Qaanaaq, Northern Greenland, April 2023

As Neil Gaiman once said: "If you donít know itís impossible, itís easier to do."

I don't like the word "impossible" in that quote. It doesn't make logical sense. But I admit that "If you donít know itís difficult, itís easier to do." doesn't have the same ring to it.

Back in 2007, I went to Qaanaaq in northern Greenland.

The process was straightforward. A photographer with extensive experience in Antarctic and Arctic photography had mentioned to me that the scenery around Qaanaaq was impressive and I would like it.

I looked it up, send some mails to the local tourist office and they arranged things locally.

Off to the travel agency to book the flights and I was ready to go.

Air Greenland managed to lose my luggage on the flight from Copenhagen to Ilulissat. They sent it to Ilulissat the next day. But by then, my flight to Qaanaaq had already left. And only one flight per week goes to Qaanaaq. So my luggage arrived a week after me. (Qaanaaq is much better connected to the rest of the world now - there are currently two flights a week, one on Saturdays and one on Wednesdays.)

It is not a good thing if you're heading out for a week in the Arctic and all your cold weather gear is in your luggage.

But with the help of the local tourist office and a visit to the local store, this was solved.

Except for the delayed luggage, the rest went as planned.

Though I found Qaanaaq "surprisingly hard to reach", as, due to the way flights are scheduled, you need three days to get there, it wasn't difficult to get there.

So, 16 years and many travels later, it should be easy to return to Qaanaaq.

It isn't.

Before this seems like the beginning of a long tale of failure and frustration, things did did work out.

Not as planned.

But I did what I wanted to do.

Be out among the icebergs on a sunny day.

And enjoy it.

Icebergs and me

But the way there was longer than expected.

Walking from icebergs

Why go back to Qaanaaq at all?

When I was there in 2007, I was there for three weeks. Two of them, I was travelling with a hunter.

He was going out with his dog sled to hunt and to fish. The tourist office in Qaanaaq had arranged that I could travel on the dog sled.

The deal was that I would be living luggage on the sled. It was not a 'tourist experience'. He would go where he wanted to go. Find some place to stay at nights. And bring a heater and make hot water.

Everything beyond that was up to me. I needed to bring my own gear (or at least the one rented from the tourist office) and my own food (ideally something that only needed hot water to prepare).

It was the first time I had been on a dog sled for anything else but a short two-hour tourist trip.

And while driving a dogsled is not something you can do as a tourist in Greenland, it was something I thought I might like.

After that trip, I looked for dog sledding trips where you can drive the sled yourself. Two years later, I was standing on a dogsled on the Arctic Ocean, north of Canada. And I have been dogsledding every year since that.

The trip was also amazing in a lot of other aspects, but as I already wrote a lot about it back then, I won't go into details here.

But there was something I regretted.

I liked the landscape - the flat, wide, frozen fjord and the massive icebergs embedded in it.

The icebergs looked like something from another world.

And I wanted to walk up to them, have a closer look, take pictures, see the sun reflect in them from different angles.

But for the hunter, icebergs are of little interest. If you hunt, you don't stop for icebergs.

So while I did see many icebergs and took lots of pictures, most of it was 'drive-by photographing'. The sled travelled to the next seal hole and I tried to photograph icebergs when we went by.

Or photographed them from the distance while we were standing close to some seal breathing hole.

Despite that, there were many cool photographs, especially when the sun was setting behind an iceberg with a hole.

There also had been a few days where I was staying in Qaanaaq and was able to walk out to some icebergs that were close to the shore. And took pictures there.

I had enjoyed that immensely and wanted to walk among icebergs again.

After all, how difficult could that be?

Stay in or near Qaanaaq. Walk out to any icebergs nearby. Take pictures. Enjoy.

I had done all of that before during my previous stay up there.

While I wanted to do, essentially, was the same again. But this time a bit differently.

Then, the focus was on being out on the dogsled. Staying in Qaanaaq and walking out to the icebergs was something to do in the 'buffer days'.

Now, the idea was to be more 'out there' in the Arctic landscape, away from it all.

When I had planned the trip in 2006, the tourist office in Qaanaaq had sent me a document "What you can do in and around Qaanaaq".

Most of it related to dogsledding, of course, but there was also one entry that read:

Cross country skiing supported by dogsled
Cross-country skiing - Qeqertarssuaq 2 days
Qeqertarssuaq (Herbert Island) is the large island you will see in front of Qaanaaq.
There is no one living at the village of Qeqertarssuaq now, but most of the houses are still good for use, and some people from Qaanaaq use them as vacation houses.
Ski among icebergs frozen in to the sea. You will be guided and supported by dogsled, which will carry your heavy bags so that you can travel light.
It is 22 km (14 miles) to the village of Qeqertarssuaq.
It is possible to extend your trip and stay longer at Qeqertarssuaq.

That sounded like a perfect trip to me.

