My Greenland Sailing Staycation

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Staycation (n): a trip in which one uses his or her time off to remain home and, in fact, go nowhere. A play on the American English word “vacation”.

Okay, so I’m using a bit of poetic license with this one since I did not actually stay home for my summer holiday, but I did stay in the country as opposed to the vast majority of friends I know who travel to Denmark for summer holiday, plus another handful or two who venture further to places like Bali or Los Angeles. Plus, it is alliterative with “sailing” and “swordfish”, which made for catchy and unique hashtags.

I’m fresh back from a nearly three-week summer holiday in which I sailed along the west coast of Greenland between Nuuk (64*N) and Disko Bay (69*N) in my own private boat. By the way, when we say sailing here, 8 times out of 10 it is actually with a boat with an engine instead of with a true sailing vessel. I guess I’m not really sure what to call sailing with a motorized boat otherwise? Anyway…

To put it simply, my sailing staycation was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had! Of course I have been sailing before, and I’ve even been sailing along most of the west coast before, but when it is your own boat, and when it is YOU yourself as captain some of the time, it is an experience on a whole other level!

I’m nowhere close to being able to compose a concise post about my holiday, so for now I give a few teaser thumbnail photos and a suggestion to follow the trip in short-story form via my in-trip Instagram posts on @polarphile.

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Why I Don’t Want Greenland On Your Bucket List (*there’s a catch)

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Yes, Bucket Lists were virtually invented for once-in-a-lifetime experiences like travelling to the Arctic, glacier walking on the only Ice Sheet outside of Antarctica, and sailing under the midnight sun. So it sounds odd to say I don’t want Greenland included in that. 

And, given that I dedicate my professional and personal life to showing anyone who will listen that Greenland is simply the best land in the world, it sounds VERY odd that I don’t want it on your list. 

But here’s why.

Greenland deserves so much more than a line on a Bucket List and a little square waiting to be filled in with a red check mark and then left in the dust.

Because that very check mark indicates completion and finality. It means you have been there, done that, and are ready to move on to the next item.

If Greenland has half the effect on you as it did on me the first time, then you don’t simply just move on after experiencing Greenland. You don’t just go back to ‘life as normal’ and forget all about the peace you had every morning waking to such beautiful views like the picture above, or the human compassion you felt when you asked a local for directions to your AirBnB flat and she ended up walking you the whole way there. For many of you, Greenland will be your transformational destination

Therefore, I ask you to let Greenland transcend the bucket list. Don’t go because it’s on the list. Just go.

Take your time to plan the trip; live in the moment every day you have your feet on the ground up here; go home and continue to let Greenland have a place in your thoughts; go forth and be changed by your experience.

Has travel transformed you?

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Transformational travel. Learn these words. Live these words. It is more than the latest trend; it is a new movement in life.

I believe this style of travel is a fated yet fortunate natural progression here in the anthropocene. It could only really take hold now, after sustaining this quite device-obsessed, time-crunched, attention span-less, and dare I say a bit depraved, age.

I believe transformational travel will save humanity if enough people get on board.

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The Journey

It’s said that humans are subconsciously called to travel to wake themselves up when they start sleep walking through life, or when they stop being themselves at home.

“Listen — are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”

– Mary Oliver

Then they go on their trip and have high adventures, talk with people, pick up seeds of the new place(s) and plant them in the backs of their minds, and undetectably rework their perspective on themselves and home. All of this is fuel for something bigger brewing later.

When they return home, everything gets synthesised and internalised to some degree, and a transformation starts. For some it is a matter of a changed thought process and being more mindful. For others it is more behavioural – adding (or deleting) something to/from the daily routine. And for a few, it catapults them into, more or less, a whole new life.

What is Transformational Travel?

I’m still pretty new to this concept, so hopefully my friends over at The Transformational Travel Collaborative will cut me some slack if I formulate this incorrectly…

Transformational travel is a style of traveling in which one embarks on a trip to drive a needed change in his or her life.

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My Most Transformational Trip

For me, the obvious life-changing travel experience was spending four months in Greenland in 2012. 

At a superficial level, it made me painfully aware of behaviours, habits and customs that are ‘so American’.

