Saturday, September 23, 2017


Earlier this month I flew from Anchorage to Keflavik, Iceland and then on to Nuuk, Greenland.

I'd never been to either country but always wanted to go, of course. Many of you readers have likely been to both on much longer, gnarlier, or more in-depth or important trips, so please be patient with my rather shallow visits to each.

Greenland has always been too far for me, dollar-wise, and Iceland never seemed wild enough to warrant recreational/travel trips. But for like $800 I could get to Iceland and back from ANC. Greenland cost a bit more, maybe another $1000 from Keflavik.

I went there for the 7th annual Polar and Arctic Microbe Conference. There were about 50 people at the conference and from all over the world. Many Euros and UK-folk, a few Americans, even some Asians and a colorful character named Craig from New Zealand.

Ganey was presenting his recently completed masters thesis. We re-worked it and wrote a new paper we had published this week on line. It got some press that I keep telling Ganey about. He says maybe I should just get a Twitter account.

Maybe I should, but probably I won't, but I have been  psyched to have the recognition for our work.

Why? Well, first Ganey did a great job hiking up and down to the Harding Icefield and skiing in with APU ski-team members like every couple weeks a few summers back to manipulate snow algae and measure melt. He solved all kinds of problems and collected all kinds of data and used R and GIS and GPS and spectrometers and microscopes and satellite data to produce a super-neat, comprehensive project.

And second, the idea is about how red-snow algae melt snow and I have had the idea for many years, and always got pushback-smirks from earth scientists about the idea--which is common worldwide I learned at the conference from other biologists with the same idea.

So getting it published in Nature Geoscience gives the idea some credibility and maybe gives me some future traction in getting funding to continue doing glacier ecology with APU students, something I have been doing for about fifteen years now, including ice-worms and bacteria as well as red-snow algae.

So this Greenland conference was good excuse to go to Greenland and I brought my packraft, too, of course. Tom Diegle says I should write a book with the title "My Carry-on is a Packraft."

I overnighted in Iceland and rented a car for two days and drove around to see the Geyser Basin and the nearest super cool gigantic waterfall.

It felt like Europe--both the birds and the plants are European, even though Greenland is closer than Europe--plopped down on a big ole' Aleutian Island or like a Scandanavian version of New Zealand set in the North Atlantic instead of South Pacific. There were neat looking sheep and little horses and cows and the animals always hunkered together like they must in mid winter, staying warm, surviving gales.

At first I wasn't too thrilled about the place, but taking the car back to the airport I drove along the south coast and thought, "wow, what a cool place."

I want to go back with Peggy and hike tundra and float glacier rivers without bears, especially after about messing my pants in June when a burly grizz charged within thirty feet of me before turning when I threw a boulder at it to stop it.

The people in Iceland spoke English and had real Alaskan-like independence. There are more people in Anchorage than the whole country, but it was WAAYYY to expensive for me. I bought food to take to Greenland, thinking Greenland would be like the bush and Iceland like Anchorage, but no. I think food prices were actuall cheaper in Greenland's Nuuk.

The flight to Nuuk was three hours long in a little two engine Dash-8. I wanted at least four engines, since we were crossing hours of ocean and ice.

I'd intended to go farther north from Nuuk to do a little trip by Kangersuluuaq from the Greenland Ice Sheet to the ocean, but found out it'd cost me $1,000 more! So I balked.

Besides Nuuk and it surroundings were simply amazing.

Nuuk is the biggest city in Greenland. It has like half (so about 17,000 people) of countries 35,000 people. It sits on a wee craggy peninsula at the tip of a 100-mile peninsula in a deep complex of fiords on the west coast of Greenland.

It's about the same latitude as Fairbanks and Nome. It feels like Nome climate with Arrigetch Peaks on growth hormones set in Glacier Bay, if you'll indulge me in some mixed geographic Alaskana metaphors.

You can walk from one end of the road system to the other in like an hour. It has a wonderful sheltered port that's the central hub for shipping and ferries that go up and down the southern half of Greenland's west coast, from Disko Bay south really.

