Polar expedition voyages aim to give guests the feeling of being able to follow in the footsteps of polar explorers and discoverers. Feeling like Amundsen, Shackleton or Nansen when you enter a place for the first time is certainly one of the elations you feel. On the journey through South Greenland, there were already several such places that no tourist had entered before. But how does it feel when you are actually about to make history?
The voyage “South Greenland Adventure” started with the claim to explore the southern region of the largest island in the world in a completely new way, going almost “Enterprise”-like where no tourist had been before. Something that Quark Expeditions and expedition leader Allison had actually fulfilled by having the helicopters and the ship go to places that could not be reached in the conventional way with zodiacs. Or they searched for landing sites that no one had visited before. But what was planned for the last day of the expedition put everything that had gone before in the shade. And it would start in a small bay northwest of Narsarsuaq, our start and end point.
Expedition leader Allison had already informed us the night before that the weather conditions are so good that she wants to do the highlight of the voyage, namely the attempt to land on the ice sheet of Greenland with the helicopters. It’s a plan that no other shipping company has tried before, as only a few ships have their own helicopters and the approval procedure is long and difficult, as Heli Operations Manager Felix explains to me. And indeed, only 12 hours after the announcement, the conditions are more than just favorable, dreamlike might describe it better: sunshine and hardly any clouds in the sky plus no fog result in perfect visibility conditions for the pilots and hardly any breeze moves the almost 6 degrees warm air masses (the temperature will still rise to 10 degrees). Therefore, there is already a hectic hustle and bustle to start the helicopters for reconnaissance flights. After all, an exact landing point has yet to be found that meets the requirements of the safety concept. But lo and behold, not even an hour later the transport flights take off and the landing team is flown to the ice sheet with all the material such as emergency tents, poles, rifles, emergency food and everything that goes with a stay on a glacier or ice sheet. Then everything is explored in detail, possible hidden crevasses and holes are searched for, a perimeter is flagged out and on a moraine a path to a viewpoint is marked. The team works hand in hand, they understand each other even without words and the efficiency is impressive. Just 3 hours after the first flight, they are ready to offer guests a world premiere.
Divided into groups, all guests get the opportunity to spend an hour or more on the ice sheet and feel a little bit like Nansen or de Quérvain on their first crossing. Everywhere smiling faces, cell phones and cameras are in continuous operation. Even I, who has been to many places in the Arctic, can hardly contain my enthusiasm. Amazed and almost sublimely solemn, I walk over the sharp-edged ice, look into the maw of the glacier mill, into which the water of a melting stream thunders. I see the crevasses in the surroundings and have to think of Koni Steffen, who had dedicated his life to this ice sheet and its importance for us. I let my gaze wander to the gray-white horizon and go beyond it. It is not my first time on the ice sheet and yet everything is different. I feel the significance of it all, know about the work that has been going on in the background for years and culminates in this moment. Thomas Lennartz, the head of sales at Quark and a polar pro himself, says it most aptly: “It’s the fulfillment of a dream to go beyond the ordinary.”
EL Allison, who has experienced many things in her life in the polar regions and is one of Quark’s most experienced expedition leaders, is also completely enthusiastic, but at the same time thoughtful. “The ice sheet is a connection of everything, nature and us. It is so fragile and at the same time a gigantic beast, it can make us disappear and yet it is so threatened by us. Standing here is a unique feeling and I’m incredibly proud that we all achieved this together.” She emphasizes “all” because that’s the only way this moment and the whole voyage was even possible: a collaboration between the different crews on board the ship, the expedition team, the guests, but also with the people of Greenland, on whose land and ice we stand. Because the ice sheet is their past, their present and it also determines the future of Kalaalit Nunaat, the land of the people, even here in the deep south of the island, where once Erik the Red did not find barren land, but a land of diversity and opportunity. And this has not changed until today.
Dr. Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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