Greenland – a look back

Summertime. Everybody’s out and we’re back from 13 months -euhm- wanderings! It’s the time of the year you’re overwhelmed with fantastic and truly inspiring trip reports. So when I opened my mailbox this morning, I was stunned by the video of Willem’s wild trip in Southern Greenland. In a snapshot I was reliving our trip to the wild and remote East coast of Greenland in 2011. Already looking forward to his trip report, I dug into my own collection of images of that trip and decided to share my report I wrote for the ever fantastic Sidetracked. Sad we didn’t have our packraft yet back then.

Flight aproach toward Kulusuk. Ice-strewn coast of East-Greenland.

Flight aproach toward Kulusuk. Ice-strewn coast of East-Greenland.

Kulusuk awakes on a cloudy July morning after a storm has blown all the coastal ice into the bay. It takes us 2 hours to cut the speedboat free out of the port.

Kulusuk awakes on a cloudy July morning after a storm has blown all the coastal ice into the bay. It takes us 2 hours to cut the speedboat free out of the port.

“Do not worry, it is very easy. You aim in direction of polar bear and just shoot in head or chest, and bear will go away or be dead”, laughs the Inuit hunter, while pushing a gun into our hands. He just dropped us at the head of the remote Tasiilaq Fjord. “See you in three weeks,” we cry, but the engine of his boat drowns the farewell. We’re 160 nautical miles from the nearest form of civilization.

Aproaching our drop-off at the head of Tasilap Kua fjord. East-Greenland.

Aproaching our drop-off at the head of Tasilap Kua fjord. East-Greenland.

The euphoria is great: pep talk and victory songs are chased by the wind into the fjord. The 4 of us are about to embark on a self-supporting wilderness cross-country thru-hike along the wild east coast of Greenland. The fjord transends into the huge glacial Tasilap Kua valley, which will lead us north in 3 days to the outer reaches of the iceberg-filled Sermilik fjord. The fjord is the last liquid boundary with the massive Greenland ice sheet, and marks the Arctic Circle. From the Sermilik Fjord we will hike southbound over 14 days back to where a warm shower awaits… hopefully.

The deserted U-shaped Tasilap Kua valley. Clouds hide all the tumbling glaciers feeding the milky river.

The deserted U-shaped Tasilap Kua valley. Clouds hide all the tumbling glaciers feeding the milky river.

Global warming is massively affecting the Inuit. Not only do the glaciers of the Greenlandic ice sheet melt at a hurlting speed, the annually increasing melting pack ice of the Arctic drifts southwards, bringing more polar bears into the region. Where these corners, during summer, used to be ”polar bear free”, in the last few years more and more polar bears are spotted in full summer along the fjords and around the Inuit villages. In Kulusuk, the village where we start our trek, we hear stories of polar bear incidents with expedition groups in recent weeks.

Crossing another glacial outlet. Tasilap Kua. East-Greenland.

Crossing another glacial outlet. Tasilap Kua. East-Greenland.

After 3 days in the clouds, it finally clears. Our target at the end of the Tasilap Kua apears. The mighty Sermilik fjord, marking the arctic circle.

After 3 days in the clouds, it finally clears. Our target at the end of the Tasilap Kua apears. The mighty Sermilik fjord, marking the arctic circle.

Sermilik fjord! East-Greenland.

Sermilik fjord! East-Greenland.

Our Inuit hunter gets us to haul a 4kg old Russian riffle. Luckily we can split it into 3 parts. There’s going to be straw drawing for the lucky rifle-free backpacker. Polar bears are easily sighted in this timberfree arctic tundra so we can give it a wide bend if necessary. No need for the rifle there. The danger lurks in at night. Mr. Fluffy could walk in camp and surprise us by night. A loaded gun lying next to you is your only chance of survival, according to Mr. Inuit.

Setting up camp after a tyring day to reach the head of Sermilik fjord. East-Greenland.

Setting up camp after a tyring day to reach the head of Sermilik fjord. East-Greenland.

Nighty night.

Nighty night.

Goooood moooooorning Greenland!

Goooood moooooorning Greenland!

