Soloing south Greenland

The feeling when we left Greenland 2 years ago was bitter because we couldn’t spend more time in this beautiful place and we agreed that someday we would have to come back. In 2018 we had already bought the flights and got everything pretty much ready to go when the airline sent an email saying that the flight had been rescheduled and now departs 1.5h later. It wasn’t a problem for us, but we had had many expenses that year and could do with some cash. No without sadness decided to cancel the flights and get a refund for it. 

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In 2019 patos agreed again to go back to Greenland, but personal circumstances have made patos take different paths in life at least for the moment. I, pato, very stubborn couldn’t think the fact of no going and without thinking about it much bought flights for Greenland. At the moment I hit the bottom “buy” regretted of it. Fortunately, the feeling moved away and I could focus on the trip.

Any solo trip needs preparation, but when you are planning on doing it in a region as remote as Greenland, the preparation needs to be very accurate. I didn’t need a great deal of gear because we bought pretty much everything two years ago. I was planning to visit the same location as 2 years ago and I knew my contact there was on his last year before retiring, so that wasn’t a big deal either. The main thing was how to link the flights to Narsarsuaq but mainly and most important what route I’d be doing. It took long hours looking into info, satellite photos, and everything I could find, but eventually just a week before the trip, I managed to establish a route that seemed safe enough and covers the total days in Greenland. Food as always would come from our friends in Fuel for adventures.

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Kayak route south Greenland

Flights this year, came in a completely different arrangement than 2 years ago with the flights to Greenland departing from the domestic airport in Reijkiavic instead of the Keflavik. This was sort of helpful as the range of accommodation in Reijkiavic is a lot bigger than in Keflavik and therefore with cheaper options. I managed to find a hostel (Bus hostel) at £18 per night just 30min walk to the domestic airport. To get to the hostel from Keflavik I used Flybus which cost me 50£ for a return ticket. The service works perfectly, but when I arrived at the hostel, I realised that they have their own bus service company that turned out to be slightly cheaper than flybus. About the hostel, I have a good and bad experience, on the way in, room of 8, and although it was crowed and a bit noisy, slept surprisingly well, on the way back, room of 12, my bed was by the door and I slept nothing. The hostel was clean enough and had its own transport service to many parts of Iceland. They charged 10€ to take me to the domestic airport. There is a shop under a 10min walk and at the reception desk, they sell beer. There are also 2 vending machines in the hall that saved me breakfast both days.

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Bus hostel

Day 1

The plan was to start paddling as soon as possible the same day I land in Narsarsuaq (scheduled 11:30), but unfortunately due to the weather, it wasn’t as soon as I had thought. Blue Ice was still a bit busy from the tourist season and Jacky wasn’t there which meant no having the lovely and personal treatment you get there when it is low season and Jacky and his partner are there helping you with all their wisdom. After quickly preparing the gear and getting changed into what  would be my outfit for the next 9 days I was given a lift to the harbour, was given the rest of the gear and the kayak and with a very cold goodbye was left alone there with a bag I didn’t have clear if would fit in the kayak.

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Narsarsuaq harbour

It was over 15:00 when I gave my first paddle, the feeling of being back in the water in such a beautiful place was amazing. Although there was very low cloud the fiord was like a mirror and the paddling was lush. The state of the water didn’t last long and soon some ripples began to form in the water. I didn’t know by then, but that would be the trend for most of the trip. I did just over 8km going further than my plans for the day and decided to call it a day, I found a place where to land and pitch the tent and by 17:30 I was enjoying the views of my first night.

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Day 2

I woke up early to try morning photography, but conditions were crap. Slowly got on with the tasks of the day, which by the end of the trip would become very monotonous. Breakfast was simple, biscuits and white hot chocolate. I broke camp and packed everything into the kayak. The mornings are always cold till you warm up paddling. Today plans were to camp on the islands, but I remembered the odyssey we had 2 years ago with the ice and I wanted to get past the islands and camp on a beach a bit after. It was a very long leg, but if I could avoid the ice, it would be great.

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Sunset at the beach near Narsarsuaq

The landscape was very familiar and there are quite a few places to camp between where I camped last night and my new destination. This year there was a lack of icebergs due to the fiord no freezing in winter.

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Tent with views

The beach was full of debris and all sorts of rubbish and I collected wood for a fire. I was also going to eat some mussels, which the beaches are full, but it was the second day and I didn’t want to gamble with my tummy with 8 days ahead of me. No a bad evening of photography and a very good night’s sleep. It was a very long 6h paddling to cover 27.5km.

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Day 3

Because yesterday I went beyond plans, today was a very short day, so I had planned to skip one camp and go across the bay in Narsaq beginning with this, the interesting and new part of the trip. That was my plan anyway, mother nature had very different plans for me.

