Going to Eleven

We’re motoring along in the fjord that forms the northern boundary of Milne Land, a large island on the western side of Scoresby Sund. And the fjord is, to put it mildly: staggering.

It’s staggering in its beauty. Cliffs and spires in a dizzying array of colors ranging from the grays and whites you’d expect, through a spectrum of blues and blacks, and on to some improbable reds and yellows. The rock emerges directly from the water, displaying in arcs and folds the ancient forces that have shaped this land — and the planet as whole.

Between the cliffs and spires, glaciers cascade from the unseen high country, some running in a straight line to the sea, others snaking left and right before ending in a trickle of water just above the water’s edge. Hanging glaciers loom over many of the cliff faces, ominous in their defiance (however temporary) of gravity. And above it all, ice caps and fields crown many peaks in a fluffy, white-and-blue blanket, insulating the bare rock from the harsh elements here at 71 degrees north latitude.

In the sea itself, remnants of these glaciers float silently, streaks of fluorescent blue shimmer in the sunlight creating relief lines in the pure-white faces of the icebergs. And below the waterline, a kilometer or more of silent, clear blue sea — well of the depth chart of the boat: unfathomable, literally.

It’s an amazing place, Milne Land, and one we’ll spend the next two days circumnavigating. We’ve now reached the northwest corner (after spending last night anchored at the northeast corner) and will head further west, up a feeder fjord where another nice anchorage awaits. Tomorrow we’ll continue our progress around the island, dropping the hook in the lee of a smaller island at the southern entrance to this route around Milne Land. And on Wednesday, we’ll head back seaward, to Ittoqqortoormiit and the rest of our week here in Greenland.

And Greenland has lived up to expectations: it’s like Yosemite or the Rockies or Prince William Sound or the Lofoten…ramped up a notch. The scale is simply another level higher; Greenland goes to 11, as Nigel Tufnel would say. It’s farther away; it’s further north; the peaks are higher and there are more of them; there are more glaciers and there are icebergs; there are fewer people (ie: none, basically). Greenland is like the Olympics of land masses: faster, higher, stronger.

I’ll still take Alaska, thank you very much, for two big reasons. One: it’s home. And two: trees. OK, three big reasons: wildlife. If we should see a polar bear and/or a narwhal, well, that might change things, but I doubt it. Because thus far, we’ve seen a seal. One. A single, solitary seal. Something’s missing from this Olympian, goes-to-11 landscape and it is life.

The scale obviously exceeds the human scale but it seems to exceed the scale of life itself, human and otherwise. I know life exists here — there are plants, of course, and the people who exist here on a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. And even without that knowledge, my short period of time here is too small a sample set upon which to draw any conclusions. But the fact remains that Greenland’s implacability goes beyond anything I’ve yet experienced. It seems…empty. Sadly so.

I’m wildly happy that I’ve ventured this far to see such a place. And I’d welcome the opportunity to come back (on my own timetable/plan). The impressions Greenland leaves, pro and con, are that deep. Olympian, even. I believe Nigel would agree.

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