I only visited Nuuk and loved it's colorful houses and even the big appartment buildings. Lonely Planet online pans the place, but I was utterly fascinated. Utterly!

Most of the people I saw as I walked the streets in, by turns, windy drizzle or crisp blue sunshine, were Greenlandic People. They don't call themselves Inuit or Innupiaq. They said they were Greenlandic People and even the high school kids I met spoke Greenlandic, Danish, and English. They were beautiful people and I loved the feel of northern Alaska in a European urban-like environment. Easily the neatest place I went in the last 18 months of my extended sabbatical.

Ganey and I ate at a Thai restaurant where you could have whale sushi made from narwhal. I bougth musk-ox sausage I took on my "Kanger-roo Tour".

No, that's no typo (I know how to spell kangaroo -- the coolest animal I saw this sabbatical -- maybe the second after the Peruvian jaguar on the banks of Madre de Dios River -- was a tree kangaroo sliding down a tree-fern bole like a fireman on alarm at the station).

"Kanger" is Greenlandic for fjord and paddling a packraft with the winds and tides then hiking over the intervening passes between fjords in Greenland--fjord hopping--is a kanger-roo tour.

There are two hut to hut peninsula walks that I know of. One on Nuuk's peninsula from Nuuk to Kapisillit and the other between Kangersuluuaq and Sisimiut (which you can get to by ferry from Nuuk). Boats go to Kapisillit on thursday.

I only had 4 days left before the conference after spending 3 writing a paper in a wonderful hostel. I found an outdoor store in Nuuk that sold topo maps at my favorite scale (1:250,000) and fuel although I had an alcohol stove and just bought the Danish/Greenland version of Heet.

I hiked across town, over a mountain, and stayed in a couple huts, even camped out with a white Arctic fox visiting my mid in the full moon night. Paddled up one fiord with a tail wind on an incoming tide and out another with a down-fjord wind on an outgoing tide.

Saw an Ivory gull in the fjord with icebergs and a white gyrfalcon soaring above Nuuk. Watched a peregrine chase a huge white-tailed eagle and followed eiders who dove under the water en mass. The eagle was huge, bigger than bald or golden eagles with deep wings and a short broad tail.

Ravens were everywhere. A group of eight young ones followed me along in my boat. I watched one carrying a sea urchin in its bill, then drop it to break and eat it, solving the mystery of how all the sea urchin shells had got up on the tundra.

Like Iceland, there're no grizzly bears, or bears of any kind deep in the fjords of the south. I think the polar bears are out on the ocean coast, near ice mostly, hunting seals. The reindeer are smaller than our caribou and rarer, small herds, and sparse.

Greenland in September felt a bit emptier than Alaska's arctic with its blueberries, growing on acidic granite derived soil, not as sweet.

But I am saving my money to go back. And I am hoping that Alpacka puts together a pointy-bowed, long and skinny, zipper boat with a whitewater deck -- maybe even call it the "Kanger-roo"?

So I can go back and paddle into the wind and surf like a Greenlandic Person in a skin boat qayak.

Friday, September 15, 2017

InReach Fail?

Many of us carry and use InReach communication devices for safety and texting home or to people with other devices. They're expensive and even more so if they set off a false alarm for SOS.

Read the following and beware!

"Hey friends,

I'm writing to let you know I've had a problem with my Delorme inReach SE that has caused me and my parents a major scare and a large headache and put 8 Russian rescuers in a dangerous helicopter for no reason.  I'm hoping you might be able to help me out by testing the SOS feature on your own inReach SE and/or by passing this message on to others you know who use these devices and seeing what happens.  Here is the story in brief:

