You know you’re in one of the best jobs on Earth when… it sends you to guide international agents through 200 km of the Arctic Circle from ice cap to coastline. It was a five-day adventure that (almost) made me and the 7 agents forget we were working! Read about my extended weekend of new experiences here.
In mid-September 2017, on home turf, Greenland hosted Vestnorden Travel Mart, a trade show to connect international travel specialists with the three North Atlantic destinations: the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland. One immersive and extremely important part of this trade show is the pre-tours that take place in the days before all the meetings. No suits or formal handshakes here. Agents get into their travel element and have the exact same adventurous and fun tourist experience that their guests will have in the future. Together with local partners, Visit Greenland planned and sponsored these pre-tours, and hence, my guiding 🙂
Autumn is such a nice time of year to be outside. Though there are no piles of fallen leaves to crunch through and kick up, the changing colours of the mountain alder and Arctic thyme to yellow and red hues are more than #fallyall Insta-worthy. Usually there’s already been a few snows at the higher altitudes, and the snow-capped mountains just add to the whistfullness of the landscape.
And into the inland autumn wonderland that is Kangerlussuaq is exactly how we started the long weekend.
HIKING THROUGH MUSKOX COUNTRY
Nini Frydkjær Holstebro, owner of the little boutique called ByHeart, led us on a narrow pathway trodden not by backpackers but by – get this – muskox. Her voice is calm and soothing, and I could instantly tell she is every bit the ‘beautiful soul’ I have heard her described as before. As we walked, she showed her true colours as a modern-day gatherer, describing in detail the homeopathic uses of different herbs, including which ones work best in cookies. I, for one, took notes!
Following Nini off-track to investigate an area just over the hill paid off. After a few hours we found a blended herd of muskox bulls and females with their calves. At first we counted 5 or 6 animals, but in time, ‘rocks’ came alive and turned out to be little ones hunkered down!
The hike, and day, ended at Restaurant Roklubben on Lake Ferguson. Over a three-course plated dinner followed by the famous nightcap called Greenlandic Coffee, the agents wrapped their heads around the fact that just fifteen hours earlier they stood in European capital, Copenhagen, Denmark, and now they sat a world away in the Arctic, looking out over the widest landscape imaginable with a green swirl of Northern Lights overhead.
Day 2 got us up in the air and was such a perfect experiential segue from the previous day’s backcountry hike and into this day’s upcoming mini expedition on the ice.
We circled and swirled over the same lakes and reddish hills we walked through, this time getting so much more perspective of the vastness we stood in. We saw the lakes’ true depths as evidenced by their technicolour layers, not to mention hundreds of muskox. Funny to think that though I only saw 12 muskox with my own eyes, we were actually completely surrounded by them.
My stomach was in my throat half the time, but I did enjoy nonetheless following the braids of glacial runoff further inland to their source. The Greenland Ice Sheet is so monstrous and obvious but somehow it still seemed to surprise me how fast it popped up on the horizon. Russell Glacier gives such a stark contrast to the land it creeps onto one cm at a time, and the only thing I could think was, “I can’t believe I’m going to be sleeping down there tonight!”
Four and a half years ago I stood on the Greenlandic Ice Sheet for an afternoon to watch a charity football game (yes, you read that correctly). Though that story is pretty hard to top, I do think camping overnight on the ice gives it a run for its money, and I was so excited for the opportunity to try this staple adventure experience in Kangerlussuaq.
The drive out to the ice is as rough as I remembered – an hour and a half jostling around on a dirt/sand/gravel road leftover from Volkswagen’s car-testing days in Greenland. Thank goodness for short breaks for fresh air and silence!
Once we reached the end of the road, we went immediately into pulk preparation mode. The camp is located half an hour’s walk on the ice, so there’s no running back to the bus to grab something real quick. Everything we needed for the night we had to take in ourselves. This is not glamping, folks!
