Where Can I See Northern Lights in Greenland?

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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.

Kaffemik Culture in Greenland

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Kaffemik in Greenland is the ultimate in social gatherings. “Come glad and eat cake” the message, but it is what the invitation does not say which makes kaffemik more of a social staple than just a fun get-together. It’s a way to meet friends and friends of friends and be ‘out on the town’.

Good things to eat and drink are the common ground that brings community members together under the same roof and to the same table, but the root of kaffemik is a solidification of one’s bond to the celebrated one.

Kaffemik happens all year round to celebrate birthdays, graduations, marriages, holidays, and more. Here is an example of a beautiful kaffemik invitation to celebrate Confirmation. Written in Danish, translated to English below.

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“Dear [Names],

It would be my great pleasure that you all come and celebrate my confirmation with me and my family.

I am holding my own open house on my Confirmation Day. 

Come and enjoy good food such as reindeer that I have shot myself and lovely accompaniments.

There will, of course, also be a lot of coffee & tea and tons of cakes.

19 April 2015 from 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM.

[Address]

Kind regards,

Manu”

Read more about Kaffemik in Greenland in my article on visitgreenland.com

The Great North Greenland Dogsledding Race 2014

Spring is here, and it is the season for dogsledding! There is plenty of snow, frozen sea ice, and most importantly, sunshine. For Greenlanders, dogsledding is a way of life and a trusted mode of transportation, but it can also be just plain fun!!

North Greenland holds an annual dogsledding race, called Avannaata Qimussersua in Greenlandic, and it takes place in Ilulissat tomorrow (29 March 2014).

Dogsled teams have been doing trials all month long in preparation, and the qualifying teams from around the coast are now ready for competition. Any guesses as to how they get to Ilulissat?

Here’s a clue.

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Some of them fly!

Here are a few dogsled teams ready for transport via Kussak, one of Air Greenland’s beautiful Sikorsky S-61N helicopters. The weather should be cool with plenty of sunshine tomorrow, so here’s wishing all competitors, inuk and canine, a fantastic race!!!

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All photo credits: Air Greenland Facebook page

Get Involved with Whale Research in Greenland

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Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, is a special place for whale-watching! Every spring, a number of Humpback whales make the long journey from the Caribbean purely to feed in the pristine waters of Nuuk Fjord for the summertime! With any luck, you will capture a memory for a lifetime like this one:

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Whale outside Qinngorput neighborhood of Nuuk. Photo credit: Aqqa Rosing-Asvid via greenland_com flickr page.

Sailing alongside these majestic giants and capturing them on camera is an adrenaline rush, whether you have seen it one or one hundred times. Now, the local municipality (Sermersooq) and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources have teamed up to get you even more involved in the action.

With this Tell a Tail Fluke Catalogue, you can actually discover exactly which Humpback whale you just spotted! And, if you happen to catch a good shot of the tail’s underside, send it to the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources to help with their research on the whales’ migration patterns.

See here for more stunning shots of whales in Greenland.

VIDEO: Pioneering People in Greenland

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Last year, Destination Arctic Circle released a five-part series of short films highlighting everything from the BMX biking trend in Sisimiut to fly fishing in pristine mountain rivers in the backcountry.

Click here to see one of my favorite videos of all – Village Culture in Greenland. PS – the singer is my oh-so-talented colleague, Mads Lumholt!

To view the other videos in the series, see the Rough. Real. Remote. vimeo page.

Happy watching!

PHOTO GALLERY: Greenlandic Sledge Dogs

To read about my dogsledding trip in East Greenland, see here.

For more photos of these beautiful creatures, see the Visit Greenland flickr account.

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Dogsledding in Greenland

In spring 2013, I spent 6 weeks in Greenlandic Dog territory (which is above the Arctic Circle on the west coast and everywhere on the east coast) so I was extremely excited about the possibilities to try dogsledding for the first time! I finally got my chance in late April in Tasiilaq, on the east coast.

PS – For more pictures of Greenlandic sledge dogs, see my photo post and the Visit Greenland flickr account.

