Kayak and trek expedition to Greenland

Having spent a summer messing about in the sunny South of Spain with a double sit on top kayak we decided we wanted to do more. We practiced out on the ocean paddling a few kilometres every day. This lead us to want to learn more and do more which fuelled the formation of a mad idea; to kayak 65km down a Fjord in South Greenland! Pato looked into this further during the winter months of 2016. He came up with the route and found a company that would rent us all the equipment we would need on the dates that worked for us. Pata helped piece the trip together finding flights and booking a day of sea kayak training on the Isle of Wight, and the trip was booked! We were going to go at it alone without a guide or a package trip!

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As the trip drew ever closer, apprehensions about what we were about to do hit us hard and at times we doubted our abilities. The kayak training day we had on the Isle of Wight was our first experience of sea kayaking in single kayaks and although the day went well we were absolute novices so felt a little overwhelmed.

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We had a few months to get buying the gear we would need; the main things being: good 4 season sleeping bags and good quality dry bags to protect our gear while on the water!

The plan was to spend a couple of days in Iceland before the connecting flight to Greenland. In Greenland we would stay one night at the local hotel and the following morning we’d get the gear together and head off. We had planned to kayak for three days and three nights leaving from the town of Narsarsuaq and arriving at the town of Narsaq approximately 65km down the fjord camping along the way. Wild camping is legal anywhere in Greenland unless its fenced off farm land so the country was our oyster!

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Day 1

Our flight with Air Iceland Connect was cancelled due to poor weather in Narsarsuaq on the Saturday afternoon. At first this came as a real disappointment and with limited time in Greenland planned already we worried it would have a big impact on our plans. Luckily the airline quickly rescheduled the flight for early the next morning. They provided a bus transfer to Reykjavik along with a nice hotel and a lovely free dinner. So we enjoyed seeing the city for free and flew to Greenland with no problems early the next day.

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Day 2

The views from the plane as we approached Narsarsuaq were spectacular. The plane had to manoeuvre at close range to the mountains, and our excitement grew as icebergs came in to view along with glaciers and snow covered peaks. The landing was a little alarming as the runway is a few feet from the edge of the Fjord.

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We stepped off the plane and into the cold crisp morning air taking stock of the tiny airport and finding our bearings. Blue ice the company we were hiring the equipment from had a staff member at the airport who directed us towards the ‘Blue ice Cafe’ 150 meters down the road. It was nice to meet Jacky the owner having been corresponding via email for so many weeks before arriving! We discussed our plans with him and he instilled confidence that it was a doable route even with the lost time. We got the kit together, tried on the dry suits and were able to leave our rucksacks and any kit we didn’t need for the kayaking at their office. They then dropped us off down at the harbour in their pick up and introduced us to our kayaks!

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At first glance we couldn’t believe that we would fit everything we had in the kayaks but they were surprisingly spacious and the dry bags were perfect! We had a tent, our food supplies, warm layers, shoes, sleeping bags and lots of camera equipment and still had room in both kayaks once everything was in! This was a big relief.

Having a look around the tiny harbour we spotted our first iceberg and the excitement boiled over! There was also a portacabin- toilet so we had our last toilet stops before heading into the wild! We got the dry suits and boots on and apprehensively decided to head off. During those first moments on the sea we were both nervous, wondering if we’d made a huge mistake and were going to capsize into the freezing water before getting anywhere! But the weather was on our side and the Fjord was like a lake, it didn’t take long for us to warm up and get into the swing of it. It was exhilarating! With every iceberg we passed we got more excited and the reality of what we were doing sunk in. We were in Greenland in kayaks at the start of our adventure!

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Day 1 was about getting used to being on the water. We had some fun kayaking around various sized icebergs. After a few km we stopped to have a bite to eat and found icebergs that had washed up on the beach, one was just like an arm chair! We carried on and paddled around a peninsula and up an adjacent Fjord to try and get a glimpse of the mouth of Qooroq glacier but the sea got too full of ice and icebergs so we had to turn around.

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We settled at our first camping spot 8km from Narsarsuaq having covered 16km in total. The water was calm and kind to us until the last 2km when the wind suddenly picked up and made it a little difficult to paddle. We set the tent up and tucked into our well earned dinner- a nice freeze dried curry! As soon as the sun disappeared the temperature dropped rapidly and after exploring our surroundings we headed to bed hoping that the sleeping bags were going to perform well! That night we weren’t in luck as the sky was cloudy and we couldn’t see the northern lights.

