Qaanaaq, Northern Greenland, March 2007

Living on the (sl)edge

Note: if you want to jump to a specific part of the trip, use this overview, otherwise, read on...

Going to Qaanaaq for a vacation made sense.

While I tend to use the TV remote to zap between programs in less than a second and oft have the attention span of a neurotic grasshopper on caffeine, I am just fascinated by ice. Put me in front of a large, flat area of ice and I can stare at it for hours. Add some icebergs to the scenery and you got me staring all day.

When I was in Antarctica last year, I spent a surprising amount of time outside, just looking at the scenery. (I thought that I would at some point get fed up with the view, but that just never happened.) And I met a photographer there, who is specialized in polar photography and knew lots of polar places.

So, what place has icy flats and icebergs and looks great? (It was a bit like the book recommendation at "People who enjoyed this scenery might also enjoy") "You should try Qaanaaq. You're probably going to like that."

So that was the reason for going to Qaanaaq: Scenery. Everything else just followed (more or less logically) from that.

First of all, Qaanaaq is surprisingly hard to reach.

Since connections don't match up well (especially if you're not going there in summer), it actually takes three days to get there (longer if you're luggage...), although actual flight times only add up to about eight hours. It's quicker to go to New Zealand.

And there's only one flight to Qaanaaq per week. And that's fairly expensive (since Air Greenland has no competition). It's actually cheaper to go to New Zealand. Or around the world...

So I decided to go to Qaanaaq for at least two weeks. A shorter trip would neither justify the time of getting there (one week of travel for one week of vacation?) nor the cost of travelling.

So what's there to do in Qaanaaq for two weeks?

The tourist office there had a list of winter activities. Most of them being dog sledge trips. Suited me fine. I like the idea of a dog sledge trip and I only had a two hour ride a couple of years ago in Iceland, so having a slightly longer one seemed like a good idea.

The four day trip into Inglefield Fjord seemed interesting. But that still left ten days of spare time. Most trips were shorter trips, but there was a one week trip to Etah, which fitted well. It was also in a different direction, so I had a mix of the calm scenery of the inner fjord with flat ice and more icebergs (or so I thought - actually there were very few icebergs in that area) and the slightly rougher ice towards the ice edge.

Basically a sound idea. Though it was cutting it a bit close. Arriving on a Wednesday, preparing for the trip on Thursday, getting out on Friday, being back on Thursday, resting a day, heading out again on Friday, coming back on Monday and having one day of rest before having to catch the flight back. Workable, but if I got stuck in a storm somewhere, it might get complicated. And the tourist office indicated that ten days to Etah would be a better trip anyway, since it would allow some detours, while the seven day trip would be more a 'just getting there and back' kind of trip.

So in the end, I decided to have a four week vacation, with three weeks in Qaanaaq, two of those travelling on a dog sledge.

It just seemed sensible.

And I would do it as early as possible. While the tourist office advised me that there would be more wildlife later in spring, there would also be more ice and more travel opportunities in March. Since I was going for the scenery and not so much for the wildlife, I wanted to go in mid-March. Sensible choice. -20°C is not that cold, is it?

When planning for the trip, I also noticed that in the January 2007 issue of National Geographic there was an article about hunters in the area of Qaanaaq. This one actually had me a bit worried, since the tourist facilities in Qaanaaq are somewhat limited (the Hotel Qaanaaq has five rooms and once they are full, things get complicated). And National Geographic readers are probably enthusiastic travellers, so would this mean that Qaanaaq would be overbooked?

Fortunately, this wasn't the case at all. In the end, I turned out to be the only real 'tourist' in March. Odd. Especially, since the National Geographic article had one picture that confirmed my plan of going to Qaanaaq. A flat area of sea ice with some icebergs poking out of it. Exactly the kind of scenery I was longing to see.

So the decision was clear: My next vacation would be in Qaanaaq. And after lots of e-mails and a few visits to my travel agency, everything was more or less organized.

