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…

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…

The wild and icy east coast of Greenland

After our warm-up hike along the hot springs of Iceland, we got into a way too small propeller plane toward the great white spot on the northern hemisphere: Greenland.

Low tide ice in Tiniteqilaaq

Low tide ice in Tiniteqilaaq

For a small three weeks, we immerse ourselves in an adventure in the inhospitable wilderness of East-Greenland, just below the Arctic Circle, where polar bears rule and broadly smiling Inuit chase you out of the village with nothing more than courage and a firm charged gun.

Schweizerland, as seen from Ningerti, at the head of Sermilik Fjord

Together with our long time friends, Dries and Ellen, we leave for a self-organized expedition trek along pristine fjords, filled with giant icebergs, over rugged passes and across empty tundra valleys of the far north. A few weeks into the wilderness, away from any form of human civilization can not go on without a firm preparation, even though every day is as unpredictable as the night. You guessed it right: we would encounter no human trace for the coming weeks.

Unnamed Pass in the Tasilap Kua Valley

Unnamed Pass in the Tasilap Kua Valley

 

The global warming is affecting the Inuit big time. Not only do the glaciers of the Greenlandic ice sheet melt at a hurling speed, also the annually increasing melting pack ice of the Arctic, drifing away southwards, brings in more polar bears into the region. Where the region, during summer, used to be”polar bear free”, the last 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 many stories of polar bear incidents in recent weeks.

Ice berg dotted Sermilik Fjord

Ice berg dotted Sermilik Fjord

 

The hunter who sales us into a remote fjord, “obliged” us to take his gun on our trek. But we have never ever used a gun before? “No problem, it is very easy, you aim in the direction of the bear and just shoot at chest or head,” he laughs .

Want some mister? Polar Bear Safety Precautions

Want some mister? Polar Bear Safety Precautions

 

We already have been in quite a few adventures so far, but what we experience in Greenland, surpasses all our dreams we ever had on this destination. Neck muscle defying granite walls cleave out of of the fjords and valley bottems as knives into the air, perpetual pink sunsets, huge glaciers that filled the fjords with icebergs the size of the football stadiums. And we have not talked about our new hobby: wading glacial rivers…

Arctic Sunset, Sermilik Fjord

Arctic Sunset, Sermilik Fjord

We could fill books with our experiences, but above all let us show you a selection of jaw-dropping pictures, which caused a huge infection on our eyes last summer or go through the selection on our travelblog

Click here for our Greenland SPOT Page