Disko Island, Fieldwork

Disko Part 6: Operation bag-rescue

After a successful few days we are on a bit of a field-high, having established our sampling sites and looking forward to the arrival of our long-awaited box full of most of our sample gear. Our plan is to head to Englishman’s Springs, following the route we had checked out the day before, and sample the thermal spring environments there. However, the island had other plans, and instead we spent the day getting a lesson in how to vastly underestimate the Greenlandic terrain.

After a successful and simple hike up to the top of the ridge over-looking the springs, it was a simple case of finding a route down to the shoreline where the springs are located.

Spring site

Looking forward to the prospect of lunch on the beach followed by an afternoon of happy sampling, we make our way down the seemingly simple route of following the stream from the top of the gully towards the beach where it emerges. It starts off well – the stream is shallow, the ground gently sloping towards the sea. However, half-way down the slope becomes steeper and steeper, and just as we are deciding whether to continue or whether to turn back, my bag secretly takes a tumble down onto some loose rocks below. It is entirely unreachable, and we turn back in the event that we don’t want any of us going the same way. We safely make our way back to our starting point, and find a new route down that ends up being annoyingly easy (Captain Hindsight strikes…). From our view at the base of the gully, it is evident that we made the right decision in turning back, and that my bag is located far out of reach for any of our capabilities – a sobering reminder that we are hiking very unfamiliar terrain. By now the entire day has gone, and we make our way back to Arctic Station somewhat dejected.

The next day Ole comes to our rescue and has arranged for us to be taken by boat to the shoreline, in the hope that one of the local Greenlandic men can reach my bag. In order not to waste the day, Sami and myself go on operation ‘bag rescue’, while Casey and Mark head up to Lyngmark glacier, this time following a well-established path.

The next morning: on our way to rescue my fallen rucksack.
The next morning: on our way to rescue my stranded rucksack.

After reaching the shore below where my bag has become wedged, our Greenlander makes a very calculated clamber up the rocky slope. He just about grabs my bag and makes it safely back down to the floor of the gully. My bag is back! It is impossible to put into words how capable these guys are around the rocky shores of Disko Island (as the 59 year-old guy put it – he is a ‘Diskomo’, and has been clambering around the coastline since he was 6 years old). Fieldwork is always full of unexpected situations, and this incident served to remind us not to get complacent in unfamiliar territory.

My hero: scrambling up to rescue the fallen rucksack.
My hero: scrambling up to rescue the fallen rucksack.

With my bag and all its vital contents back in action, Sami and I head northwards and upwards to join Casey and Mark at Lyngmark glacier – a cool 800 m climb from sea level. The next day of sampling is finally underway!