The North Greenland Travel log

This 14 day adventure takes its innocent beginning in Nuuk the Capital of Greenland and our home.
It has been a long standing wish to go to the northernmost part of Greenland and to go see the unique part of the Greenlandic environment and culture rooted there.
 A 14 day arctic spring adventure, with destinations such as Qaanaaq, Whalrus hunters at the edge of the sea ice and Siorapaluk – the northernmost natural settlement in the world.
Arctic spring means daylight 24 hrs a day and temperatures between -20 and -30C. Something to bear in mind when planning for such a trip:)
The way home would very conveniently take us via Ilulissat, one of my favourite destinations in Greenland both summer and winter - A perfect opportunity for additional dogsledding action and an opportunity to visit friends.

The full image gallery from the journey can be found by clicking here

The log has the following 14 chapters:
Day 1 – Kangerlussuaq, Ilulissat and Hotel Arctic
Day 2 – Arrival in Qaanaaq
Day 3 – Introductions and planning
Day 4 – Towards Herbert Island
Day 5 – To the edge ice
Day 6 – Siorapaluq (arctic paradise redefined)
Day 7 – The long way back
Day 8 – Resting up, “Kaffemik” and a nightly walk
Day 9 – Back to “civilization”
Day 10 – Preparations and blizzards
Day 11 – Dogsledding fun
Day 12 – The importance of research
Day 13 – All Sundays should be like this
Day 14 – Going home and reflections

I sincerely hope you will enjoy this log, the images going along with it and perhaps most of all, the introduction (or reintroduction) to Greenland as a winter travel destination.

Day 1 – Kangerlussuaq, Ilulissat and Hotel Arctic

Waking up in the morning with the knowledge that the day will bring one the first step towards a 1½4 day long travel adventure is perhaps the best way to start a day imaginable.

We woke up early too early perhaps, but we were eager to get on with things and get to the airport.
Checking in was a little nervy, we kind of knew the baggage was a little heavier than allowed, but going so far North meant bringing a big bore riffle, camera gear and lots of warm clothing. Paying excess baggage is not the end of the world though and with the sun streaming through the windows and the paying for excess baggage was not the end of the world though and with the sun streaming through the windows and the only a touch below 0C temperature in Nuuk, it was hard to be in a bad mood for very long.

We boarded the flight to Kangerlussuaq (the Greenlandic air travel hub) and enjoyed a silky smooth flight with an absolutely stunning display of pristine white snow over black mountains and Inland Ice.
Laying over 3 hours in Kangerlussuaq was a good experience as well. It meant plenty of time for a quick lunch in the cafeteria, and a stop at the new gallery “Minamut” where the talented painter and owner Mina resides (one of the kindest people we have ever met). She provided excellent last minute advice on Qaanaaq and Siorapaluk, which turned out very useful for us later on.

The Flight to Ilulissat over the mountains can be a bit bumpy at times, but also this flight turned out to be a silky smooth ride with a stunning view of the Icefiord, that displayed a to us new phenomena; It was almost empty!
Several Locals explained later on that given certain conditions the Icefiord will appear empty on very rare occasions, last time was apparently somewhere in the 1990ies.
We collected our massive amount of baggage and took the Hotel shuttle to Hotel Arctic and the awaiting “superior room”, booked for the Night. Hotel Arctic is one of 3 real hotels in Ilulissat and in our opinion the finest in Greenland.
 Eric the Managing Director has developed from nothing into a 4 star hotel with 5 star conference facilities. Even Now where the famous “Igloo” suites are undergoing restoration it is a great place to stay, albeit a bit pricey.

We enjoyed an excellent dinner in the restaurant, windows seats to a gorgeous evening sun.

While the food was excellent it did not quite live up to the standard we remembered it for. The newly introduced concept with several smaller courses and very high prices per course, made us think of a gourmet restaurant in Copenhagen, London or elsewhere, but the combination of interior, size and quality of the courses and price did not add up for us. Still the food is excellent and among the best served in Greenland.
We decided to go to bed early after a positive and eventful travel day, as the flowing day would be a tightly packed programme and a long flight via Upernavik to Qaanaaq.

Day 2 – Arrival in Qaanaaq

We woke up early in the comfortable beds and after a very delicious breakfast buffet, we checked that we had 4 hours before we needed to check in (which could be done at the hotel).
After packing up the last items we talked to “World of Greenland” about how to collect the arctic sleeping bags we were to bring and where to park the baggage not going with us to Qaanaaq.
After a talk with the guides known from work done with World of Greenland in the past about this and that, we packed up the sleeping bags and grabbed a cab back to the Hotel.
Here we changed clothes and repacked our bags before checking in to the flight. After check in, we dashed by the Igloos, just to see the progress and to enjoy the absolutely amazing view they have.
Shortly after the shuttle bus arrived and we were driven to the airport where we met up with a couple of friends also going to Qaanaaq. The flught to Upernaviq and onwards to Qaanaaq was announced and we boarded the combined Passenger/cargo flight heading north.