Lightweight backpacking requires much preperation to keep the load as light as possible. Weeks of considering on necessary gear. Food rations are split into neat, small airless bags. During a logisitcs preparation meeting a couple of weeks before leaving, we we’re in heavy discussion on the the usefulness of a rifle in wild bear country. Hey, we have no experience in shooting or whatsoever. A gun would probably kill us earlier then a 1500 lbs bear would die from one of our bullets. I can see it happen. My wife going for a nightly pee, while me fighting through a polar bear encounter dream. Midnight. A sudden noise. Gun. Panic. Not paying attention that I am the only one left under the tarp. Bear. Load. Bang…

Another sunny day along Sermilik...

Another sunny day along Sermilik…

We arrive at the head of Tasilap Kua. Low clouds. A light drizzle. A small breeze. A wide open valley. A big grey river. Big azure blue glaciers touch the valley floor. They puke out flows of almost-freezing water. Did you bring neoprene socks for the wades? We have 7 days of food to reach the foodcache at the head of the Qinqertivaq Fjord. Feasible if the weather cooperates.

Tired from the view? Well...

Tired from the view? Well…

A couple of hours upstream our fear of meeting a polar bear is completely forgotten. We have millions of new friends. Crittering, zooming friends that must never have seen a human before. They attack. They sting. They suck our precious blood, leaving us with a burden skin. Headnets. Quick. An extra layer. Scratching our arms and neck. The mosquitos are ravenous. It must be their first blood for the summer. Arctic bugs. Huge mosquitos. No chance of spreading diseases here. Luckily.

It never gets dark in the arctic summer. A pink glow scatters the horizon all night long...

It never gets dark in the arctic summer. A pink glow scatters the horizon all night long…

It’s incredible how quickly we merge with our Arctic environment. Gone are all everyday worries, our rhythm is only determined by the essence: walking, eating, drinking, set up camp, sleep and, oh yes, glacial river wading.

Dusk in an icy fjord. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

Dusk in an icy fjord. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

Will you take that route? I think it’s better, easier walking over here. Look at the map, this will lead you onto the glaciar. Common, this is ridiculous, how can you make that up from such a large scale map. I walk over here. I go over there. We’ll see who’s right. Yeah, we’ll see about that, … Wiseacre.

Low tide. Let's walk along the coast of Sermilik.

Low tide. Let’s walk along the coast of Sermilik.

We laugh a lot. We howl simple songs and classic hits with new interpreted lyrics, about glaciers, mountains, ice, mosquitos, guns, alcohol and accumulated odors. A high pressure sets in, dissolving the ever low clouds. We reach a pass and look back, our first contact with the arctic sun. Hairs arising. Is that the valley we went through? Heavy clouds had lingered for days, obscuring any view of the glacier-laden peaks. The physical challenge offers spiritual liberation. Is this heaven? Is this religion? It’s passion, I tell you. Passion for the unexpected. A new emotion. Into the wild.

Climb up some slabs to bypass a rock band on the coast. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

Climb up some slabs to bypass a rock band on the coast. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

We look over the pass. Ice chunks in the distance. One final push for reaching Ningerti, the upper reaches of the monstrous Sermilik fjord. The sun sets, but doesn’t want to. This is the Arctic. It never gets dark in summer. Your body wants to go on forever, but somehow you feel it’s time to rest. It get’s colder. Good night. Zip. The warm goose down doesn’t dissappoint.

Tidal wave from ice berg collapse. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

Tidal wave from ice berg collapse. Sermilik. East-Greenland.

A heavenly beautiful sunday afternoon with the arctic sun high above. There are less mosquitos – probably because they don’t like the ice in the fjord. A seal pops up. He likes the ice – a tiny animal, free in this immense fjord, filled with ice bergs and ice sheets the size of Camp Nou. It’s low tide so we walk on the beach as if in a fairytale. We zigzag through house-high icebergs. Sun rays. Azure blue drops on the rocks. We stand and breathe, sunken in our thoughts. What thoughts? I have no thoughts. We smile. We stop. Jaws dropped. How can this be so beautiful?

Glacial milk depth testing...

Glacial milk depth testing…

How are the beaches in the Arctic? Rocky? Yep. Sandy? Yep. Don’t ever talk to me about about sandy again. We had enough of that. I hate quicksand!

Afternoon outing for picking up our foodcache.

Afternoon outing for picking up our foodcache.

