Greenland Ice Cap
31 July 2017
Got up early this morning and headed to the Reykjavik airport. Air Iceland let me check in like 6 hours early, which was awesome. Really thankful I didn't have to keep track of my pack all day long. Landed in Greenland after a quick flight that highlighted how small I am- the seemingly endless "big blue" followed in rapid succession by the equally seemingly endless and desolate Greenland Ice Cap. It was intimidating, actually. Humbling. We landed in Greenland around 6p. My shuttle to the ice cap wasn't scheduled to leave until 7p, so I headed out to buy stove fuel. When I got back, the airport was nearly empty. When 7p rolled around, there was no one at the World of Greenland desk or the gift shop or counter or nearly anywhere. It was erie and annoying. Was this now the second bus of the trip that I'd missed because of an early departure? When 720p rolled around, I just said "screw it" and started walking the 38 k's to the edge of the ice cap. They're only kilometers, right? I like kilometers.
Then, as I walked along, the shuttle to the ice cap passed me on the 4x4 road. I couldn't believe it. I never even saw it in town, but there it was. Ugh. I was so pissed. Of course, I was also grateful to keep my $100, so it wasn't a total bust.
Now it's 330a, and I've finally arrived, camped in the morraine at the edge of the freakin' Greenland Ice Cap. I'm in awe. It's enough to take the sting out of the whole situation. I'm at least 5 hours and about 20 k's behind where I'd planned to be after my first day on the ACT. After missing the bus from Landmannalaugar to Reykjavik a few days ago in Iceland, I had to reschedule my flight, which meant that I had to abandon my original plan to YOYO the ACT. Now I'm playing catch-up just to thru-hike at all. Ah well, through all of that, I'm about as stoked as I can be!
Kilometers Walked: 37
Ice Cap to Hundeso
01 August 2017
Hardly slept at all last night. It was cold, an icy, relentless wind blowing off the ice sheet. Spent most of the 3 hours I tried to sleep just shivering in my bag. Sounds miserable, but I'm still high on life. This is life-list stuff. I'm exhausted, and I love it. Every single minute, I love it.
I spent a few hours first thing exploring the ice sheet. It wasn't the epic walls of calving glacier I'd imagined, but it was way cool. It was endlesss, a sea of white, absolutely desolate. I don't think I've ever actually felt that small. One of the coolest things I've ever seen. When I finally felt satisfied, I hit the road. Kilometers to go before I sleep; kilometers to go before I sleep. And those k's seemed to pass slowly. After all, I'd already walked them. I considered climbing Sugarloaf Mountain, but ultimately decided to keep cruising. Hit Kangerlussuaq around 430p and had a snack at the local market. I was back where I'd started. And now there was a 15 k road walk staring me down. Not the most fun I've ever had, but it's part of the deal on this trail. Honestly, it was miserable. End of story. Because I missed my shuttle, I'd walked 92 k's of road instead of 53.5. When I finally hit the trail, I was stoked. Nothing but backcountry wilderness between me and Sisimiut.
I finally arrived at the Hundeso Caravan shelter around 10p. It's a total dump, and there are mosquitoes everywhere, an uninterupted cloud of them. A horde. Of mosquitoes. Ugh. I can see gear through the window, but the door is tied shut from the inside. Whoever's in there is sleeping, so I'm posted up a few hundred yards away. I'm not mad. I think I'd rather be out here than in there anyways. I'm back on schedule, but not without a toll. My feet hurt, and my muscles ache. I'm so tired. Stoked for sleep. And stoked to be here.
This place is incredible. No trees, just wide open tundra and low-lying vegetation. The landscape is dotted with mountains and lakes that I assume have been cut and filled by the perpetually receding ice sheet. And the wildlife is awesome too. I've seen a dozen reindeer, a musk ox, and an arctic hare. Hoping to see an arctic fox before I reach Sisimiut. And maybe snap a few good photos of the unique and beautiful wildlife out here. I'm so inspired here.
Kilometers Walked: 59
Hundeso to Canoe Center
02 August 2017
I arrived at the Canoe Center tonight around 8p where I met Kristen from Alaska. I've only seen half a dozen souls on the trail so far, though I'd expected many more based on all of the packs being claimed after my flight. I found more evidence of the trail's popularity when I saw the results of a study posted at the Canoe Center which indicated that there were 1,290 thru-trekkers on the ACT last year. It's weird that I haven't seen more folks. From what I see in the register, it looks like a few per day so far this year. Not too many Americans, which doesn't surprise me because I've never even talked to anyone in the states who'd ever heard of this trail. (Part of the appeal for me.) Even now, the trail feels anything but crowded. This shelter is 3 rooms and probably 24 beds; I have it all to myself.