First leg of the flight towards Upernavik, gave the first indications on what to expect because as we progressed North the fiords turned more and more into a solid sheet of ice.
Upernavik Airport and city was a stunning refuelling stop. We had half an hour to taking the stunning location. We decided to add Upernavik to the must visit list on the spot. Gorgeous mountains and fiords it seems.

Leaving Upernavik the fiord and ocean below us turned into solid ice only broken by an occasional crack or iceberg trapped in the ice. If we were in doubt that we were going north the serene monotone scenery reminded us every time we looked out the window.
We passed a final ridge of glaciers and mountains before we were dazzled by the view of the Qaanaaq fiord and the settlement of Qaanaaq. A fiord frozen solid as far as we were able to see, windblown high arctic desert mountains, witnessing of a climate where precipitation is a rarity during the long winters due to the inhumanely cold temperatures.

The city of Qaanaaq only has one flight a week and the arrival of essentials to the city alongside the few travellers going here is an event where most of the city shows up.

We are greeted firstly by Arkiunnguaq (Professional hunter and sled driver) and Tukummeq (his wife and the only one speaking anything other than Greenlandic) and then by Hans, the owner of the only hostel in town.
Having only a regular car the is some waiting time at the airport before the 10 minute drive along a dirt road to Qaanaaq itself. It is spend taking in the extremely harsh light and near Airport surroundings. And getting used to the -23C in the afternoon sun.
As the Hostel has been overbooked we have agreed to stay in what used to be the care home, before a new was build across the street. A place where the plumbing has frozen completely, meaning a ten minute walk to get a shower and that there is a 10 litre bucket collecting all the water spend that must be emptied all the time.

We settled on a very basic late dinner as everything has been closed down and a midnight walk, figuring out the basic layout and enjoying the last rays of sun before it dips under behind the mountains for a couple of hours.
We hit the bed exhausted after a long day worth of travelling and our first encounter with the stunning surroundings.

Day 3 – Planning and Shopping:

Waking up at 9 came easy as light has been pouring in the windows since we went to bed.
First stop was our standard breakfast of hot müsli stew and sweet chilli tea.

From here the trip went to the local hospital, Sabine the local Managing Nurse had agreed to equip us with the necessary outer layer of clothing for a multiple day dogsledding adventure.

In my case a pair of Polar Bear fur pants, as I have brought my own sledding anorak and arctic expedition boots.
 Louise was equipped with polar bear fur pants, a Rein deer fur sledding anorak and double layered “Kamikker”, a traditional inuit “soft boot” (in the lack of a better word), with an outer layer of thick seal skin, with a thick woollen sole and an inner “kamik” or “boot” made from thick lam skin with the fur on the inside. It literally made Louise look like what can best be described as a fur ball.

Having carried our newly borrowed clothes home, we met up with Arkiunnguaq, Tukummeq and Arii.
First interesting surprise was that we would be sledding with two professional hunters speaking Greenlandic only. Arkiunnguaq knew a few words, but that was it.
The planning was handled with Tukummeq translating between Danish and Greenlandic, which turned out to be totally problem free and very efficient.
The route was quickly agreed upon and we discussed food, clothing and other necessities for a good couple of hours. After which we felt confident that we knew what we had to do before heading out the following day.

We wrote up a detailed list of food needed and headed straight to “Pilarsuisoq” the local convenience store. Where we bought what we made the necessary compromises between what we needed and what was available. It was far from a perfect match, but a decent compromise considering the available options.

After having enjoyed a coup of hot chilli tea in the sun on the porch, the afternoon was spend repacking everything and in my case making sure that the photography gear was ready for four days of extreme cold where it would be running for 10 hours a day.
The evening was spend on the ice just close to the dog yards, to have an early warning should a polar bear decide to try to sneak up on me, pinning out a couple of carefully composed images of the gorgeous arctic evening light.
Back home the very final preparations was made and Just around 0100 hours we turned in for the night, so ready for the following 4 days worth of adventure.

Day 4 – Towards Herbert Island

Waking up on this first day of our dogsledding adventure was easy. We quickly freshened up and got the last things stuffed in the bags. Next was the classic travel breakfast – hot müsli stew and sweet chilli tea.