The ice is silent. No wind and clear blue skies overhead. We climb higher, to bypass a rock band. Silence? A huge roar. What’s that? Look at Camp Nou! It’s breaking away! Backpacks go off. We run forward. Astoneshed must be the adjective for this. I have never used the F-word more in a 5 minute frame then on that Sunday afternoon in East-Greenland*. The rupture was one thing, but the overturn was massive. A 5m high tidal wave rammed into the coast that we were walking along half and hour previously. A gun would not have helped here. Our hearts were pounding, and it didn’t stop for over an hour. It took hours for the 10km wide fjord to calm down and forget about the Sunday afternoon ice horror.

Should I talk about the vast beauty of the landscape? I can’t. It’s indescribable. We must go back. At least to somewhere into the wide open. Where only the silence roars.

Our video is living its own life now on YouTube.

Another milky crossing.

Another milky crossing.

I'm sick of glacial river crossings!

I’m sick of glacial river crossings!

Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes? Then listen to the Wild — it’s calling you.  - The Call of the Wild by Robert W. Service

Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o’er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes? Then listen to the Wild — it’s calling you.
– The Call of the Wild by Robert W. Service

Tiniteqilaaq. The only settlement we pass by in 3 weeks. Inuit live here year in and out. Summer the sun doesn't set. In winter auroras dance the sky.

Tiniteqilaaq. The only settlement we pass by in 3 weeks. Inuit live here year in and out. Summer the sun doesn’t set. In winter auroras dance the sky.

Glad to have you back. Tasiilaq. East-Greenland.

Glad to have you back. Tasiilaq. East-Greenland.

Well... to finish, we have another crossing.

Well… to finish, we have another crossing.

Time to cross them Atlantic again...

Time to cross them Atlantic again…

Packrafthike Gap Year – Part 1/The Subarctic

[Update Tuesdag 11 July 2012 – MAJOR UPDATE on the first Sarek part, where we choose to cut through in western direction in direction of the Norwegian coast, right through Padjalenta National Park, packrafting the anciant glacial lakes of Virihaure, Vastenhaure, Sallahaure. 2 more days added on Lofoten. 2weeks till kick-off. First we’ll have a 10-day family retreat on Tenerife (Canary Islands). Download the full google earth map below]

Seamsealing the MLD eVent rain mitts, a monastic work.

Seamsealing the MLD eVent rain mitts, a monastic work.

We would like to present Part 1 of the Gap Year. A 1102 km packrafthike in Norhern Sweden and Norway. All above the Arctic Circle, wider known as Lapland or Sápmi . 745km hiking. 357km packrafting. 55 days. Kick-off 25th July. Finale 17th September.

The first part includes passing through known and less known areas like Tromsdalen, the Lyngen Alps, Kitdalen, Breiddalen, packrafting Kummaeno, Taavaeno and Lainio in remote Northern Sweden, smashed in between Finland and Norway. A second part will bring us to the famous Kebnekaisefjällen in the Swedish fjells along the Kungsleden, packrafting south, passing a first time through Sarek, westwards through Padjalenta. There we will ferry towards Versteralen and Lofoten. Those islands sparked us with so much eager last year, that we had to come back for some packraft-floating in between the needle-like granite peaks emerging from the sea. We will ferry back towards mainland, from where we will traverse the Svartissen and Salfjellet National Parks in coastal Norway. We will cross back to Sweden in eastwards direction towards wildlife-cladden Taradalen, from where the ruska (autumn) coulours will daze us. From here we will enter a second time into Sarek with an intention on packrafting Rapadalen.

We expect subarctic, summer-autumn climate conditions : ****-loads of misty rain, snow, cold, low clouds on the windswept tundra, arctic mountains and a mosquito-laden taiga. Hopefully some sun too. Would be nice. Thank you.

Please click here for a google earth download file from the 55-day plan. We embed the map in google maps below, but google maps crops everything in 3 different pages, so you don’t have the full picture here.

We would appreciate it a lot, if people known to and from the area, and especially on packrafting some of the rivers, fjords or seas, if they could give us some feedback through the comments. Maybe we overexagerate on some (packrafting) parts of the plan. Or maybe we should reconsider alternatives, on which we did not set our eyes on. A gear list will appear here soon too.

Packrafthike Planning Lapland 2012

Packrafthike Planning Lapland 2012

50 Days Food Rations Preperation

50 Days Food Rations Preperation

We known the area only from winter trips. We were on the Lofoten last year. Loads of pics will follow. We hope.

