Storm Chasing USA – Recuperation

General, Photographs, Travel

After the exploits of T5 – Day 3 of our trip, the next few days were a period of reflection and recovery. For those in the two flipped vans, the mending was both physical and mental, for the rest of us, we had time to decide how we felt and what we wanted to do. The three of us were booked for the next Tour as well so we had to decide what we wanted to do if it was indeed going to run.

Roger himself was in a bad way physically (battered, bruised and very tired) and needed time to recover. The next day (Day 4) was spent in Topeka, Kansas in and around the hotel. Some ventured out to see the town, others stayed in the hotel and slept or chilled out. We chatted with other guests and discovered the extent of any injuries that were sustained in the accident. Roger and Caryn dealt with all the backlash from the accident, insurance, rental companies and media. They put out a Facebook post and wisely, said no more publicly. To us, Roger held another meeting and told us what to expect and further explained the incident from his viewpoint.

The two vans involved in the incident were write-offs so the first major task was to find a way of getting us all back to Denver. On Day 5, we headed on back to Denver with the two surviving vans and two hire cars. The drive was long and arduous, over 8 hours on the road and a heavy atmosphere within the party. We roomed overnight in the Holiday Inn & Suites nr Denver Airport.

The following day, Day 6 of T5, Roger decided that as there weren’t any storms to chase anyway, we would all go up into the mountains. It was a good idea, it meant we stayed together and we got out and about in the fresh air. The mood lightened as the scenery became more and more dramatic. We saw wildlife, mountains, rivers and enjoyed a good hearty lunch in the lovely town of Estes Park.  The drive wasn’t too long but the scenery spectacular. We drove as high as we could before the road that was closed, (due to snowfall), ended. We were over 2 miles above sea level at this point and the air was noticeably thinner and breathing just a little bit harder. It was well worth it.

During the day I’d tried to get some pics of the local wildlife and decided after a few attempts to make it an ‘Arse’ day. Every animal I encountered seemed to be facing the other way so I made it my project!!

The day and T5 ended at a baseball game, the Colorado Rockies v Toronto Bluejays at Coors Field. It was again an inspired choice by Roger & Caryn that removed us from recent memories and focused our minds on a different thrill altogether. We’re British and found the atmosphere and the game an interesting experience. The food choices even more unhealthy than we’d experienced on the road but the crowd and us thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

We drove wearily back to the Hotel after a great day that had taken all our minds off the tornado and the memories we all had of it. The three of us had already decided we were going to stay on for our second tour (T6) which started the following evening. We said our goodbyes to our new found friends that were leaving and retired to bed and another day around the hotel and not on the road!

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We went to see a tornado, not be in one!

General, Photographs, Travel

Day 3 – Tuesday 28th May

Today was the day we never imagined or considered could happen. We know it’s a dangerous ‘holiday’ but we’d taken great care in choosing Roger (Hill) and Silver Lining Tours, a Storm Chase Holiday operator from Denver. He’s a veteran of 35 years, run SLT for over 20 years and he’s never got into any trouble with a tornado……until today.

We’re still in a bit of shock as to what occurred a few weeks back.

The day started as usual, breakfast, a briefing from Roger and an uneventful loading up of the 4 vans on our tour. Roger had told us there was only really one ‘play’ today and that was in Kansas. We were to undertake a long haul of a drive from North Platte in Nebraska to Topeka in NE Kansas. He told us the thunder storms were going to be messy and with large amounts of rain making chasing ‘ugly’ and not very photogenic. He warned they would be HP (High Precipitation) Cells. This would make them difficult to see but there’d be a high likelihood of tornadoes.

We set off from the hotel, east along IS80 to Lincoln, Nebraska and then dropping south on the 75 to Holton where we stopped and picked up some lunch. We drove through a big cluster of storms to get down to Topeka, Kansas and continued south and then further east on the 56 through Overbrook, Ks.

By this time, the storm behind the one we’d driven through was growing into a rain wrapped monster and we strained to be able to see any wall cloud. We stopped off a couple of times to see if we could see anything but the intense rain was making it impossible. As we stopped, side-on to the approaching storm, we opened the doors of the van and I’ve never felt air like it that hit us. It was like a super-heated, stifling, sauna type of air. It was hard to breathe. Air was being pushed towards us by the massive, damp, cold-front fast approaching.