We then slowly began getting sled dog adventure ready, first a warm woollen inner layer and a slightly warmer middle layer, before jumping into the Polar bear fur pants and sledding anorak, thick woollen socks and arctic expedition boots, two layer woollen beanie, and triple layered gloves.

Shortly after getting dressed we were picked up by Arkiunnguaq and Arii, in a beaten up red Toyota Tercel and after loading the bags in the trunk we drowe the short distance to the sled dog yards.
Louise and Arii was dropped off at his sled dog yard before Arkiunnguaq and myself continued to his sled dog yard.

He dropped me and my bag off and left with the words “Car, House” and a gesture I assumed was an indication that he would hurry back.
What I quickly noticed while waiting was the size of the sleds, sleds build for travelling on sea ice is much larger than the terrain sleds I have grown accustomed to. The reason is that they do not climb much terrain and need the size to navigate across the sometimes large cracks in the sea ice that would be difficult to pass on a smaller sled.

Another thing I could not help noticing was that two of the female dogs were in the heat, a fact that can turn even the most well behaving pack of dogs into a chaos of fighting and humping dogs, in practical terms this would just mean that the males in this pack would fight each other over the two female dogs whenever they could get away with it and that there would likely be produced a lot of new sled dogs as well.
Arkiunnguaq returned surprisingly fast and we quickly pack up the sled and harnessed the dogs, before arkiunnguaq lead the dogs over the crest of ice always present at the shoreline and onto the ice.

From here the course was set via open sea ice and among ice flakes and small icebergs towards northwest tip of Herbert Island.

We were in for a visually impressive ride and the short tea breaks to get the body moving a bit and to untangle the lines to the dogs, gave us some good opportunities to see the two hunters display how perfectly easy it was for them to handle the dogs, even the span with the females in the heat behaved surprisingly well. The wind was fairly mild so the-24C was not too bad, only the last short ride in the shade of the tall mountains at Herbert Island was a bit on the cold side, as the wind picked up on this stretch. Luckily one can grab the “opstander” and run a bit behind the sled to get warm. Getting of the sled and up there and securely back on to the sled requires a little practise though and the larger sleds used up here means one has to be rather fast doing it.

Arrival at the small hunters hut that we would stay in for the night was amazing, an old totally weatherworn hut, with an interior well every bit as worn.
A low “shelf” covered a third of the back of the hut and was with room enough for five people to squeeze down and sleep and another one person cot near the one of the walls, that aside nothing but and old chair, a myriad of string spun across the ceiling, from where all gloves, anoraks, kamiks and socs soon were hung to dry.
Two portable high power petroleum ovens were brought inside from the sleds as well as two ancient but very efficient petroleum stoves and in 15 minutes the temperature in the hut rose from -24C to 25C

We started melting chunks of ice chopped of a nearby building sized ice flake, stuck in the ice and soon everybody was busy cooking dinner and tea.
On our part dinner was a simple meal of rice and meat balls in paprika sauce, served with the usual chilli tea. The hunters we dining on boiled Polar bear meat and fat. As the Polar bear has a diet of mainly seal fat, it is rather fatty meat, but we both agreed that it was something we would not mind have for dinner some time.

As we finished up dinner two other local hunters stopped by the hut they were on their way to the walrus hunting areas near the edge of the sea ice. They brought a huge chunk of frozen walrus meat inside and hung it to warm up in a corner with a big plastic bowl under it and soon the smell of walrus meat slowly warming up filled the hut alongside the sound of blood and water dripping from the meat into the bowl.

They were invited on boiled polar bear and consumed it while sharpening a number of very large and well worn hunting knifes, to be used the next morning.

One of the other hunters spoke decent Danish and we got some much welcome updates on the weather, on hunting traditions and other stuff from him.
We both drifted to sleep to the sound of hunting stories told in north Greenlandic a dialect of Greenlandic we did not understand a word of.

Day 7 – The long way back

Waking up in the morning and knowing that in the evening you will be awarded with the first shower in four days is not bad - walking outside the tent and being greeted by a location among the most beautiful I have ever seen makes it nearly perfect.

We spend the morning walking the settlement again and browsing the small “Pilersuisoq” convenience store only to find it surprisingly well equipped, better equipped than we have seen in many other settlements actually.

Having packed up the camp we set out on the 6 hour sled ride to Qaanaaq, a smooth and beautiful ride in warm weather.

Half an hour into the tour we are passed by the settlement helicopter shuttle service, it makes for a beautiful contrast as the helicopter pass above the dogsleds.

