Already one year ago, we started with the preparation for a divecamp in the arctic wilderness. A friend (biologist and researchdiver) and me (geologist and research diver) have already been for multiple times in the arctic and this part of our world fascinates us that much, that we prefer to dive between the 60th and 80th parallel (or even north of that).
So we choose the westcoast of Greenland, exactly Aasiat (Egedesminde) at the southern end of the Disco bay, north of the arctic circle, as destination. The village with 3000 inhabitants has since a few years an airport which is suitable for helicopters and turboprop planes (up to 50 passengers) of Greenland air.
Our crowd consisted of 12 people, all with enough expierience in drysuit diving. We organized as much as possible in advance from home, but a lot was still to be organized on site. We decided to make a camp, due to the high! cost of living in Greenland.
Most of the equipment was sent to Aasiat five weeks in advance. Beside 2 inflatable boats (Zodiak and Avon) with outboard engines (Yamaha and Mercury – which caused a lot of trouble), we had a big crew tent (for cooking and accomodation) and a smaller tent for equipment, 2 mini compressors of Comptec (which worked flawlessly), two stoves, gas bottles (difficult to refill in Greenland), food and everything else which is needed for life in the wilderness.
Still a lot had to be organized and decided on site. For example the fuel canisters for 150 liters. As well we had to choose the campsite, which depended on fresh water supply.
Expect for the weather, which didn´t really welcome us and was some kind of test for the next few days, everything went without problems. The equipment was put out of a storehouse with a fork-lift, the boats were put together, fuel canisters organized and fuel bought. While some of us stayed at the harbour, the rest of us were driving along the shore and after about one hour a campsite was found. Now the rest of the equipment was brought to the camp, which took some more rides. As the camp was ploughed up more or less, we just felt into our sleeping bags, because we all were working for more than 24 hours.
The rain, which woke us the next morning with soft drumming, stayed with us for the next for days. But that didn´t stop us from discovering “our bay” and take a look at the first icebergs, even underwater. Because diving at icebergs can be dangerous, it is important to choose the right ones!
Beneath the surface, you could see the amount of ice, which is already above the surface impressing. Huge icicles, caves and canyons reach far into the depth and when the ice is working, it shuts like shots through the water and you can even feel the shockwaves. Life at the icebergs beneath the surface is rare, just a few jellyfish sometimes a cluster of krill or slugs.
The first days were spent with the build-up and extension of the camp. This meant as well to build a table for the crew tent. Material was found in the remains of an old cabin. Due to the amount of material, some constructers were motivated to build as well a shower. What kind of luxury! Canvas coverd planks, which gave shelter from wind and sight and an old fish tray as tub. The shower itself was a solar shower, which was filled with hot water.
After we spent the first few days and the spirit stayes good despite the bad weather, we were rewarded by the usual arctic summer. It started on the evening of the fifth day with a slight silver lining on the horizon. The omnipresent cloud cover, which lay until then deep over the mountains, raised slowly and showed some phantastic structures, which were illuminated by the low sun in blue, red and golden colours. Immeadetly the hills around the campsite were climbed to get out most of our first real sunset.
At the next day the arctic summer really started for us: steel blue skies, sunsets, which would have been called kitschy on postcards and nights which never got really dark. Clear air, which allowed to look far and to realize how wide the wilderness is.
As soon as the wind set, the mosquitos appeared and were magically attracted by some of us (lucky enough, they don´t like me – I got not a single stich). Later in the evening, the mosquitos disappeared and we spent most of the time in front of the crew tent.
Small icebolders, which were drifting along, let us start the boat and catch one, bring it to land and use it as reservoir for icecubes for longdrinks. And when it melted away – no problem, there was enough around!
At night our camp was visited sometimes by a polar fox, which we could only see for one time. Our bay supploied us with more than enough for our meals: wolffisch, plaice and shells were made to tasteful meals by our cooks, who could compare with the finest restaurants. Indeed, first they had first to be brought out of the sea. So after a short time we had enough hunters, everyone became gatherer and the cooks were already choosen.
At the “market” in Aasiat (the small boats of the Inuit) the gastronomic specialities of the region were offerd: reindeer, musk ox and seal.
Our boats were used to explore new divesites and for divesites at icebergs. To point it out: diving at icebergs cannot be compared with icediving. Icebergs can break, turn around or a overhang can fall down.To dive at icebergs, you should be with somebody who has expierience with iceberg diving.
A professional diver in Aasiat showed us some divesite, which were visited by us. So for example an old whaling station. You shouldn´t imagin someting spectacular. Just a few smooth rocks with a device to pull the whales out of the water. Beneath the surface we could see the remains of the whales, and we could imagine how huge they must be. The size was fascinating and the sun shining at the sceletons made us thoughtfully. The industrial whaling in Greenland is banned for some years. So only the Innuit are whaling (the numer of whales to be hunted is limited) for their own needs.
Another divesite was a wreck of a 60 meter cargo ship. It lay there for about 20 years and was towed buring from the harbour to an island opposite and descended there. We found the wreck at the third attempt and after that we “explored” it intensive. So some of us have some porcelain with the emblem (an polar bear) of the “Royal Arctic Line”.
The professional diver asked us to recover for him an anchor and so we went the day next to last to another bay (exactly – the local junkyard), where obvisiously old ships and boats were plunged. Beside three trawler laying above each other, there were three further wrecks close by. The only anchor to be found was raised by some improvised techniques.
Diving in the arctic has its own allure. Most of the divesites were never visited before and most likely will be never visited again by divers. So you can see some spots of this world which lay there for aeons untouched, and will be after your visit stay untouched again. Gorgeous and silent, only visited by the animals of the arctic, these places stay hidden for the eyes of humans. Perhaps you are the only one, who ever saw this beauty. Who didn´t go diving made extensive hikes in the unsettled, tundra like land and enjoyed the panoramic view above the disko bay and to the disko island and its huge glaciers.
At nightly boattips we could see whales, which passed as well our camp at the sound in front of our bay. At the last day, some of us had the privilege to see a whale from shortest distance, while the whale was observing the boat. The rest went by ship to the about 100 km away Illulissat. There the most active glacier of the northern hemisphere calves icebergs in the sea.
The tour was all in all exhausting, exciting and made lots of fun and brought to nearly everyone a lot of new impressions.