July 31, 2011

A Russian Orthodox cross in memory of Russian explorers of the Arctic.

The helicopter takes us in groups to Cape Fligely on Rudolf Island, the point of land in Russia and Asia closest to the Pole. A Russian Orthodox cross commemorates all of the Russian explorers who have died in the Arctic.

The glaciers and mountains on the island are staggering in their beauty, their immensity in contrast to the tiny red flowers that dot the landscape. It is a land of harsh, rugged, savage beauty. The fog rolls in and we depart. Back on the ship, the rest of the day is spent cruising in rain and fog, the ice eventually disappearing into open sea. Visibility is limited, no more than about a quarter-mile. This is truly what can be the most monotonous part of a sea voyage.

Glacier on Rudolf Island.

And then, sometime around 11 p.m., we stop. I wander out from my cabin to see if anything is going on, and behold the magnificent sight of Koon Island, looming before us in the distance, about a mile south. I go out and take some pictures, and spend some time in the lounge talking to crew members. About 1:30, before going to bed, I go outside for another look. Small icebergs dot the sea, which is calm, almost still. The air is mild and warm enough that a long-sleeve shirt suffices. A thin, wide layer of fog is descending on the island, and sea birds flit by. There is no sun, though it is daylight, of course, and with the exception of some patches of blue on the small icebergs, the entire scene looks as though it has been created in black and white and shades of gray. The absence of color is eerie, as is the silence. The island looks like an alien planet, and in a sense it is, for this is truly another world.

Koon Island, rising like an apparition in the fog.