He’d been doing a great job steering up until then. But as we got closer and closer to the iceberg I paddled more furiously on the right side, trying to overpower my partner’s paddling and move us away from it.
“Please steer away from the iceberg!” the guide shouted.
“Yes, we know!” I shouted back, still digging deep into the water with each stroke. We only got closer to it.
“You’re getting too close!” the guide shouted, “steer away!”
I grunted in response, paddling too hard to speak. Why was this dude steering us towards it? Didn’t he know a chunk could calve off, or it could flip at any time, both possibilities creating a wave that would flip our kayak in a second? That the 90% of it that was under the water could hit us and send us flying? And yet he still steered us towards it.
In a second the guide was in front of us, blocking our way and causing our kayak to actually run into his.
“You can’t get that close to an iceberg!” he said, not exactly shouting, but using the type of firm voice I usually reserve for my students when they aren’t paying attention. “It’s not safe!”
I breathed a sigh of relief. There would be no iceberg-related injures caused by that Frenchman today.
Just like when I went hiking on the Yellow Trail, we met at 9pm. At this time it’s still daylight in Disko Bay in July, with the sun hanging low in the sky. After suiting up in long underwear, dry suits, booties, and spray skirts we were each given a pair of mittens and a paddle and the group of us traipsed through town. The sun hung low in the sky, shining through the grasses and across the local church.
One by one the guide helped us into our kayaks, launching us carefully off the rocks until we were all able to paddle off into the sunset, after a safety briefing, of course. Kayaking in Greenland is not something to be taken lightly. That water is icy.
Around the corner we could see the enormous icebergs of the icefjord, their steep faces reflecting the golden light of the sun, and in the distance a whale spouted and dove.
The water was calm, like glass, and the light reflected in it was stunning, with icebergs dotting the horizon in the distance and my fellow kayakers silhouetted against the sun.
I love being out on the still, still water, low enough to look right across its surface that reflects the sunlight.
We stopped for a rest and rafted up. Our guide served tea and coffee, but in limited amounts because having to pee when you’re in a kayak and a dry suit is not a good thing!
Then he decided to demonstrate an Eskimo roll. There are 38 different types of Eskimo rolls, each differentiated by the position in which you stop and start it. Our guide had been in a competition, and was able to do 8 of the 38 types.
He finished his tea and sealed his hat around his face. He put on his gloves, took a deep breath, and he was gone. He dipped under the surface and then, just as fast, came back up on the other side, triumphant.
“Refreshing!” he said, and I could not possibly imagine sticking my head and entire body in this ice water, even with the dry suit on.
My hands were freezing, and although they provided special wetsuit mittens, they made it too hard to operate my GoPro! So I suffered without them, occasionally blowing on my hands or trying to tuck them into my sleeves a bit to warm them up.
The guide showed us the different types of ice. There’s white ice, which has tons of little air bubbles in it that make it white. Then there’s black ice, which, just like when it’s on a road, you really can’t see at all. It’s solid, with no air bubbles, and thus perfectly clear. In the dark water it blends right in.
He passed it around and when I held it up to the light it gleamed like a diamond.
Then it was time to head back, and the shoreline and coastal houses of Ilulissat glowed in the golden sunlight as we paddled along. We stopped to admire icebergs and take photos.
I spent plenty of time with my paddle resting across my lap while I took photos on my GoPro. I think maybe my kayak buddy got a bit annoyed about that.
And then he tried to kill us. Why couldn’t he just paddle away from the iceberg, like we’d been told, and like we’d done until then? Didn’t he know kayaking in Greenland is dangerous?
But thanks to the careful attention of the guide, we survived, and shortly after found ourselves back at the rocks where we’d started.
Even though we’d been out on the water for a couple of hours, it seemed like no time at all and was over way too quickly. It’s a stunning experience, with that stunning light shining on the towering icebergs, and whales if you’re lucky. Maybe one day I’ll get to go kayaking in Greenland again, preferably with a partner who won’t try to kill us!
Have you gone kayaking somewhere really cool like Greenland? Tell me about it in the comments!
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