Solo paddle down Laksefjorden, Weather for Kayaking in the Fjords of Upernavik Greenland
How to forecast and understand the winds.
Here I am in the picture just before I hurriedly departed from Upernavik on calm water with a five to ten knot west wind pushing me eastward gently along behind Upernavik on Ikerssuaq passage which I had passed up and down during my previous solo padding visit in 1992.
This trip turned out to be very interesting that only one of us who paddles a kayak would discover.Motorboats are totally different they just buzz along while we get to paddle gliding along nicely or to struggle along trying to get some where depending on the wind and the currents.
This time I was on my way to find the famous glacial refugium, microclimate at the end of Laksefjorden-Eqalugaarsuit, where willow trees grew to be 2 meters tall and birch trees grew to be nearly a meter tall.I had found on my previous exploration within other fjords east of Upernavik that there were many microclimates.But, none of them were quite as extreme as this one so there I was, once again, on my way to visit this strange unknown area as a solo kayak paddler.
And for me, as you can well imagine, understanding the weather is a particularly critical aspect of my survival.As you might expect in the Arctic, this is an area where you can be on the water for days and never see anyone and where the traveler must accept the fact that nothing is guaranteed.
The sky was clear with no clouds as I continued paddling southeastward along the eastern and southern shore Lang Island-Akia.I noticed as an indicator of the strength of the currents in this area was large amount of kelp both solid and with holes in long fronds especially where there is some but not excessive current.
photo taken in 2003
Although I was paddling my kayak loaded with supplies for four weeks, I found that paddling required little effort because, as I headed south, I was being carried nicely along on the outgoing tide coming from the north as I progressed down the side of Lang Island-Akia on the flat water.
Then, at the end of this island, Akia or Langø, my crossing started from the southwest point called Umiartorfik to the opposite side the point called Agpagdit, on Sanderson's Hope of Qaersorssuaq Island.
Sure enough as I got closer to Agpagdit I noticed something strange, it was a whirlpool, not a big one but definitely a whirlpool with bits of seaweed swirling around in a circle.Thanks to the seaweed whirling around my impression that something strange was confirmed.
There I was as I was approaching the opposite side the point called Agpagdit, on Sanderson's Hope of Qaersorssuaq Island.I was wondering what would be happening.
What I did not notice was that this area is full of all sorts of currents, whirlpools and tide races which makes walking on the ice in this area very dangerous.
In the next moment, as I was passing around Umiartorfik point, I noticed a quarter mile away to the west that I could see some wind riffles on the open water off Agpagdlit point.These wind riffles turned the blue-black water to a blackened navy blue highlighted with silver wavelets.
Oh no this is looking like a touchy deal!I know that look of silver caps on dark blue water.Not nice, but at least it is coming behind me, so maybe I can catch a free ride.Paddling into this stuff I know very well is just a drag with a lot of hard work to get through it.
As I continued to paddle southward along these west-facing rock cliffs called Agparssuit of Qaersorssuaq Island after about thirty minutes a ten to fifteen knot wind set in from the north.Now I found, that I could take a free ride on the half meter following seas.This coastline of QaersorssuaqIsland is flanked not only along the north shore but also along the west by 400 meter high vertical cliffs.
Passing through the whirlpool and arriving at the end of this fjord just as I was starting to paddle into the open water I noticed something different.The wind had stopped blowing. From years of experience I remembered that the wind would have most likely stopped because the tide was changing.This was correct.
photo taken on aircraft approach to Upernavik in 2005
It seemed to me, that there was a reversal of circumstances because I experienced the onset of the waves first, after I had seen distant darkening of the water, rather than the arrival of the wind first.This is quite unusual.Although, I cannot be exactly sure about this, because the wind from the north was coming from behind me making it harder for me to judge the onset and speed of the wind.
this photo was taken in 2003
I had been enjoying surfing down the waves, but now that the tide had switched, the current was coming from the south setting the current against me as I continued with the wind behind me.I concluded that perhaps I had better change my tactics, because I began to find that my forward progress had become transformed into my being busily engaged in just bobbing gingerly up and down, while in actuality I was remaining stationary.Hobby horse paddling is okey for some light entertainment but forget about making any progress.
I couldn't help but laugh to myself as I compared this esoteric type of padding to something possibly similar to a static roller coaster ride.In actuality, I was making negligible forward progress against this tidal race.
Since I was going nowhere just up and down I decided rather than paddling a quarter mile or so out from the rocks that I would try to get a better free ride by paddling closer to the rocks.
Using whitewater paddling strategy my thought was that along these rocks I could take advantage the friction of the water passing along the rocks which causes the current to reverse in the form of back eddies.These always form close to any rocky shore or bank.
I learned from whitewater slalom racing that how a kayak hull behaves also is more than just a sport.
this photo shows what these rock escarpments look like during this journey the sun was shining from the west directly at these cliffs.
By paddling close in, I could take advantage of the shore eddies next to the rocks which were opposite to the tidal current and gain some the push from the wind.My strategy worked nicely, nothing like using some whitewater physics and air movement to get a free ride.
I am looking down toward Sortehul about to round the corner Ingia to get out of this. This photo was taken in 2003 from my kayak.Wind was 15 knots from behind me to my left.
A few hours later after another couple miles, I arrived during the evening to camp and my position was at 72°39.78'N, 56°03.83'W with clouds to the east as a mix of cumulocirrus and alto stratus.The wind was from the east and I watched fog filling in about 40 kilometers to the south.
The light was starting to become lower as it now was late in the day time to put in for the night.
I cut the corner where I found to be expected that there were just low waves.As I paddled along I gazed up at the most amazing array of pink colors in these rocks.Never since have I experienced such incredible rose colors in the rocks which you can see in the photo below.Unfortunately tat photo was not taken under these conditions.
this photo was taken late morning from the Iput in 1995
Farther along the display of rose blended and became just white feldspathic rock. After white the rock turned into the very common dark brown basalt in the form of loose trap rock.More went by until at long awaited last the cliffs began to diminish to sea level were I was able to could pull in to camp.