As we arrived in Qaanaaq the hunter proudly announced “5 hours, very fast!” and we drive all the way to the sled yard where the driver quickly release the dogs to their respective sleeping areas and then runs off to pick up the car.

Sleds unpacked, Arkiunguaq drives us back to the hostel, or excuse for a hostel, where we are staying. We unpack and change into more ordinary winter clothing before heading down to “Pilersuisoq” to shop what we need for dinner.

 On our way back we make a stop at the real hostel for a long and warm shower, along with a change of clothes.

Back at “home” we prepare a very basic dinner of pearl barley, with vegetables, minced meat and paprika sauce, served with a nice cold can of beer.

In the evening we talk to the two friends having done a different route and trade stories, as they filter to bed we stay up and go through the images from our adventure slowly cooling down before heading to bed, exhausted after the adventure packed four days on the ice.

Day 5 – The edge of the ice

We woke up early and as the crowded hut came to life, we prepared a morning meal of hot müsli stew and chilli tea.
The four hunters warmed up the polar bear meat again and had a breakfast of boiled polar bear meat and fat.
After breakfast arkiunnguaq read his daily passage in a well read Greenlandic Bible, it may not be common knowledge but Greenlandic Inuits are very Christian and while they are Christians with a strong mix of their old native Inuit beliefs, they do tend to nurture their spiritual well being a lot more than most Europeans do.

Soon after the walrus was sliced expertly into lumps the size of a hand or so and fed to the dogs outside, they deserved a luxury meal before a long day of hunting we were told.

The sleds were quickly packed up and soon after we were on our merry way on a north-westerly heading. We were soon leaving the last Islands behind travelling on ice growing rapidly thinner and with the fiord or ocean beneath it. A blizzard became increasingly visible in the horizon, Dark storm clouds and the very classical snow trails beneath it. Another clear sign of us getting closer to the ocean between Greenland and Canada was the increasing size of the icebergs we passed on our way.
 Cracks in the ice seemed to increase both in width and numbers as we drove on, but they began to look very freshly cracked too. We were indeed moving on thinning ice.
The view however was spectacular; there was an increasing sense of open nothingness unlike anything I have ever experienced before.
A couple of times seals were spotted in the distance on the ice. And the hunters used the breathing holes created by the seals to judge how thick (or thin) the ice was, or so it seemed at least.
At one point all the sleds stopped, the four hunters all got out binoculars and crawled atop a smallish ice flake and spend a long time studying the ice, the approaching blizzard and then the ice again.

After a while we continued on a new and slightly more northerly course and as the ice grew very thin and began to groan and move under the dogsled, we began looking for walruses.

As we drove the last route on entirely fresh ice with a number of fault lines and with the visual evidence of ice sheets being broken constantly and then freeze back up, snow had disappeared from the ice too, in other words we were now driving on ice so recently formed that snow had yet to drift or fall onto it.

We made a cautious stop at a slightly more solid looking sheet of ice. We spotted a number of walruses that had breached through the ice and now lay sleeping on the ice.
 They were a little too far away to shoot a meaningful image and on too thin ice for the hunters to risk hunting for them.

As we mounted the sleds again, we saw the last of the blizzard drift to south of us and we now set a course straight North towards ice thick enough to risk spending the night on.
 A couple of hours later we chopped two big chunks of ice off a nearby Iceberg before continuing another hour before find a sheet of ice the two hunters were confident would be safe to stay on for the night.

Here the two hunters demonstrated the art of building a North Greenlandic Sled tent and having it warmed up from the -29C to 12C by the help of the two compact petroleum ovens within an hour or so. We decided to dine on dry food requiring only the water that could be boiled on the oven inside the tent that evening, as we were both very cold from the long ride exposed to the both the low temperature and the freezing cold wind that had chased us all day.

I spend an hour outside after dinner doing a little icescape photography enjoying the freezing cold sunset.

It was a real pleasure, but a little odd too, to sneak into the arctic sleeping bags knowing that we were in tent mounted on two dogsleds tied together on a sheet of ice with hundreds of meters of ocean beneath it and 5 hours drive to the nearest shoreline. The two hunters slept more or less fully clothed, only the outer anoraks were taken off, they were very alert to our surroundings and that was a thing that made sleep come easy.

Day 6 – Siorapaluk (Arctic Paradise redefined)

Turning 35 is no small thing, celebrating it on the sea ice only one days travel from Siorapaluk (The Northernmost natural Settlement in the world) should make it a day to remember anyway, but just to make sure it would be remembered, Louise was awoken with a birthday song in North Greenlandic and a small present.
I prepared breakfast and chilli tea for us and thanks to this being her birthday the rest of us repacked the camp while she just enjoyed relaxed.

