Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Boating in the Fiord

Everyone in camp this summer was keen to explore Alexandra Fiord by boat. However, with 6 of us in camp and a motor boat that could only hold a maximum of 4 people we had to be inventive. A plan was hatched to tow a small inflatable boat behind the motor boat with 2 people in it. This seemed like something that would be done in cottage country but in a fiord in the High Arctic???!!! … but it worked amazingly well and was a lot of fun.
Motor boat towing inflatable boat as we head out
to explore Alexandra Fiord and an evening picnic

Our first trip was going to be a short trip down the fiord to a promontory for an evening picnic after a day in the field but it went so well that we travelled a little further than planned. We packed a curry and rice supper and flasks of coffee and tea and off we set. The fiord was like a mill pond as we set out with perfect reflection of the glaciers, mountain and islands in the fiord.

Twin Glacier reflected in the mill pond calm Alexandra Fiord

Sphynx and Skraeling Islands reflected in Alexandra Fiord
as we boat up the fiord for an evening picnic
We alighted at a cove and hiked up to a high point on the promontory to have supper. The views were stunning. To the west a glacier and icecap domes of the Prince of Wales Icefield near the head of the fiord; to the north the sheer cliffs of Thorvald Peninsula; and to the east a view down Alexandra Fiord. Oh, and I found an old Inuit fox trap near the beach for added interest. There are quite a few old fox traps along Alexandra Fiord. The Inuit fox trap is a carefully arranged pile of rocks with an entrance and a rock balanced on top that falls and traps the fox once the fox has entered.
View west from our picnic spot: Icecaps and glaciers of the
Prince of Wales Icefield near the head of Alexandra Fiord
Thorvald Peninsula reflected in Alexandra Fiord
where we tied our boats for our evening picnic
We continued up the fiord until we rounded a bend and could see the massive glacier at the head of the fiord that, thousands of years ago, carved out the fiord we were boating up. The wind had picked up and it was now a little chilly as the sun had dropped behind Thorvald Peninsula on the north side of the fiord. We headed back along the fiord exploring some of the large icebergs and ice flows that had drifted into the fiord on the change of tide. We even saw a guillemot, a bird that is almost never seen at Alex, land in front of an iceberg. With no worries about being benighted in the High Arctic summer, we arrived back in camp at 1am!
The massive glacier at the head of Alexandra Fiord
seen from our little motor boat
Circling an iceberg in Alexandra Fiord in our little boats
Our second boating trip was a repeat visit to Little Skraeling and Skraeling island so the field assistants that arrived in July could see the Thule sites. For me it was interesting to see the islands and Thule sites in summer and compare it to our earlier visit walking across the sea ice. This time we hiked up to the summit of Skraeling island where we had amazing views out across Buchanan Bay and Kane Basin with Greenland clearly visible in the distance.

View east from the summit of Skraeling Island
with Greenland visible across Kane Basin
View west up Alexandra Fiord from the summit of Skraeling Island.
The promontory in the centre-left of the picture is where
we had our picnic supper on an earlier boat trip
A highlight of this boat trip was the walruses. As we were about to head out in the boats, a group of 9 or 10 walrus came sailing into the fiord on a small ice flow. We gave them a wide birth as we motored out but were close enough to see them clearly through binoculars and zoom lenses. When we were exploring Little Skraeling Island we could hear a lot of walruses barking and when we came around the corner to land on the beach at Skraeling Island, we saw a small rocky island just a few 100m off shore covered in over a hundred walruses! Steamy breath was rising as they barked and jostled for position on the island. We boated by Sphynx Island on the way home and saw 2 gyrfalcon fledglings perched on the cliff below their nest. It was good to see that two of the four eggs we had seen in June have produced healthy looking teenagers.
A hundred walrus on a small island off Skraeling Island.
The mist rising from their barking and in fighting

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