Views from the Cockpit – Rocks

Gail Ferris


As kayak paddler my moment came when I realized that it would be possible to explore areas of the Arctic untouched via my kayak.

John Dowd said at a kayak symposium you can paddle your kayak provided you have a folding kayak anywhere you can fly to.  That cinched it I would own a folding kayak the specific kind of a boat that is designed for paddling in windy frigid open water of the Arctic.

For me, my kayak paddling was to explore.  To see what the Arctic looks like and feels like from the cockpit of a kayak.

I was always very curious about what the Arctic is actually like.  It is such a mysterious place.  My actual contact came when I saw some very colorful rocks on display from Baffin Island at the New York and Montreal World’s Fair.

I always wanted to see where those fascinating rocks might have come from and what else was up there for me to look at and wonder about.  How about the plants, what did they look like?  I like rocks and plants.

I paddled in Newfoundland in 1989 but for all the cliffs I looked at, the rocks were not that exciting because they were just dark brown basalt.  Newfoundland is not in the arctic it is in the boreal which is just an extension of the boreal forests of Maine only it is farther north.

I had the opportunity to go to Pond Inlet which is one of the northernmost communities on Baffin Island at 72 degrees north.  I really had no idea what Pond Inlet might be really like but it was worth a try to get there and see.

With all my years of paddling in Stony Creek among our granitic islands I knew I liked rock coastline to study and think about where I could from my cockpit enjoy the shapes and colors of the rocks.

Flying up to Pond Inlet on the east coast of Baffin Island I saw some of the most dramatic rock fjord coastline in the world.

When I got to Pond Inlet my first view was of Bylot Island some fourteen miles to the north was of Bylot Island with its incredible assortment of mountains and glaciers leading right to the edge of the water. 

In awe I looked at that coast line many times while I was there as you can see in the picture below, but I did not venture across because that coast just looked too difficult for someone of my skill to paddle along. 

It looked as though there were few landing sites and I had heard that there were plenty of polar bears to share the beach with as well.  That is not for me!

I thought to myself “Nothing like being stuck between the water and the sheer rock cliffs in the company of a polar bear”. 

From Pond Inlet I watched many interesting assortments of clouds come and go.  Storms would occur over there on Bylot Island as indicated by snow on the mountains while in Pond Inlet it would be a bright and sunny day.

And this was happening all the time from day to day over those pyramidal shaped mountains in the picture.




I joined a group of paddlers from Paris and we headed south and west along the less intimidating coast leading down to Oliver Sound. 

Before we left we found out where there were campsites along our route within shorter distances and hopefully the likely hood of fewer polar bears.

In the picture below you can see the cliffs in the background at the opening of Oliver Sound where we were going.  We knew that there was a landing area with a nice brook just after those cliffs. 

In that area campsite area we found remains of many sod dwellings from different periods of occupation and a fish weir made with rocks.  I knew that this area had to have always very heavily used.




As we were crossing the entrance to Oliver Sound, this our first crossing, the waves became increasingly steep and chaotic but they were only three and four feet which is not all that threatening for a loaded folding kayak like a Klepper.

We kept going because we already had been told that this spot is noted for being threatening.  We knew that we were making a relatively calm crossing.

From my cockpit looking south down Oliver Sound a couple miles down the east side of Qorbignaluk Headland where we were not going, I saw a large rock slide cut loose from the top of 3000 foot cliffs.  The dust from that rockslide hung in the air for a long time, about 20 minutes.

Whew! I thought to myself how lucky we were that we had not happened to be paddling in that area because I wonder if we would have been able to get out of the range of those falling rocks tumbling and bouncing down into the water immediately below.  We could have been on the receiving end – how terrible something I had not quite thought of before.

I was glad that we had decided to cross above nearer to Emerson Island. Along the north side of this headland which now I know is of a more stable type of rock called  we did not see any rock slides both times when we passed by

Below is a picture of those migmatite cliffs of Qorbignaluk Headland on the west side of Oliver Sound.