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On the morning of the tour, I made my way to a designated spot right at the edge of land and frozen sea to meet the musher. It was actively snowing on this particular day, so the land, the ice, and the sky were completely white! All I could see were some small figures in the snowy wonderland, so I took a wild guess that this was my team!

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Gudmund, the musher, was preparing the sledge for the trip by polishing the tracks. (Jumping ahead a bit, I quickly understood that this was a necessary step as the dogs’ leads often get caught under the sledge, and this makes it easier to get them unstuck. Not to mention it makes the sledge glide effortlessly over the snow.) Gudmund already had the dogs harnessed and connected to the sledge, and they were ready to get moving! They were howling and hopping over each other, and some were growling at one another to confirm the pack hierarchy. The only thing preventing them from pulling the sledge away without Gudmund and me on board was a snow hook in the ground!

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Once the sledge was ready, Gudmund flipped it over and we were ready to go. I hung my bag on the back and took my seat on the platform. The platform was covered in a warm reindeer skin that made the ride quite cozy. Gudmund sat at the front and I sat at the back.

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The day’s destination was Tsangeraddaddaajaa, a.k.a. “The Coffee Bar”. It is a point with 3 small huts approximately 25 km (15 mi) north of Tasiilaq, and it is halfway between the town of Tasiilaq and the village of Tiniteqilaaq. It should take 2.5-3 hours to get to that point, so we planned to go there, stop for a bit, then return to Tasiilaq.

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So we took off! In the beginning we met some other sledge traffic…

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But soon it was just the dogs, Gudmund, and I headed north into a white abyss! I was glad they knew the route because I certainly could not see the way!

Want to see dogsledding in motion? See my personal YouTube Video of Dogsledding in Greenland.

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The pictures I took do not do justice to the beauty of Tasiilaq’s backcountry. Actually, in Greenland, even a white abyss can be so majestic you could cry! It is extremely special to know that this landscape is some of the most untouched land in the world, yet there you are – one single human being – standing in its midst. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and ask, “Is this real ?!”

My favorite part of the whole trip was getting to talk one-on-one with Gudmund the entire time! He spoke English fairly well, so we were able to communicate comfortably about his life in Tasiilaq, the landscape around us, the commands he used toward the dogs, and the characteristics of the pack – who is leader, who is oldest, what role each dog plays for the team. Plus, being me, I jumped at the chance to get a free lesson in the East Greenlandic language! So our communication was some crazy combination of English, Danish, West Greenlandic, East Greenlandic, and body language. It was heaven for me!

When we got to Tsangeraddaddaajaa it really was just three small huts!

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Gudmund put the snow hook into the ground and started to “fix” the dogs for a break. He went to each dog and pulled one of its legs up into the harness so that it became a three-legged creature! He said it was to give the dominant leg a break; others have said they do it when they know many other sledges will be near – it debilitates the dogs a bit so they are less inclined to try to pull toward the incoming sledges.

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During the break, Gudmund’s pack was very playful and loving toward each other, and they were curious about me, too. I asked Gudmund if I could touch them, and he gave me the green light!

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Less than 10 minutes passed before a few other sledges came through the thick wall of snow into sight. As new sledges approached, Gudmund and the other mushers had to be on high alert because the dogs all began barking, pulling, and creating a lot of tension. The mushers all got out the whips and motioned them in a way that kept the teams separate. They have such incredible control over their packs purely with voice commands, whip movements (without having to touch the dogs), and body language!

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Well, the Coffee Bar did not get its name for no reason. No, there is not a barista waiting there with Café Lattes, but everyone did seem to stop there, sit on their sledges, and warm up with a thermos of coffee and some chocolate. After this quick fuel, we turned around and took the same route back to Tasiilaq.

This is Gudmund driving us back toward town. You can see the buildings getting clearer and clearer as we approach.

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The trip ended with a bit of “urban sledding” so that Gudmund could return the dogs to their chains and doghouses.