All along the waves were just 6 inches, making it easy to just paddle along and look at the rock..
The next morning, my second day on July 4th, 1993 at about , I started off paddling.
This time I decided I would experiment and use my wing paddle.This was my first time using my experimental wing paddle in my Klepper.I had experimented at home with how the paddle performs testing it in 10 to 15 knot winds 2 – 3 foot waves following seas running the waves to get a feel for it.I had been told that the wing paddle is much more efficient and takes less effort to use.What had not been taken into account was what resistance a loaded Klepper would have on this paddle.Later I found that it does not propel the loaded Klepper in a serious head wind of 15 or more knots.I would say that it can handle only a maximum of 12 knot headwind.
My experimental wing paddle has a small surface area. The narrow blade measures 6" x 18" and in total length is 90".
This morning the wind was continuing, as it had the previous evening, to blow from the northwest at my back, as I headed southeastward across the 5 nautical mile wide bay until I came upon my first view of the entrance to Sortehul-Akornat.
About a third of the way across this bay where Sortehul feeds in, the wind stopped. The wind that was pushing me canceled out and the influx of a crossing wind in combination with the topography was negating the previous wind at this point.
Now this struck me as rather odd until I realized that this had to be the dead area where the winds are meeting creating a quiet zone however more was to be happening.
Then I figured out that I was just in neutral air where winds collided from inside and outside Sortehul.
I especially treasure these moments because I am so totally engaged with what the wind is doing when I am paddling my kayak.What the currents and winds are doing makes me enjoy what the factors of not just the topography but also the temperature and wind are all about.I get to interact as a kayak paddler.
During this trip temperature was the factor which was creating the winds.
Guessing which is going the best choice for paddling makes kayaking an intellectual project.
Approach from north side to Sortehul, this photo was taken 95 from Iput
From my position this view was especially dramatic of this well known passage, Sortehul-Akornat.Escarpments appeared to rise directly from the water as implacable vertical shafts because this passage was flanked by the bird cliffs called Agparssuit on the north side and on the opposite side by an 850 high meter mountain on NutarmiutIsland.Although from the perspective created by the oblique angle of my position, these landmarks lined up as precipices rising straight up for hundreds of meters from the deep.In actuality, there was a friendly coastline just around the corner which I could not see from my position.
this photo was taken directly over the side of my kayak
Midway across this five mile bay, near the island, Ikermio, the wind switched to north at fifteen knots blowing from the passage Sortehul-Akornat with incoming tide creating out going waves of one to two feet for the rest of the crossing to Qasingortoq on NutarmiutIsland.
My experimental wing paddle presented just the perfect minimal surface area for 15 knots or slightly more of broadside wind without this paddle giving me feeling that the wind's force might grab the paddle from my hands.
I briefly considered putting in at Umanaq which was a small island in the middle of this bay if paddling conditions were to become too nasty but the question of any available water on such a small island made me reconsider.By the time I arrived at that island, the broadside waves subsided slightly.
I prefer paddling on open water rather than in the fjords, after having experienced a sudden weather change during a previous year's visit to the fjords of Upernavik.Within the fjords one has to be ready for anything at anytime because within these narrow confines the large, fast moving storms may not give the paddler enough visual warning and the currents can be a major factor.I found that the barometer more often reflects rather than anticipates the onset of a storm.
While making this passage with the wind broadside coming out of Sortehul-Akornat as I doggedly beat on with broadside seas from the 15 knot winds.My Klepper was not threatened enough to do anything other than just absorb the waves.It did not roll from side to side all that much probably because it is a beamy kayak and heavily loaded.There was no threat that she would roll very much, no bracing was necessary.I guess I got one wave up the side but no waves splashed anything other than the deck a few times.
Two thirds across I reached UmanaqIsland conditions became calmer and I could see flat water.
I took advantage of the wind shadow along the sheer rock walls leading to the opening to Torssukatak passage I was headed for.That was a relief to have such simple obvious geography.
Torssukatak passage is shown in the photo below, taken from Iput in ‘95.
approach to Torssukataq passage note there is no place to land.
Then, rounding the point Qasingortoq on NutarmiutIsland on the north side of Torssukataq passage, the wind vanished and I could delight in the view of the six tiny waterfalls which plunged straight down from the top of lovely yellow rounded granite cliffs.
this photo is taken from the Iput, in 1995
But once again, after paddling for a mile or so in the apparent wind shadow, I noticed, that although the riffles on the water did not seem to have much size to them, that the wind was pushing me down this fjord.Now I was heading due east.This wind which was pushing me conveniently along I realized could only be another continuation of the wind from the north that I had been experiencing the day before.
Then I began to realize that land forms have a very definite influence on these terrestrial winds.The thought came to my mind as to what a great place this could be for soaring.
The number of hours I had been on the water for this day seemed long enough, so I began to consider my options for a suitable campsite. I had determined that this evening I would prefer, rather than camping on either of the two impersonal, open beach areas I saw because they did not offer protection from the wind, to look for a fairly small, protected place.
The photo below shows just the corner I had poked behind with my kayak looking back at the waterfall passage.That perfect pyramid mountain is Sandersons Hope which looks like a pyramid from any angle.
looking back at Sandersons Hope note that this mountain is always the perfect pyramid mountain and the edge along Torssukataq.Nutamiut island is showing in the center and along the left side.This is from the south edge of Torssukataq passage along AngnersussoqIsland from the Iput ‘95
I had the feeling that I ought to head across Ikerasaq passage because it would be the shortest distance to Eqalugarssuit / Laksefjord.After looking and looking I finally found a good place where I could land on Nutamiut island at 72°35.38'N, 55°33.44'W in a tiny keyhole shaped inlet. This was one of those most invisible places you could only find if you happened to be right on top of it in your kayak.