There had been lots of icebergs around Qeqertarssuaq. (By the way, Qeqertarssuaq island is the large, stretched ridge that is visible in the center of the first picture. Qeqertarssuaq, the village, is close to the near end of it.)

Going somewhere that was even more remote than Qaanaaq (which has about 650 inhabitants) and staying for a couple of days in a deserted village had a lot of appeal.

I knew that I would not be able to pull all the necessary gear (and especially all the additional gear, like cameras) across the fjord in a day. But if someone would bring all my luggage to Qeqertarssuaq by dogsled or snowmobile (or possibly by car) and I would only need to carry a daypack with a camera or two, that might be do-able.


I didn't know.

My only experience with cross-country skis had been a couple of rentals for an hour or two each time.

While the list of places where I went cross-country skiing looks impressive (Finland, Sweden, Antarctica, North Pole, Austria, Italy, Canada), I had never done anything more than put some skis under my feet and shuffled along.

I couldn't do it properly, hadn't even an idea how it should be done properly.

More importantly, I didn't know whether I could do 22 km across a fjord.

And that was essential.

Assuming that someone would take my luggage to Qeqertarssuaq, drop it there and then go somewhere else, I would be going there alone.

Finding out that I could only do 15 km and then being out there on the ice, unable to go any farther, with nothing but a daypack, would not be good.

So the whole thing seemed interesting and exciting, but nothing that would ever happen.

(And, ultimately, it didn't happen. But for other reasons.)

Then, in 2021, something else happened.

I had already booked and prepaid my 2022 dogsledding trip with Kenneth and Catte, when they announced that they would close their dogsledding business. (And open a bakery instead.)

Which was slightly awkward.

I had already paid for the trip. It seemed wrong to ask for the money back. Of course, they offered to give it back. But they had just given up their old business and were starting a new one. Money was presumably tight. On the other hand, dogsledding tours are expensive. Simply saying "keep the money" wasn't an option either.

As they no longer had their dogs, the idea came up to do something else instead.

I would rent a snowmobile for a week and do a snowmobile tour with Kenneth and then Catte would spend a week teaching me cross-country skiing.

While it wouldn't be a dogsledding tour, I would get two interesting weeks of vacation. I would get something for my money.

And a week of learning to cross-country ski would give me useful information.

Even if I didn't learn anything at all, I would get a good idea about the effort needed and the time it would take to go somewhere.

And, ideally, I would learn cross-country skiing. (At least the basics. Or, at the very least, know what I should be doing.)

While we did go on 'proper' cross-country skiing tracks as well, I also crossed the lake behind their house a couple of times. Crossing flat ice on a lake was the closest thing to the environment I was expecting on the fjord at Qaanaaq.

While I never tried to do 22 km in a go, I found out that going on skis was about as strenuous as walking. As I can walk 22 km, I should be able to ski 22 km. It would be tiring, but I would be able to do it.

I would also be slower than I would be walking. My speed on skis is about 3.5 km/h, while I usually walk around 6 km/h. Going to Qeqertarssuaq would take about seven hours (including a lunch break and taking photographs).

Longer than I had hoped for, but possible. And better than snow-shoeing.

I knew from the dogsledding trips that being 'out there' for that time wouldn't be a problem, unless the weather turned really bad.

And, depending on the snow conditions, I might be able to walk a part of it. If there is only a thin layer of soft snow on the ice (about a centimeter), it's easy to walk.

Only when the snow is deeper (ankle high or above) walking is slow and tiring and skis are the better option. Or when there are many breaks and gaps in the ice below. Or when there is no snow at all on the ice and it becomes to slippery to walk.

All things considered, it would not be easy to do.

But I was confident that it would be possible.

As a result, "go to Qaanaaq, ski to Qeqertarssuaq, stay there for a while and walk to icebergs, then ski back" started to move from "interesting thing, but only suitable for real explorers" to something that might be something I could do.

But could I?

The "What you can do in and around Qaanaaq" information was (at least) 17 years old by now. And while it stated back then "most of the houses are still good for use", maybe they now look like this. (The remains of a house of another abandoned village at Inglefield Fjord in 2007.)

I had no idea what happened around Qaanaaq since I was there.

That didn't matter, though.

Once I had determined that that was something I wanted to do and something I could do, I could start finding that out.

This wasn't as easy as it was in 2006. Hence, there'll be much more text before I get to the start of the vacation.
So here's an intermission image to avoid having a large block of text with no pictures.
One of the three Greenlandic words that made it into the English language (the other two are 'igloo' and 'anorak') is 'kayak'.
Here's how it is actually spelled in Greenland.

Kayak as written in Greenland - Qajaq

Back to the journey...

It turned out that "send a mail to the tourist office in Qaanaaq", as I did in 2006, was no longer an option.

Qaanaaq doesn't have a tourist office anymore.

