I’ve had an interest in Greenland since first seeing the Ragnar Axelsson documentary in 2011, add in the fact that we live close to William Scoresby’s home town of Whitby and you can see why Scoresby Sound had become my dream destination.
Whilst we do most of our photography within 30 miles of home, we do like to go on the odd adventure, so when Janet and I were discussing where we might go on our next journey, the subject of Scoresby came up again and Janet said, “Why don’t you just go?” So, I thought about it for a nano-second and booked it!
Actually getting to Scoresby proved to be quite straight forward, a flight to Reykjavik to meet up with the rest of the party, then a 1-1/2 hour flight to Constable Point in east Greenland the following day to meet the ship the Donna Wood. The airfield at Constable Point was built for oil exploration in the 70’s and is about as remote as you can get anywhere in the world. It’s situated at the head of Hurry Fjord, about 40km from the village of Ittoqqotoormiit in a national park of some 38,000 sq. km. There are no roads, so Ittoqqotoormiit can only be reached by helicopter, or by sea (A five-hour voyage).
We all trooped the mile or so from the airport to the bay where we boarded the 100-year-old sailing ship Donna Wood which was to be our home for the next week. Though it was a bit surreal seeing a pickup truck bumping along the track with something like £100,000 worth of camera gear in the back!
Greenland is a big country, very big, but nothing prepares you for the immensity of this place and it’s hard to get your head around the idea that apart from the 450 people in the village and the 40 or so people on the three sailing boats, we were the only people in this vast national park!
That afternoon we set sail down the calm waters of Hurry Fjord with the sailing boats Hildur and Opal for company on a bright, sunny afternoon, before passing the abandoned village of Kap Hope and heading out into the choppier waters of Scoresby Sound in search of icebergs to photograph at sunset.
Day two saw us arrive at the Solgletcher glacier where we witnessed the spectacle of a huge avalanche. We sailed on past the immense Vikingebugt glacier, then set sail for Rode (Red) Island, marvelling at the wonders of nature on the way. Settling into a routine, we soon learned to share the power points to charge camera and laptop batteries, and enjoyed the social gatherings in the saloon for meals and some of Gunnar’s freshly made bread.
We finally arrived a Rode Island that evening and launched the zodiacs to head in to what became known to us as “Iceberg City”. The narrow gap between the island and the mainland meant the icebergs had all bunched up and this proved to be iceberg heaven for us photographers! The light level was low, but the water in between the icebergs was calm, so we had a fabulous time cruising gently around in the zodiac marvelling at the surrounding shapes. This was to prove our favourite location, though the most challenging photographically, with the low light and the need for shutter speed to get the images sharp. An amazing experience and one that will live with me for a very long while.
The following morning, we launched the zodiacs for a trip to land on Rode island and it was a treat to finally get a chance to stretch our legs at last. Once onshore, we trooped up to the top of the hill with our guide Raymond talking up the rear armed with a rifle just in case we happened on any polar bears! The ever-present danger meant we weren’t allowed to stray out of sight just in case. Once on top of the hill we had a great view of “iceberg city” and it was great to use the tripod for once, though the images in amongst the icebergs are still my favourites.
That evening we were greeted with even lower light and constant drizzle, when Raymond suggested another trip to “Iceberg City”. Working on the basis, that “if you don’t go, you don’t get” I decided to join the party and despite the sky-high ISO required, I managed to get some of my favourite images.
The following morning, we set sail for Rypefjord and the Eilson Gletcher at the head of the fjord and it was amazing to see the sheer scale of the glacier from so close. Nothing prepares you for the scale of this country! The light was great, the water calm with no wind, we launched the zodiacs, so we could photograph the Donna Wood in full sail against the icebergs.