I poked my kayak into a tiny slot in the rocks.As I climbed out of my kayak to look for a flat spot for my tent.Everything was so tiny not much space for anything.I stood up and noticed a flat area.I climbed up the rocks and found that the flat area was just so odd.In just a step I found my feet sinking down something like six inches into soft Reindeer Lichen, Cladonia.
The excessive thickness of soft reindeer moss lichens on one side made anchoring the tent in the soil impossible.When I sat and slept these I found I sank so deeply in this matrix that it seemed like ankle deep plush carpet.
The question in my mind was why is this lichen able to grow here so thickly my conclusion was that this is a highly protected area both from wind and drying sunshine.
On the opposite side the soil was very thin and rocky.There were many quartz and feldspathic highly colored mineral stones.
I had never encountered this sort of especially interesting for botany.Who would believe reindeer lichen could possibly grow to such thickness.Years later I talked with a lichenologist in Copenhagen who told me such is possible.
My curiosity in Upernavik well known for its flowers is finding these microclimate situations from island to island just about anywhere.
During the night the fog blew in but the next morning July 5th. It was not all that foggy and there was a slight wind of about 5 knots.I saw a few cirrostratus clouds to the west and some altocumulus clouds which brought a gentle rain, sleet and fog.I thought that it was cold the sleet confirmed my perception. Ceiling was +200 meters not too bad.
Now as I was on the water I was glad that the wind was continuing to be moderate coming mostly from behind me which actually was dense cold air originating from the ice cap replacing warm air farther down in Laksefjord.
Actually, in the last few days, the wind had blown from the north, then from the northeast and lastly from the west because each fjord was acting as a venturi.
The wind was created by cold air from the ice cap replacing the warm air being generated by bright sunshine in the fjords that had no glaciers where they terminated.The physical dimensions of these fjords affected the speed of this temperature driven wind.This involves a combination of factors relative of the width to the height and steepness of the walls.This, the thermal aspect explains why there was only a 5 knot wind during this overcast morning.
What would happen the closer I paddled toward Amarqua spelled on the map below as Angmarqua passage would be that the wind would become neutralized to zero because of the local temperature and topography of very high steep sided mountain islands.This is one of the few places in the world that has marine mountain ocean environment.
Passing along NutarmiutIsland to Qamavik an abandoned living site I enjoyed the rare sighting of razorbills and little auks which lived on the cliffs.
this is a later photo taken in 2003 when I was paddling a Long Haul Mark I kayak
This cold grey, rainy weather made paddling seem monotonous but I recovered some enthusiasm when I saw that there were no clouds which seemed particularly threatening and that there were some clearings in the cloud cover.During the three mile crossing of Angmarqua passage and down Laksefjorden-Eqalugaarsuit there was a light wind from the west creating just a few riffles on the water.
Greatly relieved at having accomplished what seemed as an extensive and possibly a demanding crossing, I was now heading southeast down Laksefjorden-Eqalugaarsuit continuing along the northern side along AkuliaruseqIsland.
My emotional response during this crossing was an example to me of psycho projection because I realized several hours later that my mind had been in a mesmerized state.I made the crossing without being conscious of accomplishing it such that I had to convince myself afterward that I had made the crossing.I was also quite preoccupied with the fact that I was alone.
this photo is taken from the helicopter
this photo was taken in 95 from the Iput on her way down the north side on Nutamiut Island looking at the opening of Laksefjord the dark rock is the east side of Laksefjord, Akuliaruseq island.
this photo was taken in 2003 approaching the opening of Laksefjord from the west the far rock is on Akuliaruseq island
Within Laksefjord, after I had traveled south for about one nautical mile, the wind began to blow at about 10 knots from the northwest wind.
I looked briefly at the rocks on the entrance and I thought now I had made such a great crossing I might as well continue to party.I would just strut right down the middle so that I could see both.
At first I was making grand progress both the tide and the wind was pushing me along, so I continued paddling half a mile out from the rocks.This did not really matter because there were no landing places, just sheer rock escarpments plunging from 700 meter heights down into the water.
this is my Wenatchee paddle it gives me pure power, even though it is a white water paddle I like it in open water.
Paddling along out in the middle of this fjord, as time went by I began to notice that the shore wasn't going by very rapidly.Oh how boring I thought I hate when things just don’t change and it is the same old shoreline on and on.
No Good! There I was with the shoreline was really not changing at all, Guess what? I wasn’t going anywhere.
How lovely just what I need right now. The tide had reversed and was now going out, against the wind, creating another one of those paddling escapades known as “let’s just slug it out!”
With this change in conditions, I had to concede to myself that I was not just going to barrel down the middle of this fjord, la de dah.
Well I have to relieve myself of this deal with the shore just crawling by ever so slowly. Really! I have to reward myself into thinking I am making progress even if it is ever so slow.Then I know what I will do I will pull over and hug the rocks. Who knows maybe they will give me some eddies I can catch some free rides on just as if I am playing the eddies going upstream in whitewater.
I figured now was the time to just lie back to enjoy the minerals, pegmatites and metamorphosed granites.
the bottom note the stone powder on the seaweeds
Every now and them I could take the moment to lean over the side to peer at who was down there in the deep.I like to enjoy the enchanting world of sea life along the light colored granite walls of this fjord.
At the start of the passage the water was fairly crystal clear but there was a slight tinge of powder grey-white to it. No it was not crystal clear dark blue but a turquoise blue.
Paddling was not all that bad because I was receiving some benefit from the shore eddies and the push of the wind behind me.
The distance, to a landing site was more than just around the corner as I was wishing but it turned out to be another four nautical miles from the mouth of this fjord to a landing place for my overnight.
The landing site was not too obvious but I sure was glad when I found it because I had done enough paddling for that day.
This fjord was one nautical mile wide and to the south on the opposite side of the fjord, at Kungut on Kangeq, I sighted a couple of emergency landing places with my binoculars which were not large enough for a tent.
I rounded Migdigkut and as I was hoping, from what I saw on the map, there were places to land.
