The best thing about life in Greenland

What is the best thing about life in Greenland?

In a picture, this:

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stop-the-glorification-of-busy

I bet you expected a picture of a breathtakingly beautiful fjord with a mirror-like sea and northern lights floating overhead, didn’t you? For that you can just take a scroll through the @ilovegreenland Instagram account. Ok, ok, here’s a picturesque shot to hold you over.

skaermbillede-2016-10-21-kl-18-39-00Photo by @danielkordan, regrammed by @ilovegreenland

While it would be an incredible understatement to call the inescapable natural beauty of Greenland just a ‘cherry on top’ of the experience, for me the best thing about life in Greenland is actually intangible and wholly impossible to capture through a lens.

The best thing about Greenland is that there is no societally-imposed glorification of busy. Instead there is a prioritization of one’s own happiness and never apologizing for that. So if that means keeping busy because you want to, great. If that means keeping an open schedule, also great.

Through four and a half years I have collected a lot of stories and impressions, but one red thread holds solid no matter the person, season, town, or situation: personal time is sacred. There is generally an 8-hour workday, and all other time is protected and reserved for whatever one wants to do. This manifests itself in so many different ways – being in the nature sailing, or reindeer hunting, or spending the weekend in a hut… preparing a delicious home-cooked meal to enjoy with friends or family… doing a hobby like painting or knitting or working out… or doing nothing at all!

Let me back up a few steps…

What is the glorification of busy?

It is the view that always doing something is a good thing, whether that be work-related with tasks, projects, and business travel, or related to private life, with extracurricular activities, dinner parties, and other goings-on.

It is the putting of plans or work on a pedestal.

Where did this come from?

I believe first world countries these days are to blame for this glorification trend. When places get nicknames like “the city that never sleeps,” clearly being uber busy, stretched thin, completely over-worked, over-jetset, and always having a full social calendar has become the norm, and people love it because ultimately it is a status symbol. It means one is important, trusted, sought after, powerful, connected, needed, wanted. It means success.

But is busy synonymous with successful?

Research on productivity  in the workplace shows that no, being busy is not necessarily synonymous with success, at least not in USA. USA is arguably the busiest country in the world, but with converse productivity levels. It is the No Vacation Nation, as Americans are proven to take hardly any holiday time, to answer mails while ’relaxing’ on a white sand beach, or to simply not be granted paid holiday at all. I think we all can relate to the feeling that nothing gets done well when one has too many balls in the air at the same time. Have you heard of the phrase “work hard, play hard”? It’s a phrase that came into my vocabulary on Day 2 of undergraduate at the University of Virginia and pretty much never left.

What’s wrong with being un-busy?

What I wonder more and more is why people feel guilty about not answering an email after work hours, why someone feels bad to turn down an invitation for weekend plans because they want to do something else instead, why someone apologizes for doing what makes them happy.

I hypothesize that the glorification of busy also equally comes out of a fear of appearing lazy, uncool, unwanted, forgotten, solitary, and unsuccessful – especially on a personal level. A stigma associated with not being busy perhaps starts all the way back in grade school, a period when fitting in and being accepted are of the utmost importance, and carries through to adult life.

Professional versus personal success

I also hypothesize that the societies that glorify being busy are the same societies that primarily define success via professional indicators – job title, number of subordinates, sky miles, and income, to name a few, which then lead to a domino effect of commodity-based indicators of success like house size, car ownership and style, clothing, and so on ad nauseam.

In contrast, there are societies that define success in other ways, namely via personal indicators – quality of relationships, good mental and physical health, access to nature, becoming a parent, and the big one, happiness.

Greenland absolutely falls into this category. I’ve actually heard it said many times that Greenlanders just aren’t driven by earning money the way other cultures are, so one must incentivize through other means. I don’t totally agree with that, but certainly Greenlanders know that money doesn’t buy happiness and have harnessed the ability to seek pleasure outside the workplace.

My place on the busy-not busy scale

To be painfully honest with myself, I am on the busy side. When I zoom in a few levels and look at my day-to-day, I always have something whether it’s training, a brunch date, or a kaffemik. The week starts more or less open, but a free Saturday never stays so for very long.

Take this past weekend, for example. I’ve been out traveling for work for 6 weeks, and what do I do when I finally land in Nuuk? I drop my suitcases at the foyer and run back out to my friends’ house for the evening. Actually, it’s the family with whom I lived whenever I was in Nuuk for the past three years – my original host family, my family. And then on Sunday, I was on the go with training, brunch, an Art Walk around the city, grocery shopping, socializing with a friend, and picking up some new things I bought.

That being said, I don’t believe I necessarily glorify being busy because I also really love – and need – time to myself. While I suppose I can sustain extended periods of busy, I can also ‘crash’ really hard into periods of doing nothing. Believe it or not, I am an introvert, or so the Meyers-Briggs test has said several times since I was 15.

Hedonist, YOLO-head, dream-chaser

Busy bee or not, I have definitely internalized the Greenlandic mentality of prioritizing one’s own happiness.

As a highly independent individual from the start, going for what I wanted was never a weak spot, but I was always told I was a bit of a black sheep for it – the only one with such a strong will. Now imagine this personality being immersed in a culture that cultivates exactly this type of personal independence nearly to a fault and screams, “Do what’s best for you!” You can’t help but get an added jolt of chutzpah.

My decision to move to Greenland was the ultimate display of this. The reality is that I left all and everything and everyone in USA because I wanted to do what made me happy. I jumped off a cliff. I put myself first, and I don’t apologize for it.

Hedonist, YOLO (you only live once), and dream-chaser were the nicer insults some people gave me regarding my decision, but I also went up against “selfish”,  bat-shit crazy”, “abandoner”, and “mentally ill”. They said, sure, they might also like to jump up and move to Spain but obviously that was never going to happen because it wasn’t realistic. They said they didn’t agree with my decision and didn’t think I should go. And so on.

You know what criticisms people in Greenland gave me? None. I was met instead with congratulations from all and words of encouragement. Nobody I know from Greenland has ever made me feel bad about my decision, and that speaks volumes.

Hiking In Greenland – Kingittorsuaq Mountain in Nuuk

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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 once before. To sail to Kingittorsuaq like most people, visit Touring Greenland‘s website, as this local company offers round trip boat transfer + guiding to hike Kingittorsuaq.

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 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).

Follow @Polarphile on Instagram!

Follow me on Instagram at @Polarphile to see what my daily life in Nuuk, Greenland looks like!

Here’s a few snapshots from the last week: