Alpine Ski Touring in Greenland

17242714991_ebea910138_k Photo by: Mads Pihl / Visit Greenland

Adventure in Greenland comes in all varieties – backcountry hiking and cultural exploration in summer & autumn to exciting snow sports like snowmobiling and ski touring in winter & spring. I might be here a while if I tried to list the full extent of things to do in Greenland!

Today a very special shout-out goes to Icelandic Mountain Guides out of Reykjavík whose video, “Alpine Ski Touring in East Greenland” just won the Adventure in Motion film contest put on by the Adventure Travel Trade Association – with over 24,000 votes!! It will be shown to hundreds of global tourism gurus at the upcoming Adventure Travel World Summit event in Chile.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE!

And check out more breathtaking photos of skiing in Greenland.

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Experience Greenland on board Icelandair!

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Are you flying on Icelandair soon? No, the airline unfortunately has not yet decided to fly to Greenland, but you can still experience Greenland on board in two other ways!

1) Get inspired by this “Tip of the Iceberg” article about nature, gastronomy, and culture in Greenland on page 42 of Icelandair Stopover (summer 2015 edition).

2) Just look out the window! If you’re flying between North America and Europe on a day with clear skies, you can see Greenland from 30000 feet for approximately 45 minutes, and IT. IS. BREATHTAKING. Like this! (I’ve done this maybe 15-20 times and I’m still glued to the window for every second.)

DSCN2174First sign of Greenland! Sea ice off Greenland’s east coast, as seen from a westbound Icelandair summer flight, 45 minutes after takeoff from Reykjavík, Iceland. Time: 1815 UTC. Watch the LIVE video here!

DSCN2190Superglacial lakes making the Greenland Ice Sheet look like Swiss cheese, as seen from a westbound Icelandair summer flight, 60-70 minutes after takeoff from Reykjavík, Iceland. Time: 1840 UTC.

DSCN2198 Finally, the white gives way to blue and tan again. Greenland’s west coast, as seen from a westbound Icelandair summer flight, 90 minutes after takeoff from Reykjavík, Iceland. Time: 1900 UTC. Watch the LIVE video here!

FYI: It is much more common to be able to see Greenland on a westbound flight than an eastbound flight. Part of this is due to the time of day. Westbound flights typically depart in the evening (17:00) from Reykjavík and fly into the sunlight. By contrast, eastbound flights typically depart in the late evening (20:00 from east coast USA, 16:00-17:00 from west coast USA)  and fly into the darkness. Another reason is due to the flight route. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the westbound flights tend to reach higher latitudes (61*N – 64*N) more often than the eastbound flights, which just barely reach the southern tip of Greenland (59*N).

FYI: It is much more common to be able to see Greenland in spring and summer than in autumn and winter. In late autumn and winter, the sun has usually set too low to be able to see much, even though you’re flying into the sun. But in spring and summer, there is plenty of sunlight to illuminate super Greenland!

Are you interested to see more footage of Greenland’s landscape from the air? See my Through the Airplane Window: Videos of Flying in Greenland post!

PHOTO GALLERY: Signs, Menus, and More Around Towns

A picture lasts forever! That is why I started snapping photos of signs around town, tourist information boards, restaurant menus, etc. Originally I did this for my own personal use, but I think it can be very helpful to anyone dreaming of or planning a trip to Greenland. It is hit or miss whether you can find this same information on the Internet, so I decided to share it here in one single place.

The menus can give you a great idea about average food pricing (all prices listed in Danish Kroner). And I think the photos give an accurate picture of what you can expect to find in terms of posted information when you arrive to Greenland, and in what language(s). Sometimes signs are posted in English, but oftentimes they are only written in Greenlandic and Danish.

DISCLAIMER 1: This is not a comprehensive gallery of every sign, menu, etc. in the given town. Nor is it a comprehensive gallery of every town.

DISCLAIMER 2: There is no guarantee that the information in the photograph will be valid forever. I indicate the season I took the photo so you will know if it is very recent or a bit older. By default, no picture is older than summer 2012.