I don't know whether this is because there wasn't enough tourism to justify having one. Or whether it was the other way around and people in Qaanaaq decided that they didn't want to be a tourist destination.

In any case, there was nobody to contact in Qaanaaq.

I started searching around for anything related to tour planning for northern Greenland.

There aren't many companies offering any activities in the area. And the few that are essentially offer dogsledding trips with local hunters.

Which is a great thing to do, but I've been there, done that, bought the 300-weight fleece pullover.

But this time I wanted to go there for the icebergs, not for dogsledding.

After some more searching and following links, I did find a company "that makes custom-made plans for your trip to Greenland".

They also stated "Let us know what interests you and makes you happy. We work with local guides who know the nature of their area.", as well as "We arrange trips to all areas of Greenland. Let us know what you want to experience, and when you are coming. We will come back with recommended options for you to choose from."

At first, I wasn't quite sure whether it made sense to contact them. While they offered "custom-made itineraries for individuals and groups", they also did "services such as research, briefing on topics regarding Greenland, and setup of interviews" for press representatives as well as "support to scientific research and expeditions, including logistics, connecting to locals, and consultation for acquiring sponsorships".

It seemed a bit too "large scale". More like a company that would be hired by National Geographic to fly a group of photographers all over Greenland for a month. Or someone who would make sure that Paramount could film a sequence for a superhero movie in the Arctic wilderness. Or do local arrangements to support a yearlong climate study by the Alfred Wegner institute on the ice sheet.

But then I noticed a familiar name in the contact address of the company.

It turned out that the company was founded to by the same person who had been running the tourist office in Qaanaaq back in 2006.

So I wrote her an e-mail to say, re-introduced myself and asked whether her company still offered something like "cross country skiing supported by dogsled" to offer. Or whether anyone else in Qaanaaq could arrange such a thing.

The answer was, essentially: "No, not really. Not easily. But let's talk."

The "cross country skiing" trip in Qaanaaq had rarely (if ever happened).

When they had that on their "What you can do in and around Qaanaaq" list, only two people ever asked about it. (I don't know whether those people went cross-country skiing or queried about it and then did something else.) So they had stopped offering it.

Also, logistically, it might be tricky to arrange. There's no ski rental in Qaanaaq. In general, it seems that skiing isn't that popular up there. It seems to be taught at schools, as one of the options was to ask the local school whether they could spare any skis for a week. But that's about it. (Ultimately, I didn't see anyone on skis when I was there. I also didn't see any skis on porches or anywhere in town. And no skis in the store either. While I assume that many people do have them, it's clearly not as popular in the far north of Greenland as it is in Sweden or Norway.)

So there wasn't going to be any cross country skiing during the trip.

While that made my 'learning to cross-country ski' in the previous year somewhat pointless, it didn't matter. It was an interesting experience in itself. And it also enabled (well, kind of forced) me to try the joys (and terrors) of skijoring.

For the Qaanaaq planning, it didn't matter much.

The whole point of learning cross-country skiing was to be able to get to Qeqertarssuaq, to be able to walk to the icebergs in the fjord. And the only listed tour that made that possible was the "cross country skiing supported by dogsled" tour. But it always was nothing more than a means to an end.

As someone would need to go to Qeqertarssuaq with some sort of transport anyway to bring my luggage there, I could take that ride as well. Someone could drop me and my gear in Qeqertarssuaq and pick me up a few days later. No problem. In theory.

But, then again, the point of asking about Qeqertarssuaq in the first place (and why a cross-country ski trip was a suggestion in 2006) was that it can be reached on ski in a day.

Once we started to discuss about someone getting me to some place with some other form of transport, other options opened.

Though it would depend a bit on where the icebergs would be.

Logistically, Qeqertat would be a convenient place. Unlike Qeqertarssuaq, there are people living there.

Not a lot, admittedly.

Officially (according to the Greenland statistics office), there are 31 residents. Although it seems that, at the moment, only ten people actually live there.

But, logistically, it meant that there would be some houses that were heated. And there's also electric power available. While camera batteries do last a while, even in cold conditions, and there are such things as powerbanks, being able to recharge stuff (especially a drone) was useful.

An alternative would have been to stay in a hunter's hut at Bowdoin Fjord, which is a side fjord of the main Inglefield Fjord. Or at any of the other hunter huts. (There are some placed along the coast, about 20 km apart from each other, as a place for hunters to stay overnight.)

Even the word "hut" makes them sound more impressive than they are. They are large wooden boxes with a wooden sleeping platform inside. And that's it.

Hunter hut

I would have to bring a heating device and fuel and at least a pot to melt bits of icebergs for water. And, maybe, as a luxury option, a petrol powered generator. But it would be do-able.

In the end, it depended on the icebergs.

For example, in March 2007, the fjord near Qeqertat looked like this:

Near Qeqertat in 2007

Not a single iceberg within a 20 km radius.

