Students on ice: Reflections on my SOI experience

    Students on Ice Evigsfjord

    SOI’s zodiacs cruise below the towering glaciers of awe-striking Evigsfjord, (Fiord of Eternity) Greenland. Photo: Lee Narraway

    By Alistair Walker

    I come from Braemar in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, a small village in the mountains of the Cairngorms National Park. I am 17 years old and I have just left school. I have always had a fascination for the Arctic and love getting into wild places like the mountains around my home. I was really pleased to get the opportunity to visit the Arctic with Students on Ice as it fulfilled a lifelong ambition to see the landscape, observe the wildlife and see how both the communities and wildlife have adapted to the harsh conditions of living in the Arctic.

    Alistair Walker Students on Ice
    Alistair Walker takes a break on a beach-stranded bergy bit in Torngat Mountains National Park. © LEE NARRAWAY
    I especially enjoyed going ashore from the expedition ship in the zodiacs and spending time walking in the mountains. It reminded me of home, though the mountains in the Arctic were bigger than the mountains I am used to in Scotland. Also, whilst we have no glaciers in Scotland left now, in time with climate change, Greenland might start to look even more like a bigger version of Scotland. I was drawn to make comparisons between communities in the Arctic trying to sustain their future with small, remote communities like my own in Scotland. While there is a difference in scale, both rely on sustainable use of the natural resources they have and both are increasingly relying on income from visitors.

    As far as the landscapes, there were so many places that were impressive, it’s hard to choose a favourite. I was really impressed by the size and scale of the glaciers in southern Greenland. I really enjoyed exploring them and imagining the forces that created them. The scale of them made me feel very small and insignificant. I loved hearing the thunderous sound of the glacier calving into the fiord. It is interesting to think of the long journey the ice makes from the glacier as an iceberg until it melts into water so far away from where it was born. The pack ice was stunning and impressive too, but it made me sad to see it and think how its extent has declined markedly due to climate change over recent decades. It is a real worry to me that it might disappear altogether in my lifetime.

    I had heard before I went on the trip about the midnight sun and the spectacular sunrises and sunsets, but nothing had prepared me for how spectacular they were. It was well worth staying up through the early hours to experience these stunning lighting effects. When the light was at its darkest, the icebergs were silhouetted against a coffee coloured sky. With more light, the sky was a kaleidoscope of different shades of yellow, orange, pink, purple and blue. This was especially impressive when the foreground was sea ice floating on the water.

    Two of the most special experiences of the trip for me were seeing my first polar bear and first Arctic fox in the wild. We woke up one morning on the ship, it was cold and fog hung on the fiord. We were in Nachvak Fiord in Ramah Bay. Here we saw our first polar bear from the ship. It was very far away and sadly by the time we landed it had been spooked by the scouting zodiac so had moved away. I wish I could have seen it closer. It was a momentous occasion for me. I have seen a polar bear in a wildlife park close to home but it was so special to see one in its natural surroundings. I could not believe our luck when we saw two more polar bears on this same day, including one that was swimming in the sea, close to the zodiacs when we were exploring the fiord.

    A few days later we arrived in Torngat National Park Base Camp. After an introductory tour by the Park Rangers, we were given the opportunity to go on a hike. On the hike I saw an Arctic fox standing on a rock on the hillside. Shortly after, another fox joined it. Again, I have seen Arctic foxes in the wildlife park at home but it was a real privilege to see them in their own environment.

    I had some really magical wildlife moments when we crossed the Labrador Sea. I stood on my own at the back of the boat when I was surprised by separate groups of fin whales and pilot whales swimming by. Shortly afterwards I saw some seals bobbing along beside the boat and later some otters played alongside the boat.

    The communities we visited along the way were very welcoming and the residents happy to share their experiences with us. It was interesting to see how they maintained their life in such a harsh environment. It was good to meet the national park rangers who could explain to us about the special environment that they managed.

    The staff and specialists on the ship came from a wide variety of backgrounds and led interesting discussions about the Arctic and its challenges, especially climate change and development pressures.

    I particularly enjoyed the workshop on photography. I had an interest before I went on the expedition but I really got into it in a big way and developed my skill level with the help and guidance of the specialist photography mentors on board. They particularly helped me in composing landscape photographs in an atmospheric way and in creating successful wildlife shots. I was very pleased to get some understanding about how to take macro shots of Arctic flora, which in places was very prolific.

    It is still only a few weeks since my return from the expedition. It will take time for the full impact of the experience to be realized. I am still remembering new memories every day. Summing up my experience in a few words, I would say that my Arctic expedition with Students on Ice was a once in a lifetime adventure in which I experienced some magical and unforgettable moments in a very special environment.

    Read more Students on Ice reports:
    Connecting with the inuit culture by Chaim Andersen
    Life is an adventure by Addison Asuchak