering up above it).
We are so privileged to then see a pair of Arctic hare who sit and nibble, occasionally flicking their ears but otherwise seemingly unconcerned by a wall of yellow raincoats observing them. Their pelts are snowy white (and don’t change with the seasons) so they are easy to spot. We watched them enthralled for ages before another climb to warm us up again. Back down at the pickup site, Laurie has a table set up with a glass of wine for us all.
After dinner tonight we watch a documentary on climate change that features the changes happening in Greenland and Iceland. It is fascinating but it starts quite late so I sneak off early when I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.
Please join me over the next several posts as I take you on our Journey to the Arctic (and more).
Arctic Express: Northern Lights
Day 1: Copenhagen to Reykjavik
Day 2: Reykjavik to Constable Point, Greenland
Day 3: Scoresby Sund: Frederiksdal & Flyvefjord
Day 4: Scoresby Sund: Nordvestfjord & Ingmikortilaq
Day 5: Scoresby Sund: Eskimobugt & Immikkeerikajik
Day 6: Scoresby Sund: Danmark Island & Vikingsbugt
Day 7: Scoresby Sund: Cap Hope & Ittoqqortoormiit
Day 8: Scoresby Sund: Steward Island & Constable Point
Day 9: Constable Point back to Reykjavik
Day 1: Reykjavik: Blue Lagoon
Day 2: Golden Circle
Day 3: South Coast
Day 4: Jokulsarlon
Day 5: Eastern Fjords & Moorudalur Valley
Day 6: Moorudalur Valley & Lake Myvatn
Day 7: Akureyri & Trollaskagi Peninsular
Day 8: Grabrok Volcano & Snaefellsnes Peninsular
Day 9: Snaefellsness to Reykjavik
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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