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Day 3

The sleeping bags kept us nice and warm and we both slept surprisingly well given how excited we were. We got up and quickly packed up the kit ready to set off on our day of paddling. We had planned to paddle 23km on day 3. The start of the day would be tough as we had to cross 8km from one side of the Fjord to the other before carrying on down that side of the Fjord for the rest of the day.

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Prior to the trip we had read about how clear the air is in Greenland, and about how this makes distances appear far closer than they are. We discovered this was painfully true while paddling across the Fjord. It was mind numbing as the other side didn’t appear to get any closer for over 2 hours! Half way across the wind picked up and by the time we got to the other side we needed a rest! Facing another 16km was a little daunting. As the crossing had taken so long we had a snack but sacrificed lunch in favour of carrying on.

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It took a further 5 hours at a more leisurely pace enjoying the beautiful scenery and the calm sea to cover the rest of the distance. We arrived at the island where we had planned to camp with enough time to find a good spot for the tent and put it up before the sun set. By this point we were a little achey! I guess to a body that isn’t used to paddling, doing 39km in two days was a bit of a shock to the system. Although we both had more energy at this point than we had expected.

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The views were spectacular and we spent a long time quietly admiring the wilderness surrounding us. The only sound being the occasional breaking or rolling of an iceberg disturbed at times by the humm of a little boat passing by. The sunset was beautiful and we decided to keep warm by walking about hoping to see the Northern lights when night came. We were rewarded. They were beautiful as were the stars! It was really something special to see the Northern lights having spent many a cold evening hunting for them in Scotland in the past. We stayed out watching the sky until the cold got too much and then retreated to the tent. What a way to end the day!

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Day 4

It was a very cold night for both of us and when we got up we discovered that not only was the tent frozen, so was a lot of the fjord. We hadn’t expected it to be cold enough for that to happen as it was only mid September! It was another stunning sunny but freezing cold day. We had another 23km to cover to reach close to Narsaq our final destination.

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Frozen tent

We had mastered our system of packing up our kit and efficiently got ready to head off. The ice was more problematic and far thicker in places than we had expected! At first this was alarming as we had to do more smashing than paddling! At times the ice was in layers making it so thick the kayaks would sit on top of the ice rather than glide through it! There were a couple of moments where it came into our head for the first time ‘What are we doing!’ But at the same time it was an exciting experience!

The ice went on for miles and at times it was painstakingly slow progress; guiding the kayaks into the beginning of a large patch of ice then smashing a hole for the paddle to move forward a few inches then doing the same the other side, over and over again! Ultimately we had to drag the kayaks through the ice using our upper bodies and the paddles! It was alarming at times but we persevered and made it to a wider, more sun drenched part of the Fjord where the ice dispersed a little. What a relief that was. We stopped for a break and were happy to realise we had already covered 12km.

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After a snack of nuts and finding the stones on the beach warm enough to warm our cold hands, we carried on our way! Locals passing on boats waving enthusiastically at us as they passed us. We filled our camel packs with water from waterfalls that met the Fjord down sheer rock faces. From then on the water was like a lake and paddling was pleasant. We passed some of the biggest icebergs we had seen and we made it to where we wanted to camp within 5hours.

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Huge iceberg near Narsaq

As it was so early we decided to unpack things to air a little and walk up into the hills to try and find the town of Narsaq. We spotted some locals picking cotton so decided it couldn’t be too far away. It was a beautiful walk that took around an hour and a quarter. We walked down the bumpy road into the town and felt a real sense of achievement. Although we still had 1km to paddle the next day to finish our route officially, there we were in Narsaq! We even found a local beer and a glass of wine at the local hotel. Having been a beautiful clear day we had high expectations for seeing the Northern lights, and the setting that night was perfect for capturing photos, just look at it…

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Again we were not disappointed. They were truly spectacular, and with the Fjord and icebergs as a backdrop Pato got some simply stunning photographs. They were beautiful even to the naked eye. We watched them dancing about the sky for as long as we could stand the freezing cold. Setting alarms to have a look again later in the night.