SC 19-2140No sign of what was to come!

We continued east with the storm tracking north-east behind us. Roger took our troop of 4 vans up a small side road north, to see if we could get in the ‘notch’ (an area where you can look down the ‘hook’ of a big storm to hopefully see any tornado). We pulled off at a small church and just couldn’t see anything as the rain was intensifying, intense and quite frankly, with the winds picking up to dramatic levels, a bit scary.

Roger came over the radio shouting that we needed to get out of there and fast. We were even more concerned as the radar was showing a meso right above us. (A meso is where the radar is picking up a circulating vortex of air that can lead to a tornado). We were in the wrong place and the limited experience we’d had told us we should never be in heavy rain in the middle of a dangerous storm. We were in what is known as the ‘bear cage’ and needed to leg it, and quickly.

We were frightened. Due to Roger’s urgency, Bill, (our brilliant driver), reversed and then accelerated hard and south, the rain was now extreme to say the least. In a flash, the rain was wrapping and whipping directly in front of us, right to left and we all realised we were in a dire situation. The van was being absolutely pummelled from our front right. The van was slipping left and then right on the road. The rain was so severe we couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of us. Bill our heroic driver, somehow kept going as best he could until the side wind became so severe he had to stop, pointing the van into the wind. Pure luck and fate had us in the slightest of gulleys (the video later confirmed this) with a very small but life saving bank with trees to our right.

We could now see debris flying in front of us, huge branches snapped off trees flying past the windows, the van was being pelted by grass, small debris and mud and we were in huge trouble. Really bad trouble. We crouched down behind the seat in front of us with Hels (my wife) next to me. I’d like to say my life flashed before me or something poetic but I didn’t think of anything other than to get down. I looked at Hels and we were both terrified. My mind seemed to just blank, I didn’t say anything or do anything heroic (not that there was anything to do anyway but…). In fact our whole van (as witnessed by subsequent video footage) was almost silent bar Roger shouting to the drivers on the radio. “TORNADO….RIGHT HERE!”

SC 19-1384In the tornado!

The whole thing lasted 44 seconds. Ian (our friend and travelling companion) said he saw a fence post cartwheeling in front of us before lifting over the top of the van. I saw a couple of pieces of huge corrugated iron fly in front of us and we all literally held our breath, in silence, for it to pass.

I was then aware of shouting over the radio and then in our van. My brain couldn’t really make out the words. A voice was saying the same thing over and over, “Are you ok, Roger, are you guys ok”. I think I heard Roger a few times but can’t be sure. He might have said something like “God, I don’t know, we’ve been hit”. (Edit: I’ve subsequently found out that this was James, driver of van 2).

Bill turned our van around and in the pouring wall of rain and still extreme winds, we and the other tour van, drove the 200 yards or so back to the two other vans in our tour party.

We pulled up and to our horror, one van was on its roof in the ditch by the side of the road and the other was on its side in the field 100 yards from the road.

SC 19-1273The 2 vans directly behind us! How lucky were we all?

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I’ve often wondered what I’d do as the first on the scene of an accident. Without any thought I got out and headed straight for the van in the field. Everyone seemed to be out of Roger’s van in the ditch. I briefly saw Roger, he was bleeding from his head and was very dazed and mumbling but walking, so, I crossed the ditch, over to the van in the field.

When I got there, everyone was dazed, confused and clambering out of the van. But they were all moving, there was seemingly and thank goodness, very little blood or carnage at all. Somehow, there were plenty of able-bodied helpers and we just did what we could. The rain, my god the rain, was still extremely intense, and cold. Unrelenting.

I returned to our van and stood outside with Hels and Ian. We were shaking with cold and shock.

I’ve no idea how long it took but the emergency services arrived, ambulances, police, sheriffs, fire truck and they started tending to the wounded. I don’t think they could believe we’d all come through it alive. At the time, all it did was add to our shock levels and our comprehension about how lucky we’d been. Many of our party in the flipped vans were in extreme shock and a few starting to feel pain as their natural adrenaline wore off. Heads, arms, chests and legs.

James (driver of van 2), was stood next to me, he’d been driving the van that was hit hardest, he said to me, “I’m gonna black-out”, we hurriedly sat him on the step of the van and I rushed to get a Paramedic who came very quickly. (He was to spend 3 days in hospital for observation but was released with no ill effects).

