Thursday, August 29, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 7

During the last couple of days we had thoughts about exploring the northern settlement of Kummiuut or even the calving Apusiaiik glacier. However, from our vantage point on Angmassalik all we could see was densely packed sea ice. Even if we could get to one of these locations, it would be uncertain if we could get back in time for our flights home.

We eventually decided to paddle past Tasiilaq into a remote part of Kong Oscar Havn to set up camp for the last couple of days. This allowed different members of the group some time to relax and spend some time exploring some hiking trails.

One of the trails is called 'Sermilikvejen' and leads west and across Angmagssalik island to a research station that overlooks Sermilik Fjord where we had been the week before.

This was an eventful walk full of challenges that are typical of trekking in the mountains. Not only was the first river crossing deep in places, but the river bed was slippery and the water painfully cold.

We crossed several other streams and torrents flowing from ice-fields and glaciers on the higher parts of the island.

The drier meadows in between the rivers and lakes were littered with colonies of Niviarsiaq, which is the national flower of Greenland.

Other areas with wetter, richer soils have cotton grass and mosses growing. We could never stop for very long in these areas because after only a minute or two we would be discovered by the local and very hungry mosquito population.

At the highest part of the trail we found steep snowy slopes and semi-frozen lakes. The consequences of slipping here would be to fall through the ice and into deep water beneath.

Eventually we got the view of Sermilik Fjord that we had come for. Following a brief stop for a snack, we headed back for our camp.

On the final day of our trip we paddled into Tasiilaq for one final evening enjoying pizzas and a few drinks in the only bar in east Greenland.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Julie, Gordon, Bill, Royanne, Les, and Gwyn for their company on the trip. Thanks are especially due to Martin Rickard of Sea Kayak Adventures who organised this amazing expedition. I would also like to acknowledge the support that I got from Ortleib dry bags, P&H Custom Sea Kayaks, Mitchell Blades kayak paddles, Peak UK clothing and equipment, F-Stop Gear camera bags and Clif Bar.

We spent one final day in Reykjavik exploring the city's many cultural attractions, relaxing in the naturally heated swimming pool and visiting an 'English' bar to remind ourselves of the culture that we would be returning home to.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 6

Entering Angmagssalik Fjord, we began to close the loop. The next couple of days had a bit of sad feeling as we were in the home strait. However, there was still plenty to keep our minds focused.

We had entered icy waters again and we effortlessly slipped into our now well-rehearsed close paddling formation. The ice was so dense in places that it made progress difficult. We could see where we wanted to go above and beyond the cluttered jumble of bergs. Between us and each successive headland would be a complex maze of ice moving slowly with the tide.

We visited the abandoned island settlement of Qernertivertivit. This place is used in the winter time as a dog-sled base. During the summer,  a couple of the better kept houses are used for holiday accommodation.

Our final camp before returning to Kong Oscar Havn was on a spectacular headland with some historic ruins.

The still evening air meant that we could frequently hear whales breathing but the densely packed ice meant that we rarely saw them. The presence of the ice meant that we returned to a rotating 'bear watch' system.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 5

After visiting Tiniteqilaaq we at last found ice-free waters. We rounded the most northerly point of Angmagssalik Island and began to paddle through a passage called Ikasagtivaq.

It is about 20 miles long, 2 miles wide, and bound on each side by jagged mountains that tower 1,000 metres over the water. Ikasagtivaq is relatively straight so the view does not change all that quickly giving this particular leg of the journey a monotonous feel.

If I ever felt like I was getting bored, I would remind myself of how spectacular this huge scenery really is and of the fact that I was living in its picture.

We stopped for lunch at a place where a stream meets a rocky foreshore. The falling tide revealed some beds of substantial mussels. I put away my rye bread, tube cheese and cup-a-soup and grabbed a few handfuls and dropped them into some boiling water. This was the most delicious lunch break ever!

Upon reaching the eastern end of Ikasagtivaq we found more ice had drifted in from Angmagssalik Fjord. Possibilities for camping along the main channel were non-existent so we explored a small inlet called Sarpaq. As we entered, it became obvious that this place was far bigger than the map had depicted. It was a small sheltered inland sea. The gently shelving shores and grassy ledges made it perfect fro camping.

That evening we had a shooting contest. We lined up some (empty) beer cans on some nearby rocks. The idea was simple. We each had three rounds. The one with the lowest score would buy the first round of drinks when we got back to Tasiilaq. I was the only one with no hits out of three. That night, I thought anxiously about my credit card bill...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 4

After exploring Ikateq, we climbed the hill that overlooks the village. From there we got a better view of the ice that littered Sermilik Fjord. It was obvious that we would be able to paddle north without too much difficulty but looking to the west, the other side of the fjord was a different matter.