That night was noisy as the biggest iceberg we had paddled past earlier in the day broke into smaller pieces and rolled over. It sounded like the hills around us had crumbled! This was followed by angry waves lapping the beach. Pata even though for a minute that we get drowned in the tent!

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Day 5

After another good nights sleep we were excited about the fourth and final day of kayaking. Day 5 was about making it to Narsaq and kayaking to the other side of the town where hundreds of icebergs would greet us and where we would find a nice spot for our last night. We got in the kayaks ready for a more relaxed day of paddling, ready to complete our route. We set off, headed around the peninsula when suddenly a ferocious wind hit us side on.

The sea picked up and got rough. So rough in fact that it was the first moment that capsizing felt like it could be inevitable. The current and wind fighting against each other causing choppy waves. We had to kayak inland to a beach the other side of the peninsula  (Sadly we didn’t think to take any photos during the stress of the situation!)

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We miraculously made it to the beach but the sea didn’t seem as if it would let up anytime soon!
We decided to get the kayaks up and out of the way and walk into Narsaq to explore some more, hoping the sea would calm down, enabling us to move the kayaks later in the day.  Narsaq consists of colourful little houses nestled at the bottom of a mountain. We met a friendly woman from Denmark who showed us where she lived in case we needed any help, and we discovered that the main trade of Narsaq was an abattoir. Which did fill the air with an unpleasant smell! For the coming 5 weeks 800 sheep would be arriving twice a day to be slaughtered to then be shipped out around Greenland.

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Narsaq

We walked over to the other side of the town to have a look at where we had planned on kayaking and camping! It was amazing. There were thousands of icebergs and beautiful scenery. Many of the locals nodding or saying hello as we passed. The tourist information and many other things had closed down for the winter so it was very quiet. We saw a few other tourists dotted about but it felt very remote. We spotted that the sea looked a little calmer and decided to walk back to the kayaks and try our luck.

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Narsaq bay

We got lucky and decided the sea was passable and quickly got back on the water. We made it to Narsaq’s main harbour but decided to go no further as the weather was being unpredictable and we didn’t want a repeat of that morning. It was a relief to have made it and to have completed our kayaking journey from Narsarsuaq all the way to Narsaq! However we quickly came to realise that there was no way of getting the kayaks up and off the water. This puzzled us as we were supposed to load the kayaks onto a boat the next morning to head back to Narsarsuaq.

There was a small beach adjacent to the harbour so we decided to land there and call Jacky from Blue Ice for advice. He asked us to call him back in an hour as he was sailing. So we decided to leave the kayaks and try and find some lunch in Narsaq while we waited. We discovered the local supermarket Pilersuisoq and it had an OK range of stuff, we even found a packet of gluten free biscuits, and some gluten free cake mix!! Greenland however is as expensive as Iceland (which means very expensive!)

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Narsaq harbour

An hour later we decided to wander down towards the harbour to check on the kayaks. As we looked over the harbour to where we’d left them we saw a boat loading up the kayaks… this was puzzling but we decided they must be bringing them to the harbour for us… That was until the guys on the boat finished loading the kayaks (still loaded with ALL our gear) and promptly headed off towards Narsarsuaq! This left us feeling utterly bemused. With just the clothes on our backs, our phones, a camera and luckily a wallet!! We quickly called Jacky to ask what was going on and clearly there had been a miscommunication…. It was time for a beer, a glass of wine and to take stock of what had just happened! We were in Narsaq with nowhere to go and nowhere to stay!

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Sunset at Naraq bay

We sat at Hotel Narsaq (the main hotel of the town that also runs Igdloo guesthouse that is just up the road) and paid for internet to have a look at prices and options having been quoted a very high price by the receptionist. The internet was terrible but we managed to book a room for half the price she was asking for on booking.com. We didn’t have a pleasant experience with her but we ended up with a key to a room at the guesthouse which was a relief.

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Narsaq Hotel

Day 6

After a warm and comfortable nights sleep, and an argument about the price with the receptionist in the morning! we headed for our boat back to Narsarsuaq.

It was very interesting to see our route on the two hour journey and it made us realise how far we had paddled! Unexpectedly the boat operators had our details on an iPad so it wasn’t a problem that we didn’t have our tickets. This seemed very high tech for where we were!