At a meaningful level, it made me question whether those same American behaviours, habits and customs – which I no doubt had and probably still have to some degree, much to my chagrin – jived with my nature and who I wanted to be.

Upon returning to USA, the transformation began in which I deliberately decided that I preferred the different way of life to which my eyes were opened. After multiple trips back to Greenland, I started identifying much more with my Greenlandic life than my American life, and it all culminated with the decision to move permanently to Greenland.

I am still trying to figure out why Greenland of all places was the spark, but until then, I am just happy it was. 

What trip or place has changed you?

Hiking In Greenland – Kingittorsuaq Mountain in Nuuk

 

Beginning to scramble/use hands on the way up. Photo by: Raven Eye Photography – Visit Greenland

The rush you get standing on top of a mountain is a special kind of adrenaline. Photo by: Raven Eye Photography – Visit Greenland

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KINGITTORSUAQ is proof that there’s BIG adventure in Nuuk, the Arctic Metropolis of Greenland. It is one of the four mountains in the city’s immediate vicinity that most residents know by name. (The other three are: Ukkusissat, Quassussuaq and Sermitsiaq). While most locals will take Ukkusissat as a Saturday morning or even after-work fun trip, sometimes you just want something a little more extreme.

SEE TO THE BOTTOM FOR SOME QUICK BITS ABOUT WHY KINGITTORSUAQ IS MORE DIFFICULT YET MORE EXCITING THAN THE STANDBYS.

My Hike on Kingittorsuaq

Three weekends ago (on 18 June 2016) I had the privilege to hike Kingittorsuaq mountain for the second time. The first time I hiked it was back in June 2012, so that shows you how infrequently this opportunity tends to come along without special circumstance.

Here’s some photographs from the trip. I think the two best experiences of the whole day were 1) cresting at the ‘saddle’ for a view over snow-capped peaks that even fooled Greenlanders into thinking it was the tough and rugged mountains of East Greenland, and 2) taking a quick polar plunge in a little meltwater swimming hole near the summit!

IMG_0623Hiking from sea to summit is no small feat. Sometimes one thinks, “Can I REALLY do this?” The answer is Yes, you can! Just put one foot in front of the other. The bottom half of the mountain is grassy/mossy/shrubby terrain, which I personally think is tougher on the legs than the rocky part.

IMG_0625 And anywhere there’s lush green terrain, there’s fresh running water sources. It’s special about Greenland to be able to drink directly from a stream or waterfall. Here we are at approximately 219 m / 719 ft above sea level.

IMG_0639 Spectacular outlook point from the saddle at approximately 800 m / 2625 ft above sea level. This is the shot that made some locals think it was East Greenland! The first of two best experiences of the whole day.

IMG_0654Here solidly into the rocky terrain, between 800-900 m / 2625-2953 ft above sea level, looking southward. It’s scrambling / bouldering from here on up, with more than a few narrow passes.

IMG_0656 My favourite perspective, actually. There’s something about the steep wall of Kingittorsuaq in the foreground, Kangerluarsunnguaq fjord in the middle ground, and Nuuk Fjord beyond. You can see everything. Approximately 1169 m  / 3834 ft above sea level. 

IMG_0665 So beautiful and clear day. Feels like you could see all the way to Canada. Looking north into Nuuk Fjord. Four hours into the hike.

headstand kingittorsuaq Beautiful overlooks deserve a yoga moment. Photo credit: Raven Eye Photography.

alpine swim kingittorsuaqAnd little ponds of snowmelt deserve a quick dip. No, it wasn’t the slightest bit warm, but sometimes you just know when you’re NEVER going to get the same chance again, so it’s now or never. The other best experience of the entire day. Photo credit: Raven Eye Photography. 

So there you have a digital tour of hiking Kingittorsuaq in Nuuk, Greenland. Want some more info to decide if Kingittorsuaq is right for you? Read below.

 

Why Kingittorsuaq is more difficult than Ukkusissat:

  • It’s taller by approx. 410 meters / 1345 feet. (Ukkusissat is 780 m / 2559 ft and Kingittorsuaq is 1190 m / 3904 ft).
  • The top half (rough estimate) is pure bouldering/scrambling (i.e. you must use your hands to climb up) and, in some places, involves some “tight rope walking” along narrow passes.