Earlier this summer, a friend and I were on an 18-day wilderness expedition in Kamchatka, Russia.  We were carrying an inReach as per our permit with the Russian government to travel independently without a guide.  On day 2, approximately 40 km from the main road where we were dropped off, a helicopter showed up and landed at our location.  After the initial confusion and scare--the second guy out was chambering a round in his rifle, thinking we might have had a bad bear encounter--we figured out that the SOS button on our inReach had been activated, though the lock switch was fully engaged.  In the meantime, my parents, to whom the device was registered, received a call from Delorme that no parent wants to hear--that their son had triggered a rescue.  The dispatcher surmised that this was likely a mistaken SOS signal, and indicated that this was not an isolated incident and that she had seen mistakenly triggered SOS signals in the past.  The Russian rescue team left, and we continued on our journey.  We assumed that a nearly impossible combination of buttons had been pushed on the device to turn it on and activate an SOS from the menu options.  We packed the device in a pot with a cut off bottle sleeve to protect from any accidental button pushes for the rest of the trip (which went smoothly and was delightful).  We were billed 4,400 US dollars for the rescue.

Upon returning to the US, we learned that the problem had not been a series of button pushes to turn the device on and activate the SOS.  Rather, with NORMAL pressure on the SOS button for 5-10 seconds, the SOS would trigger, WITH the lock switch FULLY engaged.  This was repeatable, and would happen every time the SOS was held.  I contacted Garmin/Delorme about this problem and requested reimbursement for the rescue cost, and received this reply:

"Hello NATHAN,

Unfortunately, we cannot offer reimbursement for the false SOS on the device at this time. This is stated within section 10 (Limitation of Liability) of our inReach Terms and Conditions found within the link below. We can certainly work with you in getting you into a new replacement if you choose, however with force and some objects, even when the lock is snapped in, can trigger in SOS. It would be a good idea to put the device separate area to ensure other objects do not bump into the device causing the SOS to be triggered. 

Learning that the "lock" switch was a complete misnomer, I replied that their response was "unacceptable" and that I believed that in addition to Delorme reimbursing me the cost of the helicopter, they needed to alert their current subscribers to this issue and post a warning on their website.  I was bumped to a higher level in the management team who requested I send in the device to "fully review your inReach in-house".  I did so, and in the meantime was able to test another inReach SE.  This device also triggered an SOS while the lock switch was fully engaged.  After several weeks, I finally received this reply to my response:
"Hello Nathan

Thank you for sending in the device and I am sorry you to hear about your experience. 

After careful investigation, both myself and a one of the Garmin hardware engineers who designed the device determined it was not defective. The inReach required significant force to bypass the SOS slide and also the Lock Screen setting was turned on. 

At this point the device appears to be working as designed, so we would not be in a position to provide you with any compensation as a result of this situation. 

Please let me know the IMEI number of the replacement unit we sent you and I will go ahead and transfer the service plan over to the new device. Also let me know of any questions you may have. 


This response is also unacceptable to me for many reasons.  At this point, I believe the inReach SE is posing a risk to wilderness travelers and to rescue service personnel and I am unwilling to drop the issue.  The money is besides the point and I do not think Delorme realizes the level of unnecessary human risk that is inherent in having a "lock" switch that does not function as stated.  I have since asked another friend to test his inReach SE, and he has also found that the SOS triggers easily with the lock switch engaged.  This is 3 for 3, and I'm realizing that this design flaw is in no way unique to my case.
I'm asking that you please test the SOS button on your inReach with the lock switch fully locked.  If you are also able to trigger an SOS, could you please take a video of your doing so and send it my way?  I am going to write to Delorme one last time, hoping they will make the situation right and communicate the need for a case or care in packing the inReach to their customers.  I would like to let them know that I am not alone with this issue.  I have no wish to hire a attorney, but if Delorme does not respond to my final plea, I will do so.
I've included the following attachments: 2 videos of 2 different devices triggering the SOS with lock engaged, a full transcript of my email correspondence with Delorme, a photo of the helicopter rescue, a translation of the memo from Russia's national rescue service requesting we pay for the helicopter time, and finally, the inReach Terms and Conditions PDF, which includes section 10 (Limitation of Liability).
Thank you for your help and for passing this message on.  I will update you on any new developments.
Nathan Shoutis"
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