And, as far as I recall, this is the Bowdoin Glacier at the end of Bowdoin Fjord.

Near Qeqertat in 2007

Impressive as a glacier, but short of icebergs.

In the end, it turned out that there were, conveniently, icebergs close to Qaanaaq and Qeqertat.

So the plan was to fly to Qaanaaq for a week, go shopping for food the next morning (as the shop would be closed by the time the plane had landed), then get driven to Qeqertat for three nights. This would give me two full days to go walking and photographing amongst the icebergs there.

Then get driven back to Qaanaaq the following day, so I would have another two full days to go to the icebergs there, before flying back south the day after that.

Seemed like a reasonable plan.

I tried to be careful with the flight bookings.

As I had problems when Air Greenland lost my luggage on the way to Ilulissat (and my flight to Qaanaaq left the next day before the luggage arrived in Ilulissat), I decided to spend two nights in Ilulissat. So, even if something went wrong, at least there would be another day to sort things out.

I also added two full days in Ilulissat on the way back, just in case.

The first parts of the journey went without a problem.

I flew to Copenhagen, stayed at an airport hotel, checked in next morning for Kangerlussuaq and boarded a nice new plane.

Air Greenland had bought the Airbus 330neo four months earlier, so this one had all the newest features.

I hadn't been on any long-haul flights for a while (the last one was to Peru in 2019), so I haven't been on planes with in-seat entertainment recently. So I don't know whether that is standard now, but, for example, I liked that they had the seat number on the welcome screen.

Welcome screen with seat number

They also had a choice of two camera views - forward and down.

I had seen that before, but the quality was usually bad. Here, the cameras were still new enough to give a good image instead of a washed-out mess. Nice.

Especially as I had a seat in the middle section and couldn't see out of the window.

Once we were crossing Greenland, there were clear views of the grounds below. Not a cloud in sight.


The main airport in Greenland, Kangerlussuaq, is at the end of a long fjord called Strømfjord.

And some low clouds were trapped in there.

Clouds in Stroemfjord.

It was interesting to see the clouds limited to such a small channel, but it meant we couldn't land.

The pilot announced that we would fly a holding pattern for a while, hoping for the clouds to clear up in the midday sun.

We circled around for more than an hour. Then the clouds had thinned out a bit and we went once more through a holding pattern before going in to land.

Runway visible through thin clouds

We touched down about 90 minutes later than planned.

I didn't mind much. After all, this was a vacation, so I wasn't in as hurry. And Kangerlussuaq is the main hub for Air Greenland. So all connecting flights would likely wait for the passengers from Copenhagen to arrive.

The only thing to worry about was that things might get a bit rushed (my flight to Ilulissat was scheduled to leave two hours after the flight from Copenhagen was supposed to land so the transfer time might be only 30 minutes). There was a risk that my luggage might not make it onto the plane. But that's why I had an extra buffer day in Ilulissat.

No need to worry, though.

The other planes had the similar issues with the weather, so my flight to Ilulissat was delayed by two hours, giving me even more transfer time than I had originally.

Then it got delayed by another half hour. And again.

And then it got cancelled.

Turned out that there was thick fog over Ilulissat (which didn't dissipate in the noon sun), so all flights were cancelled.

Not a good thing.

While Air Greenland provided a dinner voucher and a place to stay overnight, I had a prepaid hotel reservation for a good hotel in Ilulissat. And it was too late to cancel that. So I had to pay for the accommodation in Ilulissat.

Usually that shouldn't matter much - you pay one hotel room that you don't use, but the airline gives you another hotel room that you don't pay for, so it (kind of) evens out.

That didn't quite work this time. The hotel in Ilulissat is a good one (I've stayed there twice before), while Kangerlussuaq doesn't really have any good hotels. And among those, the one they put me in was #3 of 3.

To quote a review on a travel site "Do anything you can do to avoid getting sent to this 'hotel'."

In fact, it's not even really a hotel.

I don't think you could book a room there if you wanted to. (But you wouldn't want to.)

It's a bit of a leftover building from when Kangerlussuaq was an US airbase in the cold war. The specific building was used to house scientists doing atmospheric research in area until a decade ago. So it's more a barracks than anything like a hotel.

And now it's used by Air Greenland when they need to put stranded passengers somewhere and there are no proper hotel rooms available.

The rooms themselves are actually kind of ok. A bit bare and old fashioned, but all right, if you only spend on night there. (It's a bit irritating though that they were designed to house personnel that would stay there for half a year or more. That must have been mind-numbingly dull.)

What is annoying is that everything else, like the restaurant or the supermarket are on the other side of the airport.

And it's a long way to go, as there's an airport in the way. So you need to go around the end of the runway.

There's a (kind of) bus service, but that's extremely restricted. It leaves the airport at 3pm, then takes you to the airport restaurant at 5:30pm, then you have two hours for dinner, go back at 7:30pm and then go back to the airport next morning at 7:00am. So it's not as much a bus service. It feels more like you're giving marching orders.