Just took a dip in the lake to wash up, my own personal backcountry bathtub. Cold and refreshing. I was thinking about how much my feet hurt, then I remembered the reindeer I saw earlier today. It only had a half rack of antlers. I spooked him, and he took off. Looked like he was really struggling to run, clumsily galloping away from me, head swinging every which way. As I wondered what would happen to him, I remembered that my struggles are so insignificant compared to so many other people, so many other souls. Yeah, my feet hurt. And I'm living a pretty damn sweet life.
I've just cooked dinner, and now I'm watching a fire burn just a few kilometers west on the trail. There is a lot of smoke, but all of the vegetation out here is so small that I can't imagine it'll be difficult to navigate tomorrow. The walk today was well-trodden and easy to follow. Beautiful kilometers just slipped away as I passed lakes and climbed up into the hills. The latter half of the day was all along the shore of Amitsorsuaq. I'd actually hoped to canoe the lake, which is an option when there's a canoe available. Of course, there wasn't. I was bummed, but off I hiked without missing a step. The wind ultimately picked up, which would've made for a really difficult solo paddle. Guess it all worked out as it should've.
It's 1030p, and I'm about to crawl into a backcountry bunk. An actual bed. With doubled up mattresses. In a shelter. In the Greenland wilderness. I wish I had the words. Thank god for photos. Words just- they just can't.
Kilometers Walked: 42
Canoe Center to Eqalugaarniarfik
03 August 2017
Today was my favorite by far. The first part was on par with the rest of the trail up to that point, then there was a climb up to Ikkattooq Hut, and that's when the Arctic Circle Trail started to blow my mind. It's been good; and now it's downright incredible. (The hike I'd been waiting for!) I was finally in the mountains, the real mountains. The lakes are so blue and pristine, it's unbelievable. I took a quick skinny dip in Kangerluatsiarsuaq, a gorgeous lake east of Ikkattooq. Couldn't help myself. Had what felt like the whole wide world all to myself. Then I climbed still higher into the mountains and traced a ridge for many kilometers before finally dropping down into Ole's Lakseelv, a wide open valley with a beautiful flowing river bisecting it, one of the relatively few rivers that I forded. Most of the landscape is marked by lakes and bogs, not rivers.
I arrived at Eqalugaarniarfik Hut and met Max and Laura, a German couple trekking the ACT. There was another trekker here, but he decided to keep hiking after a failed attempt to locate a nearby spring. I couldn't find it either, but I was way too stoked to spend the night here, so I wasn't about to just walk on over a little extra effort. Instead I grabbed a big jug that I found in the hut and backtracked a couple k's down to the river. I made great time today arriving at the hut around 630p and was happy to add a few bonus k's. The soft light as the sun slipped lower in the sky made for some beautiful photos of the Maligiaq Fjord below. Couldn't be more satisfied with my day.
The Eqalugaarniarfik Hut is awesome- clean, cozy, and comfortable. And sharing it with Max and Laura was cool. I love my solitude, and it was nice to connect with some folks. They're backpacking a little differently than I do. Their packs looked like flight luggage. Huge. No surprise they were covering about 20 painful kilometers per day. To each their own, I guess. Sounds like I'll see them again tomorrow, since I'm gonna keep it short and sweet; should be done by lunch and have a nice lazy half day at the lake. Stoked to stay at the next hut, which I imagine will be every bit as awesome as this one.
Kilometers Walked: 33.5 + 3
Eqalugaarniarfik to Innajuattoq
04 August 2017
Basically a rest day. Arrived at the hut around 2p following a gorgeous walk up high through bogs and along lakes. The weather continues to be absolutely wonderful. I'm so grateful. This hut is fantastic. Gorgeous views and perched on the banks of a beautiful lake. I don't have the vocabulary to describe this experience other than to repeat the same few synonyms I can conjur for the word "beautiful."
For just the second time this trip, the mosquitoes were horrible, which kinda figures because I just gave Laura my trusty DEET cream last night. She's allergic to the mosquitoes, and they've been chewing her and Max up. I was happy to share my little mosquito pro tip. Besides, I didn't mind handing off the weight, which they were both quick to tease me about. Turns out the cream worked wonders for Laura today, which I was stoked to hear. Hoping today wasn't a sign of what's to come the next few days. I walk pretty fast, but I was having trouble outrunning the little buggers.
I met another couple today at the Innajuattoq Hut; their packs were also huge. Seems to make for a long, arduous trip. Looks painful to me. Surprised that I haven't seen any other ultralight backpackers out here, which makes me wonder whether I'm the crazy one. It's true I make due with less in camp, that my meals are anything but gourmet, and I'm more uncomfortable in difficult weather, but the walking - oh, the walking - is so much more enjoyable. And I get to see so much!