SC 19-1387The crumpled mess to the right of the house was a large barn, the house miraculously survived!

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We started to help moving luggage out of the damaged vans but other than that, we did our best to keep out of the way.

Looking at the path the tornado took, it’d hit a small farmhouse nearby, destroyed a large barn, a massive tree in front of it was snapped in half and the occupants were extremely lucky as well. The lady home owner even came out, not a couple of minutes after the tornado hit and offered her largely undamaged house as refuge if anyone needed it. What a lady!

SC 19-1277SC 19-1278Flattened by the tornado, the grass shows the path of the tornado before it hit the vans

We chatted and waited and helped where we could, we also just couldn’t quite believe none of us had any serious injuries given the carnage in front of us.

The head of emergency services made a point of coming up to our van before we left the scene and said that in her 44 years on the job, she’d never had to deal with a tornado strike before. She also said the incident was a “Mass Casualty Incident” for them as there were more victims than first responders available. In all, 17 people were injured by that tornado in Kansas that day, 12 of them had been from our tour!

SC 19-1279Hels, Bill (our hero driver), Me (Rich), Dave and Ian, shaken but relieved!

Aftermath

12 of our party were taken to hospital including Roger. Of those, all but two were released on the first night with fairly minor injuries. Roger was totally black and blue down his left side and had abrasions to his head. One British lady had a broken knee-cap. A few were in arm-slings and were nursing shoulder injuries. Others had bruises and were very shaken.

The remaining two, one was James, the driver of the van that was taken into the field, he was released with no problems on his 3rd day in hospital. The other was a guest who’d suffered a broken vertebrae in his neck. He was airlifted to Kansas City Hospital where he underwent an operation and was released a few days later, walking but with a neck brace he has to wear for 6 weeks. There’s no doubt whatsoever that we’d been extremely lucky and got away very lightly considering the possibilities.

Several people left the tour afterwards, unable to continue even if the tour company were going to. We decided to sit, wait and see what the options were and listen to what Roger had to say about our lucky escape.

There’s been a lot of chat on social media about our encounter, Roger and SLT are kinda celebrities in the Storm Chase and weather communities in the USA, so it’s quite big news over here. There’s a general scepticism in the community around Roger’s explanation that we were hit by a rogue ‘satellite’ tornado.

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Copyright – KMBC (abc)
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Copyright – 41 Action News
SC 19-1297SC 19-1308
Copyright – NWS
SC 19-1296Even in the news images, it’s impossible to see the mile wide tornado (all images owned by others, Copyright in above 5 images not mine!)

Hindsight shows us how lucky were were. The tornado we were in had been on the ground for 8 miles before hitting us and was likely an EF1 strength, 86-110 mph winds. It went on to become a mile wide EF4 (166-200 mph winds) tornado wreaking huge damage but missing the town of Lawrence by 4 miles! Had it been just a bit more developed, we might not be here typing this!

We decided to continue on with our second week storm chasing and whilst a bit jittery, had an amazing time seeing sights that will remain with us forever. Now we’re safely back in Chippenham in the UK, we can reflect upon our hair raising journey, even if we now view these storms with even more awe than we did before!

 

 

Storm Chasing USA – Day 2

General, Photographs, Travel

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We still didn’t sleep properly and breakfast, despite being assured would be a good one, wasn’t really. Most of the food was luke-warm and the choice not very inspiring.

Still, we aren’t here for food so we packed up and were ready to load ourselves into Van 3, which we accomplished perfectly until we were told we should be in Van 2! D’oh.

We were given the brief that there was potential for good storms in two areas, right where we were in Garden City, and right up northeast of Denver. Roger (Hill, Silver Lining Tours) wanted to hedge and drive halfway between the two and see what developed. We drove for 2.5 hours to Goodland, Kansas for some snacks and then proceeded on a longer haul towards Denver as Roger said nothing was happening in Kansas.

SC 19-1That tumbleweed moment!
SC 19-1248Yeah, right!

All of a sudden, the chase was on. We could see the storm from over a hundred miles away and it looked big! As we neared, we could see on radar it was slow moving and a beast. The wall cloud was lowering so we stuck with it although some of the roads we had to travel were dirt roads. We tracked it from Fort Morgan on I76 and got beyond it around Sterling. We pulled off onto a dirt track and drove a mile and a half to the top of a hill.

