It doesn’t matter how many times you see a glacier up close, these massive feats of nature cannot fail to impress you. Here in the 40,240ha UNESCO World Heritage-listed Illulissat Ice Fjord, it is one of the few places on Earth where you can witness these frozen monsters complete their millennia-long march to the sea, their impossibly slow journey ending in noisy catastrophe as they collapse and break at the ocean’s edge.
While climate scientists remind us the grandeur of these events is a fast-closing chapter of the planet’s cycle, it serves to spur us on to see them while we can. Watch as massive slices of ice drop from the glacier front into the sea with the crack of a cannon and a wave to match.
Capt Garcia and his team have their hands full, trying to squeeze this massive ship along the ice-choked channels of this fjord. Already he predicated a slow and difficult passage, but perseverance and more than a little skill in seamanship have seen us through, albeit behind schedule.
Le Boréal arrives at the Eqi Ice Camp, former base of the famous French explorer, Paul-Emile Victor. The view across the glacier is superb and we are blessed (again!) with perfect weather as the bands of hikers set out for their objectives. The ‘Alpha’ team hopes to reach the ice cap in a six hour round trip. “Beta”, with me bringing up the rear, will do a three hour trek to wherever it can get to overlooking the glacier, while the remainder will stay at the Ice Camp, a group of a dozen or so huts and a tiny cafe to which we are not welcome. “It’s just for guests and there are already too many people here,” I am told when I enquire about a hot beverage. You have to love European subtlety and tact.
We forge on into a mighty head wind, climbing perhaps 800m and reaching the edge of the plateau, all the while treated to a breathtaking view of the glacier below. Next year, if gloomy predictions are correct, it will be an eight hour jog to the ice cap and back. Our respective hikes culminate in a Zodiac cruise near the glacier front, all the while the wind throws bursts of water spray into the boat, soaking those at the bow and just wetting the rest of us.
Of course, back aboard, a hot shower and warm drinks await us and Capt Garcia contemplates the 45NM return leg south to Illulissat, where we are supposed to be sometime after 2000hrs, but we are still gingerly picking our way through the ice field well after midnight with the occasional thud and vibration of a ‘growler’ (tiny iceberg) against the hull. I go to sleep nervously rehearsing the lifeboat drill.