Nearly to the true summit of Kingittorsuaq. The left picture is a view northward into Nuuk Fjord. The right picture is a more westward view; Nuuk city is behind the mountain in the middle ground, Ukkusissat.

  • There is no marked route, no slightly-trodden trail. You should absolutely go with someone who knows the way.
  • There are a lot of (sharp) loose stones and rocks in the top half. You must constantly pay attention to your hand placement and footing, and as one of my hiking partners noted, the conversation definitely dies down a bit as everyone starts concentrating more.

Why Kingittorsuaq is more exciting than Ukkusissat:

  • Kingittorsuaq one of the less-hiked mountains in Nuuk, so there’s absolutely a feeling of exclusivity and remoteness. The first time I hiked it, our group of 3 women + 1 man was the only group out there. This time, our group of 2 women + 3 men met just one other group: 4 men.
  • There’s a built-in sailing experience to get to the starting point. Unless, of course, you want to start with a 30 km walk or run through the Nuuk backcountry and Kangerluarsunnguaq lowlands – which, by the way, IS a thing. It’s called the annual KangNu Race, which I have run twice, both in the short version and in the seriously hard long versionTo sail to Kingittorsuaq like most people, you have the option of hiring a boat charter via Nuuk Water Taxi and then hiking on your own, or the other option is to purchase the experience as a ‘tour’ from a local operator, either Nuuk Adventure or Inuk Expedition.

IMG_0621 Kingittorsuaq is the double-peaked mountain. The left peak is, clearly, the higher of the two and is the true summit.

What to wear/bring with you in your daypack (NOT an all-inclusive list):

  • Breathable/ quick-dry layers, never cotton. Being able to regulate your body temperature ever so slightly with several thinner layers is infinitely more valuable than having one or a few thicker layers. For this particular day (light wind 10 m/s or less, air temperature around 5-10*C) I wore long running pants, a breathable short-sleeve shirt, a lightweight wool-blend long-sleeve base layer, a lightweight wool sweater (which came off and on periodically), and a ultra lightweight vest. Also a thin Buff headband. At some points I did take on a pair of gloves when I could feel my fingers were a bit slow reacting. It’s also good to have an extra pair of wool socks, and at least one extra layer along with you as backup.

IMG_0661 Taking in the sights at 1170 m / 3842 ft on Kingittorsuaq. FANTASTIC view over the entire world, it feels like. Note the clothing.

  • Sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support, preferably waterproof. Good footwear simply cannot be stressed enough for hiking in Greenland. The granite in these mountains is rough and sharp, and it’s not really an exaggeration to say that it can eat the soles (and souls) of cheap or old hiking boots.

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  • Lunch. It can take a fitter-than-average person around 4 hours to reach the summit, plus nearly the same amount of time to get back down, so you will want to have plenty of energy store. Don’t let yourself get hangry. Chocolate and nuts are always good mountain snacks, but a slab of smoked Greenlandic reindeer meat is also perfect for the trip. When in Rome…
  • Water bottle. There are several places to collect fresh drinking water directly from runoff streams, and it tastes so refreshing!
  • Hat and gloves. Yes, even in summer a light wind can make it quite cold. It’s especially important to protect the dexterity of your hands given how much bouldering/scrambling you’ll be doing at higher altitudes.
  • Gaiters. Useful at the bottom half when traipsing through low brush and at the top half if there should be any snowy patches. At the very least, they can be an extra layer of lower-leg protection against mosquito bites.
  • Mosquito net hat. Speaking of… Arctic summers are notorious for mosquitoes and flies, and they can be especially gruesome when there’s little or no wind.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen. High latitudes plus high altitudes are the perfect combination for getting a lot of color on your face in just a few hours. Add in the sun’s reflection off of snow, and you’ve got a perfect combination for sunburn. Protect your skin and eyes!