DISCLAIMER 3: Sorry for the poor quality of some of the photos. As I said, I originally took the photos for my own personal use!

Signs in Ilulissat

Signs in Kangerlussuaq

Signs in Nuuk

Signs in Sisimiut

Signs in Tasiilaq

Signs in Uummannaq

PHOTO GALLERY: Signs/Menus Around Tasiilaq

Town Map posted outside Air Greenland heliportIMG_3070

Important Phone Numbers, posted in the HeliportIMG_8684

Advisements posted inside Air Greenland heliport (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2954

Accommodation Advertisement for Iglo Guesthouse in Tiniteqilaaq, a small settlement approximately 50 km/30 mi north of Tasiilaq (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2952

Opening Hours of many establishments, posted in Hotel The Red House (Utili Aapalartoq) (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2930

Opening Hours at Neriusaaq, the catch-all bookstore, Internet cafe, ice cream shop, etc.IMG_8732

Opening Hours at Ammassalik Museum (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2932

Dining Hours at Hotel The Red House (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2931

Emergency Contact Information at Hotel The Red House (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_2934

Wireless Internet Information at Hotel The Red House (Taken Spring 2013)IMG_3178

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.

IMG_3053 IMG_3057Here I am.

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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.

60-Second Tourism Evaluation of Kulusuk & Tasiilaq ! (65*N 37*W)

(From 30 April 2013) I had often heard East Greenland called the “forgotten side” of Greenland – so few residents, such harsh landscape, and all the way across that huge Ice Sheet! One might get the impression that it is a totally different country over here. Well, I am here to dispel that myth! At the end of the day, East Greenland is still Greenland! There are still quaint settlements to explore by boat, dogsledge, snowmobile, or ski (depending on the season). There are still smiling and happy people that provide great company and the most genuine service. There aregradual hills, steep mountains, and valleys of flowers to walk through or climb up, whatever you fancy. There are deep fjords with such still, striking blue water that you swear you are in a dream. And all of that is just 2 hours from Reykjavik, Iceland! So, “forgotten side”? Not quite!

PHOTO GALLERY: Greenland Towns & Settlements

Here is a one stop shop for town photos of every town and settlement I have visited, plus some quick facts! The order is clockwise, starting with East Greenland and finishing with North Greenland.

Sources: Wikipedia for coordinates… bank.stat.gl for population statistics 

Greenland // 2012 Population: 56,749 (Combined Greenland-born and other)

Greenland // 2022 Projected Population: 56,755 (Combined Greenland-born and other) // 2032 Projected Population: 56,184 (” “) // 2040 Projected Population: 55,386 (” “)

Tasiilaq // 65*N 37*W // 2012 Population: 2,004 (Town) // Photos date: 24-26 April 2013

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Kulusuk // 65*N 37*W // 2012 Population: 280 (Settlement) // Photo date: 28 April 2013

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Qaqortoq // 60*N 46*W // 2012 Population: 3,297 (Town) // Photo date: No Photo

Narsaq // 60*N 46*W // 2012 Population: 1,581 (Town) // Photo date: 15 August 2012

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Arsuk // 61*N 48*W // 2012 Population: 128 (Settlement) // Photo date: 15-16 August 2012

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Paamiut // 61*N 49*W // 2012 Population: 1,568 (Town) // Photo date: 16 August 2012

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Qeqertarsuatsiaat // 63*N 50*W // 2012 Population: 196 (Settlement) // Photo date: 14-17 August 2012

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Kangeq // 64*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 0 (Ruins) // Photo date: 21 April 2013

See here for summer pictures and a fun story about my friend’s afternoon in Kangeq. Her summer trip there was considerably more pleasant than mine!

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Nuuk // 64*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 16,181 (Town) // Photo date: 1 June-12 August 2012, 11 June 2013

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Qoornoq // 64*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 0 (Summer settlement) // Photo date: 3 July 2012

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Maniitsoq // 65*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 2,715 (Town) // Photo date: 18 August 2012

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Kangaamiut // 65*N 53*W // 2012 Population: 351 (Settlement) // Photo date: 20 August 2012

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Sisimiut // 66*N 53*W // 2012 Population: 5,571 (Town) // Photo date: 18 August 2012

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Kangerlussuaq // 67*N 50*W // 2012 Population: 513 (Settlement) // Photo date: 8-13 March 2013

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Aasiaat // 68*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 3,146 (Town) // Photo date: 19 August 2012

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Ilimanaq // 69*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 61 (Settlement) // Photo date: 8 April 2013, 11 June 2013

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Ilulissat // 69*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 4,621 (Town) // Photo date: 27 June 2012, 26 March-10 April 2013

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Oqaatsut // 69*N 51*W // 2012 Population: 50 (Settlement) // Photo date: 30 June 2012, 11 June 2013

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Qullissat // 70*N 53*W // 2012 Population: 0 (Abandoned) // Photo date: 24 June 2012

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Qaarsut // 70*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 171 (Settlement) // Photo date: No Photo

Uummannaq // 70*N 52*W // 2012 Population: 1,280 (Town) // Photo date: 22 June 2012, 5-6 June 2013

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The Piteraq – A Tribute to Greenland Icecap-Crossing Expedition 2013 (A-13-22)

(Introduction written 3 June 2013) / (Reproduced account written 29 April 2013)

Greenland has been nothing but smiles, love, and happiness for me since Day 1.  But in East Greenland I was reminded that this land is still very wild and can be brutal to human life…

If there is one point to take away from Greenland, it is that one’s everyday existence is always at nature’s mercy.  This is a lesson that one British expedition team learned the hard way and which gave me a jolt of reality while I was on the east coast.  Though I only knew these men for about a day, I was still shocked and emotionally affected to learn that their expedition failed because of an extreme windstorm called a Piteraq.

Below is a very revealing account of my experience on Sunday 28 April 2013 – the day after the Piteraq hit East Greenland.  I originally wrote this for one of the expedition members’ family only. But, as I tried to write more about my time on the east coast for this blog, I realized that this tell-all account was the only thing that could do justice to the experience.  And so I asked the family if they would be willing to let me share it here.  It is possibly the first negative experience I have ever written about, and in fact, I debated whether to include it at all.  But ultimately, I think it is imperative to represent Greenland in a realistic light and to not sugarcoat anything.

So, my personal account is copied here with the permission of the family.

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The Piteraq on Saturday 27 April 2013 had grounded all passenger flights in the Angmagssalik district, so everyone had to stay put until further notice.  Everyone whose flight was cancelled had been told that Air Greenland most likely would not fly until Monday, so it was settled that Sunday would be a quiet day with no air traffic and no events…

Around 0715, I was awoken by the unmistakable thumping heartbeat of a helicopter.  I thought to myself that I must be mistaken since there were not supposed to be any passenger flights until the next day.  I got out of bed and opened the window for a better look.  I could hear it, but I could not see it.  These steep East Greenland mountains capture sound so well that one can practically hear the helicopters the entire 26 km (16 miles) from Kulusuk to Tasiilaq!

Many minutes passed before I could actually see the machine as a speck on the horizon.  As it continued to approach, I could see that it was no ordinary Bell 212, and instantly I started to feel sick.  The machine landing at Tasiilaq was the massive Sikorsky S-61 helicopter.  It was retired for passenger flights at the end of 2012, and now only operates for Search and Rescue (SAR) missions and other special events.  So it is not necessarily a good thing to see this machine coming in.  My thoughts went immediately to the three British men I had met just days ago.  They were only four days into the expedition and I feared it was already coming to an end.  I later learned that the S-61 had flown all through the night from Kangerlussuaq, down the entire west coast, around the south, and finally over to the east.  The Piteraq was still too fierce for it to fly directly over the Inland Ice.