SC 19-1257SC-19-6850_tnHow low is that wall?

We got out and looked back at a beautiful wall cloud bearing down on us and snapped shots, ooohed and ahhhed and took some video. Then, the wall cloud dipped down in front of us, swooped from right to left across us and then started to wrap around behind and to the left of us. It was perfectly still where we were stood. It was totally transfixing but we later learned it was trying to wrap up into a tornado and we were lucky!!! We would have been a couple of hundred feet away if it had formed!!

We turned back towards the storm and could see a wall of white sweeping towards us across the hills. The guides screamed at us to get back in the vans. We knew that if it rained/hailed on the dirt road, we were toast and in the ditch for the rest of the day.

We made it, but only just and the road was turning white as we got back onto I76. However, in the melee, the van we were in entered ‘limp’ mode due to a dodgy traction control error (a known fault with this van but Chevy had been unable to fix it!). We couldn’t stop to ‘reset’ it as the hail core was bearing down on us but we couldn’t go faster than 50mph. We were trapped, with the hail core slamming down on our tin-can van as thousands of lumps of ice, luckily only 10p piece sized, pummelled us. It was loud, boy was it loud. In fact, it kinda hurt our ear-drums! We limped out of it and stopped to reset the van and then we were off again.

Roger had become interested in the storm just to the south-west of the big one we were on, so we dropped south and for a time could see two wall clouds, one each side of the road.

A familiar sight sight, cameras at the ready!

We gave up on the big one, parked up and watched the new cell develop and come towards us. We were in a corn field and the tripods were out. The cell was really gaining structure with a good aqua-coloured hail core and great cloud striations. Lightning was rippling all around the storm and Ian and I were trying out our new triggers. Neither of us could get them to work, so we gave up and reverted to machine-gun shooting and seeing if we could get lucky!

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The storm was by now beautiful. We chased it for another 2 hours until it escaped up north, never dropping a tornado but captivating us with its beauty and features. This was just what we come here for. Jaw dropping power coupled with beauty, wonderment and eerily hellish colour, sight and sound.

The long drive up to North Platte was essentially a light show as the storms we’d chased continued ahead of us. The day just didn’t stop giving!

I put the lights out at 12:30am and we were to be on the road again by 10am the next morning!

Storm Chasing USA – Day 1

General, Photographs
SC 19-6794Day 1 and our first tornado! Just NE of Wiley, Colorado

I was up early again, at our start of the tour proper in Denver.  We watched the Weather Channel while we were getting ready and saw the aftermath of a tornado hitting El Reno in Oklahoma. The tornado touched down about 10pm the night before and the second floor of a hotel was completely wiped out along with a mobile home park. It was sobering to hear 2 people had died and many more were in hospital, some still in surgery. You always hope that a tornado will happen in the middle of a field somewhere with no habitation around.

Roger (Hill) from Silver Lining Tours was excited about the predictions for the day and we headed SE through Colorado to Eads for fuel and snacks. It was emphasised this needed to be a quick stop as we had c.85 miles to do in 90 minutes to get there before a good looking storm matured.

The storms on radar were changing quite quickly and it all seemed a bit chaotic as Roger decided where we needed to go to get on the best storm. After nearly getting stuck on a dirt road made like a skating rink because it’d been raining hard on it, we stopped for a bit for Roger to re-plan our position. The storm we were on was beginning to rotate and that’s when the excitement started. We needed a tarmac road and quickly, after a bit of debate over the van intercoms we found one which meant the storm was on our left. Perfect for me as I was on that side of the van. We thought we could see the start of a tornado forming and in between much shouting of “Stop…no drive on…TORNADO… Stop!!!” by Roger to Bill (our driver), we’d seen a small white tornado drop from the storm. WOOOO HOOO!! I managed to grab a shaky iPhone pic before we all piled out the van hoping to see more of it, but it roped out much to everyone’s disappointment. However, Day 1 of the tour proper and we’d already seen a brief tornado!

All shots taken from the moving van, by the time we’d parked up, it was over!

 

SC 19-2095The roped out tornado

We tried to tuck back round the other side of the cell but had to do a quick U-turn as a wall-cloud was starting to form right behind us. After a short drive we parked up and waited, watched and hoped that the dark menacing lump of low wall-cloud would develop a tornado. By this point there was severe ‘chaser convergence’, including Reed Timmer’s Dominator, and we had to drive a fair distance, slowly, in order to be able to park up. Disappointingly this promising looking storm also lost intensity. By now we were in a traffic jam of convergence and it was frustrating being stuck in queues of other chasers. It’s definitely got busier since 2015, our last trip.

