Zackenberg Research Station
We've spent the past two days in Young Sund, ~200 miles north of Scoresby Sund. We came to visit Zackenberg Research Station, a small Danish station that focuses on the biology and ecology of Northern Greenland. In particular they look at changes in musk ox, plant life, arctic hares, walruses, permafrost, etc. due to a changing climate. The fjord is also home to the Sirius patrol, an elite branch of the Danish military that patrols Greenland (by dog sled) against invaders (mostly Norway, apparently). Twelve guys live at this small station at 74°N for two years at a time. In the winter they spend four months patrolling the northern edge of Greenland, by dog sled. For a remote fjord in Greenland, there was quite a crowd!
Having spent a full week on the ship, traveling 1-3 knots the whole time, Gordon and I were getting restless. The adrenaline rush that we had gotten from doing fieldwork last week seemed like a distant memory. As soon as we had the opportunity to get to land, we planned a long hike around the fjord. Well, we didn't do so much planning since the only maps we have on board are nautical charts, which don't have contour lines above sea level. We left at 8:30 pm last night and arranged for a pickup at 11:00 am the next morning.
At around midnight, we reached the top of our first peak, at 1342 m, and instantly missed not having a map! The slope that we hiked up was admittedly steep, but the backside of the mountain was a sheer cliff, all the way down to sea level. From the ship we had no idea that the terrain was so dramatic. We altered our intended route and continued down to the next saddle and up a different ridge.
The landscape was composed of blocks of granite and gneiss, broken apart from repeated freeze and thaw cycles. After hours of jumping and balancing from rock to rock, our ankles and calves were feeling the burn. We headed towards a large snow patch that led to the top of the ridge (snow is a lot easier to walk on than boulders). Apparently, we weren't the only mammals to take this route. To our surprise, we saw musk ox and polar bear tracks! Once the sea ice breaks out of the fjord (which it already had), bears are rare in the area - especially 1000 m above sea level. But there we were, hovered over day-old polar bear prints, wide-eyed and jittery. We were searching for an adrenaline-inducing adventure, and we got it. For the rest of the trip, every large white rock looked like a polar bear. The sun produced shadows that made the rocks look like they were moving, and it took careful scrutiny to believe otherwise.
We took one 2-hour break at the top of our second peak. We had a spectacular view of the ocean, littered with sea ice in the distance; glaciers with ribbon-like medial moraines draining into a fjord; and steep cliffs in front of us. At 3 am, the sun was still bright and the landscape was lit perfectly. We were both feeling tired, and very fortunate.
The rest of the journey was fun and beautiful, but exhausting. During our epic journey, we traveled 17 miles, and gained ~2500 m in elevation. After 12 hours of hiking, we made it back to the Sirius camp (our pick-up spot) and waited for our ride back to the ship. While we waited, we both took a quick swim in the ice-ridden fjord - a refreshing end to a great day/night.