The following morning, we sailed back down Rypefjord and along Ofjord, marvelling at the huge rock walls towering above us as we went, stopping briefly to toast Whiskey mountain on the way, arriving at Bear Island mid-afternoon on a glorious sunny day. The rock formations in Scoresby are a geologist’s dream and were a feature I was keen to capture. We spent the evening shooting icebergs against the setting sun, then moored in a secluded bay for the night. Scoresby is all about immensity and tranquillity, with the throb of the motor and the lapping of the water on the boat’s hull being the only noises, so it was nice to finally have the motor off that night and have a silent night.
The following morning, I was up at 5am and ready to head onto Bear Island for a dawn shoot, but I was initially frustrated by my failure to shoot it to my satisfaction, as I was hoping to get some good foreground detail in my images. However, the second image with the colourful foliage in the foreground was much more to my satisfaction.
Later that morning we motored out in the open waters of Hall Bredning on what turned out to be a lovely day, with a calm sea. We were greeted by masses of icebergs the size and splendour of castles and cathedrals all coming down from Nordvestfjord so we spent some time slowly circling these hugely impressive bergs, before finding the mythical arched iceberg just before lunch.
We slowly circled the arched iceberg in the boat to get some photographs, then took to the zodiacs to spend some time shooting the Donna Wood through the arch and once again I really rued the fact I’d not brought the 80-400mm lens we’d recently purchased. Though it was a treat to finally have enough light to finally have adequate shutter speed, depth of field and low ISO, all at the same time! Once we’d finished shooting through the arch, we slowly motored round the iceberg in the zodiac and marvelled at it’s sheer size and the fact it looked like a huge liner from one side.The Donna Wood through the arch
Once back onboard we motored on down Hall Bredning until we met a huge iceberg the size and magnificence of Gaudi’s Salida Familia cathedral! So, we did a slow lap of that one too and I even managed to get some film footage of part of it collapsing!
As the afternoon wore on, the sea remained flat calm, so I got a chance to go up the mast. I’m not good with heights but I really fancied doing this, so I jumped at the chance when I got the offer. Donning the safety harness and my camera, I set off to slowly climb up a rope ladder that got progressively more unstable and quite narrow, so I stopped to allow me to get the camera and my arms through the rope ladder to secure myself, then somehow compose the shot and check it for exposure and shutter speed, whilst trying not to fall off!
All in all, quite a day, but it hadn’t finished yet, as Raymond knocked us up at midnight to say we had northern lights! Fortunately, he’d pre-warned us there was a chance of northern lights that night, so I’d fitted the wide-angle lens and set my camera ready to go, as well as pre-focussing and taping the lens up in readiness.
Shooting northern lights off a moving boat is a challenge, but what I hadn’t figured was that if you use a tripod, the camera moves with the boat, so the boat remains moderately sharp. Add in the fact that it was crowded onboard, so as you can imagine it was all quite difficult! Not a great showing of northern lights this time, but a wonderful to see all the same.
Our final full day on the Donna Wood and we arrived at the village of Ittoqqortoormiit. The village has about 450 residents and the name literally means “people who live in big red houses”. We spent a few hours exploring this fascinating “village at the end of the earth”, before setting sail back towards Constable Point.
That evening I’d packed all my kit away for the final time ready to leave in the morning, so it came as a surprise when the call “aurora” came up again around midnight. Rushing out ill prepared like a headless chicken this time, I focussed my camera on the airport lights and hoped for the best. The aurora was an amazing sight and one I hope I’ve managed to do justice to.
I went to Scoresby with very high hopes for this trip and I wasn’t disappointed, we’ve marvelled at the splendour of the natural world, completely cut off from our normal lives, which I enjoyed greatly. Though I guess I had too many pre-conceived ideas about what I would shoot, but in the end my favourite images have been ones shot in conditions I hadn’t imagined, so I think seeing the un-expected has added to the adventure.
Words like “Immensity and Serenity” spring to mind when I think of Greenland. So, would I recommend this trip? Too right I would, not many people have seen the sights we’ve seen and the great thing about achieving your dreams, is you can dream some new, even bigger ones!