In 1971 Narsarsuaq felt remote and abandoned – a mysterious airstrip with empty control tower and massive, gaunt, deserted hangars complete with stories of World War II pilots long gone crazy at Blue West 1. We dropped out of the sky right on schedule, in our deluxe Icelandair jet from Iceland. And then our adventure began. We each had a pack with personal items, but the bulk of our food and tents were still on a ship off the Greenland coast (stuck in the pack ice on their long voyage from Scotland via Denmark, as we would later learn). But there was another ship, the MV Taterak – albeit very small and very, very full of people – that would take us down the fjord to overnight at Julianehaab (now Qaqortoq) and then eventually wend its tortuous way through the ice clogged fjords to Nanortalik in the deep south.
In enormous contrast in 2016, Narsarsuaq boasts a modern airport terminal (and the same enormous runway from 1971) with a large adjacent tourist hotel and the nearby delightful Blue Ice Café. We were ready to fly back to Reykjavik after our week-long voyage down the coast from Illulissat on the MV Sarfaq Ittuk. But despite all the modern amenities, the sense of uncertainty was as strong as ever. It’s the wind! (stupid!) In 1971, we hunkered down beside the deserted hangars with our dirty, wet gear not knowing when or if a plane would ever appear to take us back to Scotland after our ten week climbing expedition – “it all depends on whether it can land in the wind.” And nobody could tell us that.
In 2016 we itended to journey up the Tunulliarfik Fjord by small boat from Narsaq to Narsarsuaq to catch a very similar flight, now on Air Iceland. We were supposed to depart first thing in the morning and visit the settlement at Erik the Red’s settlement Brattahlio en route. Enthusiastic readers of this blog will recognize that as the spot where Phil lost his camera overboard in 1971. As it turned out though, the winds blowing off the glacier and down the fjord were too strong. We eventually left Narsaq around midday with just enough time to catch our afternoon flight. But we were amply rewarded for the delay by a really close encounter with a spectacular iceberg and much bouncing around in the waves through smaller ice that the winds had blown from the eastern arm of the fjord.
Narsarsuaq still manages to feel remote!