Farther on after we camped I came across the most lovely colors and striation from the metamorphosed sedimentary and volcanic strata in the rocks right at the edge of the shore.  I could not believe the green pink and white stripes all smoothed off by glaciation.

Views from my kayak cockpit like this make paddling wonderful.






In Arctic Bay, which is on the west side of Baffin Island at the same latitude of 72 degrees north, the geology was very exciting to look at from my kayak.  There is an amazing mixture of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks with sculptural erosion.  There right at the edge of the water I could enjoy the colors shapes and swirls which were a delight to the eye.

In this picture below I can tell you that I had become sort of trapped by the ice that had followed me down Adams Sound so my choices for the tent site were suddenly quite limited to only one!

I rather looked around, so to speak, thinking about where it might be possible to set up my tent and not be on the receiving end of rocks cutting loose and tumbling down on me. 

There were lots of rocks on the bottom as a huge scree pile, but their sizes graded down to less threatening closer to the beach. 

Then the question of “where will the high tide come?” loomed in my mind. 

Nothing like having my kayak floating off to never - never land.  Next awakening to finding that the contents of my tent awash at some very inopportune time at night!




Well sure enough I noticed that right in front of me was a nice, well defined, tent ring.  Since I am somewhat superstitious in circumstances such as this, here I am all alone.  Wow was I lucky.

You can see in the picture below that my kayak was just at the tide line, of course I did have it tied off.

And the next day I went exploring and found some very interesting rocks and even some ferns growing hidden among the rock scree. 



Below are pictures from this immediate area showing these rocks.

The first picture is quite exotic in the sense that I have never seen such a type of metamorphosed quartzite.

It had to originally be of sedimentary origin, fine pink sand with the major mineral component being quartz.

The fine quartzitic sand is nicely changed into a homogenous material but within it are less metamorphosed spherical chambers filled with layered quartzitic sand and areas of small gas bubbles.  The rock was a stunning pink.

Even though I did not actually see these rocks from my cockpit I thought I would show them to you.





The sandstone quartzite below must have been an Aeolian or wind deposit that was metamorphosed mainly by pressure in this instance.  The rock is colonized by some brilliantly colored lichens in jet black and brilliant orange.




A few miles down Adams Sound I came across this metamorphosed igneous intrusion complete with mica, pink and white feldspar, all in the granite family. 

Finding this metamorphosed stratified granitic rock made me feel completely at home since where I live is a granite coast line.  For a moment all was well with the world, I thought I was at home only this rock was even more varied in color and striations than what I find in Stony Creek.



Below is a representative sample of rocks I found just around the corner.  The colors were exciting and of minerals that were not only sedimentary, metamorphic but also igneous as well.



In this picture I was just totally shocked to come across a beach, a very small beach, covered with slate that was broken into similarly shaped sizes that consistent wave action had arranged into this swirl pattern.

At first I thought I was imagining things but then I realized it could be possible because the source, which I noticed was just above my head, was homogeneous.




On my way back out of Adams Sound I happened to be in the right moment when I saw this rather spooky image.  It was composed of quartzite rock strata that had survived the weathering and wind.

These statuesque figures looked like Saint Francis and a monk in waiting.

I think it is one on most extreme examples of rocks and minerals I have ever seen. 

The sight of these human looking spires made me feel as though Adams Sound was a haunted place.

All I can say is that you just never know what you might see from your cockpit especially in the Arctic.




I have made several trips to the Upernavik area of Greenland.  The most famous landmark in this area is Sanderson’s Hope / Qaerssorssuaq, a mountain of basalt over 3000 feet high that plunges straight into the water. 

Local people have told me, justifiably so, that the weather is judged by if it has a hat on it the weather will be bad. 