Threatening to lower and form but not quite!

The prospects carried on for most of the day…predictions looking good but nothing materialising.

SC 19-6804Very large hail started to fall here so a quick escape to the van and out of there was required!
SC 19-6805Reed Timmer’s Dominator
SC 19-6792Ian explaining (again) why his lightning trigger wasn’t working!
SC 19-1217An unusual rainbow low on the horizon, I named it a “Low-bow”!

We’d booked to stay in Garden City, Kansas for the night and by about 7pm, Roger decided that the storms were too messy for us to be able to see anything other than rain/hail so we bailed and made our way to the hotel.

It was absolutely belting it down when we arrived and we’d decided we needed a drink to celebrate the tornado we’d seen earlier. By now, the storms we’d been chasing had merged into a squall line and followed us here but despite getting totally soaked and nearly knocked off our feet by the wind, we made the short run from the hotel to the bar. We had a couple of beers before hitting the sack ready for a 9.30am start the next day.

Storm Chasing USA – Day 1 (25th May ’19)

General, Photographs

We embarked on our second trip to the USA to chase extreme storms and hopefully, see the odd tornado or two. We left Heathrow on the 29th May and returned on the 9th June.

We were delighted that our buddy, Ian Thompson, came with us this time. He was a storm ‘newbie’ and eager to experience severe weather. We’d booked on two tours with Silver Lining Tours (SLT), Tour 5 and Tour 6. These were both 6-day excursions leaving from, and returning to, Denver in Colorado.

Storm Chasing is a fairly safe pastime, but it does have inherent risk as we were to discover all too soon. Our aim was to enjoy the camaraderie of the vans we toured in, to see extreme weather and to soak up the atmosphere of little visited areas of the US. It was of course, an excuse to take some awesome pictures along the way.

The resulting pages are extracts from a diary we kept for the whole 17 days of our trip…

Enjoying some down time in Denver

Bonus Chase Day

We’d been emailed by Roger Hill the day before to tell us he would be offering a bonus chase day on the Saturday 25th. We enthusiastically responded saying we were in, we weren’t going to miss out ‘just in case’!

I couldn’t sleep beyond 3:30am on Saturday and therefore fidgeted and managed to wake Hels by 5:30 so neither of us felt very refreshed. However, we were excited, so we got up and were ready to leave by 7:30am

Hels used her new “Lyft” cab ordering app and we were told our black Audi A4 was waiting for us after only 4 minutes. Only, he was nowhere to be seen. After another 5 mins of waiting he ‘left’ costing us $5! Brilliant. We got in a Yellow Cab outside the hotel and for nearly double the price, we were off back towards the airport and our hotel for the night to meet Roger and the gang.

We met a few of our fellow chasers in the lobby and were all excited to see where we’d be heading for the day’s chase. As it turned out, we were off towards Lamar in the S/E corner of Colorado. This was a 2.5 hour drive and we were informed we needed to leg it down there as storms were likely to kick off early.

We left around 10:15 and set off with two vans. We had 7 people in our van and that immediately took us right back to our previous trip and the daily ‘fight’ for the right van and people to be with.

We stopped off for lunch in Lamar and we remembered the joys of eating while storm chasing. A balanced diet is almost impossible and already we’d consumed more crap than we’ve had since the start of the year.

From a stop in Lamar we headed down towards Boise City and a nice looking, developing storm near Manter, Kansas. We took a back road and came to an abrupt halt as the road degenerated into dirt and it was already hailing. The storm looked interesting and we waited for about 30 mins in differing intensities of rain before heading back where we’d come from to find a way of leap-frogging the storm. The small village we’d just come through was now under 2-feet of water and we were driving along small rivers as the storm had deluged the area. We continued in the torrential rain, hitting heavy side winds as the rain reduced visibility to around 100 feet all around us.

When we reached the other side, it was apparent the storm had lost any intensity and form and was a bust for cellular or tornadic potential. We trudged back to Lamar for another stop before the long haul back to Denver. We covered over 750 miles and 9 hours travelling. When we got back to the hotel, we were all shattered and went straight to bed.