I only took a moment to dress and ran out the door down to the heliport.  Perhaps some people may question why I was so interested, so involved, so emotionally charged, but how could I not be?!  Just three and four days earlier I was eating dinner with these men, talking and laughing for hours, playing Foosball with [the expedition leader], photographing them the morning they got into the helicopter to go up to the Ice, saying good luck to them and that I looked forward to following the Live Tracking on their expedition website… It is true – I knew them for less than 24 hours, but sometimes time is just an arbitrary number.  When you feel that another human being is in trouble – you instinctually react!

When I got to the heliport, there were police out front, and I asked them what was happening.  They told me they were going to the Inland Ice to rescue an expedition team.  I asked them which expedition they were going after, but they did not seem to understand my question.  I offered the men’s nationality, the number of team members, the specific expedition name/ID number, even the men’s names… but nothing seemed familiar to the policemen.  Finally, when I repeated [the expedition leader’s name] that sparked recognition, and one of the policemen said, “Yes, that’s him!”  There were so many things going through my head that I could not think coherently or ask questions in the correct order.  I think maybe I was even stupid enough to ask if I could go with them on the rescue!

Once the S-61 departed at 0744 and I had some time to think, I considered the options of why the expedition was being rescued.  [The expedition leader] had told me that one of his previous expeditions was pulled because the Greenland government deemed it too dangerous.  I thought this was probably not the reason for this rescue, though, because by Sunday morning the Piteraq had subsided, so why would the government see any harm in letting them continue?  Finally, I concluded that what MUST have happened was that they lost a lot of their gear and could not continue for another 30 days on what they had left.  I never once considered that they were in mortal danger.

To prove that I never considered this option, the entire time I waited for the S-61 to return I was imagining watching the men walk off the helicopter and into the heliport and asking them what on Earth happened up on the Ice!!  Unfortunately, walking off the helicopter was the furthest thing from what the men were physically capable of doing.  This realization did not actually hit me until I saw the S-61 return just before 0900 but continue past the heliport.  I took half a second to wonder where it was going, and then I heard the bells tolling.  It was going to the hospital.  I wanted to kick myself for how little I was thinking, and again ran out the door and over to the hospital.  When I got there the S-61 was perched on the snow, so huge and massive in comparison to the buildings and residences close by.  There were a few locals standing on their front steps trying to see what was happening, but other than that there was nobody around and only silence in the air.

Members of the SAR team were already on the ground around the helicopter but it was unclear to me whether they had already unloaded the men or not.  I waited still, and then I saw the edge of a stretcher appear at the top of the helicopter stairs.  I held my breath and braced myself because I did not know what I was about to see.  The stretcher continued out the doorway and what I saw was a person strapped to the stretcher and wrapped from head to toe in a bright, gold, and blindingly shiny thermal bag.  I could not see who it was, and I could not hear anybody saying the person’s name.  The SAR team went directly inside the hospital and I did not see that person again.  Having arrived to the hospital a little bit after the helicopter landed, I was unsure whether I was seeing the first person come off the helicopter or the last person.  So still I waited to see what would happen next, and eventually a second person came off the helicopter in the same condition as the first – strapped to a stretcher and wrapped head to toe in a gold thermal bag.  Nobody else came off the helicopter, so I assumed that I had seen the third of the three men get unloaded, and I went inside.

At 0930, the doctor passed in the hallway, and I asked him if he could give me any information at all.  He was hesitant, asked if I was a family member, and I said, “No, just somebody who cares”.  He told me I would have to ask the police instead.  When the policemen passed in the hallway, I saw that it was the same officers as I had spoken with outside the heliport, and I asked them if they could give me any information.  They [mentioned two of the expedition members by name and said they were okay].  I said, “And what about [the third man]?”  They would not say another word.  My heart sank, and my gut feeling was that [the third member] was in big trouble, but still I was holding out hope that he was alive and just in very critical condition.  I stayed at the hospital for probably an hour or more watching the doctor, nurses, and SAR team go in and out of one of the treatment rooms with IVs, blankets, and medical supplies.  At one point I could actually hear one of the men speaking saying that he felt numb and that he could not feel anything, and then he got sick over and over again.  But it was a relief just to hear a voice.  I have no idea what was happening inside that room, but I can only imagine it was a nightmare.  Eventually, I had to return to The Red House to pack my bag and catch my helicopter to Kulusuk.  It was so hard for me to walk away from the hospital, and I definitely did not want to leave the town.  I desperately just wanted to stay in Tasiilaq and wait for any piece of news, no matter how big or small.

