Greenland's Scoresby Sound 2019 Trip Report

By Joe Van Os on Sep 11, 2019

“Spectacular” is probably the best word I can use to summarize our 2019 Greenland’s Scoresby Sound photo voyage. A fantastic ship, good weather, smooth sailing, knock-your-socks-off fall-colored tundra and a congenial and enthusiastic group of photographers—all the ingredients blended together and  made this trip a great photo tour!

Our first Greenland trip to Scoresby Sound took place over 20 years ago. At that time we still had to worry that parts of the Scoresby fjord system might be clogged with pack ice and prohibit entry into some of the narrower scenic fjords closest to the Greenland icecap. But these days the fjords are usually open in late-summer allowing ship access almost to the foot of some of the more remote and formerly inaccessible glaciers.

Back in those “olden days” we boarded our ship in Keflavik, Iceland and it took two days to sail across the Denmark Strait to get to Scoresby Sound. It was normally a rough trip, though we often saw lots of whales during the crossing.  Iceberg in Scoresby SoundNow we fly from Iceland to Greenland on an exclusive chartered flight (for our group only) that takes about 90 minutes. There are no hassles with carry-on bags or overweight baggage.  We had the entire 37-passenger plane all to ourselves!  The time-saving flight allowed us four extra days of photography in the fjords. We found our ship positioned a short distance from the airstrip. Our voyage started within the sheltered waters of this massive fjord system and, this year, we barely felt the ship moving for almost the entire trip. No one suffered from seasickness!

The landscape photo opportunities are fabulous in Scoresby Sound.  We were virtually never out of sight of massive wave-sculpted icebergs or expansive tidewater glaciers. The thunderous report of calving glaciers or disintegrating icebergs was our constant soundtrack throughout the voyage.

On land, the dwarf tundra willows, birches, bearberry and blueberries were at their colorful peak. The red, copper and gold hues of that vegetation juxtaposed against the chill-blue icebergs are a sight to behold—and a joy to photograph.  Fall color on Scoresby Sound's tundraDuring our walks ashore, the colorful tundra resembled a fine tapestry woven of intricate complementary colors compelling us to stop every few feet to create another photo. We never tired of this radiant kaleidoscope of color.  We broke into two groups—the “hikers” and the “strollers.” Everyone could shoot at their own pace but had to stay somewhat with their group in case we encountered a polar bear. Rinie van Meurs and I carried rifles in the field—usually no cameras.  We didn’t see any bears but found fresh footprints along the shore.

Being late in the season most of the migrant birds had headed towards Europe and further south. Often they make the initial overseas leg of their migration by first heading to nearby Iceland.  Overhead we saw several skeins of pink-footed geese as they left Scoresby Sound flying towards Iceland. A few ducks and shorebirds were spotted during our trip as well as several jaegers, northern wheatears and a gyrfalcon. Glaucous gulls and kittiwakes were ubiquitous.

Wildlife photography is not Greenland’s strong suit. The local Inuit population relies heavily on wildlife for supplemental food; so much of the wildlife that is seen is particularly gun shy. We saw many musk oxen at a distance. A few were close enough for a heavily-cropped image. The best wildlife photo op came from ringed seals on brash ice at the toe of a broad glacier in Hare Fjord. In all the years I have traveled in the arctic I have never had the opportunity to “shoot” a ringed seal at close range from a boat until this trip. Typically it’s very tough to get near this species. As the preferred snack of polar bears, they are very shy.

Rembrandt van Rijn in Greenland

We enjoyed several Zodiac cruises around colossal stranded icebergs. We also used the Zodiacs for a wonderful shoot of our three-masted schooner as it was under sail among the icebergs—quite dramatic! The conditions couldn’t have been better and we shot it from every conceivable angle. Zodiac cruising among this towering blue-white city of icebergs is totally surreal.

Tidal glacer and mountains in GreelandOur ship holds 33 passengers but we had just 18 photographers on board.  Most passengers had a single cabin which provided a relatively luxurious amount of personal space.  As we prepared to embark our ship, a group of 33 passengers was disembarking and we immediately realized what a luxury it was that our group had such a low number of passengers on the boat. Our low number of passengers also allowed us to get everyone in our Zodiacs at the same time for cruising between the icebergs.

It’s hard to convey in words the vast grandeur of Greenland; and harder still to contemplate what may happen to the world’s largest island in the future. Our photography captures Greenland’s raw beauty as now exists and documents this pristine arctic environment as ice melt continues to outpace scientists' expectations.

Our Greenland photo tour group

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Related Tags:  arctic, greenland, landscape, photography, scoresby, sound