Pulks are the classic piece of equipment that the bonafide Extreme Adventurers use when they cross the Greenland Ice Sheet from coast to coast. (It is not uncommon for them to train for their expeditions by pulling heavy tires, CrossFit style!) While the pulks we had were super light, I couldn’t help putting myself in the expeditioners’ shoes for a moment to imagine the feeling of heading off into a frozen world with 70 kilos strapped to myself – everything to (hopefully) keep me alive for upwards of thirty days in an otherwise uninhabitable environment.
Our glacier walk with the pulks was pretty painless – 30 minutes or so and we had arrived to the camp where two large expedition dome tents stay erected for the whole season. We paired off and set up our small two-man sleeping tents (provided for us, along with a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag+liner good to -35*C), plus the all-important bathroom tent, and then enjoyed a nice cup of cocoa before heading out again (sans pulk).
We were fighting the waning light a bit, but we still managed to get in a good couple hours of glacier walking. We went up and down over the frozen waves of light blue, dark blue and black, looked sheepishly into moulins where liters of rushing water disappeared into a deep hole every second, and even collected cold glacier water directly into our water bottles. By the end, head lamps were a necessary tool to navigate back to camp, which definitely added to the feeling that this is real adventure.
Though I never said it to my group of agents, I was so thankful they all are the adventurous and ‘respectful’ type. They were up for anything, no problem, and they were also quiet when on the trail. It is more important than one realises. The pleasant ambience of shared silence gives everyone the peace to connect and reflect on the experience in real time. Live in the moment, you know?
Dinner was a surprisingly delicious just-add-water packet of spicy rice mix, seated comfortably in the gathering tent on foldable camp chairs pre-arranged in a cosy circle on the perimeter. In the middle, the top on a pot of soon-boiling water fluttered, and soon the steam plus body heat made it more like a sauna tent. A hat was complete overkill!
Like on most camping trips, the excitement of adventure mixed with physical activity puts everyone early to bed. My tent mate and I turned in for the evening, noting verbally that it really was not cold at all! I slept the whole night through until we woke to the sound of little droplets of sleet hitting the rain fly in the morning.
ONE NIGHT IS TOO SHORT!
We were all pretty sad to leave the ice – the fun had only just begun! But yet new adventures awaited us out on the coast. Fast forward through the same bumpy drive between ice and town, plus another lunch at Hotel Kangerlussuaq Restaurant (it’s like Groundhog Day here sometimes) plus a flight out to the coast and we landed in Sisimiut.
But that story you will have to wait for Part 2 for…
Autumn Arctic Circle Adventure in a nutshell
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes of everything, in chronological order, that we packed into 5 days/4 nights of discovery:
- Direct flight on Air Greenland from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq (in summer, there are also direct flights with Air Iceland Connect from Keflavik)
- Lunch buffet at Kangerlussuaq Airport Restaurant
- Hike through Muskox Country with Greenland Outdoors / By Heart
- Dinner and Greenlandic Coffee at Restaurant Roklubben, RSVP only via Albatros Arctic Circle
- Overnight at Polar Lodge, run by Albatros Arctic Circle
- Flightseeing with AirZafari Greenland
- Camp Ice Cap, a combination glacier hiking and overnight glacier camping experience with Albatros Arctic Circle
- Lunch buffet at Kangerlussuaq Airport Restaurant
- Visit to Kangerlussuaq Musuem
- Air Greenland flight to Sisimiut
- Three-course dinner at Restaurant Nasaasaaq at Hotel Sisimiut
- Sailing trip / Tour of Assaqutaq, an old settlement, with Arctic Incoming
- Overnight at Hotel Sisimiut
- Adventure day of sailing, fishing, grilling at a fjord cabin, hiking, ATVing & mountain biking, meeting sled dogs, and sauna, all with Arctic Incoming and Greenland Extreme
- Greenlandic buffet dinner at Restaurant Nasaasaaq at Hotel Sisimiut
- Overnight at Hotel Sisimiut
- Walking tour of Sisimiut with Destination Arctic Circle