I hate having to listen to my tent when it slats in the wind all night, I continued on further around the bend hoping to find and area with no riffles on the water.After another mile I found a place on a bluff, which was most blissfully out of the wind and had a convenient landing site, where I could easily bring the boat up above the high tide line, at 72°31.75'N, 55°07.82'W at Pugutata ilua.
photo taken from opposite side of Pugutata ilua where I camped on the left and
to the right Amarortalik island out between them is toward the icecap and lower Armarqua passage
The next morning, July 6th. conditions were still cloudy but it was dry.There were light grey clouds overhead in the southwest but appeared to be not only denser, but also darker.Then I noticed something interesting that although there were low altocumulus clouds overhead, there was clear blue sky toward the north horizon.An example of mountain marine localized weather conditions.Later I was to learn the Upernavik can be having a terrible storm while other nearby places are just having some clouds.The lower or inner fjords have nicer milder less violent weather because these mountain islands can often provide protection from small atmospheric disturbances or storms.
The sky conditions, which I saw in the north, was the weather system coming in.I hypothesized that possibly the low angle of the sun may cause these colors to be more intense on the cumulus and high cirrostratus.However, above the arctic circle, the fair weather or high pressure systems come from the northeast.Powerful low pressure systems arrive unabated from the open water in the southwest on Davis Strait.
A few hours later, in the sky I saw some remaining mixed clouds to the south as the wind of 5 to 10 knots set in from the northwest.The sky lightened up and, by the time I launched in late morning, these clouds had given way to bright sun.I felt myself becoming invigorated, as I told myself that all is well with the world when the sun comes out after a rain.
I passed by the inner reaches of the one nautical mile deep Pugutata ilua or bay as I pushed on to my goal the Orpit.At the approach of Laksefjorden-Eqalugaarsuit the whole scale and proportions of the world on my map that I was so accustomed to had to be adjusted, because I had to change from a 1:80,000 to a 1:250,000 scale map which provided three times less detail making landforms look even more vague.
When I was beyond the bay, Pugutata ilua, I found that the rock walls of light colored granite, square shaped peninsula, Puguta, had returned to being entirely vertical with no place for refuge.On the map, this topography appeared to be not that severe along this peninsula of AkuliaruseqIsland, but viewing this promontory from my kayak cockpit, Puguta looked as though this so precisely squared off granite bluff looked like it was the product of immense quarrying.
Crossing the next passage, Torssukatak, to the west side on Amarortalik Island called Akia was not difficult and, as I was to confirm from what I saw on my map, the next two nautical miles were not to offer any landing places.I drifted on the kindly following wind and enjoyed paddling close to the rocks looking at the geological structures.These walls of rock rose straight up from the water to a height of 800 meters which was something I could only indirectly appreciate from my kayak.The excitement of covering distance down the fjord to see what lurked farther along captured my imagination.
the hanging gardens note the thick humus covered rock with willows. the thick humus I discovered indicates shelter from the wind
An interesting little wind situation began to unfold, as I began to approach the low ground on the eastern side of AmarortalikIsland.I noticed that the wind, which had been blowing from behind me, had tapered off and now the water was dead flat.Although I couldn't deduce the reason, I thought that this wind condition was slightly out of context.
As I paddled along the coast of Amarortalik to my complete surprise I found that the height was dropping and at the end it was just a few feet above sea level.Across the way on Sakivik the height of the land was at sea level.
the opposite side is Amarortalik and the very flat stone shoreline along Sinerraq off Sakivik
I could not believe my eyes when I found that here the land opened to a flat, wide, intensely green expanse resembling a meadow, on the corner half a nautical mile wide and beyond this was a passage another nautical mile across.
As I was crossing between the two islands things began to happen that I did not expect.Because this was an unusual topographic feature for this area, I began to experience its physical effect on air circulation, as I continued to approach the entrance of this fjord.Here, not only did the wind resume but the wind speed intensified to a solid 15 knots, as I made my way closer to the opening of fjord.
During my crossing I found another disconcerting factor.Now the wind had switched direction. The wind was blowing broadside on my left as I was paddling across.
So as to not have my paddle catch this broadside wind that might yank the paddle out of my hands or flip me off balance, I adjusted its blade angles to 90 degrees and tied it to the kayak.
Now the new dominant wind was coming straight down this passage between AmarortalikIsland and Sinerraq coast on J.P.KochsLand rather than from behind me northwesterly.
This new wind scared me not just because of its suddenness but because of its strength.I really leaned toward the wind and hunkered down over my deck paddling for the opposite shore.
Time seemed as though it had become immobile as I called upon my reserve strength to drive the kayak forward, now paddling with my spoon blade, whitewater "Wenatchee" paddle which has the maximum surface area to move the kayak in heavy wind.Gradually I gained on the coast and as the coast grew nearer my bow inexorably followed eastward then more southerly as I made headway with each passing moment I strove to see each new view in greater detail.
I could not believe what I saw.Never have I seen any area quite like this in flatness.The shore is the perfect, very long boat ramp in granite stretching some miles east and south.
this is the paddle I trust the most when I need pure power and a solid brace the kayak is not a Klepper it is Long Haul Mark I used in 2003
I reconsidered my options to see if this was either a new meteorological event that I could not explain since the sky was cloudless, or a local wind condition, but after a good hour of slogging along I concluded that this was just a local topographically generated wind condition was stable and unlikely to escalate.The last place I would want to camp would be on this breezy point, unless this was a dire emergency.
Trusting experience once again, I decreased my paddle shaft angle back to 180 degrees and leaned into the broadside wind to reduce my paddle's windage and increase my stability as I turned my bow southward to paddle across the fjord to Sinerraq coast on J.P. Kochs Land although I could see that there was no place to land in that area and the coast beyond was unknown.
I just once again noticed that the Fulmars were gliding down over the water very close to me.They like to hunt for food among the waves and they seem to find my presence in a kayak interesting to watch close up.
This had been another one of those most fascinating experiences in predicting wind direction for me, because from what I thought I observed on the map, this fjord should have been about as calm as the previous one which I had just crossed.However, I did not take into account, the effect that this relatively large area of low topography at the end of this fjord might have on the movement of cold air replacing warm air.