SC-19-6786_tnSC-19-6773_tnSC-19-6770_tnDespite the storm ending in a bust, the colours and the dramatic formation was totally awesome!

 

 

IMG_1235The 9 hour drive proved too much for Ian (what became a familiar sight for us during the trip!)

Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Finale)

General, Photographs, Travel

Our last full day in this magical place was to begin with an afternoon walk to the Icefjord which was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004. It involved a ‘Black Death’ shuttle from the hotel, south to the excellently maintained boardwalk that leads from the area where most of the Huskies are kept, out to the Fjord itself.

Now, although it was only a few miles of gently undulating walk, it was going to prove to be too much for Hels. Her ankle was now showing signs of severe bruising and swelling (despite the ice-pops) and she was still in some considerable pain although that had eased a bit too. We’d decided it couldn’t be broken (although quite how we managed to come to such an amateur diagnosis I really don’t recall) and must just be badly twisted and rest was the order of the day. Hels wanted to make sure she’d be able to board the boat again in the evening and therefore decided sleep, rest and more food was going to be the order of the day.

So, somewhat depleted, our party headed off to the trail. We found it very well kept and extremely easy to walk along the gentle rises and falls of the couple of miles needed to reach the edge of the fjord itself.

When we got to the site, we were presented with magnificent views of all the glacial icebergs and deposits, huge goliaths and small chunks, all crammed into the estuary on top of one another. The exit (to Disko Bay) for these bergs is shallow and they therefore log-jam up against each other rather like a blocked escalator until the bigger ‘bergs melt (or break down) enough to release themselves into Disko Bay and eventually the ocean.

This gives an onlooker like me the chance to scrabble around the shoreline and marvel at the sheer scale here. It’s all a bit overwhelming really. Because the viewpoint is high, its easy to underestimate the size of everything. In fact, perception of size, even when stood looking down at them in the flesh is really tricky and I found my brain being quite easily tricked into believing things weren’t that large.

This became such a distraction that I realised most of my images from this site were almost all shot including a person or some other object so as to give myself an understanding of the enormity before me.

GL TN-3598GL TN-3603The two images above demonstrate why scale is needed to be given here

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Dotted along the barren rocks were all manner of lichen, mosses and even clumps of small alpine flowers. Proof that life will cling to even the most inhospitable of locations.

I shot a lot here with my Canon 7D Mark II strapped to a 70-200mm L f2.8 with 2x convertor attached. This gave me an effective focal length of 224-640mm (on the crop sensor) which meant plenty of reach. It gave me the chance to shoot some interesting perspectives especially as most of our party had managed quite a climb/clamber up the highest rock for a vantage point overlooking a small bay and largest icebergs.

GL TN-1950GL TN-1953GL TN-1956GL TN-1959GL TN-3613The tiny dots on the farthest rock are people!
GL TN-3624Now, which direction is it flying?
GL TN-A stitched pano view of the Fjord
GL TN-2-3GL TN-2-4Looking down on the well maintained boardwalk

After a couple of hours we sauntered back to the waiting ‘Black Death’ for our return to the Arctic Hotel and our final evening dinner there. I of course told Hels that she’d missed nothing and the view was a bit dull but she was bright and claiming her ankle felt a little better.

After another excellent meal and a couple of warming beers we set off for the last time out onto Disko Bay again at around 8:30pm. Hels was able to stand a bit which meant her view from deck was better than the previous evening. This time we ventured north of Ilulissat along the Bay’s coastline to see what we could find. We weren’t disappointed with the change in direction and stopped off at every interestingly shaped iceberg we could find. The light wasn’t perfect but with very little breeze, it was still a gorgeous final evening.

We found a double arched iceberg that was close to the shore and while we were circling it we heard an almighty crack and rumble. We were all expecting a total collapse given the noise and Capt. Daniel hurriedly beat a hasty retreat, taking the yacht away from harms way if it created any sea surge. Unfortunately, Ian was flying his drone around the ‘berg at the time and it meant he hurriedly had to land it on deck whilst we were moving. Now, as he’d only just got this particular drone and wasn’t familiar with it’s sensitive controls, landing wasn’t going to be easy. The ropes and masts for the sails on the yacht made it even more tricky. After a sterling attempt however, he managed to crash it into the main mast and it fell gratefully on deck with the only damage being to the props (cheap and easily replaceable) and Ian’s pride. He was delighted to have got it back at all.