And you are, essentially, dumped at the building.

They give you the room keys at the airport, as there is nobody (except for the guests) at the building.

The really annoying thing, however, is the absence of a usable WLAN.

When you are stranded somewhere, then you usually have to re-arrange some things (like letting the hotel in Ilulissat know that you'll be a day late, but will technically keep the room, so you can check in when you arrive the next morning). But there was no way to do that at that place.

When I went to the airport restaurant later that evening, I quickly ate my dinner and then sat in a quiet corner somewhere to write e-mails before the bus left again.

So I paid for a good hotel in Ilulissat, but got a shitty one in Kangerlussuaq instead. Frustrating.

Even more frustrating was that I had booked a short dogsledding tour for the next morning.

That would have been strictly a short tourist tour, but it seemed like it would be fun to see Greenlandic style dogsledding again and compare this with my dogsledding experiences.

But that would have been on the next morning and it was too late to cancel that. So I had to pay for the dogsledding trip (which wasn't cheap - nothing in Greenland is) and wouldn't be able to do that.


But it couldn't be helped.

Next morning, I went to the airport and there were four flights scheduled for Ilulissat that morning. Mine was the fourth.

And then, due to fog in Ilulissat, one by one, the first three were cancelled.

My flight was shown as 40 minutes delayed.

I expected it to be cancelled as well, but I got lucky and, with an hour delay, the plane departed for Ilulissat.

The weather along the way was good. I had a window seat and great views of the glacier, the icefjord and the icebergs swimming there.

Over Ilulissat icefjord Over Ilulissat icefjord Over Ilulissat icefjord

Except for the dogsledding, my vacation was back on track.

I had booked a boat tour among the icebergs for the afternoon. The plane arrived in time for that, so I quickly checked into the hotel, dropped my bags and went to the meeting point.

I had made a similar boat tour back in 1996 and in 2007 as well. In both cases I've been lucky with the weather and done the tour on sunny days with bright blue skies.

This time, I've been lucky again.

While it had been foggy the previous days (which was the reason why they cancelled the plane flights), now the fog was gone and the icebergs looked glorious in the sun.

There's not much to say about swimming icebergs. Stating "the sun is reflected nicely from this one", "there's a clear shear line", "that one got holes in it" and about another phrases stating something that is visible in the images anyway, won't help much. So I'll show two dozen pictures and a panorama taken on the boat tour without commentary.

Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour
Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour
Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour
Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour
Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour
Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour Ilulissat boat tour
Ilulissat boat tour panorama

A common thing, almost a tradition, on boat tours among icebergs is to hack off a bit of ice and serve drinks with them.

Besides the fact that you rarely get to drink 'antiques' (glacier ice can be thousands of years old), it is different from regular ice cubes. Glaciers aren't really frozen water - at least not directly (except for the blue bits - those tent to have melted and frozen again). They are highly compressed snow.

And snow has lots of air inside. When it gets compressed to ice, some air doesn't go anywhere, but stays in the ice. (Which is also the reasons why icebergs are white and not translucent.) When you put them into drinks, you can sometimes hear them crackle. That's compressed air getting out.

On previous trips, the drink of choice used to be whisky, but as gin is getting increasingly trendy, we had gin on this trip. It turned out to be a local gin. For distilling it, they use water from the icebergs. So, ultimately, we were having something made with iceberg water with iceberg water in it.

Gin and icebergs Gin and icebergs

It was a good tour and I did enjoy it.

Me on Ilulissat boat tour Me on Ilulissat boat tour

After the initial problems, I was having a good day and was looking forward to a nice dinner at a good restaurant. And then to Qaanaaq the next day. With walking around many more icebergs.

At least, that's what I thought until I came back to the hotel and checked my mails.

There was a message from Air Greenland: The flight to Qaanaaq was cancelled.

But no problem (at least according to Air Greenland) - they had booked me to the next flight.

Usually things like that are annoying, but no big issue. (Like when they cancelled the flight from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat the day before.) It's costly, it screws up your plans, but that's why there are 'buffer days' in my travel plans.

However, a 'buffer day' (or two or three...) wouldn't help. My original flight was on a Saturday. And the next flight, the one that Air Greenland had now booked me on, was on Wednesday. So it was a full four days later!

And, unlike back in 2007, where I had been staying for three weeks in Qaanaaq, so four days would not have been that much of a loss. This time I was staying for a week. I would fly to Qaanaaq on Wednesday and fly back on Saturday, so I there would be only two full days at my disposal up there.

Not a good thing, especially given all the cost and effort of getting there.

I spent a busy evening sending e-mails and talking to Saki and my travel agency to re-arrange plans and re-book all the other flights. (And high praise to my travel agent back home, who, due to the time difference, got my mail around midnight on a Friday evening and started rebooking flights. And to Saki too, who kept calling people in Qaanaaq and shifted schedules.)

