Autumn adventure along the Arctic Circle, Part 1

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 ūüôā¬†

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 Frydkj√¶r 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!

21688390_10213351213231878_3525115147588174117_o

Muskox in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Photo by Anne Kiel.

 

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.

IMG_2310

Though an Ice Sheet may sound like a flat ice skating rink, it is anything but. Cracks, crevices and snaking rivers define this Arctic landscape.

FLIGHTSEEING

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!”

IMG_2297

From above, one gets perspective – always on the landscape and even sometimes on life.

GLACIER CAMPING

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!

IMG_2379 2

Tents and sleeping bags, check. Barrels of food, check. The pulks are ready to be strapped down and pulled up to camp.

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.

IMG_2391 2

The mini expedition begins.

IMG_2416

Camp Ice Cap by Albatros Arctic Circle. Open from March to October.

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?

IMG_2429

This is adventure.

IMG_2433

Me. Don’t ask how an Amazonian feels perfectly at home in the Arctic. I don’t even know the explanation myself.

IMG_2439

Crampons and hiking poles are a necessity out here on the ice.

IMG_2446

Night-walking.

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.

IMG_2399

The obligatory ‘our feet were here’ shot! It’s just like field camping, only icier.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Stay In Fashion (and Warm) in Greenland with Qiviut, Muskox Wool

IMG_5129  Kangerlussuaq, 67*N, midday January 2015 (-25*C / -13*F)

How¬†do you stay warm in the Greenland winter? If you’re a tourist, take a tip from the locals. And if you’re a local, you take a tip from the wildlife.

Locals know best

Just like you might follow where the locals go to find the best live music in town, you should note what Greenlanders wear to keep warm.

Of course there are the usual suspects walking around like Canada Goose jackets and Sorel snow boots, but Greenlanders also use a whole host of sustainable locally-sourced animal products as functional, fashionable clothing.

It makes perfect sense,¬†right? These are the¬†very materials¬†that allow Greenland’s¬†wildlife to¬†brave the sub-zero temperatures and icy waters of their Arctic home, and Greenlanders are using their meat and bones for sustenance anyway.

In the north, polar bear fur is common, and sealskin is more and more the image of urban Greenlandic fashion, thanks to the Great Greenland fur house.

But have you heard of muskox wool?

Muskox wool – Greenland’s cashmere

Muskox wool, called qiviut in Greenlandic, is very¬†popular in Greenland for accessories like hats, shawls, and wrist-warmers. It is so fine a material – incredibly warm and soft –¬†and it can even be washed without fear of shrinking.¬†It is the underfur of the muskox, a goat-like animal with thick gnarly¬†horns and an even thicker long coat, that is made¬†into decadent¬†yarn and woven into exquisite¬†pieces. Some of the finest baby clothes I’ve ever seen were¬†made of qiviut.

The best part for tourists is that qiviut¬†is 100% approved for export (unlike polar bear and seal products). Therefore, you can buy up all the qiviut accessories your heart desires. I bet you’ll be the warmest person on the street once you get home! You could also buy the yarn in spools and take it home to the knitter in your life.

Here are my favorite personal¬†qiviut items¬†– a hat handmade and purchased in Kangerlussuaq at the Niviarsiaq Uld shop, and wrist warmers handmade by my colleague’s teenage daughter in Nuuk.

DSCN1112 Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 4.25.06 PM

If¬†you find yourself in Sisimiut one day admiring a woman’s¬†beautifully-woven qiviut scarf, chances are you just might be taking a tip from the local who knows¬†very best.

Read more on Greenland.com about Anita H√łegh of Sisimiut – the woman who pioneered the muskox wool industry in Greenland and changed how Greenlanders do warm!