We seemed to outpace the sun’s ability to rise as we traveled north from Iceland, across the Arctic Circle. When we reached the east coast of Greenland, our path turned westward and inland toward the heart of Greenland’s ice cap. The longest fjord in the world, Scoresby Sund, stretched out beneath us. A white sheet of uniform ice blanketed this immense waterway. It was speckled with icebergs, frozen in place and awaiting the freedom of spring’s thaw. Rising from the edges of the ice were sheer, rugged mountains wearing a winter coat of pristine snow. At the midriff, these tall cliffs were bisected by a broken layer of cloud. The low sun splayed long shadows of jagged peaks across that fluffy, illuminated surface.
I was expecting an awe-inspiring vista and I got it, but it was different. Last time, it was autumn. The mountains were snowy, but less so. Scoresby Sund was an inky blue expanse of water, covered only by a thin layer of young, translucent sea ice. The terminus of a glacier flowing into the fjord created a distinct line.
This time, winter painted everything almost entirely white.
But as we flew into the mountains and the fjords receded behind us, the scene better matched my memory. The peaks, capped with ice and snow, were rent by glaciers. These rivers of ice became deeper and wider, forming broadly carved valleys through the serrated peaks. Glaciers began to fill all the low gaps in the harsh terrain, running together in smooth waves through the geological labyrinth. The ice rose. Jumbled earth was being slowly swallowed, overrun by a thick batter. The valleys became shallower, though the glacial beds remained deep. The mountains became engulfed and isolated, the ice parting and rejoining around them like honey filling the uneven landscape of an English muffin. Ridges disappeared as the icing spilled over, leaving only islands of rock in a silent white sea. Glaciers became glacier. Before long, ice blanketed the mountains completely, leaving immense undulating crevasse fields as the only indication of solid ground beneath. And then nothing. A vast white plane from horizon to horizon. Ice so thick and featureless that it pays the deeply buried mountains no mind. The interior of Greenland is smothered under nearly two miles of ice.