GREENLAND 2002 - Dispatches by David Keaton

GREENLAND 2002 - DISPATCH 1 Land of Sagas

To get to Greenland you go to Iceland. Iceland is known for a few things most notably the sagas which are 12th and 13th century tales of epic conflict, romance and adventure. One rule of thumb garnered from the narratives is; don't mess with your neighbor. It might take generations to settle the score.

But Iceland is also known for waterfalls, wool, geology (there have been more than 30 eruptions in the last 200 years), and the unpredictable weather of the north Atlantic. This week, however, Reykjavik (the capital) is experiencing some of the fairest skies in many years! We hope this lasts awhile, and perhaps rubs off on its northern neighbor, Greenland.

Until about 12 years ago it was a tricky proposition getting oneself to the mountains of east Greenland. It used to mean treading the deep currents and lumbering icebergs of the arctic ocean via sailboat. After landfall, you dragged your provisions ashore and began picking your way across the ragged coastal glaciers that empty directly into the sea. These glaciers, often heavily crevassed and treacherous, make for a very uncertain journey which was exactly the sort of thing many adventurers wanted to hear.

Virtually everyone now chooses to fly in via a ski-equipped Twin Otter. For starters, most people don't have three to four months vacation time to do it the hard way. Mark Jenkins' 1988 Watkins expedition was one of the first groups to employ the aerial approach by landing on an interior glacier near Gunnbjorns Fjeld, Greenland's highest.

The Icelandic pilots that will be flying us in to NHN next week, are the same that plucked my group off a glacier near the arctic highpoint in 2000. At the end of the expedition, we were wallowing in some micro climate junk for several days and started to think about another week of crackers and lemon starburst while it cleared up.

One afternoon, the Twin Otter buzzed in very low off the ice cap. They had just completed a flight from the base at Thule. As the plane circled around, the pilots radioed down and asked for help with depth perception. We set-off the flares and watched as the wind strung out banners of blue and red smoke. We were skeptical that they could or even want to try to land, but after a few circuits they dropped in expertly. We were on our way.

For several reasons, we are expecting better weather this time. First, NHN is much further north than the Watkins/Lindbergh area that we had visited in 2000 - 73 degrees north, which tends to favor more stable weather. Secondly we will be there in June instead of late July/August - another positive. On the flip side NHN should be much colder!

But for now it is the beach in Reykjavik - suddenly a very popular place.

More soon. David Keaton