Instead of flying home on Saturday, I would now fly home on the following Wednesday flight, so I would still be in Qaanaaq for a whole week. The schedule would be shifted by four days, but mostly stay the same.

It caused some problem further down the line, but that seemed manageable.

Initially, I had two days planned (Sunday and Monday) in Ilulissat after coming back. So I had booked activities for those days. As I wouldn't be back to Ilulissat until Wednesday, I would miss these. And, unfortunately, all activities, like the snowmobile tour, were pre-paid and not refundable. Since, on the way back, I would now arrive on Wednesday in Ilulissat and leave on Thursday morning, I also would not be able to do those activities then. (I also would not be able to get back to home before I needed to be back to the office, but that was solved by extending the vacation. Not what I had planned, but not a critical issue.)

So, after a stressful evening, plans were mostly sorted out again.

At least the hotel had proper internet, so it wasn't like the previous evening, where everything needed to be done in the airport departure hall between dinner and the bus leaving.

It was never fully clear why the flight had been cancelled. The official reason was 'bad weather in Qaanaaq', but I was told by locals that it was unusual to cancel a flight almost a day in advance. It happens if there's a massive bad weather front with blizzards up there. But that wasn't the weather forecast. And if it was only a case of 'it might be foggy' up there, airlines usually check the weather until they are almost ready to board before the plane they cancel. (Cancelling flights is expensive, as you need to house and feed the stranded passengers. Especially if you need to do that for four days. You don't do that on the chance that the weather might be bad. You wait until you are sure that there's no other way.) It was also strange that they didn't re-schedule the flight to the next day or the day after, but cancelled it completely. (Especially in view of later developments.) While they don't really have spare planes standing around, the flight to Qaanaaq is the only 'rare' flight. So it would have made sense to cancel one of many daily Ilulissat/Kangerlussuaq flights and use that plane to bring us to Qaanaaq.

Air Greenland is strange.

On the plus side, they didn't place me in a hotel with an 'avoid getting sent there' review. They put me into the best hotel in town! (Which was the one I was already staying in. I didn't even have to change rooms.)

I now had, unexpectedly, three full days in Ilulissat I hadn't expected to have.

I hadn't any real plans for the next day.

Well, I had a plan - that as "fly to Qaanaaq" - but Air Greenland had stopped that.

So the first thing I tried was to re-schedule the pre-booked activities in Ilulissat.

On thing did work out. I had a snowmobile tour booked for the following week (but would still be in Qaanaaq by the time it was booked for). And when I mailed the booking agency for that activity on Saturday morning, they (essentially) said "Sorry to hear that. But it might be a good thing. Right now the snow is still ok, but it is going quickly. And unless it snows a lot in the next week, we might not be able to offer the tour on the booked date anyway. So why not do the tour tomorrow instead?" So that one was easily solved. And the weather was great on Sunday. And the tour led to something even better. But more about that a bit later.

The other local travel booking agency was more difficult to deal with.

First, they were closed on weekends. So I couldn't contact them before Monday morning. As my flight was on Wednesday, that meant that by the time I talked to them, there would only be Monday afternoon and Tuesday as possible dates for anything.

But they remained firm and stated that they could nothing do about the dog sled ride. I had paid for that, hadn't been there and that was it. No possibility to do that on Tuesday instead.

I also had booked a helicopter flight over the glacier a week later (when I now would still be in Qaanaaq), but there was nothing they were willing to do about that either. They couldn't offer something on the same day or the next (as the helicopter wouldn't be available in Ilulissat) and they wouldn't allow cancellation at anything other than full price. (I am aware that cancellations are a problem in the travel industry. And I would have found it acceptable if they required a 'cancellation fee' of 50 Euro or even 100 Euro to cover expenses and inconvenience. But I found it annoying that they required full payment in advance and left all the business risk with the customer. And not with the business.)

The only hope they were offering was that the helicopter flight might not reach the required minimum bookings. Because then they would have to cancel the flight and only then would they refund me.

So my best chance of getting my money back would be if they would be incapable of selling their tours properly...

Something that was annoying me even more: The specific travel booking agency was fully owned by Air Greenland (they own a lot of stuff up there - the hotel I was staying in was owned by them as well). So the company that got me into troubles and forced me to reschedule or cancel things was the company that was keeping the money from the things that I couldn't do but had to pay for anyway.