A couple of things changed during planning. While I started booking stuff about ten months in advance, I was already told that any specific travel plans with the dog sledge could only be made in late January, since the ice conditions wouldn't be predictable until then. Also, I originally had planned to return home on the Easter weekend, but for some reason there weren't any flights leaving Ilulissat on that weekend. I could have flown in from Qaanaaq on a Wednesday, but the next flight out would be the following Monday, making the way home a long way indeed. So I travelled a week earlier, where getting home could be achieved in three days instead of seven.

It also turned out that going to Etah would not be a feasible option for lack of continuous sea ice. Also, doing a ten day and a four day tour was changed to two seven day tours, since there was a dog sledge race planned and the hunter that I was going to travel with wanted to attend that race. (In the end, the race was cancelled...)

So things did not work out exactly as planned, but I didn't mind. Since there wasn't any specific place I wanted to reach (Etah was just a convenient goal since it was associated with the longer trip, but I wasn't really interested in seeing Etah itself) and I having a week in the Inglefield Fjord instead of just four days and having two seven day trips instead of one long trip and a short one was fine as well.

In the end, I was two weeks with a dog sledge out on the ice and that was what I had originally intended anyway. Everything else was just trying to achieve that, so since the intentions for my planning kept intact, I didn't care much that the actual plans changed.

Since the flight connections didn't quite match up, I had to stay in Copenhagen for a night on the way to Greenland. Nothing interesting about that, but the view of the Oresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden was nice at sunrise.

Oresund Denmark-Sweden bridge

The next step on the way was Kangerlussuaq, which is still the 'main entrance' to Greenland. Essentially, it is an airport in the middle of nowhere (there are no settlements nearby), which used to be part of an US army base. The Airbus from Copenhagen ends here and passengers continue flying to their destinations in Greenland with DASH-7 airplanes.

Kangerlussuaq Airport

Taking the flight from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat, I arrived more or less on time, but my luggage didn't. Turned out that Air Greenland (or whoever mishandles the baggage for them) managed to leave that in Copenhagen. The good thing was that they found the luggage quite quickly, the bad thing was that there would not be any flight from Copenhagen to get the luggage to me before I left for Qaanaaq. Since there is only one flight per week to Qaanaaq, I would be there without my stuff for at least a week (actually a bit longer, since I would be on a sledge tour when the plane arrived).

Not a good thing.

But there was little I could do about it, except for getting to the ATM in Ilulissat and picking up some more cash for emergency shopping (since there's no ATM in Qaanaaq and getting cash there is a bit complicated).

Since the flight from Kangerlussuaq arrives in Ilulissat around noon and the weekly flight to Qaanaaq leaves in the morning, I had a spare afternoon in Ilulissat. The weather was fine with clear blue skies and I didn't want to sit in my hotel room and grumble about the luggage, so I went into the tourist office and asked about tours. Luckily, it turned out that they had a ship tour among the icebergs.

I had been in Ilulissat more than a decade earlier (more about that trip here) and that was when I first saw icebergs. So essentially, that trip was responsible for my love of ice and icebergs and the reason for the subsequent trips to cold and icy places. So would the icebergs still be as impressive as they were back then? Or had I become jaded over the years?

It turned out that the icebergs were still as exciting as they were. And the weather was also perfect for iceberg watching.

The red line is the path the ship took. (No, it didn't go right through the ice. The satellite picture is a bit older than the tour...)

Ship tour and walks near Ilulissat

And these are some pictures of the icebergs near Ilulissat

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Iceberg near Ilulissat Iceberg near Ilulissat Iceberg near Ilulissat Iceberg near Ilulissat
Iceberg near Ilulissat Iceberg near Ilulissat Iceberg near Ilulissat Iceberg near Ilulissat
Iceberg near Ilulissat Iceberg near Ilulissat Iceberg near Ilulissat Pancake ice forming near Ilulissat
Hotel Arctic seen from water

A nice sunset, an early night and good-bye to Ilulissat for three weeks...

Ilulissat sunset

Onwards to the next part about Greenland.

Overview over all parts of the Greenland trip

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