ABOARD M/V/ SEA SPIRIT-Morning comes as gray and overcast as when I tried to photograph the midnight sun at midnight and again at 2 a.m.
The news isn’t any brighter. We’ve turned south; Disko Bay is too icy to safely go any farther north. Instead, we will go to a reindeer hunting ground in the Nordre Stromfjord area.
Accepting the consolation prize, we head out. Upon landing at the unremarkable-looking hunk of land, the adventurous and agile head to the top of the hill, their path outlined with red flags and Expedition team members.
Lagging behind, I wonder what’s up. Every Expedition team member is packing a rifle and a whole zodiac of supplies – flares, food, tents, blankets, water – in orange buckets are piled up ashore.
Emergency supplies in case we can’t get back to the ship. This is new territory to the team and they have planned for any and all contingencies.
“I can assure you, no tourists have ever come here,” says our leader Anja.
Even without the novelty of experiencing a first, it is surprisingly interesting. Just above sea level, the ground is covered in low-lying growth. I can recognize mosses and orange fungus and what looks like a flattened plant.
I learn the “plant” is Polar willow, a tree, forcing its way into the land despite the forces against it.
Farther up, grasses add to the calico covering, a mosaic of gray, red, brown, tan, green and gold. Flattish strips of gneiss, metamorphic rock, are among the oldest in the world.
There is no sign of reindeer and the juvenile white-tailed eagle that had flown over to check us out earlier has not returned. It is still, the fjord water is like glass and the only sounds are of our selves and the calls of a rock ptarmigan, warning, greeting or seeking a mate. I begin to see the beautiful isolation of the Arctic that draws many to its icy vastness.
Appropriately, photo curator and book editor Huw fills our afternoon with tales and images of polar explorers and the story of the May “trilogy.”
May 29, 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing reached the summit of Mount Everest.
Sixteen years later, Sir Wally Herbert and his team of four made the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean, from Alaska to Spitsbergen. “The last of the great pioneering journeys on the face of the earth,” Hue said of his late father-in-law’s accomplishment. He touched land May 29, 1969 at the same time (Greenwich Mean Time) as Hillary and Tenzing summitted.”
Meanwhile on May 29, 1969, the same day and the same time, John “Jack” Young, commander of America’s Apollo 10 moon mission, took the seminal photograph “Earthrise” from the lunar surface.
“One period of exploration came to an end and another one boldly began,” said Huw.