Northwest Passage–A Short Video

For a change of pace, I thought I would offer up something a little different in this post.  The previous ten posts about this Northwest Passage journey have consisted of words and still photographs.  This time it will be a video report with a musical background.

The Northwest Passage: Into the Arctic Circle

This was my first experiment with video and it was clearly a learning experience.  Perhaps the most important lesson is that, at least for me, a video production is a team effort.  Above all, it requires a talented editor and I had the good fortune to have an excellent partner in this effort.  Her name is Samantha Politis and she took a batch of video files shot with my Nikon D810, a few seconds of drone footage captured by Fredieric Michel, the ship’s videographer, during the visit to the Ilulissat Icefjord (used with his permission), a musical score that she and I selected (license fee paid) and weaved them into a 3 minute video.

I hope you will take a look and let us know what you think.

Next Post (This time for real)–Smoke and Fire)

Northwest Passage (4)

I must apologize for the temporary pause in posts about this trip, but the past week has been a mad dash to finish the downloading, selecting, and starting the printing of images for an upcoming Open Studio event that will happen (gulp!) in less than four weeks.  I have about a dozen prints to take over to my framing guys tomorrow and I hope they don’t have a backlog of other requests because I still have another 12-15 to go.  I am wondering if I was a little rash in promising to feature the Artic in this year’s show.


Evening Clouds, Baffin Bay

Enough complaining!  Time to resume the story.  The weather turned gloomy as we left Ilulissat and continued north up the western coast of Greenland.  It would turn out that cloudy weather is the norm here, but landscape photographers find that can often bring opportunities.


Light Rain, Baffin Bay, West Coast of Greenland

We were now entering Baffin Bay, named after one of the early European explorers who searched for the Northwest Passage.  We were following the track of Robert Bylot’s and William Baffin’s 1616 expedition that pushed to a point (770  45’)   that  would not be matched for another 157 years.  On that voyage, Baffin provided the first maps of the shoreline we were now passing.  The conditions they encountered that summer as they threaded through the pervasive sea ice were far different than what we were experiencing 400 years later:

“Our shrouds, ropes, and sails were so frozen, that we could scarce handle them.”

Source: James P. Delgado, “Across the Top of the World,” p. 41.


Once Upon a Time, A Glacier was Here

Unlike Bylot and Baffin we still had seen no sea ice and, as we passed along the coast, we saw valley after valley that not long ago had been funnels for glacial ice sheets terminating in the sea.  The glaciers are barely visible now, only the debris-filled moraines left behind as they retreat.  Today, those valleys only have a stream of meltwater coursing down the moraine as the glaciers continue to lose ground.

The next day we stopped in Kullorsuak, a small Inuit village where we disembarked (via Zodiacs) to see demonstrations of traditional hunting and fishing as well as a start-to-finish butchering of a recently killed seal.  We were given the opportunity to sample the very fresh, raw seal’s liver but I graciously allowed the person next to me to enjoy the portion that I was offered.  I will also omit photographic evidence of these activities in accordance with my policy of censoring images of a disturbing nature. The Inuit here, as elsewhere, have been interweaving the practices of western society into their culture. Pallets of Coca-Cola and kids checking their iPhones were as common as the numerous sled dogs who remain a key means of transport during the long winters.


Leaving Kullorsuak at Sunset

(Note houses on right side)

Our last day in Greenland was spent near Savissavik, cruising in Zodiacs among grounded ice bergs in a so-called “iceberg graveyard.”  The low hanging clouds and light rain created a primeval mood as we passed between scores of ice monuments, sculpted into bizarre formations by nature’s elements. My favorite was the 40-foot tall speciman with three arches shown below.


Rare Triple-arched Ice Berg, near Saviisavik, Greenland

Next: Across Baffin Bay into the heart of the Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage (3)



Iceberg, Ilulissat Fjord (Estimated height: 100 feet)

Icebergs!  That’s why everyone comes to Ilulissat, Greenland 220 miles inside the Arctic Circle and the site of the Ilulissat Icefjord named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The fjord is the “sea mouth” of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap actually reaches the sea.  The melt water from most of the others flows to the sea via streams, rivers, or waterfalls.  Moreover, it is one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world, producing more calf ice than any glacier outside Antarctica.


Detail of Reflections from Iceberg

We would be there for less than 14 hours but managed to arrange for a 2-hour cruise through a good part of the navigable fjord then a 3-mile (round-trip) hike to a promontory that overlooked the fjord.


Black and White Image, Iceberg in Ilulissat Fjord

For a close-up view of the icebergs, we joined about ten others on a small fishing boat and set out for the fjord under a brilliant blue sky.


Ilulissat Fjord (Estimated height: 75 feet)

Birds wheeled by the boat as we motored through the frigid water and we caught a glimpse of two humpback whales in the distance.  Occasionally, groups of harp seals popped up to check us out.


Humpback Whales, Ilulissat Fjord

The actual face of the glacier is many miles up the fjord and boats cannot get past the jumble of stacked up icebergs which are grounded, unable to float out to sea, until they have melted to a smaller size.  Those shown here are the smaller ones that have floated free.  Our walk would take us to an overlook of the fjord where the larger ones are stacked up on each other.  But the only way (for a tourist) to see the face of the glacier is by helicopter, something we did not have time for.


