What NOT to do around icebergs

Adrenaline junkies are paradoxical people: they tend to evoke equal parts admiration, and dismay.

On the one hand, people who laugh in the face of danger help us expand the boundaries of human endeavour. On the other, their habit of doing potentially deadly things on purpose displays one of humanity’s most perplexing traits.

Watching Aweberg (now streaming at SnagFilms) highlights both aspects of the difficult balance. A self-portrait of a couple of ice-climbers determined to climb icebergs, the film reveals a little of what drives courageous athletes (literally) to new heights.

Despite serious warnings from a series of experts, lead climber Will Gadd is determined to scale a berg, for the thrill and the challenge of the climb. And while the resulting attempts make for fascinating, nerve-wracking viewing, (the film won the Special Jury Award at the Banff Film Festival) they also amount to a virtual list of what NOT to do around an iceberg.

Icebergs are nature's own abstract sculptures.

Icebergs are nature’s own abstract sculptures.

Adventure Canada expeditions frequently encounter icebergs on our east coast and Arctic excursions.

When we visit Greenland, as we do several times per summer, we see bergs in numbers and sizes that put the imposing, but relatively small bergs in this film to shame.

In Ilulissat, Karrat Fjord, Uummannaq, and other locations along the Greenland coast, the icebergs loom like small mountains. The cracking, tipping, splashing and crashing of these glacial remnants is one of nature’s most thrilling scenes.

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

The beauty of icebergs is awe-inspiring, as the title of the film suggests. But true awe includes a healthy dose of respect. We view icebergs from a distance (equal to no less than two to three times their height), knowing that they can flip at any moment, creating a deadly wave in the process. We never touch them, let alone land on them. To try to climb something that is by nature in the process of breaking up is to enter the realm of insanity.

As a Zodiac driver, I’ve seen the waves generated by icebergs breaking up wreak serious havoc more than a kilometre away. And that’s about how far I’d want to distance myself from the antics of these brave (but foolhardy) ice-climbers. To their credit, these guys quit when they realized all their instincts, all their training, and all the warnings were on the money.

As Will Gadd and partner, Ben Firth, and their crew learn in the course of Aweberg, the expert advice they got at the beginning is dead right: icebergs are NOT for climbing. Watch this film for its scenery, for its glimpses of life in Makkovik, Labrador (and an appearance by Expedition Team member Jason Edmunds’s dad, Randy).

But especially, watch Aweberg for a perfect primer on what NOT to do around icebergs.

View icebergs safely on our expeditions to the east coast, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic in 2015. Choose your trip here!

The Greenland revelation

Veteran Arctic photographer Martin Lipman travelled with us on our Heart of the Arctic expedition cruise this past summer, representing the Canadian Museum of Nature. He kindly agreed to share some of his spectacular photos along with his thoughts on his first visit to Greenland.

Greenland's stunning fiords are just the beginning.

Greenland’s stunning fiords are just the beginning.

Greenland was a revelation for me. As incredible as the Canadian Arctic is, Greenland is not to be missed. The scale of ice, the intense beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people are all stellar. From the moment you see the the coastline in Kangerlussuaq, you know it’s going to be good.

Leaving Kangerlussuaq Fjord I remained on deck until the light dipped below the horizon tracking the massive volcanic seams of the Kangaamiut dike swarm, one of a handful of such geological structures in the world.

DikeSwarm

This dike swarm is one of many extraordinary geological features along Greenland’s west coast.

Eternity Fiord is no less stunning—the power of the ice quickly becomes apparent. Sadly some the glaciers here have started to ground out due to global warming.

The beauty of the ice belies its ecological warning.

The beauty of the ice belies its ecological warning.

Zodiac landings in Greenland are particularly special. The nature of the coastal landscape invites exploration. Its history, its surprising flora and its wild geology all draw you forward. Cresting the next ridge reveals an even more incredible view than the last – and sinking in that soft moss is not to be missed. People often ask where Greenland got it’s name, I suggest it is the subtle palette of the mosses and lichen and its restful effect on your eyes.

Coastal Greenland is visually stunning.

Coastal Greenland is visually stunning.

Tiny mosses and flowers on the tundra are stunning features of Greenland's landings.

Tiny mosses and flowers on the tundra are stunning features of Greenland’s landings.

As you sail north towards Ilulissat and Disko Bay, the quantity of ice increases and the days get even longer. Arctic veterans now say that the ice is smaller and broken up due to the speed at which the Jakobshavn Glacier is moving now – a staggering 60 to 100 feet everyday. That said, you still see massive bergs that dwarf the ship.

Icebergs like those that inspired the Group of Seven still impress.

Icebergs like those that inspired the Group of Seven still impress.

Cruising the ice by Zodiac reveals even more detail: incredible translucent blue seams, hidden caves and pools and endless straiations are a (frozen) feast for the eyes, but with the ice it’s the sound that gets you. Crisp bubbles rise to the surface and constant melting is heard as the water drips off the ice. If you are lucky, you’ll hear the thunderous crack of one of the bigger bergs as it releases pressure. You feel it instinctively on the water: the icebergs are not benign, they are unpredictable and incredibly powerful.

Zodiac cruising is the ideal way to appreciate Greenland's glaciers.

Zodiac cruising is the ideal way to appreciate Greenland’s glaciers.

Being able to weave through said icebergs or land at an ancient encampment at the shallow end of a fiord is part of the wondrous appeal of Arctic cruising. Having access to a fleet of Zodiacs transforms the trip into genuine exploration, accessing communities and shoreline that large ships can’t begin to approach. To access multiple sites in a day then pull up anchor and steam up the coast to do it all over again the next day that sets ship-based travel apart.

The Sea Adventurer and the Zodiac fleet make a perfect cruising combination.

The Sea Adventurer and the Zodiac fleet make a perfect cruising combination.

The communities of Western Greenland are remarkable in themselves. The warmth and artistry of the people and the colour of the villages stand in stark contrast the harsh environment that they occupy. As a Canadian, it was fascinating to see Adventure Canada’ Inuit staff land on shore and begin to speak Inuktituk with local Greenlanders. It gives you a very different sense of the neighbourhood and the distant the communal links the predate our two countries.

Greenland's villages are beautiful and fascinating.

Greenland’s villages are beautiful and fascinating.

Wide smiles make a warm welcome anywhere you go.

Wide smiles make a warm welcome anywhere you go.

Greenland's people are as amazing as the landscape they call home.

Greenland’s people are as amazing as the landscape they call home.