The air was becoming progressively warmer, as I made my way down Laksefjorden-Eqalugaarsuit.This warmth was becoming increasingly in greater contrast to the cold air coming off the icecap at Upernavik glacier moving down and out the wide Upernavik Isfjord.
Upernavik Isfjord I was to find later is, by contrast, much a colder area because it is both large and an area of least resistance for cold air to move through.Because cold air is heavier than warm air, gravity will induce this movement of cold air to replace warm air.The physical dimensions of each fjord affect how rapidly and from which direction this circulation pattern will take place.
I, as a kayak paddler, was experiencing these conditions directly.Although where I do not live where there are fjord conditions I extrapolated these conclusions from non-motorized flight and adjusting the draught in a pottery kiln and in a coal burning stove.
Continuing eastward, although I could not see that the map indicated any refuge for a long distance, I thought about the fact that maps cannot show tiny details which would be just enough area to land a kayak on in an emergency situation.However I knew the seaworthy characteristics of my well ballasted kayak which would probably be more likely to survive a threatening situation better than I, the paddler, would.How well I know, that fear could undermine me, if I allow it to.
Once I was across the opening of the fjord, the broadside waves turned with the wind to shove me nicely along.There I was surfing again relaxing while gazing about, studying the details of the geology looking at all the miniature hanging gardens filled with flowers in full bloom.I paused when close to the vertical granite bluffs to capture their interesting soft angularities of exfoliated rock on video and with my camera.
Then I realized, as I was paddling deeper into Laksefjorden-Eqalugaarsuit that the waves were building up higher and higher and the wind was becoming stronger.This is interesting I thought to myself, “I wonder why?”
Then I figured out that it is was because the wind from one fjord entering at a right angle had combined with the wind in the main fjord which is also pushing through to the bottom of the fjord to further intensify the speed of the wind.
Then, to further amplify wave height conditions, the boundaries of the fjord were becoming narrower until finally I was passing through narrow, vertical sided restrictions zooming along on steep sided waves
note the chalky turquoise water color.The water on the rock is from a spring that shows on the map as just a simple line.The angular rock is marine sediments of metamorphosed white feldspar.
The water was turning a luxuriant turquoise very pretty to look at in the sun light as the salinity dropped and there was increasingly more rock flour suspended in solution.The rock flour a product of glaciation abrasion was coming into the water at the end of the fjord.
This brook shows on the map even though it is really very tiny.The map amazingly showed these brooks but the topographic detail was harder to relate to.
This was such fun and the higher the waves the incipient increase of the more timid sea birds, the Northern fulmars, glided on straight wings in perfectly controlled flight by me, just grazing the tops of and dipping between the breaking waves, coming ever so closely to my kayak.It was too turbulent to get out my cameras to take pictures of their exquisite command of ground-effect and air currents.These fulmars and gulls were taking advantage of the waves to bring food up to the surface for them.
I began to notice that here there were numerous seabirds and sure enough they had their rookeries in this area.
Once I could see this lower part of the fjord it was many miles that I was to paddle before I reached this white patch on the cliffs.All the time I was very excited wondering which birds were nesting there.Wow what a let down, little did I know that this is an all too familiar type of cormorant nesting area.
Also there were overhead Glaucous gulls that also nest in the area zooming above and warning me away.
Here in this moment I learned that there is nothing more obvious from a distance than a cormorant nesting site on rock cliffs.The distinctive white is from all of nitrogen these birds eat.Cormorants are notoriously heavy consumers of all sorts of fish etc.
Passing through a narrows next to an island I saw a solitary pair of gull chicks.This spot is always used by the Glaucous gulls every year I found when I once again passed by in 2003. zone.
Just one problem started to become more evident, now that the fjord was becoming narrower.I looked around and realized that my innocent travel along these straight sided island ledges was becoming more complex.So far travel had been pretty much a straight line.
Now it seemed to me that these islands and the coast were moving by just too rapidly.I was having a difficult time judging perspective.
Later in 2009 when I revisited I really discovered that here in the arctic perspective vision is not the same because of the angle of the sun.
I began to experience that wonderful little haunting feeling in the back of my mind.Perhaps this map scaled at 1:250,000 may not be especially accurate. Then again maybe I am just imagining things?
Maybe, I thought to myself, some of these islands and points will be too small to be not on this map, especially, the farther I go down inside the fjord.
The wind is nothing now that I am past the rock island with the gull nest.
Maybe this area is a complex maize where I could rattle around forever until finally luck or madness gets me back out again.The thought passed through my mind of did I want experience what it might be like to be one of those innocent little laboratory animals that is put into a maize every day to test some arbitrary theory?The only difference was that I was putting myself into this hypothetical maize maybe I should keep an eye on what my horizon looks like behind me so that I will remember how to get out.Then I asked myself "or is this really a maze."
I had previously decided, that the most straight forward way to deal with this bit of ambiguity was, to stick to the north side.I thought that there is nothing like getting lost where nobody else seems to go.Then again, is that really being lost or do they call that exploration.
As I paddled along the northern side I kept track of the passing islands and following this lead around behind a ridge of a stone peninsula into a wind shadow.
Then at 17:00 the sky had changed, from what I had seen at non, and now, there were oppositely crossing a mixture of north south altocumulus clouds below a few east west cirrostratus and cirrocumulus clouds in the sky above me.After an exhilarating day on the water I found a protected place for a campsite at 72°25.38'N, 55°33.44'W which was up on a rise complete with flowing water and soft ground.
At mid-tide I had landed, having unknowingly chosen to camp amongst the myriad of happy tundra mosquitoes which then emanated upward from the vegetation with unmitigated effluvia into my face and from thence concentrated themselves amass within the peak as I pitched my floorless tent.