Fall Colors, Arctic Tundra overlooking Ilulissat Fjord

The walk, mostly along a wooden boardwalk, took us on a scenic route over the tundra which golden yellow in its fall colors.  The boardwalk was necessary to protect the boggy tundra which could not withstand the impact of frequent hikers. After about a mile we came to a steep hill that would afford us a spectacular view of the fjord.


Overlook of Ilulissat Fjord

Our vantage point in the image above is situated about 150 feet above the ice immediately below us. It was difficult to believe that the mountains of ice and snow in  the distance were icebergs that had broken free of the actual glacier which was still many miles up the fjord to the left.


Panorama of Ilulissat Fjord

The image just above is a six-image photomerge taken from the spot where the person in the previous image was standing and looking to the left.  It was hard to leave this spot, but we didn’t want to miss our ride back to the boat in order to continue a journey that had only just begun.


Northwest Passage (2)

Apparently, the fact that I was able to get the previous post published while still on our vessel in the Arctic Circle ranks as a minor miracle because it was the only time I had access to sufficient bandwidth.  So the following series will be a post-trip report on the highlights.

After departing Kangerlussuak, our first stop was in the small city of Sisimiut, Greenland so our vessel could be fueled and provisioned for the long voyage ahead.  The town of about 5,000-6,000 is the second largest in Greenland and the fishing industry is the primary economic activity.



Sisimiut Harbor

Illulissat (mentioned in the previous post) was still one day away, so we took the opportunity to explore Sisimiut hoping to find a post office to mail some post cards.  Sisimiut is the northernmost town in Greenland that has an ice-free harbor in the winter.  It has been a settlement for 4,500 years and today combines traditional Inuit culture with the practices of Western society.  The average high temperatures in August are in the mid-40s (Fahrenheit).

arctic-d-16-08-17-0537-blogSisimiut Marina


Hillside Overview of Sisimiut

We stopped in several establishments asking for directions, an interesting exercise given that neither English, French nor Spanish were spoken by anyone we met.  Here one needs to know Inuit and/or Danish. The usual response was to point in the general direction we already were heading.  The image below shows a view of the Pisiffik supermarket which was full of the same products we might find at home and a few that we would not (e.g., seal liver).

arctic-d-16-08-17-0562-blogPisiffik Supermarket

A small café had sandwiches and drinks plus a TV showing the Rio Olympics.  We managed to communicate an order and then sat down to watch a few heats of the 800-meter women’s race. The food was pretty good and afterwards we continued the search for the post office which we finally located.  Stamps and cards were purchased with Euros and change was provided with Danish Kroner.

But tomorrow, we hoped, the true excitement would begin.  We would arrive in Disko Harbor to see the fabled Ilulissat Icefjord, the glacier designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   It is considered to be the most productive (in the sense of producing enormous icebergs) glacier in the northern hemisphere.

Stay tuned…….

Arctic Journey


In just a few days, I will be departing on a month-long journey that will take me into the Arctic Circle, along the west coast of Greenland, through the Northwest Passage, across the northern shores of Alaska, through the Bering Strait and ultimately to Nome, Alaska.  After being in Antarctica last year, it was inevitable that I would find my way to the northern Polar Regions.

Northwest Passage Blog Image 01

Google Satellite Image

This route was not really possible until recently because the Arctic Archipelago, through which we must pass, was choked year-round with sea ice.  But the steady rise in global temperatures has changed that situation as shown in this NASA video.   There are various routes through the Archipelago; our route will follow the track of the ill-fated John Franklin Expedition of 1846.  (See image below)  Anyone interested in the history of this epic search might check James P. Delgado’s definitive work, “Across the Top of the Word: The Quest for the Northwest Passage.”

Northwest Passage MAP Blog

Our Planned Route

(Note: The Mercator map projection above distorts the size of Greenland; it’s actual size equals about 28% of the continental USA)

Early exploration for a more direct route from Europe to the Orient began in the 16th Century, yet the first successful passage by boat was not achieved until 1906 and that trip, led by Roald Admundsen took 3 years.  It was another 36 years before the next successful effort, this time by Henry Larsen, and that also took three years.  In both cases, the expeditions were forced to spend the winter in the passage after being trapped by the sea ice.  The first commercial passenger ship to make it through was the M/S Explorer in 1984.  The Explorer’s journey was organized by Lars-Eric Lindblad, who had pioneered sea tourism in Antarctica on the same ship in 1969.

Aside from innumerable icebergs in various sizes and shapes, we will pass vast tundra plains, low lying bogs, sharply pitched arctic mountain ranges, and bituminous shale fires that have been burning for hundreds of years. We hope to capture images of all this as well as wildlife such as Narwhals, Beluga and Humpback whales, Polar Bears, Musk Oxen, Arctic Fox, and a variety of migrating birds.

As with last year’s Antarctica trip, the amount of photo gear one can take is limited by carry-on restrictions for the flight to the embarkation port (Kangerlussuak, Greenland).  The final leg has 5 kg limit (11 pounds) for carry-on and putting any of the essential items in checked baggage is never a good plan.  The duration of this trip is about 4 times longer (23 days from Kangerlussuak to Nome Alaska).  For one thing that means I’ll need more memory cards.  I also will be taking a tripod and a computer, two items that were not with me in Antarctica.  Those will be packed in my checked baggage along with a few other accessories.  Should they fail to make it to Kangerlussuak, it won’t be fatal.

It’s likely we will have little or no internet connectivity during this journey, so it may be a while before another post appears in this space or I am able to check on the posts of my fellow bloggers.  Until then…..

….Keep Shooting!