I’ve visited Greenland a number of times, but always to ski and climb. The sea terrified me, but I was about to spend my next trip sat on my backside in a kayak. What had changed..?
The reason I ended up on my arse is pure chance. I was working on a P&O cruise ship touring the Norwegian Fjords and we docked at Bergen. I joined a day trip kayaking on an inlet close by and there met Laila Reigstad. We got on like a house on fire and stayed in touch, exchanging all kinds of thoughts and ideas about kayaking, but I was a complete novice and needed guidance. Laila filled me with confidence and offered to train me and so eventually I ended up to my backside in the sea. Sadly Covid came and put all our ideas on ice, but now we can travel again, Ice is where we’ve been.
It was mid afternoon on 12th July when I saw the stones and snows of the Greenlandic coast again. Pure white cloud held them snugly, but through its gaps I could see icebergs, glaciers and rock faces. I couldn’t gauge perspective and have always struggled as everything is so massive out there. The cliffs could have been a hundred feet or a thousand. The bergs the size of cars or small towns. The glaciers certainly were huge, cascading ever downward to the sea.
The pilot announced that the runway at Narsarsuaq was very short and a ‘hard landing with full brakes’ was normal. He wasn’t joking..! It reminded me of the black and white war films I watched as a child when pilots dropped onto an aircraft carrier and the brakes squeezed as we hit the tarmac. The round of applause said it all, although the elderly Greenlandic lady sat next to me seemed quite at ease. The air broke into my lungs at a refreshing 10C, a far cry from the 30+ back at home.
I’d felt scared about travelling for the first time in years. I couldn’t quite put a stump on it, perhaps the loss of my mother was finally hitting home..? Was it the time between big trips..? I’d flown enough recently and been fine, but I’d been shaking as I left home. Thankfully as I put my boots onto the strip, the old me was back. It felt bloody marvellous to be in my second home again.
The old American air base at Narsarsuaq was just a hopping off point as a launch transferred us to the small town of Narsaq. Laila had joined us and our quartet was complete. The launch sped through the huge Eriksfjord and here we got our first taste of icebergs. The pilot skilfully navigated through the ice and delivered us safely. It was time to pack and prepare, before heading out into the open fjords in our Kayaks. Before we did, we visited the excellent Narsaq Museum which is packed with Inuit history, and well worth a visit. I’ve travelled for years and am still amazed that many people care little for the history of their surroundings.
We set off the next day, fully laden with kit and supplies, bidding the world of mobile service goodbye. The sun was high and the seas calm as we crossed the 5km Narsap Saava and entered the main flow of ice. Words fail me in how to describe the feelings and sensations of paddling through an ice field like this. I only hope the pictures and videos I took can in some way transmit the effect of this wonderful place. It’s not just what you see, but the sounds as bergs shatter and roll, the water lapping at the crystal edges and the shocks of cold breeze as they hit you. ‘Magical’ doesn’t go far enough.
We camped the night in a beautiful bay at Stephensons Have, close to the abandoned Inuit settlement of Tuttutuup Isua. Turf and stone hut circles still litter the landscape as do the graves of old. Once these circles were covered in whale bone and sealskin roofs, with a small community thriving until around the 1850’s. We paid great respect to the area and enjoyed a wonderful sunset from the hill above the settlement.
The coming days saw more huge icebergs, Karibu, cliff colonies of sea birds and choppy seas, but hardly any people. An occasional fishing boat would pass by at a great distance, but otherwise we were on our own. I felt extremely privileged to be able to enjoy such a beautiful place without thousands of other folk.
We camped on a sandy beach below the face of an un-named glacier and marvelled at its power and beauty. As with many such places, the ice has retreated a great deal over the last 50 years and what was one face is now two as a headland has been exposed. I’m no expert when it comes to Climate Change. The Vikings grew crops here centuries ago and the climate was much warmer (some say +2C), but the world is changing and we’d better get ready for those changes.
A bracing morning swim with the ice certainly woke me up before another wondrous experience, paddling towards the glacier face. The rule of thumb is never to get closer than two and a half times the height of the ice face, but how do you judge that..? It felt close enough, certainly when chunks of ice crashed into the sea before us. Birds hammered away at the waters and a couple of seals joined into what must have been an underwater food fest. We paddled up and down, staring into the fantastic shattered face until we were forced to leave as time was pushing on. A mish-mash of ice blocked our exit and we broke out in convoy, literally smashing ice aside to reach the open sea.
Our homeward journey was underway, but I felt no sadness. There was still a great deal to experience and the Viking settlement near Qingaarsuup Nunaa brought a huge bay packed with stranded bergs, clouds and peace. You could imagine longboats silently appearing out of the mists and anchoring here in the past. Our final camp saw us toast friendship and the wonders of the outdoors.
Our last day was tinged with sadness. Firstly we visited the abandoned farm at Narsarsuaaraq, a sad place where money seemed wasted in a sheep farm. Huge modern buildings stand abandoned, strewn with machinery and equipment which is wasted and slowly rotting. Against this setting sits a collapsing house whose occupant has passed away. His belongings are left to gain dust, including family pictures and one of the most intact and beautiful sets of original Inuit hunting gear I’ve ever seen. We reported this to the Museum and hope they can save this wonderful collection. Further on we stopped at another sad spot where children were abandoned in the past if they had no father or were born out of wedlock. Such a beautiful place, surrounded by sadness.
It was time for home as I rounded the headland back into Narsaq alone, enjoying the last few moments with my backside on the water, before the journey home began.
I can’t recommend this part of the world enough. The space, history and aura is spellbinding. I just hope we can keep it that way…
My thanks to Terra Nova Equipment for supporting my trip with a Quasar Tent…