Before that descends even more in grumblings and anger, I'll add only two more things and then come back to the trip itself. First, it weren't only companies in Greenland that were stubborn. I had booked a hotel not far from the airport in Copenhagen on the way back. And as that date had changed as well, I had to cancel that stay as well. Turned out that this was also a 'non-refundable' rate and they insisted that there was nothing they could do about that and that I had to pay for the night. Regardless of whether I'd stay there or not. But, second, people became more rational later. A few days after that, I got a mail from the hotel saying that they would not refund the rate, but I could move the booking to another day. Which was all I wanted to do in the first place. I would be staying in Copenhagen on the way back, so I needed a hotel room anyway. But initially they were taking a hard line. I wonder whether they ever heard about the hospitality part of the business. And that it's not the same as hostility. (In the end, as I was staying in Copenhagen for a full day, I was staying there two nights instead of one. So, ultimately they made twice the money from me.) The travel booking agency in Ilulissat sent a mail a few days later as well. They "decided to refund your dog sledding tour and your helicopter tour". So all was well again in the end. I didn't get to do the dogsledding tour or the helicopter tour, but I wouldn't pay for them either. But the whole process could have been a lot easier and less frustrating.

But now back to the trip itself.

There wasn't any scheduled activity on Saturday, so I took a hike.

Ilulissat has two hiking tours along the icefjord. (Well, sometimes it is stated that there are four hiking trails, but one is the access path to the start of the blue route and the other one is essentially a shortcut back to Ilulissat if you don't want to do the whole blue route. But the main routes are the blue and the yellow route.

As I had all day and the weather was nice, I went for the blue route.

All in all it's about ten kilometers over uneven but walkable terrain. (Technically, the blue route is only 6.7 km, but you need to go along the 1.3 km heritage trail to reach the start. And it ends at the Quarry. Which is probably not where you want to be, so there's another kilometer or two until you are back in 'downtown Ilulissat'.)

So it's a good relaxed day hike with lots of great views of icebergs.

The trails start at the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre. A new exhibition building (only opened two years ago), with an unusual look.

Ilulissat Icefjord Centre Ilulissat Icefjord Centre
Note: The second picture is from two days later, when I walked the yellow route - hence the different weather.

There's, however, not that much in there, as the exhibition space is rather limited.

About half of the building is an open terrace area, where you can stand outside and enjoy the view (though not that much - you can have a view of the hills, as the slanted roof is blocking the view towards the ice fjord - ultimately, you have a much better view if you do not stand on the open terrace area). You can also walk on the roof and see a lot more. But then you are exposed to the wind and might as well stand on one of the hills nearby for an even better view.

So only half of the building has an 'inside'. And of that half, half of it is taken by the cloakroom, the ticket counter and the cafe. The exhibition space is less than a quarter of the building. So there isn't much of it.

The exhibition is stylish, modern and looks great. It doesn't seem to have much of a purpose, though.

Some parts probably seemed cutting edge when they were designed, but will likely date quickly.

There is an extremely well done VR presentation on scientific work out on the inland ice.

Although, with VR presentation, I mean a 360į video with hotspots linking to other 360į videos, not an actual 3D environment.

It does it job well, as it has a 'narrative flow' (though not a storyline) to it. You are a visitor to the science station out there and someone, presumably an old friend, who works there, shows you around.

So when you go to a specific tent or building, you get introduced to the people working there, who then explain what they are doing.

Which gives them a reason to address you directly and explain things to you. And, sometimes, when you look at a hotspot in the environment, they go "Oh, I see you find the ice drill interesting. Let me tell you what we use it for..." You can (reasonably) freely choose which tent you want to visit next and encounters are all separate and don't build on each other (I hadn't seen anything along the lines "Here's where we look at the ice core samples. They are retrieved with the ice drill, which you have already seen." There seemed to be no parts that had multiple videos, depending on whether you had seen something else already. But it is set up in a way where it doesn't matter. In a real situation, where a friend shows you around, the person doing the ice core sample studies also wouldn't know (or care) whether you've seen the ice drill.)

It was professionally staged, well presented, carried a lot of information and gave an insight on activities done on the inland ice, which few people get to experience.

That's good.

But, essentially, it was something that could have been a smartphone VR app where you put the phone in a headset. And that could have been done five years ago. (Or even longer - the Google Cardboard, the granddaddy of smartphone VR viewers came out eight years ago.)

Five years ago (when this was probably planned), it was new and cutting edge. Now it's a bit old fashioned. I haven't seen smartphone VR sets in use (or apps for it) for a while now. Google Cardboard was discontinued two years ago.

The Ilulissat Icefjord Centre uses proper VR headsets (and not smartphones in a box), but that doesn't help much. It might make things worse. The video (which I assume is 4K 360į by the look of it) looks a bit fuzzy (360į often does). It wouldn't matter that much on a smartphone, but with the resolution of a VR headset, it is obvious. And it's unlikely that they are going yo film it all again in 8k.

But that doesn't matter.

What does matter is: Why should I go the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre for that?

They could simply make that a smartphone app and I can watch it at home. There's no reason for me to go to a specific place to see that.

It's, once again, my frustration with museums.

They are great when they have historic things that you can't see anywhere else.

If I want to see Harrison's marine timekeepers, I need to go to Greenwich, as that is where the originals are. If I want to see Picasso's Guernica, I need to go to the museum in Madrid. If I want to see the plane Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic with, then Washington needs to be your destination.