Kilometers Walked: 20
Innajuattoq to Kangerluarsuk Tulleq
05 August 2017
I woke at 530a to find that a thick, heavy fog had settled over the landscape. The weather has been perfect; I suppose I was due for a tougher day. Fortunately, it wasn't hard to follow the track despite not being able to see more than 25 meters ahead at times. At least there were no mosquitoes, so that's a win. It was chilly with the thick moisture hanging in the air and the intermittent breeze lackadaisically whispering against my bare hands. My feet were soaked as they have been pretty much the whole time. (The bogs are seemingly endless out here.) But today was the first time since the second day that my feet didn't hurt. Grateful for that too.
All in all, I've had a great day. There was a hut near kilometer 16 where I stopped for an early lunch around 10a. I fired up my little pocket rocket stove to make some hot cocoa and warm my hands. I spent 2 hours waiting out the cold fog to pass, watching out the small window as the sun seemed to be fighting to burn it off. I could even see some small patches of blue sky. Was feeling hopeful that the blue would win out, but I was getting cold just sitting there waiting, so I decided to hike on.
Much to my surprise and satisfaction, the weather cleared beautifully almost as soon as I left the hut. Stunning views abounded as I made my way ever closer to Sisimiut. I arrived at Kangerluarsuk Tulleq by 430p. Crushed the k's today. It's early, and I'm still planning to stay here. This quaint hut on a hill overlooking a pristine arctic bay is totally sweet, and it seems I may have it all to myself tonight. It's 9p, and a hiker just cruised by. Unlike him, I'm in no hurry to arrive in town. Quite the opposite, I've been hiking well under my usual pace. There are so many photos I want to capture out here. I've about killed my camera battery every single day since I arrived in Greenland. I've already taken nearly a thousand photos, and my battery pack is spent. My camera is charged to 80% with 33.5 k's still to go to Sisimiut. Hope it's enough.
I wonder if the weather will hold tomorrow. I really want to climb Kaellingehaetten. Also anxious about potential weather challenges for my domestic flight back to Kangerluassaq on Monday. I'd hate to miss my connection back to Reykjavik and have to reschedule another flight. Unfortunately, I haven't given myself much wiggle room for a delay. Rookie move.
Today's highlight was a Blue Arctic Fox sighting! He was so small- looked like a beautiful little onyx-colored ferret. He climbed high above me and watched as I made my way down the valley. Almost captured a photo of him, which I desperately wanted, but he darted off just before I could raise my camera. I watched him as he watched me, but he was way too far away for a picture. Guess that image is just for me.
Kilometers Walked: 35
Kangerluarsuk Tulleq to Sisimiut
06 August 2017
I'm lying in a bed here in the Sisimiut Hostel. Got lucky and have a room all to myself despite paying for just a bunk. Guessing - hoping, more like - it won't change since it's now past 10p. The weather today was a total dream, though the sky looks threatening tonight. Being so close to the sea, the weather is basically a coin toss. Apparently it's pretty common for flights to be delayed here. Hope I didn't use up all my good luck on the trail!
My alarm went off at 430a this morning, but the swirling fog outside the hut window gave me cause to snooze for an hour. I was on trail by 6a. Today's hike started above a thick fog that had settled over the bay and the surrounding valleys. Eventually, the trail descended into the fog which ultimately burned off. The views were incredible today, a wonderful end to a wonderful trek. I took an alternate route into town, which included a side trip up Kaellingehaetten. The climb was just sketchy and scary enough to be really fun. There was a fixed rope section of about 6 meters just below the summit. Oh, that summit. The view down on Sisimiut and out over the Arctic Ocean was unbelievable. The ocean, a deep, dark blue- an abyss.
Finally arriving in town was exciting. The trail first turns to a dirt road, then pavement that leads all the way to the quaint little downtown. This place is anything but touristy. It's small, authentic. (And expensive, but so worth it.) I love it here. Easy for me to say as a visitor. Another example of my endless privilege. I imagine life is actually really difficult in this isolated, harsh environment.
Kilometers Walked: 33.5
07 August 2017
The fog was thick today as I walked the 7-ish kilometers from the hostel to the airport. I felt plenty anxious. Fortunately when I checked in, they let me switch to the earlier flight, which was already delayed from 1125a to 1220p. Plenty of time yet to make my connection. Sitting in the airport, I could see the sun fighting the good fight. Feeling hopeful.
The flight from Sisimiut to Kangerlussuaq basically retraced the whole of the Arctic Circle Trail. It was really something to look down on all of the lakes and mountains I'd traversed. The whole flight took about 20 minutes, a drastic contrast to the 7 days I'd spent trekking. Both trips across the ACT were special and unique. This whole forray into Greenland has been the best, nearly perfect but for missing the shuttle to the ice cap. Ah well, what would an international trip to a new place be without at least one hiccup? I've learned that I'm actually pretty bad at international travel, but I imagine I'll get better with practice. Hopefully more to come this winter! Dunno if anything will top Greenland, though. This place will always captivate my imagination, and my heart. (And the seafood- god.)