Weather on this day was perfect, sunny, with nearly no wind and warm at around -20C. In short, perfect dogsledding conditions.

The trip towards Siorapaluk took us onto increasing thicker and safer Ice all the way and it was one long smooth and pleasant ride.

About halfway the sleds were grinded to a hold and the two drivers stripped all gear off one of the sleds and turned it upside down. Apparently of the runners had been damaged and the next half an hour the two hunters planed the runner until it was smooth and perfect looking again.

Around late afternoon we arrived in Siorapaluk, a small but gorgeously looking Settlement.
Siorapaluk means “small sandy place” and as it was named it is located along a small sandy shore at the base of what looks like tall sandstone mountains and with a largish glacier visible in the bottom of the small fiord.

We have travelled a few of the smaller settlements both on the east and west coast of Greenland and few seemed so well maintained and well functioning as this one.
Houses were generally well maintained and on this Sunday kids were playing with small sleds, pulling them far uphill and then taking turns practising manoeuvring the sled downhill again. They seem to learn the sledding craft early in this part of the world.

We toured the Settlement for a while, we stopped at the local church which used to function as a school until very recently. Stands with the remains of hunted animals, such as the head of a walrus or the skull from a seal or a dead sled dog are placed, alongside what looks like a tiny sled with fur on the seat. It was not until I got back to Ilulissat that the mystery was solved, it was a tiny sled used to rail the riffle when sneaking up on seals on the ice during winter. Siorapaluk really is an amazing place to visit.

On our way back to the tent on the ice we bumped into arii with an axe in his hand, he ass on his way to a nearby ice flake to chop drinking water (read: ice).
We joined him on the walk there and watched how he expertly chopped two 10-12 kilo chunks of ice off the ice flake with little to no spill.

 I have tried doing the same, but came away with maybe a hundred pieces instead and had a mix of the salted outer layer with me... chopping ice off ice flakes and icebergs is more difficult than it sounds and looks.

We carried the two chunks to the tent and I prepared a birthday meal of boiled rice, chilli sauce and meat balls.

 Later that evening we watched the sunset and a half full moon travel in a slow pace over the sky as sunset skiped nightfall and slowly faded into sunrise before heading to sleep in the warm arctic sleeping bags.

Day 8 – Resting up, “Kaffemik” and a nightly walk

The first night in a real bed after days without it, is always amazing and as we woke up this morning we both agreed that this time around was as good as ever.
Lots of things to be done on this day though, why we got dressed and quickly prepared and consumed the usual hot müsli stew and chilli tea.
First stop was the local store “Pilersuisoq”, that also holds bank and postal office, here we transferred the agreed amount to be paid for having piggy bagged on the two hunters for four days.

Arkiunnguaq reminded us in a combination of body language and pointing that Tukummeq had invited us for coffee later that afternoon.

We also did some basic shopping before walking across the street to meet Hans the hotel owner, who also owns the ultima thule store, selling what is supposed to be some of the finest handicraft in Greenland, Not much to see though.

 There was a few interesting pieces and the quality of the handicraft was indeed very high, just nothing we really wanted or needed. We walked by the real hostel and dropped off a back of dirty laundry with the owner’s wife, she told us to collect it when we would stop by for the “kaffemik” later that day.

From here we continued to the local hospital to deliver all the loaned outer clothing back, very much in the local style the lock on the door was football sized rock in front of it, to keep the sled dog pups out, so we just walked in and carefully left the clothes where it belongs.

A quick lunch later we were on our way to the real hostel again, the owner’s daughter turns 27 and that is something that should be celebrated in the traditional Greenlandic style.

It is called “kaffemik” and simply means that somewhere between early afternoon and dinner everybody stops by when it suits them for either a bit of food or a piece of one of the many cakes always prepared for such an event.

The young woman we were all celebrating were dressed in the ceremonial North Greenlandic dress, a gorgeous display of handicraft and quite different from the West Greenlandic one.

We greeted her with a small present and sampled a little of the food and cake before collecting our now freshly washed laundry and walking our merry way home.

It felt a little odd hanging wet laundry to dry outdoors in -23C, but if all the locals does it, then why not. Within seconds from being hung up it was, much as expected, a load of stiffly frozen sails in the light breeze. No time to worry though, Arkiunnguaq showed up to drive us to his and Tukummeq´s home.