When I got back to The Red House around 1030, the air was silent and heavy.  The Polish ice climbers, the Austrian film crew, the solo French backpacker, the staff at The Red House… everyone was holding their breath waiting for news.  Like me, none of these people knew the men for more than a week, but yet there was still so much love and support in the room.  It was very special.

They had all heard about the SAR mission, but in fact they had heard incorrect information.  They were under the impression that [everyone in] Greenland Icecap-Crossing Expedition A-13-22 was deceased.  It was at this point that I realized that I was probably the only one who knew what was happening in real time – and even I knew very little.  But I knew that I had seen two men come off the S-61 alive, and I knew I could even hear one of them speaking inside the treatment room.  And I knew the police were confident in telling me that [two of the expedition members] were alive.  So I shared the few facts that I knew and nothing else.  Then we all sat with our thoughts and nobody said a word.  When I left The Red House at 1215 to catch my helicopter, the air was just as silent and heavy.  At that time it was still unclear what [the third man’s] condition was.  It was even unclear whether he had actually been rescued from the Ice or not.  I hoped and prayed that he was alive.

It was not until Sunday evening in Kulusuk that I heard the official word that [the third man] had passed…  Since then, I have not been able to stop looking at the pictures I took of the expedition team the morning they left up to the Ice.  Again, some people may question why I was so interested, so involved, so emotionally charged, but how could I not be?!  There is something about knowing you were one of the last people to spend time with the expedition team before they went to the Ice.  There is something eerie about looking at some of the last pictures of [the third man] alive and well.  Even more eerie is getting a Facebook notification that you are now friends with [him] because his family has logged onto his account to make an official post about his passing…

My heart is heavy 😦 Greenland has been nothing but smiles, love, and happiness for me since Day 1.  But now I am reminded that this land is still very wild and can be brutal to human life.

Digidduaritsi! Welcome to East Greenland! (65*N 37*W)

(From Wednesday 24 April 2013)

Today I finally returned to the famed East Coast!  First I flew from Nuuk to Kulusuk (less than 2 hours flight time), and from Kulusuk I took a helicopter to Tasiilaq (10 minutes flight time). Both are Air Greenland flights.  You know you are getting close to the east coast when you see steep, sharp peaks and frozen sea ice 🙂

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When I walked into the Kulusuk airport, it was full of life!  Packed with film crews and tourists on their way to Reykjavik and beyond…  Packed with ice cap crossers, heliskiers, and extreme adventurers ready to get started on journeys of a lifetime!  Though Greenland gets a fraction of the tourists that other worldly destinations get, the tourists that are here are very special!  Very passionate about seeing the world; very curious about a life different from their own…  It is inspiring to be surrounded by such people every day!  I think tourists to Greenland must feel a little bit like they are members of a secret club – only others who have been here really know its majesty and the feelings it evokes.

With some hours to kill before catching my helicopter to Tasiilaq, I interviewed as many tourists as possible, and then I walked around to shoot photographs.  When I went out the door to the road, my first thought was, “Wow! There is a lot of snow here!”  Now, I fully understand the irony of this statement.  I am in Greenland… in winter/spring.  Of course there is snow!  But to be completely honest, this was the first place that I was seeing a large amount of it.  The unseasonably warm temperatures had melted every single flake in Kangerlussuaq in March.  There was some snow on the ground when I was in Ilulissat and Nuuk, but it was not more than I had seen before in Washington, D.C.  And, it was pretty dirty and rocky – also similar to Washington, D.C.  So, when I walked outside and saw pristine, white snowdrifts 3 meters (10 feet) high to create a road, I was impressed!