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Disco bay to Narsarsuaq

We got back to Narsarsuaq at 14:15pm and saw our kayaks sitting on the grass near the harbour and immediately got to cleaning them before heading to find our gear. Jacky came and saw us soon after we arrived and the misunderstanding was ironed out. We had a 27km walk planned for the rest of the day/following day so had a lot to do to get sorted!

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Road to glacier (Narsarsuaq)

At 16:40pm the kayaks were clean, our gear was sorted and our rucksacks packed for the walk. Off we went! The main road in Narsarsuaq turns into a stoney track and we just kept following this until we reached a basin shaped chunk of land at the bottom of a stunning valley.

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We had two options at this point, there was an area to camp at the bottom or at the top of a striking waterfall that started within the basin. We decided we’d try and get to the top as we’d still have around 20km of walking to fit into the next and last day.

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We’d talked the route through with Jacky and he had mentioned a ‘small hill’ to climb up….that had been an underestimation!! There were ropes provided in particularly steep areas but the next hour was a relatively tough scramble. We made it with barely enough light to find somewhere next to one of the lakes to set up camp. Teasingly close to the glacier that we’d discover in the morning!

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Scrambling to view point (Narsarsuaq)

The northern lights rewarded us once again with its beautiful dance, lighting up the sky as the stars came out. I don’t think either of us could ever get bored watching it.

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Day 6

We woke up the next morning feeling more physically tired than we had been throughout the rest of the trip, the weight of the bags having teased our fatigued shoulders after all the kayaking! Fog was hiding our route up the next mountain and we hoped that it would lift when the sun came up.

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We decided to try the route on our 20 year old map and ignore the vaguely marked path. A few hours later we realised this had been the wrong decision. The terrain was a mixture of bog, sharp bushes and rocks and it was very easy to lose your footing, this was made more difficult by carrying heavy bags. We kept going but no path revealed its self to us and the fog kept getting worse. A couple of times we thought we might turn around, but we carried on, not wanting to be defeated.

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As we neared the top of the mountain Pata managed to quite badly sprain her ankle as she lost her footing to a hidden hole. We kept going for a few km, but in the end Pata had to abandon the walk. We turned back knowing that Pata still had to manage 20km back to Narsarsuaq!

Bitterly disappointed by not seeing the mouth of the big glacier we found our way back down again and headed back to town to check in to Hotel Narsarsuaq for our final night.

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The hotel restaurant was closed for the winter so we ended up with a plate of chips for Pata and a large pile of sausage spaghetti and potato for Pato…. it was warm and it filled our empty tummies! Although we’d hoped to have an opportunity to try ‘local’ delicacies and that didn’t happen in either town.

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Meal at Narsarsuaq hotel

Day 7

We woke up after a comfortable, warm nights sleep. We decided to head over and chat to the staff at Blue Ice before checking in for our flight that evening. While there we discovered they run boat trips to the mouth of Qooroq Glacier. The temptation to get much closer to the glacier than we had by kayak, and the failed walk the previous day tipped the balance and we booked to go! Luckily for us Jacky had enough time to take us there before our flight.

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The trip was a couple of hours long, Jacky had warned us before heading off that we may not get closer than 10km to the mouth of the glacier due to ice and icebergs. However today luck was on our side and we got within 2km of it, on what was a very exciting boat trip! Jacky manoeuvred the boat with great skill around the ice and icebergs as they grew in number until we could get no closer. It was an astonishing sight, and the sound of the ice cracking was like rumbling thunder – magical! The clear air in Greenland making the glacier feel so close you could almost touch it!

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Jacky got a net out and fished out a piece of ice. He smashed it up and then poured us a martini! Raising the glass to our ears and we could hear the fizzing and crackling of the carbon dioxide bubbles that were finally being released after a thousand years compressed in the ice of the glacier. It was a novel experience.

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After marvelling at the view we  headed back to Narsarsuaq. What an end to a fantastic trip!

The flight went smoothly and we waved goodbye to what has become our favourite country.

Greenland stole our hearts, and we are already planning a bigger, longer, more testing trip for the not too distant future. What a place!

We also come away from the trip knowing that these things are doable independently! Brave or stupid? Probably both!


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