~ By Chander M. Lall (Senior Advocate)
Do you know the name of the world’s largest island? It is Kalaallit Nunaat with a landmass of 2.166 million square kilometers and a population of just above 56,000. It is the 12th largest the country in the world.
I chose this Island as my destination for a kayaking expedition and I can safely say that it has been one of the most memorable trips that I have ever taken or will ever take in my life. I might add that as an adventure buff, I have undertaken some pretty amazing trips like cycling from Manali to Leh, skiing in Lebanon (near Beirut) and Japan, diving in Mexico,
Thailand and Bali, Kayaking in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and the Pare Chu river in Ladakh, doing a bungee jump off the Victoria Falls Bridge connecting Zimbabwe and Zambia, diving in the waters for the Great White Shark and also for crocodiles in South Africa, climbing Mt. Elbrus (highest peak in Europe – unfortunately, I did not make it to the top), and Mt. Rainier and Shasta in the USA and trekking to see the Silverback gorillas in Rwanda.
Let me first unravel the mystery of this island. It’s more popular name is Greenland.
It was in July of 2008 that this trip was planned as an Indo-US expedition. There were 5 of us from India which included the youngest member of the team Diya Baja (13 years of age), Daljit Singh, Harish Natrajan, Ajit Bajaj, and myself. The American team consisted of Kim McCluskey and Jeannie McCluskey, Prof. Don Partridge, Bill Rudolph, Rene Rudolph, Mike Casio and Dan Jaeger. It was Kim who had arranged this whole trip for us.
We flew to Copenhagen on July 2, 2018, and then a 4-hour 40-minute flight to Kangerlussuaq, which translated from the Greenlandic language means “Big Fjord”, a 170-kilometer long fjord at the mid-point of which lies the Arctic Circle. A short 40-minute flight on Air Greenland then took us to Ilulissat from where we took a 35-minute chopper ride to Uummannaq, a small town in central-western Greenland of approximately 1,500 inhabitants.
This was the place where we would meet our kayaks and would also be the last place of human habitation for ten days on. From here we would take a boat on July 6 to drop us deep into the fjords with our kayaks and supplies. On July 16 we would be picked up from a predestined spot by a boat. We had to make it there in the next ten days, without fail.
Uummannaq was our destination where we had to organize our entire supplies for the next ten days. Our kayaks, tents, food, clothes, cooking utensils and cooking gears, water….everything. If we forgot one thing, we would have to forget it for the next ten days. It also meant arranging the supplies in such a way that they were packed and fitted in our kayaks. We could only take as many supplies as could fit in our kayaks. No more.
The boat ride from Uummanaq to the fjords was a memorable one as it was our first glimpse of the Greenlandic ice cap up close. Of course, we had seen it during our plane journeys but now we’re in the waters along with the ice cap. We could see receding glaciers everywhere, a chilling reminder of the effects of global warming.
The Greenland ice sheet extends to over 1.7 million square kilometers and holds over 30 million cubic kilometers of ice. It is estimated that if the entire ice sheet was to melt, sea levels would rise by about 200 feet. As a result, mankind does not want to imagine, much less experience.
Out of the ten days, we kayaked 5 and hiked for the remaining 5. We would reach in the evening and set up camp, which was a chore after a whole day of kayaking. The sore bodies however would be greeted with a fresh and chilly breeze and breathtaking scenery with 24 hours of daylight. Once tents were set up, food was prepared and with full stomachs, we would get a fresh supply of energy.
We would sing for our supper and then go exploring the area thereafter. One night an Arctic Fox was sighted in the vicinity of our campsite. We had caught some fresh codfish from the ocean and we set up some fish portions on top of a rock as bait to the snow fox. We watched from a distance and as she appeared to steal our fish supplies. The theft was for her young litter and as we quietly followed her where we were introduced to her cubs, hidden away in rocks not far from us.
Such exploratory trips would continue till late in the night. It was rare for us to sleep before 1 AM and that too with eye masks as often the sunlight was too bright to sleep. The sun would never set and would only go behind a mountain for the light to be somewhat dimmed and reduced. Melatonin was always in short supply in our bodies.
During one of our exploratory trips, we discovered and perfected the art of catching fish. Capelin is a small local fish of Greenland which was amazingly easy to catch and extremely tasty to eat. Whilst we initially used a small net, we later realized that the fish would jump out of the water as if it wanted to be caught and put in a hot pan.
I recall holding a camera in one hand and scooping up fish with the other. By the evening we would have hundreds of fresh Capelin for supper, pan-fried for a short duration and ready to be devoured by hungry mouths.
We also had fishing rods which we used for catching the Greenland Cod. When I was young I recall being fed with Cod Liver Oil. We now had large quantities of cod liver in our pans. Our fishing escapades ensured that food was plentiful and fresh. I distinctly recall our last meal on the expedition consisted of about 7 large Cod, at least 100 Capelin, some fresh mushrooms which we collected from near the waterfall above our campsite, and a fresh leafy salad with leaves also collected from the waterfall. This was supplemented with freshly cooked pasta.
For ten days we explored spots untouched by humans and where nature’s supplies were bountiful. Mornings would bring fresh views around us. As we were camped near the waters, the icebergs which we saw before sleeping would drift away, and fresh ones would be carved out of the landmass. We would always wake up to new and fresh surroundings. All night one could hear loud shotgun-like sounds of breaking icebergs and crashing waves.
Mornings were different on hike days and different on kayaking days. Hike days would mean a leisurely and relaxed breakfast. Pack a cold lunch and off we would go for a day-long hike, climbing high peaks to get clear views and perspective of the surroundings from the land and a height. The mornings we were to kayak, we had an early start of 6 AM.
Immediately on waking up we would pack our sleeping bags and fold our tents. Then towards the kitchen tent for a quick breakfast. Thereafter the kitchen and the kitchen tent had to be packed and all of the belongings fastidiously and skilfully packed into the kayaks. All of this would take about 3 hours and by 9 we were ready to leave for our next camp, kayaking anywhere between 6 to 8 hours.
Again, lunch meant a cold lunch packed right on top of a kayak bin. We would pull our kayaks to shore and then enjoy a reasonably frugal lunch after stretching our bodies. Breathtaking surroundings always greeted us on land.
The water in which we kayaked had an average temperature of 2 to 3 degrees Celcius. This would mean that if our kayak ever flipped, it would take no more than 3 minutes for hypothermia to set in. On day 2 of our kayaking, we were greeted by a very rough sea with waves towering over our kayaks and hitting us sideways. Keeping the kayaks straight was a challenge. Though we were not kayaking far from the shores, the sides were sharp and slippery. If the kayak flipped, swimming to the shore was therefore not an option.
All teams were separated and in groups of twos or threes. It was six hours of hard paddling which kept us all afloat. As we reached our campsite all tired and exhausted, we were all elated having survived the day. I had not experienced death so up close for such an extended period. My shoulder muscles were burning with the constant and relentless paddling, but stopping was not an option. How could such a trip in a far land be completely safe from danger? Thankfully we all survived to tell the story.
This trip was special for many different reasons, the principle one being so far away from one’s comfort zone. Nature’s true beauty is only revealed in spots that are not easily accessible by man. Where no man has gone before….the final frontier. May the voyages never end.