Qaanaaq, Northern Greenland, March 2007

That's Qaanaaq (all of it) as seen from the sea:

Qaanaaq panorama

Qaanaaq is a bit remote. Quite remote. So remote that it doesn't have (or need) a city sign. You are not likely to take a wrong road somewhere, arrive at Qaanaaq and wonder where you are. If you arrive in Qaanaaq, you went there quite intentionally. But at least the airport has a "Qaanaaq" sign (but only on the side facing the runway).

Qaanaaq airport

There's also no sign at Hotel Qaanaaq, but it also doesn't need one. Everyone knows where it is and visitors are collected at the airport anyway. Actually, 'Hotel' is a bit of a misnomer. The atmosphere is more like a lodge. And I assume there are rarely visitors that just check in in the evening and leave in the morning. Most guests probably have some obscure plans, so the owners (Hans and Birthe Jensen) seem quite accustomed to handle queries, store gear, provide taxi services, give advice and act as museum guides, in case the regular museum guide is ill. The corridor in the hotel also servers as a memorial of all the expeditions that passed through here, from people traversing Greenland from side to side, top to bottom, people wanting to drive dog sledges around the North Pole or kite to it. (Qaanaaq is a convenient starting point, since it's the northernmost place in Greenland that you can reach by scheduled plane flights.) So it's not your usual Holiday Inn...

Hotel Qaanaaq

And the view from the hotel looked very promising. I wanted icebergs frozen in a large flat area of ice. And that was exactly what was out there.

Icebergs, seen from Hotel Qaanaaq Icebergs, seen from Hotel Qaanaaq

The next stop was the tourist office to ask about the current status, get my rented clothing, some advice and to meet Otto, the Inuit hunter who would take me along on his dog sledge.

Luckily, I had reserved some warm outer clothing in advance, so the fact that my luggage was still somewhere in Copenhagen wasn't that critical. All I really needed was some thermal underwear, some fleece clothing, light down trousers, a sweatshirt and something to keep the head warm. The rest would be rented stuff. I was reasonably lucky that I had my digital camera and the battery packs for that in my hand luggage. But my charger was in the checked in luggage. Luckily, the tourist office was extremely helpful, asked around and found someone who had the same camera model (actually the newer model, but the battery packs were the same) and was willing to let me use the charger to charge all my battery packs before setting out on the dog sledge. So while arriving in Qaanaaq without my luggage was a bit annoying, in the end it didn't make much of a difference to the trip. I was dressed warmly and could take all the pictures I wanted to take, which was all I really needed...

(There were only two inconveniences to not having the luggage. I didn't have my electrical shaver with me, so I looked a bit unshaven the first week. And I couldn't find any 'liner gloves' (thin inner gloves that keep your fingers warm for a bit when you take them out of the mittens) in Qaanaaq, so my fingers got quite cold every time I took a picture. But these were just inconveniences and didn't really matter.)

What irritated me a bit was that Otto didn't speak English. I somehow had assumed that someone who takes tourists on a week long trip would at least have some basic knowledge of English. So communication during the dog sledge trips was quite limited. But Otto had a relaxed attitude. Quiet and friendly, so we didn't have any problem during the trips.

Next stop: The shop.

The basic rule for the sledge tour was: bring your own stuff. Essentially, all that is provided is a seat on the sledge, hot water, use of a pot, heating in the huts and some space to sleep. Everything else must be brought. (Which is not quite true. If the hunting or the fishing is successful, food is shared. But that should not be expected. Tourists should be able to cope on their own.)

After a first shopping trip for clothing, Saki from the tourist office accompanied me to a second shopping trip for food, since I needed to bring all the food for a week. Most of the advice was good, but buying canned food turned out to be a bit inconvenient. This works well if you are staying in a settlement or hut and do day trips from there, but if you are out all day and carry all the gear with you, then the cans are frozen and it takes a long time to warm them up sufficiently to get the food out. And then you have a cylinder of frozen something that you can roll in the pot until the outer layer peels off and burns in the pot, while you still have an inner ice core.

Not really good.

What actually helps is to change your eating habits. Bread, butter, cheese and bacon slices thaw faster, so it's a good idea to have 'breakfast' in the evening and to put the canned food somewhere warm and then cook it next morning when it's thawed.

What worked really well were Nissin Cup Noodles or some equivalent. Most of the hunters carried them as well and sometimes I wondered how polar exploration ever functioned before they become available...

Anyway, here's one week worth of food (only bacon and cheese are missing):

Food for one week of dogsledding

For the second sledge tour I made some changes. I replaced the canned food and the breakfast with more cup noodles (so I had cup noodles for dinner and for breakfast) and I used cacao instead of instant coffee.

But the basic combination worked well. Some stuff for eating while sitting on the sledge (such as cookies, nuts, mocca choco beans and gummy bears), two chocolate or candy bars per day for breaks during sledging. And instant noodles to eat in the huts.

Now everything was ready for the dog sledge trip starting the next day. But there was still lot of time left in the day, the weather was fine and the icebergs were beckoning. I didn't have any experience with sea ice, so I asked whether there were any dangers to be concerned about.

The reaction was an irritated look, a moment of contemplation and a response along the lines "Sometimes the make a hole in the ice for fishing. You should not step into one of these."

I am never quite sure about linguistic details, but I think that can be safely translated to: "What a stupid question? It's more than a meter of ice. We tend to drive trucks over it. If you act very stupid, you may manage to hurt yourself. But you have to make an effort." (I got the impression that this was the kind of answer I would give if someone asked my whether it was safe to cross an empty parking lot. Yes, if there was some construction site somewhere on it and you fell into an open manhole, you might get hurt. But really...)

So unless I did something really stupid, I could just walk up to the icebergs. Yeah!

So I spent the afternoon walking among icebergs, talking pictures and being happy.


Iceberg near Qaanaaq Iceberg near Qaanaaq Iceberg near Qaanaaq Iceberg near Qaanaaq
Iceberg near Qaanaaq Iceberg near Qaanaaq Iceberg near Qaanaaq Iceberg near Qaanaaq
Iceberg from Hotel Icebergs from close up Icebergs from close up

Qaanaaq seen from the icebergs.


Meeting a howling dog on the way back.

Sledge dog

And still some time to climb the hills behind Qaanaaq, looking down on the village and the frozen sea below (even though some of it looks like open water on the picture, it's all ice).

Looking down from the hills over Qaanaaq

And back to the hotel for the first of a series of very impressive sunsets.

Qaanaaq sunset Qaanaaq sunset Qaanaaq sunset

Onwards to the next part about Greenland.

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