Meanwhile, the huge arches seemed not to suffer any visible damage at all! Incredible to us given the volume of cracking we heard. So, we stayed and continued to shoot away to our hearts content.

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We reluctantly left the area and headed back for what was for us, an early night. We were all leaving the next day, most of us on the 1:00pm flight to Reykjavik.

After packing up, getting some much needed breakfast and catching the extremely convenient shuttle bus for the 5 minute ride to the airport, we awaited our flight. It was on time again (not common in Greenland) and we all gasped as we saw it coming in and landing on one wheel due to the near gale force gusting winds outside. We were quickly boarded and headed to south west Greenland to land and await refuelling (apparently fuel is cheaper here). This took over an hour due to a bigger jet also requiring sustenance and only one refuelling truck! Eventually we flew into Iceland and we overnighted at the same B&B we stayed in the week previously. We flew the last leg of our journey to Luton UK the following day.

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As a footnote, Hels’ was struggling through customs and security so much, we commandeered a wheelchair for her. As a result we sailed through the packed passport checks and baggage reclaim. Her ankle was assessed the next day and required an x-ray as the local hospital thought it was probably broken! Yikes!! Off we trooped to the nearest facility with the right equipment and were reliably informed what we’d expected (hoped). It was a very bad sprain. So with crutches in tow she started the gentle healing and strengthening process that took around 4-6 weeks to be back to normal.

She has no ill effects from the tumble now. 

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Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 6)

General, Photographs, Travel

After another great night’s sleep we headed to the excellent Hotel Arctic lunch restaurant. All the comments we’d read about difficulty sleeping in almost 24 hour daylight had proved unfounded for us. Maybe it was because we were so tired from our excursions or maybe it just didn’t bother us but nobody in our party complained of lack of sleep.

Considering the limited ingredients that must be open to the Chef at the only 4* Hotel within literally hundreds (thousands?) of miles, the spread and choice of food available to the hotel’s guests at all times of the day is quite incredible. We tried to limit ourselves to a snack as we were off to a different settlement, this time North of Ilulissat, to have a traditional meal and wander around onshore for a few hours.

GL TN-2GL TN-2-2Views from the harbour

The weather as we departed at around 3pm was just fantastic. Wall to wall blue skies and the air, oh that air, so clean and crisp and cold, I swear you can almost taste its purity!

‘Black Death’ hadn’t been fixed so we commandeered a Hotel Shuttle and headed down to the harbour once again to meet the Rusarc.

I’d decided to have a play for a bit with my fisheye lens on the trip out. Shots of the boat and any close up ‘bergs, just to mix things up and keep my eye fresh for new opportunities. The results weren’t great but it’s always nice to experiment.

GL TN-3164Captain Daniel at the helm
GL TN-3186GL TN-3177Hels on deck, drifting gently in the calm

The Bay was just so calm with no breeze which meant the gorgeous looking deep blue sea was acting like a giant mirror at times. The contrast between the white of the icebergs and the blue sea/sky was just another incredible wonder on this totally brilliant trip. The shadows were creating such sumptuous texture on the giant lumps of ice that meant as we circled the more interesting shaped ones, camera shutters were going crazy. Any second you’d thought you’d captured the shot, we’d move slowly a few degrees left or right and you’d realise there was another shot to be had! Icebergs with a distinctive shape one side had a completely different look and feel viewed from the other. It was almost too much for this photographer! Kinda iceberg porn overload. There were times I stopped shooting in order to just take it all in.

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After what felt like only 5 minutes (actually a couple of hours) we were making the very slow progress into Rodebay, a very small settlement, accessed via an extremely shallow inlet to a small lagoon. Capt. Daniel took it very carefully, tiptoeing through the narrow channel. We hopped into the ribs again and got to the settlement via a well maintained jetty. The sun, the comparative warmth and the season meant we were no match for the millions of mosquitos waiting for us on land. We were literally live food begging to be feasted upon. We sprayed up, donned our less than glamorous mossie headnets and set forth.

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After a very brief wander to get the feel of the place, we entered the restaurant at H8. Yes, a restaurant in a place with less than 50 inhabitants! This is an old whaling station and staffed by a lovely young couple with an equally delightful daughter.