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Tourist Information:

What to Wear/Bring

  • Always be prepared for any weather – sun, rain/snow, fog, wind, etc. Dress in layers and always have some extra layers in your pack.
  • I suggest wearing thermal base layers, warm clothes (wool is nice), and outer layers that are both windproof and waterproof. Also wear a warm hat, gloves, breathable socks, and boots.
  • As with any other snow sport, wear sunscreen and sunglasses! The reflection of the sun on the snow can be fierce.
  • Bring your camera and perhaps extra batteries, memory cards, etc., Keep them close to your body to keep them warm. Cold temperatures can often affect the proper function of electronics.
  • You may like to bring a thermos of coffee or tea for the ride. Sometimes, this is included with the tour – check with your tour operator to confirm.

Etiquette Tips

  • Greenlandic Dog temperaments range from nearly wild to almost playful – but every single dog is different. Always ask the musher before approaching a dog! (This also goes for walking near dogs in the towns. No matter the age, do not touch them unless you have specifically been told you can do it.)
  • The musher will most likely jump off the sledge to stand on the back of it. He/She does this to work the brake, especially when going downhill. Unless the musher says otherwise, you should stay seated on the sledge.

Dog Handling

  • This point is worth repeating over and over… Do NOT touch a dog, old or young, unless you have specifically been told you can do it. This goes for the dogs you meet during a tour and those you meet around town.
  • Greenlandic Dogs are not pets – they are working animals. They have an extreme amount of energy and instinct to run/pull a sledge. The musher uses verbal and physical commands toward the pack. At times they may seem harsh, but understand that they are necessary to control the pack.
  • Greenlandic Dogs are contained when they are not working. Mushers keep them on sturdy chains close to doghouses with ample food and water supply. The musher visits them daily. Sometimes, dogs are kept in a pen, but usually they are still on chains inside the pen. The chains are for the dogs’ protection. They keep the dogs from wandering loose in the town; dogs can legally be shot if they are deemed problematic toward people. The chains also keep the dogs a safe distance from each other as hierarchical fighting is common.

Winter versus Summer Life

  • Dogsledding season is typically from October – April, depending on the town, snow cover, and sea ice conditions. During this time, dogsledding is used as a method of transportation for residents and as an entertaining excursion for tourists.
  • Greenlandic Dogs look quite different in the two seasons. In winter, their fur is thick and full, but in summer they shed a lot and look much thinner.
  • Greenlandic dogs are chained whether it is winter or summer. Depending on where the musher lives, the dogs may be on grass, rocks, or dirt. You will always see that they are close to doghouses and ample food and water supply.
  • In summer, many tourists “judge a book by its cover”. They see the dogs on chains and looking thin, so they assume the dogs are poorly treated. For those thinking this way, I suggest they take a “Sledge Dog Life” tour. While it is not possible to do a dogsledding tour in summer, it is possible to meet mushers and get a firsthand insider-look into how they care for their dogs.

For statistics on sledge dogs by Statistics Greenland, see here.

Do you know about the Big Arctic Five?

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If you can only do five things in Greenland, make it the Big Arctic Five! They are tried and true – every single memorable experience I have had in Greenland includes some combination of these essential elements!

Meet Pioneering People – At the center of everything are the people who live in and love this country!

Experience Ice and Snow with all 5 senses – Be it glaciers, floating icebergs, or the massive Ice Sheet, you are never far from this element!

Traverse landscape via Dogsled – Thanks to the Greenlandic Dog, who lives to run/pull a sled, you can get to places you could never dream of reaching on foot.

Gaze at the Northern Lights – Sunlight may be fleeting in wintertime, but the sky is far from dark. Watch the sky come alive as a vision of green and purple!

Go Whale-watching – Spot these majestic summer visitors during a sailing tour or maybe even from the comfort of your own balcony!

Also, stay tuned for upcoming posts about my personal experiences with each of the Big Arctic Five! Just select “Big Arctic Five” in the Category menu on the Home page!

