Inglefield Fjord, Northern Greenland, March 2007

For the second week out on the sledge, I was travelling a bit lighter than on the first week. While I had more gear available (since my luggage had finally arrived in Qaanaaq), I was fairly comfortable with the rented clothing I had, so I just packed a change of thermal underwear and more camera gear, but didn't take my leather jacket, the reindeer jacket, jeans or walking shoes. And my food consisted more of instant food, cookies and sweets and didn't have a choice for breakfast or canned food, so, except for the stuff I was wearing and my day pack, I had only a box of food and a bag for the sleeping bag, comb, shaver and change of underwear. The rest of my gear, I left at the Hotel Qaanaaq.

While the first tour was going westward, this time we were heading to the east, into Inglefield Fjord. (On this map the trail is the green line.)

The first day was essentially a straight trip down the fjord. Just a wide, flat, icy area stretching for about 70 kilometers. I was a bit surprised how empty the ice was. My original assumption was that the icebergs would 'thin out' towards the open sea and that the area within the fjord (which has lots of glacier tongues running into it) would be full of icebergs. But there were very few icebergs within the fjord and the greatest concentration of icebergs was right next to Qaanaaq.

So while there were not many icebergs to watch, there were some very nice cliffs along the coast.

Cliffs near Qaanaaq Cliffs near Qaanaaq Cliffs near Qaanaaq Cliffs near Qaanaaq Cliffs near Qaanaaq
Untangling dogs at cliffs near Qaanaaq Cliffs near Qaanaaq Cliffs near Qaanaaq Cliffs near Qaanaaq
Cliffs near Qaanaaq Cliffs near Qaanaaq Dogs running close to cliffs near Qaanaaq Cliffs near Qaanaaq

Some of the cliffs had some interesting colour schemes with different shades of brown.

Cliff face with brown shades Cliff face with brown shades Cliff face with brown shades Cliff face with brown shades
Cliff face with brown shades Cliff face with brown shades Cliff face with brown shades

Since we just heading down the fjord and had some distance to cover (and didn't detour for seal hunting), we used a sort of 'Arctic highway'. This one is connecting Qaanaaq and Qeqertat.

Polar 'highway' between Qaanaaq and Qeqertat

Qeqertat is a small settlement near the end of the fjord and is difficult to reach for most of the year. In winter, it can be reached by dog sledge and in summer by boat, but for a fairly long time in spring when the ice breaks up and in the late autumn, when it starts to form again, is is quite isolated. So when it can be reached, there is a fairly constant traffic between Qaanaaq and Qeqertat and all the dog sledges taking the same route leave a recognizable trail.

We passed Hubbard Glacier on the way and got a quick lesson why it is not a good idea to visit glacier too closely (and why we were passing with a lot of distance). At the front of the glacier a large cloud of snow suddenly appeared. Obviously a sizeable bit of ice had just broken off the glacier edge and fallen on the frozen sea below. (I don't have a good picture of this, since we were some distance away, but a bit of it can be seen in the image below.)

Ice falling off glacier

After passing the glacier, there was a short photo stop at a rocky hill, which gave a good view of the glacier (one of the view occasions where we stopped specifically to give me a chance to take a photograph). There was also a hut nearby, but that was already occupied and it was still early in the day, so we headed on. (Notice the almost complete lack of icebergs that are visible in the fjord...)

Glacier view Hut, dog sledge teams

In the evening, we arrived at a fishing hut.

Fishing hut

The fishing hut differed in quite a few aspects from the hunting huts we used in the first week. The first obvious difference was that this was located on the ice, while the previous huts had all been on the coast.

Fishing hut interior

And while the interior of the hunting huts was generally bare, this one was reasonably well furnished. Instead of a big wooden platform, there are two separate beds with mattresses (This sounds more comfortable than it turned out to be - first of all, there was another hunter using the hut, so we needed sleeping room for three people - there was a wooden board under one of the beds that fitted the space between the beds, so the two beds could be converted into a sleeping platform for three. And second, the beds were about 10 cm shorter than I was, so I had to sleep with my feet hanging in the air, which I don't consider comfortable. But, once again, it didn't actually matter that much; it was just that the first impression of 'this is much better than the previous huts' was a bit shattered.) There was also more stuff lying around. Packs of batteries, a walkie-talkie, a radio, a flashlight, a spice rack, some cooking pots and tableware, playing cards, some books ... The place made a much more 'lived in' impression than the other huts.

One of the reasons is that it is fairly close to Qeqertat, so people come by more regularly than they visit the other huts.