Ah such rapture!Now I knew why I was seeing nobody, at least, nobody in their right mind, just me, the solitary kayak paddler from Connecticut.This was going to be one of those evenings.Now I must find my mosquito netting.The only revenge I had was when I lit my stove to prepare dinner they, the little ambassadors of the friendly skies, couldn't stand the heat so for a moment I had some respite.
The tundra vegetation was so thick that I had trouble walking over it, I was wallowing more than walking, to get water and had to finally resort to walking on the beach to get water.
The next morning July 7th. dawned very sunny with a few altocumulus warm air clouds floating in and quite cheery but also very warm and by a definite wind coming down the fjord had arisen.I investigated the botany here to notice some unusual height to birch and ferns beneath large boulders, which are rare.
The heat and mosquitoes were very noticeable I made my visit to the Orpit at way point 72°30.30'N, 54°27'W very short. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a microclimate.
The warmth creates a microclimate as the cold wind that initially started out from the ice cap blew down Upernavik Isfjord and then blew a minimum of at least 50 nautical miles as the wind runs down this fjord it picks up heat from the surrounding masses of rock at the end where the sun just shines and heats this area up.The end opens up into a wide valley surrounded by 1000 meter gently sloping rock.
Not only was the temperature shockingly warm but the famous botany was hard to believe.The delta of lush forest of two meter high willow trees over my head was quite amusing I narrated to myself that I had just paddled for four days to come to this place so that I could sit in the shade.In actuality much more was involved than just the four days of paddling, but that is what gives meaning to that age old question in exploration "Is it really there?"
I decided to escape the heat and mosquitoes after having recorded images of the plants and made some geological notes.I turned around to head back up the fjord picking my way as carefully as I found possible among the shallows.
I had never had this experience before and I must say it was most daunting, actually I was quite scared.
I really hadn't thought much about the increasing quantity of rock flour in the water which made the water look like plaster water.
Suddenly I really had a violent jolt. Wow I couldn’t believe this moment.I had just solidly rammed an invisible rock.Then I found that there were more than one rock lurking just beneath the surface of the rippled water. There was no warning, the water was pancake flat.No riffles to indicate anything at all.
Thoughts of slashing open my kayak made me absolutely horrified because I really did not want to damage this, my sole means of transportation.
How I remembered those moments in Stony Creek paddling an inflatable kayak on mirror flat water being absolutely terrified I might rip it open on our granite rocks lurking just under the surface some where but where?
I used to paddle the most conservative route around and among the ThimbleIslands hoping this would not be the time I would accidentally graze over one of our chunks of razor-sharp granite just sitting there on the bottom.The chunks are freshly quarried pieces which fell off a barge sometime in the past when granite quarries were active.
Now I am in the Arctic and there is nobody around to rescue me should I slash open my kayak.
I was rather frustrated to feel so completely unable to judge the presence of rocks.I had long been accustomed to paddling in rocky areas but this impossibly chalky water was completely impossible to judge.
I visited the forest you see in the photo above.The Willows were 6 feet tall.
this photo shows the waves and water color in 2003
I decided that rather than paddle farther into the fjord where I certainly would risk any more submerged rock collisions I would leave
When I planned this trip I had no idea what rock flour effect the water.I had planned to paddle to the very end of the fjord but I had no idea about this completely opaque water.
It was horribly hot the mosquitoes were after me in hoards I couldn’t stand it any more.I immediately got back in my kayak and started to paddle back out of the fjord.Anything to get away from all that.
So here I was starting out from behind a perfectly sheltered area with hardly any wind robustly paddling along making sure I do not encounter any submerged surprises.I get to the point and now comes the next surprise something I had not been thinking about.All along down here I had been pushed gently along by the wind down this fjord.It had been a nice relaxing paddle no effort required.
Surprise, this is not good!Just as I was out of the milky water zone easing myself into safer water with an island in view wow was I surprised to find that I was facing 12 to 15 knot winds.This very hot lower fjord was drawing down the denser colder air such that the larger the temperature difference the faster the wind.
Only moments before I thought that I could relax and just ease myself back out of the fjord with little effort.I did want to see what the other side, the west side of Laksefjord looked like.
Oh boy what a project I had to slog along not missing a stroke.Now I knew I was committed to just an endless slog.To my relief there was no question that the water was deeper and clearer.It had change from chalky turquoise to a bluer blue so I did not have to worry about slamming into any submerged rocks.
I continued until I ducked momentarily behind an island to retrieve an interesting 2 inch diameter piece of willow about 4 feet long washed up on the rocks.Now I wish I had kept the wood because it represented the Orpit. I do wonder how many years growth were in that piece of wood..I decided it would be too much of a project to carry it and getting anything through customs at the airport.
This photo is from 2003 shows the water color the waves but most important that I am paddling in a wind shadow.You can see the less ruffled water from my bow but on the sides you can see the riffles in the water showing that the wind is blowing there.
From the island I pulled out and continued my slog with the wind in my face retracing my journey down the fjord.This was one of those slogs where if I miss a stroke I fall back a couple boat lengths, so I made very sure that each stroke was just exactly right.Who wants to have to make up for a lost stroke it is bad enough facing this unrelenting wind.
I kind of thought to myself as I was groveling my way back out that since I had already covered the north side and that this area is not that complex, that I ought to paddle along the south side this time.I already knew all too well that I would have no protection, nothing to hid behind once I got beyond the island with the gull chicks on it.
Now as I was paddling into the wind I can tell you that there is an advantage to paddling a loaded kayak.I took care to hunker down to reduce my windage.With this nicely weighted kayak with the weight being in the stern so that the bow does not plow water starting up is work but once I got my momentum established I was just able to keep going, no problem.This is definitely an advantage over and unloaded kayak.I found my loaded kayak was very conveniently allowing me to maintain the same speed going against this 12 knot wind.I was actually moving just about as fast as previously going with the wind.In this wind I could maintained my exact same cadence that I always paddle with counting each stroke as one one-thousand, two one-thousand and three one-thousand.I used the larger muscles in my lower back and the lifted knee technique with my legs to paddle against the wind making sure to push on the top of the paddle stroke using my weight behind my stroke as I leaned and pivoted with each stroke.