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Calm after the storm

The day started great, but after half an hour in, the weather began to deteriorate, it was just a bit of wind in the beginning, but it escalated to a stronger wind, currents that were pushing my kayak towards the cliffs and waves breaking over my spray deck and constantly threading me with tipping my boat. All of this, made me terrified and forced me to reassess what I would be doing in the next few days. After so much thinking, I decided to cancel the new part of the expedition and return to Narsarsuaq slowly.

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Camp at the fiord

The return way was so much enjoyable, taking my time paddling up the fiord, spending time appreciating the landscape, and really taking it in. I was broken tho, physically and mentally, and reaching my new camp was a massive struggle, I returned pretty much were I slept the night before, but just a bit deeper on the branch of the fiord protected from the elements.

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Sunset reflection

By the end of the day, I had done 24km and 5h hours of paddling. The spot where I camp was very nice although there was some rubbish. I was so tired that when fitting the tent, didn’t realise the tide and later on, in the dark, I had to quickly change the tent as the water was reaching the door. I went minutes after and the place where it had been, was completely flooded. 

Day 4

Changing plans was very disappointing generally speaking, but had a good side which is the rush to reach next camp was gone, now there weren’t deadlines to stick to and I could take time and enjoy the surroundings. The morning was very lazy and slow, I explored the area where I had camped the night before and found out a big waterfall nearby. I took some pictures, topped up the water bottles, and had a wash (no in the freezing water) before packing up and getting in the water.

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Waterfall in Greenland

The weather was pretty calm and I was in known territory which means no stress for the day or at least for the first part of it.

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Perfect reflection

I took my time going pass the islands again and heading to Narsarsuaq, but at around 14:00, the weather turned nasty again, this time I managed it better, but it got to a point when it was too much and I had to pull over. 

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Nasty weather

No having plan to stop here the ground wasn’t on its best and I struggled to find a flat big enough surface to pitch the tent. The wind was hauling and I had lots of hours to cover before nightfall. Once the tent was established I head for the hills behind me to have a better view of the fiord and taking some photos.

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Panoramic of the fiord

Today would be one of the lucky days I’d have 2 meals. I tried night photography, but the full moon stopped any chances of northern lights. Today was another 23km and 5.5h of paddling.

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Day 5.

The weather forecast I got on my phone said it was going to be 2 days of bad weather, so when I woke up and saw the fiord flat calm, I was happily surprised and quickly got ready to leave. When getting all sorted and almost pushing the kayak in the water a whale popped out for breathing, it gave me a hell of a jump but it was such a nice view. The sea was very quiet for the first couple of hours, but then, it became crap again forcing me to find shelter on land.

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The day didn’t look great, it was very early when I had to pull over due to the weather, because this sudden turn in the forecast, I couldn’t choose where to stop and got myself on to a beach way too close to a farm. Although probably I could’ve asked the farmer to go through his land to explore the area, I was mentally exhausted from fighting with the sea and couldn’t be bothered, so I had very little space where to walk and kill the time till nightfall. 

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Little peninsula near Narsarsuaq

Despite conditions being awful for photography, in the last minute, the cloud opened a tiny bit and let the sun lighting the mountains across the fiord with beautiful red light.

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Red mountains

 It was a perfect sight just before going to bed and plan the rest of the trip which would turn into a kayak/trekking trip. Today was a very short day with 10.5km and 2.5h.

Day 6

So much free time the day before at least was productive and I had a new plan for the rest of the days, I would kayak today and a bit tomorrow and then move to land and explore the surrounding of Narsarsuaq on foot. The day was so miserable, really low cloud, drizzling, and very cold. At least the fiord was dead flat. A few stops were planned, but the cold and the sudden urge to finish paddling, made me shortened them. I had to stop for water, then I had to stop to rest, my back and hands were starting to pay the bill of so many days kayaking without decent rest.

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Low cloud on the fiord

There was one stop I couldn’t avoid and it was to see a little forest the map marks at the end of the fiord. A forest wouldn’t be of special interest in any other part of the world, but here in Greenland trees are very rare due to the harsh conditions, so I needed to see it.

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Forest in Greenland

After seeing the pretty little forest, it was time for the last part of the day to what would be the last night camp while on kayaking. I was close to Narsarsuaq. I set up camp and when to explore. There was a beautiful gorge I followed upriver and enjoyed the views.

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Panorama over the fiord

That night was the first night the northern lights shyly appeared behind the mountains and with that was the end of the last proper kayak day with 21km and 5.5h of paddling.

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Day 7

Finally the last day of kayaking. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but at the time I was exhausted and a bit fed up with feeling out of my confident zone, so the thought of a full pack on my back and more no water was like music to my ears.

The morning was very cold, clear sky and beautiful. As it was a cold morning, I found some ice on the fiord and for a moment my heart stopped thinking I was going to go through the nightmare we had 2 years ago. Fortunately, it was just for a short distance and the ice was very thin. In just over an hour I landed in Narsarsuaq harbour and boy the feeling was amazing, I managed to survive 7 days of solo kayak in Greenland fighting against the weather.