But the main reason is probably that you have to hang around in the fishing huts for some time. While the hunting huts are really just for spending the night, for fishing, you set the line and then you have to wait some time and see what you've caught and you don't want to sit around in an empty box for hours.

Sunset in Inglefield Fjord

Getting to the hut took some time, so all there was left to do for the first day of the second dog sledge trip was to watch the sunset. (It was much more impressive in real life, but the little bit of rock that is visible to the left of the center of the image above is Herbert Island, which is about 60 km away. It doesn't show up on the picture, but with the naked eye it was possible to see the structures formed by cliffs on the side of the island. The air is very clean in that area...)

The next day was fishing day, so we stayed at the hut all day.

Close to the hut were three fishing sites, each one with a hole in the ice and a winch next to it. One of the fishing holes was right next to the hut; the other two were a short walk away.

Since it's usually cold out on the ice, fishing is not done with a fishing rod, a single hook and waiting. It's a bit more a 'fish production line'. There is a main fishing line (the green line in the next two images) from which about a hundred smaller lines (the red ones) branch off, which end with a fishing hook.

Fishing lines and bait Fishing lines and bait

A piece of bait is attached to every hook, then a 'drift anchor' is attached to the end of the line (just a sheet of metal) and the line is lowered into the hole in the ice. Then it's time to wait (or go to the next fishing holes and bait the other lines). After about three hours, the line is pulled up, any fish caught on the hooks removed and the line rebaited.

Pulling fishing lines out Catching a fish

The result of a hundred hooks is usually about ten 'useful' fishes and half a dozen of 'throw away' fishes (the ray like fish towards the back of the next image). So it's a fairly efficient way to catch fishes.

Result of one line of fishing hooks

Not knowing much about fishing, I assumed that the hooks would be close to the ground and the rays were mostly living near the sea ground, but when I looked it up on an ocean map, I found out that the water depth at that point was about 800 meters, so there was lots of distance between the fishing line and the ocean floor.

For me there wasn't much to do except for sitting in the hut, listening to the radio, drinking coffee, and walking around the hut from time to time. The hunters returned to the hut every couple of hours for a coffee or tea break and then headed out to the fishing holes again.

Another nice sunset in the evening...

Sunset near Qeqertat Sunset near Qeqertat

Weather wasn't that nice on the next morning, but the clouds looked great.

Clouds near Qeqertat Clouds near Qeqertat Clouds near Qeqertat

We headed out towards the end of the fjord and the two big glaciers there, before we looped back towards Qeqertat.

The glaciers were impressive to look at, but since the sky had pretty much clouded over when we got there, the light was diffuse and the pictures look a bit drab.

Glacier at end of fjord Glacier at end of fjord Untangling dog lines again

Luckily, the sky cleared up later in the afternoon, so when we were heading towards Qeqertat, there were patches of blue sky again. And in the evening most of the clouds were gone.

Looking back at the glaciers Ice near coast Sunset near Qeqertat
Dogs heading towards sunset Dogs near Qeqertat Dogs near Qeqertat

Qeqertat is a very small settlement. Only about a dozen houses and 22 inhabitants.

Qeqertat panorama

The night was spent in one of the 'modern' houses, which looked newly built.

Qeqertat house

The clouds had moved off completely during the night and the sky was bright blue again, which, given the destination for the morning, was very fortunate.

Preparing to leave Patterns in the ice Patterns in the ice Patterns in the ice Not a nice dog
Leaving Qeqertat Leaving Qeqertat

We were heading towards Academy Bay, which has a number of very impressive cliffs and mountainsides.

So impressive, that I regretted not being a landscape photographer.

The cliffs had everything you might want if you are interested to make dramatic mountain images. Lots of erosion shapes in the rocks, so that you are not faced with a flat hillside, but have structures and shadows. Slight colour variations in the rocks, so that you can da 'almost, but not quite monochrome' photography, looking almost like sepia prints.

And, from a more practical point of photography, in March the sun is still pretty low for most of the day, so you don't have flat overhead lighting, but sunlight coming nicely from the sides, without the need to get up early, just after sunrise. And you can use the light for hours, not just for a small period in the morning. And you can predict the way the shadows move accurately, since there are no other mountains going to throw their shadows on the scene.

And, best of all for landscape photographers, you have a free choice of position. Since mountains usually are in, well, mountainous terrain, this means that you can't get to the 'optimum' photography position, since the point might be inaccessible or occupied by another mountain. Here, you got a large flat area where you can set up your equipment at any point you want and nothing will block your view.

So I was a bit surprised that the area wasn't crawling with photographers. There are be some very good photographs waiting to happen.