We entered what was clearly the home of a successful and very Christian couple. The home was well build and well maintained, pretty much every wall was decorated with Christian pictures or paintings along with numerous pictures of relatives and children and grand children.
We spent a couple of relaxing and very pleasing hours in their company before heading back home. A wonderful and kind couple, before we left we exchanged emails with tukummeq to be able to stay in touch.

As we arrived back home we discovered to our surprise that the laundry hung up 3 hours earlier was already as dry as had it hung there for days.
No need to think about why, we quickly collected the clothes and headed back indoors to prepare a basic dinner.

The supplies left over from the trip and the days up there needed to be cleared out and made for an interesting stew of pearl barley, rice and vegetables, with soy sauce, served with a curry soup as a starter.

Just before midnight, as we finalized packing up our bags for the flight home the following evening, we set out on our last night time walk, we walked on and along the ice, taking in the stunningly beautiful arctic light and securing the last couple of meaningful images from this visit to the far north.

After a bone chilling, but very beautiful two hour walk, we arrived back at our room and headed straight for bed.

Day 9 – Back to “civilization”

Waking up on the day for our departure from Qaanaaq was not pure bliss, we both awoke with mixed feelings on one side we were both very keen on getting back to real sanitary facilities, paved roads and a real cafe.
Ilulissat is not to confuse with a larger city like Copenhagen, London, Paris, New York or whatever, but coming from dry toilets and a city with a total of maybe 10 cars, where 4 of them has broken down and the most reliable way to get from A to B is a dog sled, then Ilulissat has all the comfort one would ever need.

After getting up, we had our usual breakfast of hot müsli stew and chilli tea , before closing the suitcases, riffle bag and making our way to to the real hostel and hans to pay the bill for our stay. Hans was at the shop so we killed time talking to a couple of guests and enjoying a cup of coffee.

Hans arrived and provided us with a very reasonable price given the standard of the facilities we had been staying in, so we paid up and went for a walk around Qaanaaq.

Qaanaaq is an amazing little settlement or village, it is visible by it structure that it was originally build when Pituffik (or Thule Air Base) was build, as a new settlement for the Inuits that was forced to leave to make room for the air base.
 It has a very American layout, almost totally straight streets in even rows, the house though are traditionally Greenlandic and range from something that almost resembles the hunters hut we stayed in on Herbert Island, to large houses of a standard you would normally see in one of the larger Greenlandic cities.

The place was very photogenic, but the people living there were rather shy photographically speaking.
We planned the route past “Pilersuisoq” where lunch and late afternoon snacks were bought, before we walked our way back to our room.

At around five in the afternoon we were picked up by Hans and driven to the airport with all our stuff. We checked in on time only to find out that our flight had a 1 hour delay. So we sat down and started killing time chatting with other travellers and the two friends travelling with us.

The flight took off on the one hour delayed schedule and we began another silky smooth journey, but visually much the opposite to the trip up there. Slowly the solid white sheet of ice began showing occasional cracks and what was even more unusual to us, darkness began to return.

We arrived in Upernavik, our refuelling stop, around dusk and once we reached Ilulissat, it was almost dark and the once solid sheet of ice had now dissolved into indicidual smaller sheets and icebergs floating on open water.

The baggage was there quickly and as we exited the airport we were greeted by Laali, a local superstar guide and good friend.
She drove us to the hostel where we were to spend the night before Louise’s flight back to Nuuk the following morning.

At the hostel we both enjoyed a looong shower before heading to bed, tired after a long day and the many hours aboard the small aircraft.

Day 10 – Preparations and blizzards

The following morning meant an early start and the traditional breakfast was replaced by just a cup of chilli tea, before following Louise to the Airport.
Outside a blizzard was raging and I had my serious concerns as to whether there would be any flights leaving on at all.
Check in was handled without any issues and board commenced as planned, jsut as the flight in spite of the blizzard raging outside took off on time, according to Louise the pilots even managed a fairly smooth and uneventful flight – Nice work Air Greenland.

I caught a cab back to the hostel, backed up my own bags and spend a little time working on this travel log, waiting for Espen to call me.
Espen, while not a native to the region, is one of the best and most knowledgeable dog sled drivers I have ever met and we had agreed to spend the day doing some serious terrain sledding the following day.

I talked to Laali while waiting too, arranging for a move from the hostel to the “New Gerner’s” the newly build guide housing in Ilulissat for the remained of my stay.

Espen called and we both agreed that the weather forecast for the following day looked absolutely perfect, that meant that we were on for a long drive and some serious terrain riding.

Anyway, the plans confirmed I started shopping food for the following day. I also stopped by World of Greenland to say hi. World of Greenland is perhaps the largest (and leading) incoming agency in Greenland and employs some wonderful, knowledgeable and friendly people.