We were presented with a platter of ‘traditional’ food. Seal blubber, dried fish, whale, shrimp and other delights from the sea. I tried most, (I couldn’t face the whale for moral reasons) some elements were much tastier than others but all in all, it was good to experience what the native people survived on here. Raw Seal blubber wasn’t my favourite but its a high calorie food source for Inuit people and very important nutritionally. The dried herring(?) were my favourite and ripping them apart, chewing the salty flesh was strangely satisfying and very palatable.

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We headed out to explore the village and clambered over rocks, through a bog and wandered around brightly coloured houses. We came across an abandoned larger house which was decaying and unsafe to enter. Through the window we saw a living room with an old piano covered in dust and rotting away.

As I was about to see if a photo was possible I heard a thump behind me and turned to discover Hels on the ground and in some considerable pain. The long grass had concealed an extremely uneven base and she’d heavily gone over on her ankle. Looking at her, we feared the worse and managed to help her to a nearby rock for recuperation and our (very) limited assessment. After half an hour or so she said she felt the pain was easing and insisted she was fine and that Ian and I should carry on exploring. We headed off in different directions but were back again after only a few minutes as any attempt at getting photographs seemed a bit trivial and we were too worried about her.

We virtually carried her back very slowly across the rocks to H8 where the only ice (would you believe) they had was a couple of ice-pops. We strapped them around her ankle as best we could and waited for the others, all the while being attacked by mossies and worrying how on earth we were going to get her back aboard the yacht via a rib!

Three Husky pups were a welcome distraction and I tried my best for 20-30 minutes to get a good shot of them playing and snarling at each other but failed miserably as they just wouldn’t sit still for 3 seconds. I gave up. Imagine my annoyance when a fellow member of our party returned 20 minutes later, said ‘Hi’ to us, saw the dogs, wandered over to them and they sat still for a good 10 minutes in the golden sunlight almost like he’d posed them!

GL TN-3334GL TN-3336Hels, post fall, claiming she’s fine!
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We were to be treated to one more sight before we left. A small boat had pulled up to the jetty and a guy got off and tied a couple of ropes from the boat to the jetty. He then departed again and walked back 10 minutes later untying the ropes. It wasn’t until a few minutes later we realised he’d had a successful hunting trip and had shot two seals. He proceeded to drag one up onto the rock next to the jetty to skin and butcher it. An older Husky pup sat, barked and watched the whole scene from only a few feet away. It never dared to go too near the carcass but barked at the hunter almost constantly. It was a strange sight for us. We’re brought up in such a sanitised society where we don’t get to see these things. I decided it was just part of everyday life here and that I’d photograph the scene although it was a bit gruesome to witness.

Getting Hels back on the yacht was painful for her but somehow, between us all, we managed. How she grimaced through the pain I’m not sure but she seemed as comfortable as we could get her on the deck, leg raised on camera bags and wrapped up warm against the now setting sun and reducing temperature. I concealed my fears that if it was a broken ankle, I wasn’t sure what medical facilities were available on Greenland and how we’d manage. I think all of us had the same thoughts but none of us voiced them at the time.

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The setting sun was now making the return journey much more interesting and we cruised around, circling icebergs that had incredible shapes. With the shadows we were spotting all sorts of faces, animals and gargoyles in them and continued to snap happily away.

GL TN-3384GL TN-3394Some of the ‘bergs looked like they’d been carved into statues!

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It was a true “Fire & Ice” moment as the setting sun had turned to a real orange/red, basking the ice in front of us in a very exciting light. Where should we point our cameras?

GL TN-1934A gargoyle faced iceberg that from front view had no face at all

Hels’ injury and by now, badly swollen ankle had meant she spent an uncomfortable evening on the boat, mostly looking at the backs of the rest of us happily stood directly in front of her. Like the trooper she is, she winced a few times but never complained. She was mostly cross with herself for letting it happen and how it might effect the rest of her stay. Getting her off the yacht was another painful experience but between quite a few of us, we managed to carry her over the guard rail and onto the jetty. She decided to take the night to see how things were in the morning. We were beginning to hope that it wasn’t broken and it was just a bad sprain but only time would tell us.

GL TN-2-4Hels’ view for most of the return journey!

The day had been another brilliant day (from a photographic perspective) and we, not for the first time, made our way back wearily (with able assistance for Hels) to the hotel and a good night’s sleep and some pain killers.