Utakleiv Beach - Lofoten Islands (from our april 2011 visit)

Utakleiv Beach – Lofoten Islands (from our april 2011 visit)

Reine, probably the world's most photoscenic village. Southern Lofoten Islands (from our april 2011 visit)

Reine, probably the world’s most photoscenic village. Southern Lofoten Islands (from our april 2011 visit)

Snow Flapping through Sarek

Springtime. Daylight starts to win over dark. Trees turn into green. The morning air is filled with aromas. People get out, smile and look happy. Jogging and cycling seem like a plague again. It’s the time of the year that the house get scattered with winter outdoor gear, tiny plastic food ratio bags and folded open maps from remote wilderness areas far north. The food drying machine is running overtime, filling the house with strange odors.

We pack up and fill the Pulka with down jackets and sleeping bags, a 4-season tent, merino wool socks and heaps of enthusiasm. The carry-on luggage is exploding. We need some kind of plan to bypass the strict lady at the check-in counters. Luckikly i have big teeth and lips which can stretch from ear-to-ear.

Sorting out gear at the STF-"Butik" in Ritsem after 24-hour travel from Belgium. Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Sweden

Sorting out gear at the STF-"Butik" in Ritsem after 24-hour travel from Belgium. Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Sweden

A 2-hour flight, a 45-min time gap for the Stockholm-white-gas-quest, 17 hours of railroading and 4 hours of bus-speeding over glassy roads trough never-ending boreal forests. Suddenly the majestic, white mountains fill the bus window again. Every time again, it shivers down our spine. Adventure is approaching.

The ice stalactites are dripping in the sun at the small shop in Ritsem. A Saami comes by and wishes us good luck. “It has been very nasty the last couple of weeks. It’s the first day in weeks since I saw this kind of blue”.

Crossing Akkajaure with Áhkká mountain massif behind. Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Sweden

Crossing Akkajaure with Áhkká mountain massif behind. Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Sweden

We buckle the rods around our waist and shoulders and leave for a 2-week traverse into Laponia. We cross the solid frozen Akkajaure while the sun sets ahead. We meet Markus Heim, who flatly proclaims his 86th days on skis. The grin on his face, the length and colour of his beard blabs out an epic adventure. His girl is awaiting him at the other side of the lake. I urge him to stop spending his time on me. His compass designates north, ours south-east.

Entering the Sarek under the watchful eye of Niják (1922m)

Entering the Sarek under the watchful eye of Niják (1922m)

We cross into Sarek National Park. There are no traces from previous passer-bies. It’s so virgin here. We continue in base layer. A small breeze reminds us that it’s still -8°C and not summer. I always forget how fast my fingers congeal with such blows from nowhere. Mr. Bolt can learn something from the speed I reach for the primaloft-layer. Perfect conditions. Me like.

Leaving the warm nest in the tent for snapping 2AM norhtern lights pics in a breezy -25°C, is something on which some people would point with their finger to the sides of their head. But man, I am willing to make some shaking sacrifices for this spectacle.

Northern lights over the Ruohtesvagge-valley.

Northern lights above Skarja. Sarek NP

Deep cut valleys make it childishly easy for navigation. Leaves us loads of time to swallow the landscape. Ouch. Topsy-turvy. This can satisfy my hunger. Some of them rock faces are way too steep from this side. Snow is playing with gravity-rules there (if Newton would have known!). The Ruohtesvagge-valley does not fail to dissapoint. Even in bad weather this must be beautiful.

The lack of shelter combined with the shifting weather and rough terrain require hikers to have considerable experience to safely explore the area. Very few bridges are available inside the park and crossing streams (jokk in Sami) and rivers (ätno in Sami) can be very dangerous for the ill equipped or inexperienced. – writes Wikipedia. Luckikly everything is silently frozen white. Makes its easy to float by on snow flappers.

Ähpár massif and Skarki-massif scatter the horizon

Ähpár massif and Skarki-massif scatter the horizon

Skarja could count as a wilderness intersection. Here we meet the first human being in days. Otto, a pleasant Swedish fellow, is here to ski down the forementioned gravity-defying faces. He is a nice companion while gazing in the sun. We agree on “Awesome” as the appropiate term for this heavenly place on earth. While the temperature drops below what we could measure, stories from our adventures in the Karakorum mountains in Pakistan, nourish Otto’s dreams on this far-away-destination of which Sarek reminds us.