In 2008 when I was about twenty miles to the north it so happened on a refractory day that I was able to see this mountain.  It was a spectacular sight from such a distance because there is nothing else that resembles this nearly perfect pyramidal shape.



I found that it is a good idea to find out what type of topography and rock is in the area so that I can look forward to seeing rocks from my cockpit that I enjoy just from the colors and shapes they have.

I avoid sedimentary rock areas which is why I specifically choose to paddle in the Upernavik Greenland area. 

I flew into town in 1992 by helicopter and visited with the museum director to find out what to be aware of.

Along the base of Sanderson’s Hope I found these colorful metamorphosed minerals.  The colors and mixing is hard to believe, yet just a few feet away is some very boring plain brown rock which you can see on the island to the right.




Below is a photo of a major landmark visible for miles around, Umiaq Mountain the middle and covered up but behind it is Sanderson’s Hope a perfect pyramid high mountain.  Umiaq Mountain / Umiasugssuk is shaped like an umiaq or woman’s boat.

This picture is taken from Aseritoq which is a village site on Aappilattoq Island at a distance of about ten miles and directly behind it covered up is Sanderson’s Hope.

In the foreground to the right is some of the typical limonite infused yellow-brown colored granite of this area.




I just happened to have pulled my kayak up on this shallow stone ramp as others had done with their boats and dog sledges.  These ramps are very common in this area, which I often found when boating in this area the shallow ramps of igneous gneiss or granite made landing really very convenient for campsites.



I visited a bay which was noted for having many wild flowers what was very dramatic was the peninsula flanking the bay on its north side.  Below is a picture of the rock and on the opposite side of that peninsula the rock is just a mass of broken chunks.

This side visible in the picture is both a product of geological formation being a dome and glaciation having been smoothed by the glacier.

This bay and valley was filled with glacial erratic rocks which I guess had been deposited by melt deposition because they are positioned so precariously that they teetered when I stepped on them. 



I went on a toot behind Aappilattoq Island and there I came across an area of interesting metamorphosis hosting brilliant colored coarse grained granite at the edge of and in the water where I happened to tie my kayak off.  The colors of the feldspar showed at their best in shallow water just beneath my kayak. 

The crystals were brilliant orange, pink and red pink mixed with black mica and white quartz.  The size of the crystals was half an inch.

I was so glad that I just happened to be out scouting places where people might have lived when I came across this stone.



I paddled down to Laksefjorden/ Eqalugarssuit.  On my way down I crossed the famous passage, where many birds nest, called Sortehul/Akornat but across from that I went down Torssuktak passage which is flanked by numerous waterfalls on Nutarmiut Island.

From there I continued past some razor bill/awk nesting cliffs and squeaked through a tiny passage that was now quite defined on the map where people had once lived.



 Across Amgmarqeaua passage was the entrance to Laksefjord which is flanked on both sides by vertical cliffs of grey gneissic rock and no place to land.  As a kayak paddler I was quite anxious about where might I find an emergency landing place.

Below is a photo of just the moment when I am down in an oncoming wave as I am nearing Laksefjorden entrance.  You can see the brown color of the mafic rock. I took the two pictures below in 2003.



I paddle closer to the rocks and take this next photo of this interesting mineral deposit in what looks like basaltic stone.



Now I am approaching Laksefjorden entrance from the west and just before I turn the corner at the entrance of Laksefjorden I notice that there starts to be a change from basaltic to gneissic rock.  Here because the rocks now have some small shelves, which I find hosts a nesting area for about six Black Guillemots.


I have been paddling for a number of miles without any place to land even in an emergency. Just a half a mile around this corner to the right there is a tiny emergency landing area.

Rounding the corner of Laksefjord, I happened to find this waterfall splashing down over the gray rock from the heights. 

This was my most delightful moment for photographing a waterfall from my cockpit because I happened to be there when the sun was shining through the water.

Below is this picture I took in 1993 of that waterfall from my kayak cockpit and a more detailed 2003 photo of the minerals. This was one of those “who would believe” moments in a kayak.