In general I made most of what I could with a blizzard raging outside, a smallish walk to get reacquainted with things and to get some fresh air. I completed the final planning for a photo shoot with Laali for the day after the sled ride too, before gathering all mu stuff and move from the Hotel to “New Gerner’s”.

The relocation out of the way, I had a simple dinner and a cup of chilli tea before heading straight to bed. The following day would likely be long and tough, so being well rested sounded like a good course of action.

Day 11 – Dogsledding fun

I woke up around nineand quickly looked out the window and checked the thermometer, blue skies, sun, -18C and only a medium wind, In other words perfect conditions for some dogsledding action.

 I prepared a good breakfast and plenty of hot chilli tea, including a big thermo of it for the trip.
Packed up food for a day out (the trick here is to bring food that does not contain too much water as it want freeze up in cold weather, i.e. go with dry bread instead of dark bread, or toast your dark bread) and started to get dressed.

 Dressed up, I grabbed the fully pack camera bag and began the short walk to Espen’s house. I said briefly hi to his wife and new born son, before we headed to his car for the drive to the sled dog yard.

Here the real work began. First we padded the sled seat and tied down the riffle (small bore in case we should come across any grouse on our way. Next up came the sled bag hanging from the “opstander” (the par to the rear of the sled used when running behind it and when breaking and steering the sled downhill). Then we mounted my camera bag and began harnessing the dogs.
20 very eager and enthusiastic sled dogs later we sat down on the sled grabbed firmly on the sled webbing before the sled shot out from the yard and onto the sled trail (read: road for dog sleds) leading through town.
As the sled trail cleared of the last sled dogs and we set off, we saw the road was blocked by a bunch of parents having arranged a sled dog race for kids on the main trail leading in and out of town. We avoided a couple of near collisions and walked the dogs past the area, before moving on at full speed.

We cleared the steep mountain passage leading out of town and followed one of the main trails leading from Ilulissat and into the fiord where the ice fishers usually resides.

As we reached the downhill passage leading to the fiord, we did a sharp left and lead the dogs up a steep snow covered mountain side before continuing straight north.

Clearing the ridge where we have a full view of both the UNESCO world heritage listed Icefiord and the smaller fiord where the ice fishers earn their living, we started a very exiting downhill section of deep snow and slaloming around vertical drops, Espen focused on the difficult job of guiding the dogs, me with the comparatively leisurely job of breaking and steering the sled.
Soon we reached a plateau of lakes with no wind and wonderfully deep snow. A perfect location for having lunch and allowing the large span of hard working dogs to rest a bit, even though they seemed as eager and enthusiastic as they did when we set out.

Clearing the plateau we reached the steepest section of the trip, a waterfall leading from the lake plateau and into the river. Here Espen lead the dogs behind the sled and took command of the sled.

I made my way down in advance, walking and sliding the narrow passages between the rock outcroppings and watched Espen expertly guide the sled and dogs down at very high speed.

From here we drove on the river onto a huge lake near a hunting cabin called “the sky hut” and from the onto the main sled trail between Ilulissat and Oqaatsut (rodebay). Providing us with a smooth ride all the way back to Ilulissat. Nearly 50 kilometres in steep mountains and deep snow, a long but amazing trip.

Back at the dog yard the dogs were taken off the sled and led to their respective resting areas, before the lines and harnesses checked and tidied up, before the sled finally was unpacked and we were ready to go home. Espen would then return later to feed them once they had had the chance to wind down from a hard day’s work.

Safe to say that sleep came easy that night, I barely managed a basic meal and a warm shower before dosing off.

Day 12 – The importance of doing good research

One of the wonderful things about vacation is to be able to wake up and think, I have plenty of time and really not much to do and that is exactly how I woke up this very morning.

I got up a little late, had a basic breakfast and of course a cup of steaming hot chilli tea, wrote a little on this very travel log, before talking to Laali about the fun shoot planned for the evening.

Turned out we had most of the things covered pretty good, location was confirmed as OK, the weather forecast looked promising, the lighting and camera gear necessary was charged and working and Laali had clothing and make up covered.

Thus my only plans for the day was to come up with two alternate locations, in case the weather or the confirmed location turned us down and to make a stop at Café Iluliaq, as they serve the best lunch burger in town.

So I started my stroll around the Ilulissat area to see what my options were in terms of location, within a couple of hours I had found two excellent alternative locations, that done I made my way to café Iluliaq for my lunch burger and I was pleased to find as good as I remembered it to be.