Cathedral sized blocks of ice obscured our view of the other shore which was over 6 miles away. We headed north towards a place where the fjord is narrower to find a higher vantage point so that we could get a better view.

It took 2 days to reach a place called Pupik where Sermilik Fjord is narrowest. We camped in a nearby bay, and looked endlessly across the ice laden waters. We could now see clearly into Johan Petersen Fjord, which was completely blocked.

We were disappointed to abandon our plans to reach the Greenland ice cap but we made a new plan to circumnavigate Angmagssalik Island as a consolation. This would mean paddling further north to reach the settlement of Tiniteqilaq.

The next day we found a wall of icebergs blocking our way. Martin and Les paddled ahead to see if they could find safe route. The rest of us waited beside a small island. I climbed to the top for a better view. When Martin and Les returned we came to the same conclusion. There was no way through so after only 2 hours paddling we returned to where we had camped the previous night. We spent the rest of the day walking the hills and ridges behind our camp.

The following day we tried again just after high water when the gaps in the ice are a little bigger. After following a couple of dead leads and having had some anxious moments amongst towering icebergs we found clearer waters which eventually led to Tiniteqilaq.

Following the days excitement, we bought beer in the village shop and the set about finding somewhere scenic to camp for the night. Sleep came easily that night soon after the moon rose above 1000 metre peaks that we would be passing the next day.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 3

We left the valley that time forgot and launched once again into thick patches of ice floating on a gentle swell. The route finding was challenging as we made our way towards the entrance to Sermilik Fjord. This fjord has a reputation for ice due to the 3 glaciers that calve into it. However, we found stretches of open water and soon arrived at the abandoned village of Ikateq.

We stopped for an early lunch and to explore to old buildings that had supported a small community until the late 1990s.

The church is in marvellous condition. It would seem that someone has been looking after quite well. The altar and pews are clean and the organ looks as if it were used just yesterday.

The school room is next door and is a little more chaotic. It seems as things got a little too exciting when the last class was dismissed.

It is interesting to see books on familiar subjects. Geography, wildlife, religion. Yet it felt quite eerie to be in a classroom that time has not touched since children were last learning their times tables here.

There were VHS video tapes, teachers curricular notes still in the posting envelope and even this desktop pencil sharpener.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 2

Once we had gone through the ritual of packing our kayaks, whilst feeding the local mosquito population, we managed to escape the insects and paddle out among the ice floes. A chilly breeze greeted us at the entrance of Kong Oscar Havn as we ventured out along the committing south coast of Angmagssalik Island.

A group of French kayakers were paddling in the opposite direction. They were just finishing their trip. They had seen two Polar bears in the last few days. The most recent sighting had been that day and the bear had been where we were intending to camp that evening.

Photo Julie Jones
As we paddled along the southern cliffs of Angmagssalik we marvelled at the experience of weaving our way through dense sea ice. However, it wasn't long before we encountered problems. At the most southerly tip the ice was moving swiftly in the tidal stream and lurching about in the ocean swell. There was simply no safe way through.

Photo: Julie Jones
We decided to look for somewhere to land and wait for the conditions to settle. The only landing we could find was in a nearby bay. The landing was not easy. There was a small rock ledge beneath a steep slab that led to a larger, more comfortable ledge upon which we could brew up and eat snacks.

After a couple of hours we tried again. This time the tide had weakened and the swell didn't seem as troublesome either. After a couple more miles of paddling through the icy waters we found a sheltered lagoon and an island. Our accommodation that evening would be a (bear-proof) wooden hunting cabin on the island with an overwhelming view across the water to a huge valley that time must have forgotten.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Icy East Greenland - Part 1

One of the attractions of paddling along the shores of East Greenland is the ice. This July we got more than we bargained for. As our flight from Reykjavik to Kulusuk reached the East Greenland coast, we began to get an impression as to how much ice there really was. Just before landing we caught a glimpse of the local harbour. It looked pretty blocked up!

We walked with our 20-25 kilo packs just over a kilometre from Kulusuk airport to a jetty only to find that ice was blocking the way to all but the most determined boat drivers.

After waiting for an hour or so we decided to walk another 3 kilometres into Kulusuk village to find our boat waiting for us in the harbour there. Once we loaded and climbed on board, it took nearly half an hour just to negotiate a route through the thick ice and out of the bay into Ammassalik Fjord.

Once we reached Tasiilaq it was obvious that the ice was going to present a significant problem. We were going to have to think about changing our plans. With all of this ice comes seals and Polar Bears. In fact a Polar bear had taken up residence on an ice floe at the harbour entrance a few days before our arrival. To our relief it had since wandered off back out to sea.