How to Get Here

  • Fly through ICELAND.
    • Air Greenland flies direct from Keflavik International Airport to Nuuk International Airport (3 hour flight).
    • Air Iceland Connect flies direct from Reykjavík Domestic Airport to Nuuk International Airport (3 hour flight).
  • Fly through DENMARK.
    • Air Greenland flies from Kastrup/Copenhagen International Airport to Kangerlussuaq International Airport in Greenland (4 hour flight) and then on to Nuuk International Airport (1 hour flight).

Why I eat Greenlandic Food

In autumn I started a little unofficial ‘Portrait of a Greenlander’ series to highlight Anne Nivíka Grødem, the Greenlandic Foodlover. Now we’re cooperating in a new way. Here in February, I’m so proud to be a weekly guest blogger on her website, www.greenlandicfoodlover.com. Everything on the website relates in some way to food and health and Greenland – whether it’s delicious new recipes to try out or tips for keeping healthy skin in winter.

My posts on Greenlandic Foodlover are written in Danish, but I’m reproducing them here in English.

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ON APPRECIATING ANOTHER CULTURE

By: Sarah Woodall

When I came up here for the first time, I knew nothing about the Greenlandic food environment, and I knew nothing about the rules for importing and exporting food, for example. I had no idea how much vegetables cost, and I had absolutely never heard of seal- and whale-hunting.

Yes, I was completely new and unknowledgeable, but it also meant I had no preconceptions or prejudices against Greenland or the Greenlandic people. Everything I know about Greenland now, I learned here. With respect to food, I was totally open to eat anything that was served. One must try everything at least once, is what I learned as a child, and such a saying goes a long way here in the Arctic.

In the beginning, I ate Greenlandic food to show my respect and appreciation for the country’s culture. I thought to myself, When I am in your land, it should be me who adapts myself to your ways. Not the other way around.

I can remember the very first time I tried fried whale meat at a birthday lunch. Everyone at the table looked at me and waited to see my reaction (which was that I thought it tasted very good). And I can remember a time my friend came home with fresh raw seal liver. I ate that without a second thought, although maybe with just a small hesitation before the first bite. They were all completely taken aback that I could imagine trying such a thing!

P1000638 Whale on the barbie! Fantastic summer day on the terrace with short sleeves, sunglasses, and Greenlandic specialties! And with two (live) whales in the bay, too.

Now I eat Greenlandic food because I want to. It’s not every day, but, for example, I do buy whale meat and mattak (whale skin & fat), and I ask for Greenlandic food whenever there’s a choice. I have experienced overall that Greenlanders are surprised by my openness, my willingness, and even my desire to eat the Greenlandic specialties. One of my best friends always says that it is truly amazing I like the taste of ‘Arctic blood’. It makes me proud.

Top left: Boiled seal meat for suaasat soup. Top right: South Greenlandic lamb leg. Bottom: Mattak (whale skin & fat), served with aromat seasoning and strips of dark rye bread.

IMG_5051 An interesting find at the grocery store! Greenlandic Trio Pack of 1) ground Minke whale meat 2) ground muskox meat and 3) fish mashed with cream, vegetables, etc.

I think it is important as a foreigner to be open for the different food cultures you meet. It is also just as important for the culture one comes into to feel that it is valuable itself. The simple fact that a foreigner is open to take on new food habits and adopt them as their own is certainly a success, isn’t it?

I don’t mean that the value of a culture should be decided by the outside world. On the contrary! But when a foreigner wishes to immerse herself in the Greenlandic lifestyle and food culture, it’s a proof that such a lifestyle is unique and very special.

Therefore I eat Greenlandic food. Because it supports the Greenlandic culture, because I can, and because I want to.

Where Can I See Northern Lights in Greenland?

8485463860_4dfd8e13a0_k Photo credit: Mads Pihl – Visit Greenland

The short answer is: everywhere.

It’s firmly into the autumn season – snow has come to stay in most places and the mornings stay dark longer each day. Time to hibernate? Think again. Here’s one reason to welcome the darkness – it makes seeing Northern Lights easier!

Read here about Northern Lights Hot Spots in Greenland.

This article was originally published in the Visit Greenland monthly newsletter. To receive articles like this straight to your inbox, sign up for the newsletter here.