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Northwest Passage voyage enters the Greenland ice

Friday, Sept. 18
 Sunrise in Karrat Fjord provided the most memorable morning of the voyage, featuring dead calm waters, icebergs large and small, wisps of fog swirling past distant mountain peaks, white-capped and soaring to 6,000 feet. Voyagers could hardly believe the vistas. Those who had visited this sixty-kilometre-long fjord three or four times were left dazzled, declaring to a person that they had never seen this stunning landscape look more spectacular.
Many of us hiked the nearby peaks, around which gun-bearers had established a perimeter that provided vistas of icebergs and floes. In the distance across the water and ice, we could discern the settlement of Nugatsiaq. More than one visitor remarked on the peacefulness and spirituality of the island on which we had landed: Karrat Island. Call it gorgeous, though even that word fails to capture the experience.
Latonia Hartery greeted voyagers at a small graveyard, and Mark St. Onge explained that the sedimentary rocks, 1.95 billion years old, showed that we were at the edge of the Rae Craton or tectonic plate. He pointed out the highly visible Franklin Dyke, which had erupted into the plate a mere 723 million years ago.
Back on the ship, the bravest among us went for a polar dip. Forty-eight people (28 of them male) took the plunge, some of them retiring later to the hot pool on Deck Six. Nobody showed any signs of wanting to challenge the record, held by AC staffer John Houston, of 28 minutes in the water.
Lunch became a back-deck barbecue in the sunshine, with people sitting around at outdoor tables while enjoying a fabulous repast, not incidentally surrounded by shutterbugs obsessively snapping as we sailed through the most impressive iceberg
s we had yet seen. During the afternoon, as we beat south, Hartery told the compelling story of Knud Rasmussen, Greenland’s greatest explorer and anthropologist. She traced his career from his birth in Ilulllisat through his seven Thule expeditions and beyond, including his six years on the world lecture circuit. Among other achievements, Rasmussen demonstrated that the so-called Peary Channel in northern Greenland did not exist, and that a single Inuit culture extends from Greenland into Russia. He did this last while spending 16 months traversing the Arctic from east to west.
Evening found the ship entering Disko Bay, and that provided sufficient reason to launch a Disko Party. It began with the staff, duly kitted out, performing a beautifully choreographed line dance directed by Jocelyn Langford, who had brought aboard a large contingent of Roads Scholars. With David Newland urging people to outdo themselves, several dancers showed moves so distinctive that expedition leader Stefan Kindberg hurried to the bridge to call the producer of Dancing With the Stars.
Saturday, Sept. 19
Late afternoon in Ilulissat, voyagers returned from a 90-minute cruise  among the icebergs looking cold but exhilarated. The word on everybody’s lips: FANTASTIC! Oh, and again: “This has been the best day of the trip!” Ilulissat is the third-largest town in Greenland, with populations of 4,000 people and 6,000 dogs. Explorer-anthropologist Knud Rasmussen was born here, and his home has become a notable museum. But the main attraction is the Jakobshavn Icefjord, which has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2004.
Flowing past the town at between 19 and 35 metres per day, it produces 20 billion tons of ice each year, and spawns vastly more icebergs than any glacier in the Arctic. Ice was much in evidence early this morning as the Ocean Endeavour sailed carefully through Disko Bay to anchor outside the town. The usual landing site was inaccessible to the ship, but expedition leaders identified a second option and voyagers went ashore by zodiac.

 About twenty passengers set out on a helicopter tour of the glacier, and came back raving about that. They had walked on the ice cap itself, and flew so low during their return – roughly 2000 feet up -- that they could see into the  crevasses. Most voyagers undertook the traditional three-kilometre walk through the colorful town to the boardwalk and beyond,
where we scrambled to a hilltop vantage point and looked out over the flowing icebergs. Today was all about the fantastical ice, and this would be one of those few instances in which the old adage holds true: in Ilulissat, a picture is worth 1,000 words.
Evening brought the Adventure Canada Variety Show . . . and several passengers impressed their fellows as remarkably talented. Assistant expedition leader David Reid, well known for his evocative poems, and having declined an invitation to sing Flower of Scotland, kicked off the evening with a superb song. And who could forget the the visitation of Dr. John Rae, the skit skewering Stephen Harper, or the Inuit dance that ended the show? That said, nobody implored performers to quit their day jobs. [All photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan]
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.