Sunday, May 22, 2011

Life in Camp

So there I was. Barefoot on a rock in only my running shorts, a bottle of shampoo in my hand. There’s a gentle breeze and a few flakes of snow are falling from the cloudy sky. I’m on a mission to win our camp’s Polar Bear Challenge.
The waterfall comes out from directly under the river ice and half of it is still frozen. Our temperature probe says the water is exactly 31.7F. I guess when water is moving it can get a little below its freezing point.
I step off the rock onto sharp icy snow and walk to a large pool of ankle deep water. It’s about 100 feet to the waterfall and I start to jog over the ice and water. My feet start to burn and then burn more. I slow to a halt and almost chicken out. Then, regaining composure I tip toe forward wincing every time my feet go in the water. I stop just before the falls and then edge closer. When the water hits me, I have an out of body of experience and see myself hyperventilating while frantically washing my hair. Thirty seconds later, I run back to my towel. 
Our swimming hole.
In the end I’m the only one who comes out with clean hair netting me 70 Greenland Points (GP) which has given me a solid lead over the rest of the team. Other ways to rack up points include cleaning the toilet (50 GP); one full week in camp (10 GP); one full week camping on the ice sheet (20 GP); going to town and not taking a shower (10 GP). Finally, you lose 10 GP for every shower taken in town.
It’s been a cold few weeks here in Greenland. I thought for sure by May 21st our river would be melted and raging but instead the ice has been getting thicker. This has been a bit of a concern as we have scientific probes stuck under the ice between the river rocks on the shore and the river ice. Every other day this week it has snowed. The snow on top of Leverett Glacier is still there, and it seems that after a month of waiting, we’re still at the very beginning of the melt season. Even as I write this, several more inches of snow are piling up on my tent.
In camp we’ve been taking daily samples of the river, fixing and testing equipment, hiking heavy packs around, and drinking lots of tea. We’ve been eating a lot. Living outside in the cold and hiking all the time makes everyone very hungry. There have been a number of people sent to town to buy parts for equipment and so we’ve had delicacies like apples and tiny slices of cheese that are eaten as slowly as possible.
Looking out of the Portal of Leverett Glacier.
There are some advantages to the cold weather. As mentioned in the previous post, we’ve had better access to the glacier’s mouth, the portal. We can just walk up the river instead of an hour hike up and over a large hill and then with crampons and ice axes, down the steep slope of the glacier while hunting for crevasses hidden by snow. This afternoon, Lyndsey Mackay, Tom Cowton and myself hiked to the portal to collect samples. This was the first time I’ve been there and not seen any melt water. Last week while sampling, streams of water were cascading off the glacier’s edge accompanied by small rocks. When a rock twice the size of my head slammed down a few feet from me, we stopped sampling and immediately left. Today’s visit was much more subdued. We took a lot of pictures, explored the portal, and then hiked back over the river.
Our science tents.
Everyone has been in good spirits and we’ve been keeping each other happy. After dinner we sit around reading while Lyndsey or myself play guitar until it gets too cold. Dave, Lyndsey and I have written a few songs about Greenland, mostly the kind that would make any twelve-year-old laugh. We’ve also spent a few evenings watching musk ox graze nearby while the sun gets low and the colors change.
This morning at an unspeakably early hour, an Arctic Fox decided it really needed to get into my tent. I’ve been leaving my tent door open all the time because I want to save my zippers from the dust and sand which will destroy them long before the mosquitoes come. Also my sleeping bag is ridiculously warm. Anyways, I woke to the sound of little feet padding around my head. When I opened my eyes I jumped and made that kind of feeble yelping sound that happens when you're really startled, which is always embarrassing. An adorable little arctic fox was inches from my face sniffing and staring at me without any sign of fear. When I jumped he ran out of my tent’s vestibule only to sit down right outside and watch me. I didn’t have my camera and as I mentioned, it was unspeakably early so I tried to shoo him away. I’d pretend to throw something at him and yell which made him back up a few feet but then he'd come right back. After about 15 minutes of this, I got out of my tent to chase him away. He ran away, I went back to bed and 10 minutes later he woke me up trying to squeeze under my now zipped vestibule. He dutifully spent the next few hours making sure I didn’t sleep. Finally, he left me alone when he discovered the geese on our pond but by then it was time to get up. He was only about half their size but seemed to have fun chasing them around the pond ice.
I guess foxes love the smell of Peanut Butter Cups as much as I do.
Me forgetting my crampons and everyone else crossing the glacier.


  1. Can't believe the rivers still frozen, impressed you stood under the waterfall! Everything looks so grey in the photos

  2. Signs that you could be from Minnesota: You voluntarily bathe in ice water. On a glacier.

    You're doing your Midwestern roots proud.