Here are some pictures of the snowdrifts.  Picture 1 is right outside the airport.  Picture 2 is closer to the settlement of Kulusuk; the trench in the foreground is the road 🙂 For reference in Picture 3, I am only 157 centimeters (5’2″) tall!

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One of the novel aspects of traveling to small towns and settlements is flying in a helicopter!  But it is a shame the trips do not last so long – approximately 15 minutes!  This was my second helicopter trip, but I was just as excited about it as the first!  Helicopters fly lower and slower than the small fixed-wing planes, so the view and photo-ops are fantastic!  Here are some photos I shot while airborne between Kulusuk and Tasiilaq.

Settlement of Kulusuk. The snow between town and the mountains is on land.  The snow between the town and me is actually sea ice.

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If you look closely at the snow, you will see dogsledge and snowmobile tracks. In fact, there is a dogsledge down there (sans dogs). Can you spot it?

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Easily the tallest freestanding iceberg I have laid eyes on thus far.

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One of my favorite things about transportation in Greenland is how simple and relaxing it is!  To juxtapose, it is nothing like arriving to an American or European airport where you are instantly in a rush to walk/run a mile or two to baggage claim, passing through door after door, going down hallway after hallway, making sure to keep your gaggle of family members relatively close by as you weave between others.  On the contrary, I stand behind the statement that transportation with Air Greenland is nothing like that!  Save for maybe Kangerlussuaq Airport during a holiday.

The heliport in Tasiilaq is truly just a small little bull’s-eye nestled right along the harbor amongst the tall East Greenland mountains.  When you land and the helicopter door opens, a rush of crisp, fresh air hits you and you step down and just feel happy!  The Arctic Calm is all around you.  You are on the east coast of Greenland!  You are alive!  Just look at how beautiful this place is!  There is no rushing around, and there is no need to frantically find a map before you take a single step more. There is only one road in / out, so take your pick! (Though there is a map outside on the door of the heliport 🙂 )

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From first impressions alone, Tasiilaq could easily be one of my Top 3 favorite towns in Greenland. I even sent an SMS to a friend that said, “I love it! I think I could be an East Coast woman!”

Terminology: East Greenland

You may wonder why I sometimes say “the east coast” rather than name a particular town.  It is pretty common, and that is because there are so few places to live in this part of the country.  It is the most sparsely populated region of Greenland! There are 2 towns (Ittoqqortoormiit and Tasiilaq) and 5 settlements (Isotorq, Kulusuk, Kuummiut, Sermiligaaq, and Tiniteqilaaq).  A grand total of approximately 3,500 people live in these places, and most are in Tasiilaq.  Also, a lot of the tourism activity is focused in Tasiilaq and its surrounding settlements (Isotorq, Kulusuk, and Tiniteqilaaq).  So when one says she is going to “the east coast” it is fairly likely she is going to Tasillaq.

You may also see “Angmagssalik” (alternative spelling: Ammassalik) in reference to the east coast.  This is a remnant of the pre-2009 municipality system.  Before 2009, each town in Greenland had its own municipality, and Tasiilaq’s was Angmagssalik.  As of 1 January 2009, many municipalities fused to form the four that exist today.  They are Kujalleq Kommuneqarfik (South Greenland), Sermersooq Kommuneqarfik (Capital Region and East Greenland), Qeqqata Kommuneqarfik (Arctic Circle Region), and Qaasuitsup Kommuneqarfik (North Greenland).

Fun fact: Angmagssalik is Greenlandic for “the place with capelin”.  Capelin are small sardine- or herring-type fish that are delicious battered and fried or just tossed in a pan with oil, salt and pepper, and lemon!  You can eat them bones and all!  Here they are simply prepared as a cold appetizer.

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