The rock is changing to granite which offers more places to land which you can spot on the lower right in the photo.  Note that there are dense tussocks of plants indicating rich soil and possibly some former habitation.



North of Laksefjorden just inside Torssut passage is a brightly colored cliff which might be white feldspar with an area of iron sulfate that makes for a colorful combination.  Some auks were nesting on these cliffs in 1992.



In 2005 on an August day I happened to be paddling north along Upernavik icefjord where I found on the southwest tip of Sisuarigsut island something quite exciting to paddle by.

What a fun photo this was to take from the cockpit of my kayak edged in close to this rock in the brilliant summer sun capturing the strata in detail.

It is another one of those “who would believe” moments from my cockpit.

This rock was encrusted with yellow limonite but where the crust had worn away beneath was exposed black hornblende, white feldspar, dark brown iron and other metamorphosed mineral strata. 

All around this area the dominant rock is gneiss which is metamorphosed deposits of sand.  was just plain boring yellow In fact there were whole islands of this, one notable island Qaneq Island where that was all there was to see on it was gneiss of brilliant yellow limonite fine grained sand metamorphosed into rock.  Qaneq looked very boring because it was plain yellow with no variation in color or strata looking like someone had poured bread dough out into a horse shoe shape.

Then Qaneq had also been further rounded off by the glacier. It was boring to paddle past because there were miles of this featureless rock however on its southeast tip there was a perfect ramp to drag my kayak up.  This was almost identical to Aipee Island just a few miles away.  I suspect that they were of the same rock.

I saw no evidence of any water on Qaneq and Aipee so I kept on paddling until I reached Sisuarigsut where I knew water was available because camping without water is not a good choice.


North on the way to the Innarsuit area I spotted this mineralogy on the edge of Upernavik icefjord.  It was spectacular.



Just at the southern end of Innarsuit island I came across this spectacular mineralization banding very unique which can be seen for miles around.  Anyone who is lost in the area and sees this knows that they are coming to Innarsuit and all they have to do is follow the coast to come to Innarsuit just north on the west side.



Innarsuit can be recognized from miles away by colored strata of these cliffs.




Kullorsuaq is an interesting area where I found some combinations of minerals metamorphosed together that were visually exciting.  Kullorsuaq is best known for its unique landmark, the devil’s thumb.

Below is a photo that I took while on a walk at Kullorsuaq looking at the west side of the devil’s thumb.


Hornblende gneiss beautifully metamorphosed commonly seen in Kullorsuaq.


Iron mineralization in gneiss a view from my kayak just after a rain, the rock is still wet.



View within a small cave just on the southeast side of Kullorsuaq from my kayak of mineralized strata in gneiss, very colorful and dramatic.



A landmark south of Kullorsuaq called Uummanaq meaning heart-shaped photo taken from local ferry.

One of those hard to believe geological formations found in the Kullorsuaq Nussuaq area.


In 2005 one of my most exciting moments in my kayak is captured in this photo.  It was taken between a small island which had sheer drop offs on the back side in this picture and an iceberg but what made it really exciting was the fog rolling in from the outside.



I thought this was pretty wild and I spent the next couple days watching the fog coming and going but never actually covering this island.  I found places where people until fairly recently had lived.  On the south side was a wonderful beach, perfect for landing boats and bringing dogsleds up on.



So that is my selection of interesting rocks I have seen from my kayak cockpit.

As an artist my spontaneous watercolors are related to these images.  I have been fascinated with images of this type since childhood.  The Kayak serves me as a way to access these views.

In the physical interaction of my body with my kayak and with water there is this same connection, only instead of the connection being visual it is physical.  With the motion of the kayak when I paddle as I interact with the water as though it is the artistic expression of ballet on the water with myself as I paddle and how my kayak interacts with the water beneath my hull.


Gail Ferris 1/1/09