I made a quick stop By Laali, just to say “Hi” and make sure she was in a good mood in advance of the shot planned for the night. From here I walked out to the Igloos at Hotel Arctic, just to check perspectives and expected position of the sun more detailed. Everything seemed in perfect order.
I made my way back to “New Gerner’s” for a very basic dinner.
 After dinner Laali and I talked make up, composition and posing through one last time before gathering everything, packing up the van and get on our way.

As we arrived at Hotel Arctic and got the key to the right Igloo, everything was perfect, sun was still a little high, but we still needed to set everything up, so not bad actually, even the timing seemed spot on.
Everything changed as we reached the Igloo though, it turned out that one tiny but extremely important detail had eluded my attention and that would prove to ruin the entire shoot.

As we put the key in the door and open it, we discover that the hinges are on the wrong side og the door.
Had the door like most other doors in greenland only been opening inwards then I would have been able to work around it, but as the hinges were placed on the left, we ended up with this huge aluminium door filling most of my frame, ruining the entire concept of the shot.
Had there been 24 Igloos then I might had been able to turn it into a fun Christmas calendar, but no chance of that either.
We completed the shoot and Laali did a superb job given the thin clothes and the -20C and windy conditions, but the images as they had been planned were ruined. We did get other very decent images though:)
I relearned the lesson of doing good thorough research that evening, on a fun shoot and not a paid shoot luckily, but not a fun evening photographically speaking.

After the shoot, I stopped by Espen’s place for a cup of warm coffee, to check out some of the recent video work he had done and to just hang out and talk shop.

I went to bed that night certain that I would be plagued by nightmares given the evenings failed shoot.

Day 13 – All Sundays should be like this

I woke up after a dreamless night, which given the evening before made for a wonderful morning. The usual basic breakfast and hot chilli tea made me wake up fully and a quick talk with Laali confirmed that we would do a new round of pictures the following night, but much more relaxed ones, with just the purpose of showing a cute winter girl in arctic winter wonder light.
In other words just your basic outdoor portrait

After a long shower, I packed my bags for a walk, needed to confirm that the location in mind still looked good, which it did. Thus I made my way past Café Iluliaq for another lunch burger, before stopping by WOG.

Here I bumped into Ida and two of her friends and she invited the 3 of us on Coffee at her place. They needed to borrow a couple of petroleum cans for a hunting trip the following day.

After coffee Ida and I started a long talk on photography in general and in the context of ark history. She is an art history major and has a most interest approach both to how she sees images and I am confident that she will become a very capable artist one day.
From here it developed a most interest talk about the differences between drawing or painting and photography, as art forms and in terms of the different limitations and possibilities the two ways to express oneself has, mostly in the context of landscape painting and photography.
Afternoon became evening as sheets of paper was filled with sketches and we decided to walk to the Icy Café for and grab a bite, not to mention to continue our interesting conversation. We walked back to “New Gerner’s” from there, where Lalli was in the progress of getting ready for the nights shoot. I quickly readied the gear bags and the 3 of us got in the van and drove towards the hospital.

Here we parked the van, grabbed the gear and walked the last way towards the intended location for the shoot.
It was interesting to have Ida along for the shoot, she was bubbly and lively, fully of creative ideas, some of the possibly more suitable or an art project than what was the objective, but she definitely added value I think.

The shoot went exactly as planned and without hiccups or unpleasant surprise and with some decent images to show for it. Thanks Laali and Ida:)
The evening was spent preparing the necessary back up files and getting my bags packed up for the flight home the following day and I feel to sleep reflecting over this amazing adventure od ours now coming to an end

Day 14 – Going home and reflections

I woke up early that morning, packed up the last stuff and made my way down to World of Greenland to let them know I was leaving and to hear the always pleasant “see you later this summer” words.

After that I hailed a cab was driven to the airport. The universal airport waiting time and the flying time from Ilulissat to Nuuk, I spend digesting the amazing adventures and it struck me that few people know what kind of adventures they miss out on when thinking of Greenland as a summer destination.

So much of the inuit culture and the magic of the arctic nature and the arctic light (or lack of) is tied closely with the winter and spring season.
Yes it is cold - yes it can be dark, but one arrives home with a new look on the arctic environment after a visit during winter. It becomes clear just how amazing it is that people have been able to make a living here and how incredibly tough the people still doing so the traditional way are.

Perhaps I am biased after countless arctic winter (and summer) adventures, alongside the good 5 years living here.
But had it not been for the trips during winter I would have missed out of one of the key aspects of Greenland;

“The extreme kindness and endurance of it people and the serene beauty of the brutal, yet fragile arctic environment.”

Thanks for reading.