The lifted knee technique is lift your knee on the side your stroke is in the water and push on the opposite side.
As I paddled farther out of the fjord past the narrow areas, I found that by keeping close in, I could dodge the wind by avoiding the riffles on the water I found some idyllic islands called Nua.These islands were low to the water being very convenient to land at. This looked like it might have been a former village site it offered an excellent and very important lookout for much of the fjord.
Then as I continued hugging the shore to dodge the wind I was having a good time taking in all the details.I came upon a bay with several excellent streams for water supply and more places suitable for habitation.Next, I came upon some more conveniently protected islands but may have not been inhabited because they were too deep in the bay to offer a good lookout.
Now I had paddled far enough out of the fjord to escape the heavily clouded water that was in the lower reaches of the fjord.Here, the water had become especially clear, because large influx of snowmelt water.
Past the restriction I cut sharply over to the developing shallows along the west side, I thoroughly enjoyed dodging rocks and the wind and leaning over the side to peer at the vast array of colorful rocks beneath in this clear water.
Relating to the wind became for me a great game of my trying to guess where and at what angle the wind is going to be blowing around each peninsula of rocks.I really wanted as free a ride as possible.I wanted to get out of this wind and since I knew that it was thermal I thought I might resort to paddling very late at night.At least I thought I might be able to get out of here without wind in my face if I paddled at night.
I had assumed that this wind was much more consistent and predictable than it actually was.I had a fascinating challenge guessing what the wind would do, the variability of the wind angles and speeds around the peninsulas on my way out.
There were several other factors such as deflection and gusting affect the wind angles Then as the day was progressing the angle of the sun declining and the occasional cloud was having an effect keeping me guessing “What is next?”
Skirting among the rocks was such fun because they were, to my surprise, very colorful and there were more landing places particularly large landing places along that side.This side was so extraordinarily beautiful that I could understand why the people, the Inuit, truly treasure this fjord.
In the shallows I peered over the side to find that there was some lush green seaweeds with huge leaves on the submerged rocks.There were rich green grasses on the shallow land which were probably flourishing because people had lived there in the past.
Between the robust size and colors of the seaweeds and the grasses they definitely are indicative and suggestive of completely different nutrients, more dissolved organics, and circulation patterns.
At the sky had become overcast but was still sunny.An hour later at I noticed that the wind ceased.
The same thing happened on the previous evening at the same time, then I recalled that most likely by the next morning the wind would resume blowing.
I pulled in at at 55'W because there was a convenient landing spot and actually it was the best.
This landing spot was a lovely spot from which I could look down the fjord, Torssukatak, between Akuliarsueq and Amarortalik islands.Now it was very calm, as the wind had stopped some time earlier.The view looked like a mystical oriental scene for each mountain.
photo from 2003 showing lumps on the left side which are typical sod house wall remains
As I had expected Laksefjorden-Eqalugaarsuit acts as a venturi for dominant north wind coming from both the outside to the west and off the icecap as a function of heat exchange like an onshore breeze which typically stops when the angle of the sun becomes low, here being late at night and resumes when the sun heats the rocks or land up the next day.
I decided that maybe I could avoid this constant wind venturi by paddling in the evening or early morning:This was just an idea I had heard from someone who used to do that in Alaska.
Eager to avoid the wind I woke up at about 6 the next morning just a very few hours after I had gone to sleep and quickly got on the water at July 9th. although I had only gotten off the water at the day before.I was a little tired.But anything to avoid that slog I had had the day before.
The clouds that morning were well defined, high cirrus horsetails from the southwest at .
The cirrocumulus clouds seemed to split in half down the middle of the fjord.When the wind did make its anticipated arrival, sure enough at it was only 5 to 10 knots blowing down Laksefjorden-Eqalugaarsuit, and I continued my previous strategy.When I saw its riffles on the water's surface I would paddle where the water was smooth which usually, but not always, was in close to the rock walls.
Then as I was making my way down the fjord to the entrance at beautifully defined horsetails mostly from the north but with some lower crossing straight clouds.
When I reached the opening of the fjord the cloud and wind conditions looked as though they would remain stable.
I left Laksefjorden-Eqalugaarsuit I started my crossing of Angmarqua at and arrived at covering two and a half nautical miles.When I was one third the way across with some current showed on the surface.This had to be tidal flow.
this photo is taken from Iput but it illustrates what the view is to the west out on open water from the entrance to Laksefjord.
There was a cool, non-threatening wind blowing broadside on my left side from the open water to the west at ten knots and the sky was okey.
When I was about half way across I was able to sight clouds to the far west out on Davis Strait around the sun.This cloud configuration had high clouds, cirrus, turning the sky milky which blended into the pure blue sky overhead.I wondered if this weather system might affect this area and when.Later I found that slow moving low pressure weather systems can be seen out on Davis Straits for days before they finally arrive.
I always keep an eye on the clouds especially on the open water because you never know when a front might be arriving.I had the experience of thinking that my barometer would show an on coming storm only to discover that the clouds in the photo below were on me.The water went from oily calm to violent but my barometer registered change an hour later.
this photo was taken during one of those really fierce windstorms had come in from the outside and was now ravaging Torssut passage 15 miles in.
July 9th, 1993 I was at 72°35.34'N, 55°39.24'W a place on Angnertussoq island between Ikerassaupigdluta and Atilinguaq at .Conditions were very warm, clear with high cirrostratus clouds from the northwest the wind was blowing at five knots.Then wind was starting to increase at to fifteen knots probably the heat exchange from land is driving it.
This photo is taken from my campsite showing how somber the conditions that morning was.I am looking across the passage.
I started out from 72°35.34'N, 55°39.24'W going westward down Torssukataq passage that has about six waterfalls on it's north side.
As soon as I rounded the point into Atilinguaq the north wind that had originated at the icecap came out of Sortehul then blew around the corner down Torssukataq passage in my face at fifteen knots and I had to paddle hard to make any progress.Oh another slog, just what I always need, a slog all day for miles and miles!
