Greenland. Officially the world’s largest island, yet it has a population of only under 60,000 – that’s not many more than Wrexham. With tales of stunning rock & ice scenery, the chance to paddle amongst icebergs and to see whales ….and possibly even polar bears, the decision to join a team heading out to SE Greenland in July 2013 was not a difficult one!
Pre-trip reports of more sea ice than normal (melting polar ice) proved correct during the exciting approach to land at the dirt strip runway at Kulusuk. The channel between this small island and the mainland seemed to be more iceberg than water – and boats were struggling to get through. Our first stamina test proved to be getting our kit 3km from the airport to an alternative jetty at the village where Lars’ boat was, with much scraping of plastic hull on ice, just about able to make it through to collect us. Thankfully, our kayaks would be already at Tasilaq waiting for us.
Our plan, if weather and sea ice allowed, was to circumnavigate Angmagssaliq Is. After a day sampling the delights of Tasilaq town it was time to pack the boats - with 12 days’ supplies, I was glad of the NDK Explorer’s huge load-carrying capacity. Air temperature was a glorious 15-20deg, but with water at around 2deg, drysuits were considered not a bad idea!
It was good to slip into a familiar daily routine – breakfast, sort, pack, carry, launch, paddle. A typical day would involve paddling in smooth or slight seas, moving together as a tight group especially when squeezing between icebergs. My 4-piece Celtic Paddles 650 carbon crank paddle, brought over in hand luggage from the UK, was a delight to paddle with. And the paddling was always through stunning scenery.
Sometimes the way forward through the ice was not clear, and we would land to climb a headland for a view. Occasionally we would need to wait for the tide or wind to change to move the ice – sometimes this could take half a day or more.
A first for me was having a snack stop - complete with freshly-brewed coffee thanks to Jimski – on an iceberg!! It was easy to forget that the iceberg, and us, were still whizzing along at a couple of knots thanks to the tide.
Iceberg shapes always proved a topic of conversation while paddling – animals, birds and castles were imagined and, being a Welshman, the occasional dragon!
Thanks to Martin’s local knowledge, almost every night’s campsite had fresh water, an impressive view out of the tent door and a generous supply of driftwood for a campfire. With most consumables brought in by container ship from Denmark, there seemed to be an endless supply of pallets on beaches and, due to the dry atmosphere, boy did they burn well!
Following reports of a polar bear sighting in the area, bear watch became a nightly feature. Target practice with a pump-action shotgun fortunately didn’t result in any human casualties. With eight in the group, a one hour stint each covered the night – but thankfully, any bears in the area didn’t head our way.
For some strange masochistic reason, a few of us decided that doing a roll at these latitudes (does that make it an Arctic Roll??) would be a good idea. My roll wouldn’t win any awards for style, but with water temperature hovering just above freezing I was just pleased to have managed to return the right way up!
The most memorable part of the trip? Impossible to choose. An arctic fox visiting our campsite? Hearing passing whales in the fjord at 3am while on bear-watch? The smiling faces of Inuit orphan kids playing with our cameras? Somehow I have a distinct feeling that this may not be my last trip to this stunning part of the world……Article and photos courtesy of Gwyn Roberts, North Wales