Why we failed at finding the glacier.

Walking always makes up part of our adventure and while Greenland was predominantly a kayaking trip, we also planned a 3 day trek to see the amazing Qooroq glacier that fills the fjords with icebergs in the area we’d been paddling over the past four days.

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Qooroq glacier

This plan was soon put to bed when we were in Iceland and got an email saying our flight to Greenland was cancelled due bad weather. Fortunately, the company quickly arranged a new flight for us first thing the next day, and although it didn’t disturb us much, we had to make some adjustments to our plans; changing the boat transfer at the end of our kayaking trip slightly and shortening our walk to 1 day.

Greenland is a very unknown, wild and desolate territory. Just over 56000 people live there in 2017, in a land almost 9 times the size of UK! Those facts are something that we found amazing as we hate crowed places, but it also has its downsides as the information available and maps are also very limited. This later contributed to the failure of our walk.

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The only maps I found and got for the expedition were 1/100.000 from 20 years ago. It shouldn’t have been a problem, but again, Greenland is different.

The route according to the map, was meant to start at the back of the town of Narsarsuaq with a very early ascent roughly to the highest point of the walk and carry along that high path pretty much all the way to the glacier. I planned on stopping somewhere on the way close to the final point of the walk with good views for overnight so that the next day we could have time for exploring and taking pictures without rushing. The first plan for the 3 day walk gave us an extra night near the glacier, but as we had to shorten the trek, the last day would be pretty tight time wise. We’d have to reach the glacier and make it back to Narsarsuaq.DSC_0999

The day we finished our kayaking trip, we had to go to the Blu Ice office to swap gear and it was then that Jacky told us that the route we had planned is not longer in use and the path no longer exists. He showed us on a different map marked with marker pen the new route. We carefully listened to the instructions but we didn’t compare the route with our map. (that also contributed to the failure).

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Map of routes

Their route goes in a completely different direction:

Day 1.

It follows the river on its way up to the glacier on very flat terrain for around 8km. This 8km is a very well marked path that starts on the main road in Narsarsuaq. You will pass on your way the ruins of the old hospital from the second world war where the only thing left is a massive chimney that would have heated the nurses room.

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Chimney at old 2WW hospital

After walking for 8km, there is a rather steep and at times a rather awkward scramble (especially when carrying big overnight rucksacks!) The pathway up this section is pretty clear, there are ropes doted about to help at particularly awkward parts of the ascent. The scrambling takes you about 800m and goes up 300m.

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Scrambling part

Another problem we came across was that the app we use on the phone and the GPS device weren’t working properly. As you can see for the first day documented on the app, there is no height gain at all. In reality there was! Particularly the scrambling section. Also when we tried to find our exact location on the second day, it seemed no to be as accurate as it usually is. (perhaps being so close to the north pole had an affect on the devices).

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Map

After the scrambling bit, the end of the day was easy, just a very flat bit around the lake at the top less than 1km away. The area we were told to camp by the lake no longer existed as the wilderness had eaten it. We couldn’t explore the surrounding areas as the night was fast upon us! We camped by the lake, just at the bottom of a wall that encloses the lake. There weren’t any clear camping areas. We threw the tent down in the first flat (ish) bit of land we could find. We recommend not camping there. Camp at the other end of the lake as the views are better especially for the northern lights!

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Camping at top lake

Day 2

After another incredible display by the northern lights overnight, we woke up to a very foggy, grey day. We couldn’t believe that on the day we most needed the visibility to have our bearings it was less than 20m at times.

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After breakfast it seemed like the fog was lifting a bit, but it was just an illusion as within five minutes it was all covered again. Before heading on our walk we had a look at Narsarsuaq glacier that was near our camping area. It was pretty epic!

Day two was a real failure. Although our route was a completely different route, the map we had also showed a path leaving pretty much from the same spot, towards the view point to Qooroq glacier. It appeared to be easy and pretty well marked till a point near the lake where the map said one thing but the clear paths took on another direction. At that point I assumed that the path must’ve been animal tracks and that we should follow the map and we would find our path a bit ahead again.

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Fog closing in

Tip: “Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups”

That was last time we saw the path till hours later when we were heading back after giving up on our attempt to find the glacier.

The walk became very wild as we left the path and in some places we ended up walking through very dense bushes at waist height. The terrain was so overgrown and uneven that Daisy sprained her ankle, getting her foot stuck in a hole. We thought for a bit that we would have to cancel the walk and even maybe call for help, but after a few minutes, she proved again what she is made of and we carried on walking.

There was no sign of any paths at this point. The terrain was very hard to read as the map was 1/100000 and there were many small hill that didn’t appear on it, while the maps on the app weren’t developed so I couldn’t see lakes or small landmarks. The only thing we had was a bearing toward the view point but it meant going up and down hill without any reference.

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Map

After a few hours and not finding anything more than hills to ascend and descend, seeing countless lakes that weren’t on the maps and viceversa, with Daisy’s ankle starting to get worse and the knowledge that it was a long walk back to  the town, we decided to turn around.  Days after leaving Greenland we realised that we were only 1.5km away from the view point and that we had been walking parallel to the path. Being Greenland so untouched and with the fog, it had been impossible to see.

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There was no easy part to the walk back apart from the fact that it was downhill. We were expecting to find a path on the other side of the lake, but again, there wasn’t one. We didn’t see a path again till we got to the top of the scrambling section. From there we already knew the path, so it was a relief not having to worry about getting lost!

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View from top of scrambling

Upset for not reaching our goal, tired after walking off path all day and with Daisy’s ankle in pain and fast getting worse, we got to the bottom of the scrambling and we knew we still had 2 long hours walking to get back to the hotel. That night we had booked a room at hotel Narsarsuaq so that we could have a proper shower and bed after 6 days living in a tent!

Amazing walk that unfortunately we couldn’t finish but that we are planing on doing again and maybe who knows helping Blue Ice to mark the paths!

 

 


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