My pictures of the area aren't that good, since we were just heading into the bay for a bit and heading out again, so there was no opportunity to wait for the 'right light' or go to the 'perfect spot'. But the place has lots of potential for good images.

Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs
Academy Bay Cliffs Dogs near Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs
Academy Bay Cliffs Inuit and dogs at Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs Dog sledge at Academy Bay Cliffs
Dog sledge in Academy Bay Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs Untangling dog lines at Academy Bay Cliffs Academy Bay Cliffs

After about an hour, we left Academy Bay again. It's notable that the bay can only be visited in winter. Once the ice is gone, it becomes a breeding ground and sanctuary for narwhales, so access to the bay with motorized boats is forbidden. (Although you could probably paddle there with a kayak from Qeqertat.)

Leaving Academy Bay Cliffs

After the short detour, we continued following leads in the ice, looking for seal breathing holes.

Lead in the ice

On the way, we stopped at a rather odd place, which looked a bit like a 'hunting huts through the ages' exhibition. (This may have been Kangerluarsuk, an abandoned settlement, but it's also possible that it was a place called Nutat.)

It featured one modern looking small house (and one of the 'container style' hunting huts), but also a number of older huts, often with stacks of peat for isolation, in various states of disrepair.

Dogs near desolate huts Group of huts Old, barely functional hut
Unusable hut Old, barely functional hut

This is probably a convenient spot for reindeer hunting. In many places the hills are fairly steep and it is difficult to get to the interior, but at this place a convenient slope let up into the interior. Easier for hunters to get to the hunting grounds, but probably also the preferred way of animals to get to the higher ground. So it's not only a good base to go hunting, but likely also a good place for doing some hunting there. And it looks a bit like they just erected a new hut every time the old one got unusable. But it's hard to tell.

As far as I gathered back at the tourist office in Qaanaaq (where I could communicate in English), there was the plan to go hunting for reindeer and while we were on the ice, Otto, the hunter, kept looking at the hillside from time to time, but there wasn't anything to be seen, so we continued to stay on the ice.

In the evening, we reached another hunter's hut, this time on the ice. (It wasn't a fishing hut like the one close to Qeqertat, since it was much less equipped for waiting inside the hut and it also didn't feature any fishing holes nearby.)

Hut interior Hut exterior

Since the seal hunt had been unsuccessful the previous days, the dogs got commercial dog food. Giving a dog bowl to every dog would be fairly impractical in that environment (and probably wouldn't work, since it's much more a pack than a row of individual dogs), so the dry food just got throw to the dogs with a shovel.

It was slightly comical looking to see all the dogs trying to pick up as many bits of dog food as they could, before the other dogs did and resembled more a group of chickens on a barnyard than a group of dogs feeding.

Feeding the dogs Feeding the dogs Feeding the dogs
Feeding the dogs Feeding the dogs

Inside the hut, we had some fish (halibut, I'd guess) for dinner.

Feeding the humans

Next morning, we headed towards the coast to stop for a quick rest near a science station. Right next to it was a small, empty rectangle, surrounded by some stones. This is where the hunting hut, which is currently on the sea ice, is normally located. Once the fjord is sufficiently frozen over, the hut is pulled by dogs out onto the ice (and, hopefully, pulled back to the shore in time before the ice breaks up again). It's hard to see on the third image, but there is a small dark dot on the ice (close to the end of the mountain range that comes in from the left). This is the hut. So it's pulled out for quite some distance.

Science station Dogs resting Hut fundament

The weather was still quite good, but we were in the shadow of the mountains, so there wasn't any direct sunshine and the wind going over the mountains brought some cold with it. After some more looking for seals, we had a pause and a bit of a brew-up near one of the glaciers.

This was slightly unusual, since so far all breaks out on the ice consisted of getting out a thermos, making some tea, cacao or instant coffee, eating a couple of cookies and heading on after five minutes. This time it was more relaxed. The burner was set up and shielded from the wind in the transport box; some ice was melted to provide boiling water. So instead of the usual five minutes break, this one took almost half an hour and it was even time to take a commemorative picture... (The whole second trip felt much more relaxed than the first one. While Otto seemed very businesslike on the first trip, he seemed to take things a bit easier on the second week.)

GLacier Pause and brew-up

Then we headed on to the hut at Kangeq, which is has a great position, right at the end of the island that is opposite to Qaanaaq on Inglefield Fjord.

Kangeq hut Kangeq hut

Too bad that the hut was already occupied, but we stopped by for a cup of tea and some small talk before heading on.

Onwards to the next part about Greenland.

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