I decided to scheme how to avoid this deal so I looked for the wind lines on the water.Where there were no riffles the wind must be not blowing or at least is weaker than where the riffles are, I thought to myself.
I thought to myself even though the shortest distance point to point is a straight line “what is the point of struggling into the wind”.Energy is more important than sticking to the shortest distance.I already know about watching the shoreline just crawl by and the horror of missing a stroke only to have to paddle another several strokes to make up for lost ground.
It was not realistic to paddle in a straight line from point to point with such demanding wind conditions.
This was a drag such that when I finally rounded the exposed point I cut in close to the rocks to try to get out of this strong wind.I continued at least half way up the passage along the south side of this passage.To my surprise, now that I was seeing this south side of Torssukataq passage in close detail, there were absolutely no reasonable landing sites along this area.
When I saw areas on the water without riffles I started to dodge into those because they had no wind.
I planned to execute a crossing to the north side when I could see areas without wind riffles on the water.I dodged the stripes of riffles and made good progress as I continued making a quartering type of crossing with an angle of about 45 degrees.When it comes to paddling this is the time when you must have a certain amount of both discretion and aggression.Always lean toward the wind!
an example of the type of riffles where the wind is blowing and where it is not blowing
I realized that it makes perfect sense that since the wind is coming down Sortehul it would be stronger along the south side of this fjord because of the relative angle of the south side to the northerly wind.The south side would have stronger wind because it would be on the outside of the curve made by the veering wind.The wind would probably be weaker on the north side because it would be on the outside of the curve made by the veering wind. I knew that this wind was coming from Sortehul-Akornat around the corner turning 90° to run down this passage.On the north side the wind shear created by the north wall and because it was on the inside of the veering angle of the wind I knew the wind speed would be further reduced.
Along the north side of this passage when I was about three quarters the way down the passage.I began to see the areas where there were fewer wind riffles on the water.I paddled in the v shaped zones trying to keep to where they were either trailing out or had the shortest distance across into the flat slots.Then I would run up, as far as I could to gain distance, in the flat zones before crossing the riffled waters.
Near the west end of this passage, Torssukatak, at 45'W the wind started to drop to ten knots and by the end, Qasingortoq point, it was down to five knots to slack.
It was interesting to find that this opening of Torssukatak was calm but it shows that winds neutralize when the wind bounces back from cliffs on the opposite side causing a collision and a restriction at the entrance.
Once I was past the becalmed opening called Qasingortoq of Torssukatak heading across the five mile stretch for the first mile to the island Umanaq the water had calmed to just a soft swells which was ideal for paddling the boat.
The same type of wind conditions happened again as I started out from Umanaq paddled the next mile past Ikermio which was in the middle as before another two miles the usual fifteen knots broadside wind.
The wind declined as I neared Qarssorfik and the waters became calm, once again because I think that both winds the one coming down the west side of Qaersorssuaq and the other wind coming out of Sortehul-Akornat meeting at this point 90° from each other and lost their drive because these air currents were equally balanced.
The wind from the north started blowing again now that I was near the large island, Qaersorssuaq/Sandersons Hope, which has a high peak on it visible for miles around.This is a truly majestic peak that has an elegant pyramid summit.
Rounding the point, Ingia, and continuing north along Qaersorssuaq about midway the strange event of katabatic winds erupted.
Wow was I scared I realized this may be very dangerous for me.I had heard that people are afraid to go by this mountain in a small motor boat.
Instantly I tied my paddle to my bow line should I have it ripped out of my hands.I did what a friend of mine had suggested in very strong wind, always hunker down! Present as small a target to the wind as possible.Bend your torso as low as possible over your bow deck.
The ruffle on the water came with lateral clear streaks as the katabatic wind drove down on me from the mountain above me.The katabatic wind from the 1000 meter mountain on Qaersorssuaq/Sandersons Hope can also combine with the north wind from the ice cap at times and become amplified.
From what I could see with the way the water was behaving there were no waves there were small circular defined zones showing intense wind action suggesting that the water was being blasted from above and from the side straight ahead toward me.
This was my first time experiencing this condition of an alternately a hot and cold wind blowing in strong puffs with a small area of short left side gusts coming over the top and down.
Before I arrived at this wind condition I tied my paddle to my bow line because I could see that there was the possibility that the paddle may be ripped from my hands.This made tough paddling as I hunched forward and wedged myself in well to reduce my surface area and be positioned to use my strongest muscles.These intermittent gusts blew the water flat made it not quite impossible but I had to be careful not to lose my bow I estimate that some of the gusts were at 30 knots.It is interesting when no waves are generated, just riffles, with slight spray which was totally a surface phenomena.Next to the cliff the birds were gliding 50 - 100 feet above me completely unaffected.
I finally reached the end of Sanderson's Hope where I noticed that there was much flatter water ahead.
This was, as might be expected but also to my relief, at the point where the water opened up again and the walls of rock from the peak diminished.I was most glad that this wind was not blowing out of the next passage that came between the islands I was approaching because this area had a long expanse of completely vertical walls.The wind dropped to a very quiet five knots at the most.
I continued with calm conditions to paddle along the west side of Lang Island/Akia and then around the corner to Upernavik.
photo taken in 2003 showing this passage
To my left out on the open water I could see some what looked like a weather front of dark clouds out on Davis Straits that weather front did not come into Upernavik until a week later.From then there was a continuous series of low pressure systems of various intensities.
On another day when I paddled north from Upernavik nearer the Upernavik Isfjord.the air temperature on Qagsse island just a few kilometers from the edge Upernavik Isfjord was much colder than Upernavik.I was shocked to discover this difference in temperature that I just turned around and paddled right back to Upernavik.
I conclude that cloud configurations and an understanding of the physics that govern air movement especially knowing that cold air is heavier than warm air and will seek to replace warm air is the best means of anticipating the weather.
Gail E. Ferris, 1 Bowhay Hill, Stony Creek, CT06405