Sarektjahkka-massif, the highest (2089m) summits of Sarek NP

Sarektjahkka-massif, the highest (2089m) summits of Sarek NP

We tried to capture our small adventure in Sarek in the following shortfilm:

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Bloody Mary, a new lightweight girlfriend for the coming exciting year

Bloody Mary, a new lightweight girlfriend for the coming exciting year

We have underestimated the night temps in this clear weather. Our fresh from the shelf 3-season Bloody Mary promises us that she will be a trustfull girlfriend, willing to go over her boundaries if necessary, altough we have to beef her up with a downjacket in this temperatures. It has been an nice acquaintance Mary. You deserve your own blogpost. That’s right!

Following Rahpajahka along Laddebakte (1537m)

Following Rahpajahka along Laddebakte (1537m)

The second morning at Skarja we wake up with noizes from outside. It’s like somebody is talking. When cleaning out the morning ear-and eyewax, it becomes clear that Mr. High Pressure had changed chairs with Mr. Cold Front. Snow is drifting trough the valley from all sides. It’s like all dust has to be collected at this intersection. We break up camp and leave in the white-out. Destination Rovdjurstorget, the place where Rapadalen is born. This place is more popular called Predator Square. I wonder why? It’s so Bambi quiet in here.

ET's life would have been lot more easier with this SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger

ET's life would have been lot more easier with this SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger

When we taught Sarek had offered us all we had came for, we needed to traverse one more valley. A new high pressure sets in. Why did nobody warned us on Rapadalen? That’s not a valley. That’s extravaganza. How can we absorb all this? Pfffff. In a couple of months we’ll come back here. A packraft will be necessary,….

Ok, I can’t continue describing all this… so let’s end with some more stills.

Now I hear you talking.

Oooo, before I forget, this was the last time we came in snow shoes. We have enough of the eyebrow frowning born-with-skis-on-their-feet-Scandinavians. Yeah yeah, we’ll join your club of slats-addicts.

Speak soon. Peace out!

Rapadalen. Nature extravaganza.

Rapadalen. Nature extravaganza.

Skierfe, Nammasj and Tjahkelij proudly guard the eastern entrance of Sarek

Skierfe, Nammasj and Tjahkelij proudly guard the eastern entrance of Sarek

SKierfe (1179m), a sheer 700m cliff... pride guard of Sarek

SKierfe (1179m), a sheer 700m cliff... pride guard of Sarek

Skierfe and Nammasj, guarders of Rapadalen

Skierfe and Nammasj, guarders of Rapadalen

Two dreamers at 67°N

Two dreamers at 67°N

Destination Kvikkjokk... lonely on the Kungsleden.

Destination Kvikkjokk... lonely on the Kungsleden.

Northern lights... need to say more?

Northern lights... need to say more?

Please visit my online album from this trip…

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Sidetracked – Wilderness Backpacking in East-Greenland

I was very honoured when John Summerton from the mesmerizing e-journal Sidetracked asked me to write up an article on our East-Greenland Wilderness Backpacking trip from last summer (2011). He asked me to capture the emotion and experience of our adventure… and to inspire others to also live their dream .

Please have a read and don’t forget to read the other, truly inspiring contributions. In the meanwhile I’ll be working on a trip report from the winter traverse of Sarek NP, which we did during the first 2 weeks of April.

Sidetracked-edition05

Wildernes backpacking in East-Greenland

Greenland – Iceberg Collapse (video)

Last summer, on our wilderness trek along the remote, unspoilt fjords on the east-coast of Greenland we enjoyed never ending silence, sporadicly interupted by a small iceberg breaking in peaces from the summer melt.

When walking along the Sermilik fjord we were suddenly astonished by the spectacle of a footballfield-sized iceberg which collapsed out of the blue. The rupture was one thing, but the overturn was massive. This provoked a tsunami tidal wave of 5m high which rammed into the coast where we would normally walk. Luckily at that time we were ascending a rocky slope to avoid a rock band along the coast and we were at some 50m above sea level…

The iceberg was somewhere between 3 and 5 km away from us in the 10km wide fjord. The iceberg jutted out some 100m out of the water, so you can imagine how much ice was under the water (keeping in mind the part under the water surface)

Pardon me my language in the video…