Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sea Kayaking in East Greenland

The planning for this trip started almost a year ago. Several of us got together with a Canadian wilderness tour operator and planned a trip with the idea of exploring the Ammassalik area of East Greenland.

Peter and I met with Dave who runs an outdoor centre in north Wales and drove (dodging the floods) to Heathrow Airport. There we met with Mike, Lynette,Claire and Gideon. Our flight left north from Heathrow to Iceland at dusk and as the evening wore on the skies got brighter as we approached the Arctic north.

We spent the following day wandering round Reykjavik exploring the towns many delights. The next morning Pat, our guide met us at the guest house 101 where we were staying but as we boarded the flight to Kulusuk in Greenland he told us that he had to attend to a serious problem at home and would have to leave us with a replacement guide.

The approach to Kulusuk gives stunning views of mountains, glaciers and sea littered with pack ice and icebergs.

As we walked the 3km from the airport into Kulusuk we began to realize how poverty stricken these places are, despite subsidies from the Danish state. There is no running water or proper drainage system. Old beds, broken machinery and rotting seal blubber are all to be found littering the streets and sea shore.

It was as we made further preparation that Pat dropped a real bombshell. There would be no replacement guide for us. If we were to continue this trip, it would have to be on our own. Having come all this way it seemed impossible to turn back at this stage. Pat furnished us with a shotgun with ammunition and some other bear deterrents. All of this was highly unnerving. I found that sleep was hard to come by with one eye open for Polar Bears. Arctic foxes were a bit of a nuisance. They would steal any food not stored away inside hatches and also liked to chew almost anything made of rubber.

During the next few days we enjoyed fine weather and made good progress amongst fjords lined with pinnacles and peaks over 1000 metres high. The dramatic glaciers between the peaks are clearly in retreat.

On day 5 we arrived at the settlement of Tinetiqilaq with views of the Greenland ice cap the fjord here is fed by 3 huge glaciers and the sea is littered with impressive ice, huge structures, and all of them mobile.

We found a beautiful ice laden bay in which to camp for a couple of days. with splendid views across the cluttered waters to the ice cap in the distance. The nights were never quiet because the sound of icebergs cracking is like thunder, a kind of constant grumbling.

The following four days were dogged by unsettled weather. We pressed on through to another system of fjords. Although it rained at times there were never any strong winds and the rain was never all that heavy. Temperature inversions created layered cloud and mist structures - quite atmospheric.

Weather improved as we drew closer towards our return to the Kulusuk area and it was good to dry out some damp kit beside a driftwood fire. The next day we took a route which was exposed to the open sea. Real Atlantic swell and choppy clapotis gave us some interesting conditions, possibly more than our hired boats were intended for.

In the last couple of days we explored a glacier that meets the sea with huge ice cliffs before returning to Kulusuk to dry out our kit and enjoy the warmth and comfort of the Hotel Kulusuk.

Most of the photos I took are on 35mm slide film. There are more of my digital photos here.