60-Second Tourism Evaluation of Ilulissat, Greenland (69*N 51*W)

(From Wednesday 11 April 2013)

I will make this post for the sake of keeping with the theme of this blog, but to be perfectly honest, Ilulissat does not need my help as far as promoting the town as a tourist destination!  At all!  So without any further ado:

Weather gods, Ice gods, etc. permitting… winter/spring in Ilulissat can offer you four of the Big Arctic Five aspects: Pioneering People, Icebergs, Northern Lights, and Dogsledding.  Summertime can offer you three: Pioneering People, Icebergs, and Whales.  But… keep in mind that Ilulissat, and also the entire country, is ALWAYS at the mercy of the environment and nothing is a guarantee.  There is a Greenlandic word – immaqa – that translates to “maybe”.  People do not always use it with the best intentions, but I choose to use it here in a positive way to prove my point.  This spring (March/April) the temperatures have been so atypically warm that the normal winter tourism activities have had to adapt. Some dogsledge tours have had to reroute or reschedule because of thin snow cover. There has been a lot more free ice in the water so sailing tours have been more like “ice road truckers tour[s]”, so said one American tourist.  Also, there are no farms or zoos or Sea Worlds in Greenland. Whales are wild animals, so people cannot just order that they jump out of the water right in front of them. The skies may be cloudy so perhaps the Northern Lights are not visible… About the only thing that can be counted upon as a constant is that there will always be Pioneering People here in Greenland who absolutely LOVE this country and who want to share it with others! And I suppose you can also count on there being icebergs as long as there is Inland Ice, and that is not going anywhere anytime soon!

So MAYBE you can check off all your to-do’s when you are in Greenland, but if not, I am willing to bet that simply being surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful people and landscape is enough to make you happy to be on this Earth 🙂

A Little Lesson About Ice

(From 25 March 2013)

Since I am gearing up to travel to Ilulissat, the town whose very name means “icebergs”, I figure there is no better time to give a small lesson about ice and icebergs in Greenland. As a disclaimer, I am no glaciologist, so please do not take everything I say to be scientifically precise J But I do know enough from what I have learned in Greenland to provide some useful information. If anybody is interested in a truly spectacular and awe-some portrayal of glaciers, do check out Chasing Ice, a big-screen documentary (by James Balog, National Geographic photographer/cinematographer) that artistically displays how glaciers flow, depress, and calve over time. The images document glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and the United States.

One may ask: Are there not icebergs all over Greenland? Why does Ilulissat have the pleasure of being the namesake town for icebergs? The answer is: Yes, there are icebergs all over Greenland. Icebergs originate from glaciers that flow into a body of water, creating a tongue that floats on the water whose front breaks off (“calves”) in pieces of all shapes and sizes – the icebergs. When I say that glaciers flow, one may think of liquid water; but a glacier is frozen ice. It flows due to its own weight, and it is not detectable by the human eye just standing and watching for a short period of time. The Greenland Ice Sheet is itself one huge glacier, and it flows into the water in hundreds of places all over Greenland. Therefore, there are icebergs all over Greenland.

Ilulissat is especially well known for icebergs because the glaciers in its immediate area (Sermeq Kujalleq and Eqip Sermia) are especially active. They move faster, and thus calve more frequently creating more icebergs, than other glaciers in Greenland and in the whole world! Sermeq Kujalleq, more commonly just called Kangia or the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, is one of the fastest flowing glaciers in the world. It currently flows about 35 meters a DAY while other glaciers in the world only move that far in a year!

However, despite the glacier’s fast pace, it is currently in a state of rapid retreat (moving closer and closer toward land). Glacial retreat IS a natural occurrence, but the rate at which Sermeq Kujalleq is currently retreating is what is unprecedented. Sermeq Kujalleq has actually been slowly retreating since about 1850. But in 1998, the glacier suddenly started flowing twice as fast as before, its surface level depressed, and its floating glacial tongue calved off entirely. In just 10 years, the glacier retreated 15 km (9 miles) when previously it took 80+ years to retreat that far. The Ilulissat Ice Fjord was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2004, so the area is now protected.

This is a picture of the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, taken in August 2012.

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This is a picture of Eqip Sermia, a glacier just north of Ilulissat that calves very frequently, taken in June 2012. It is an extremely popular attraction for tourists. There are sailing tours to view it from the water, and there is also the possibility to stay overnight in small huts/lodges on land close by.

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This is a picture of Narsap Sermia, a glacier just north of Nuuk, take in July 2012… and an iceberg that originated from it.

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