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One downside of doing solo kayak without an agency is that at the end of your trip you have to rinse the kayaks and to be honest it is the last thing you fancy doing. All done and sorted, I was lucky I got a lift back to Blue Ice and straight to changing gear and getting ready for the next leg of the trip. I would try to find the hut we couldn’t find 2 years ago and the viewpoint over the fiord. I felt so good with the weight of a full pack on my back after so many days on the water.

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Autumn colours

The landscape was very familiar and the weather was on its best, although for the night and the following days was meant to be cloudy and with showers. As always the backpack felt very heavy and the climb to the top of the waterfall was hard, but I knew once at the top the ascend finishes. I soon arrived at the viewpoint and with the blue sky, the glacier looked amazing!!

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Glaciar near Narsarsuaq

Despite there is meant to be a camp area near the viewpoint, I couldn’t find any decent place to pitch the tent, there were few flat places, but although the surface was earth, it was just over an inch and rock underneath and I knew that if by any chance the wind was picking up, I was in trouble. The clouds came and cover the sky ruining any option for night photography, so I got on with the tasks of collecting water, prepare the route for the next day, and cooking before going to bed. 

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Window with views

It was a hard day with 6.5km of kayaking and 9km of trekking.

Day 8

At 5am the alarm went off or what is the same, it started raining. The sound of the rain inside a tent is rather annoying, even the light of the drizzle makes a hell of a noise. I had the stupid hope that it might stop soon, but I would be suffering it for 23h none stop. I managed to doze for a couple of hours and when I popped my head out of the tent, realised that I was on the snow line and could find snow at the bottom of the flysheet. There was a lot to walk today, but the conditions were pretty crap, drizzling and sleeting, very low cloud and cold. After breakfast I headed down the mountain to the glacier, the conditions made it a bit sketchy, but it was worthy

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On the glacier

Back on the tent after 1,5h completely drenched from the waist down. I set up a little line to dry the gear and hopelessly wait for the weather the improve. It never happened, but some miserable weather wasn’t going to stop me, so put my wet gear back on and headed to find the hut on the mountains and the viewpoint to the other glacier, although I wasn’t expecting to see much on the last one as the cloud was still very low. It took me almost 90min to navigate my way through the clouds to the hut and it was a great feeling to finally find it.

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Emergency shelter

After the hut, I continued to find the viewpoint, but I reached a lake with a steep slope down from where I could see the steep slope at the other side of the lake up and visibility was very poor, so I decided not to go to the viewpoint. Another hour and I was back on the tent even wetter and this time the sun was setting so the temperature had dropped a fair bit and it was very cold with wet cloth. Plans were for me to start my way down to Narsarsuaq, but after the miserable day, I changed plans and stay in the same place. 

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Lake before viewpoint

Day 9 & 10

I was more than ready to go home, the rain had been none stop for 23h till 4am, really hard to sleep even tho I was so tired. Fortunately, the bad weather was gone and what was left was a beautiful still morning. It was time to pack and start the way back to Narsarsuaq.

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Still morning

The plan for today was to establish camp in Blue Ice hostel’s grounds in Narsarsuaq and get everything dry and tidy so the very last day was an easy one. After setting up camp, I went for a walk and explore a bit of the surroundings.

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Surroundings of Narsarsuaq

Despite not having anything to do, the day passed fairly quick. I got an invitation for the next day to sail to Narsaq with Jacky the owner of Blue Ice. Of course, I accepted and went to bed very excited.

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PUTTUT

The next morning was special as it was shower day after 10 days!! I moved all my gear into the hostel ready for the last night and headed to the harbour. The boat was an amazing, very old wooden boat from late ’50s and the ride was pretty cool as well, once in Narsaq I had a few hours to explore and I had some proper hot food!! The landscape was pretty epic too.

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Narsaq mountains

The return to Narsarsuaq was a lot quicker as it was on a speed boat, but no way near as cool. It was the last night before starting the way back home and seemed I wasn’t alone in the hostel, a couple of Danish people were base there as well. Normal routines of cooking and get ready before going to bed, but Greenland was kind to me for once this trip and the very last night there was a rather nice display of northern lights. Flights the next couple of days all went smoothly and arrived in one piece home.

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Final lessons learn

Greenland is a beautiful country, but you can’t take things for granted. It is a very isolated place and although that has very good points, it also means you are pretty much on your own, no help, no fast rescue or rescue at all. You need to go prepared for all sorts of weather and situations and be aware of the conditions and how to deal with them. If you haven’t done any solo trip before, maybe you should think twice before taking Greenland as a first option. I had a great time, but at the same time I had some of the scariest moments of my entire life and also my head was fucked in some moments for being alone for so long and in such terrible conditions.

 


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