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Friday, May 26

Inlandsisen 25km

My last full day in the Arctic was a full day indeed. The majority of it was occupied by a trip inland - - to the edge of the great ice sheet that covers most of Greenland.

According to the sign at the turnoff, the ice edge is 25km out of town. The road was mostly passable [until it became impassable] transiting a variety of landscapes - - soft sand in the glacial river bottoms, short grass tundra which is so soft and springy it feels like walking on a mattress, rocky ground, boggy ground, and finally a mass of rutted ice blocking the road [at which point we got out and walked]. Interestingly, along the way we saw a small stand of spruce trees planted by American military personnel almost 50 years ago - - the trees are still alive, but they grow so slowly here that the tallest tree was only about 4 feet tall. We saw a few caribou as well and looked for musk ox: although there is plenty of evidence of their presence, I have yet to see a musk ox in the wild. Umimmac is musk ox in greenlandic; their underfur makes the warmest, softest [and most expensive] yarn... 249 kronner [almost $50 USD] for a 50gm skein. It feels like brown silk.

From the point at which we abandoned the truck, it was still a hike of several miles to the ice edge. Because we were on foot, the noises were apparent - - twittering birds, cracking ice on the lakes, and the muted roar of the meltwater descending from the ice to the river below. Typical of glacial waters, the river water was milky from the suspended particles - - in this case, chocolate milk.

The ice above was a riot of fractures and fissures. When Nansen completed the first crossing of Greenland in 1888, he had to scale the ice cap on the eastern shore and climb back down to terra firma when he reached the west. Both these feats were almost as impressive as the crossing itself.

The little bit of Greenland that I've seen has been fascinating: harsh and bleak in many ways but subtly surprising as well. To quote Robert Service, "... the northern lights have seen queer sights..." indeed.