The other reason for museums is to provide experiences you can't easily get at home.

The California Science Center had a great presentation where you had to pick up different size marbles with various rods and hooks, explaining how the beaks of birds evolved differently in areas with different fruits. Or a large box with stiff rubber arms reaching in from the outside and ping pong balls flying around inside, highlighting the situation of a barnacle, which is fixed to a rock and needs to find methods to 'grab' food that is floating around in the water around it.

In a similar way, the museum of optical illusions in Thessaloniki has a room featuring a forced perspective and a disorienting tunnel where the scenery around you rotates.

With enough effort, you could build these things at home, of course. But you probably wouldn't.

Hence, it makes sense to go to a museum to experience those things there.

But a lot of things in the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre didn't require that.

You can watch 360į videos easily at home. There was also an 'audio guide' that wasn't linked to the exhibits. You could press a button and then someone would tell a story about their experiences as a dog sled driver or their childhood in Ilulissat.

Again, well made. I expected somewhat soppy stories, but mostly they turned out informative and not overly nostalgic. But, again, I can listen to audio files by clicking a link on a web site. I don't need to travel to Ilulissat for that.

Right now, as I am writing this, I'm doubly confused.

I was about the say that it seems that the main reason for the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre is to provide some way to get people to pay for those experiences. Because, if you make an app out of the 360į video, people are unlikely to pay for that. Educational videos are mostly expected to be free. And if put the audio files on a web page where everyone can listen to them, setting up a paywall will probably cost more than you will ever earn from that.

But it turns out that the audiofiles are on the homepage of the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre. And you can click on them and listen to them for free.

So now I know even less what the point of the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre is and why people should go there. Not only can you have the experience at home. You can also have it for free. Weird.

But, architecturally, the place is amazing. So, whatever else, it's worth going there, enjoying the coffee in the cafe and get ready for the hike.

The first part, from the Icefjord Centre to the coast is the "World Heritage Trail". Its easy to do, as it's a wooden boardwalk all the way.

World Heritage Trail

The trail goes towards the shore and then in parallel to it for a bit, leading to a staircase up to a bench with a great view of the icefjord.

It doesn't quite go to the coast, as sometimes pieces of icebergs break off and cause a wave.

And at some bays along the shore, the water all gets pushed into an increasingly smaller area, so a small wave can become a big one, smashing people against the rock. There are signs warning visitors not to walk on the beach.

Another risk are overhanging bits of snow.

Overhanging snow

While it might look from above as if you are walking on snow that is on top of firm ground, you can see from the side that the snow is extending over the edge of the rock. If you walk there, the snow might break off and drop you into the cold water below.

At the end of wooden boardwalk, the "World Heritage Trail" turns into the blue route trail. It runs along the shore of the icefjord (with due distance) for a couple of kilometers before turning inland and then leading back towards Ilulissat.

For most of the route, there is no clear path to stay on. The path is marked by dots of blue paint on rocks and, occasionally, a stone cairn, painted blue. Such markers are about 50 metres apart. And how you 'connect the dots' is up to you. And, at that time of year, the snow conditions.

Of course, there are icebergs visible all along the way.

Along the blue hiking route Along the blue hiking route Along the blue hiking route Along the blue hiking route
Along the blue hiking route Along the blue hiking route Along the blue hiking route

When the trail turned inland, I left the 'blue route' and walked along a 'snowmobile highway' for a while.

Snowmobile trail Snowmobile trail Snowmobile trail

I would be on that snowmobile route the next day as well, albeit not on foot.

Before I got too far from Ilulissat, I made my way across the hills on the side and crossed some wet, semi-frozen marshland.

Semi-frozen marshland

That brought me back to the outskirts of Ilulissat, where families used the good weather for a day out on their dogsled(s).

Family on a weekend trip with dogs Family on a weekend trip with dogs Family on a weekend trip with dogs
Family on a weekend trip with dogs Family on a weekend trip with dogs

Next day, it was time for the snowmobile tour.

It had been foggy during the night. When we started out in the morning, the skies were clear, but there was still a thick layer of fog over the fjord.

Fog over the icefjord Fog over the icefjord

So we took it slowly and made a few stops on the way.

One of them was at a lodge a couple of kilometers outside of Ilulissat. The lodge belonged to a different tour company, so we couldn't go in. But outside it were a number of igloos for people who were willing to spend a night 'authentic' Greenland style.

Row of igloos

I suspect one of the reasons for the lodge nearby was to provide a place to go to for those people who find out in the middle of the night that this is not the right experience for them.

But be that as it may, it's the first time I've seen a 'proper' igloo.

Usually, igloos for tourists, like in the Igloo Villages in the alps, are fancier. They are often larger and have large openings with a door, so you can walk in upright and also have some privacy. Or they have these arched passages at floor level, because that's the way igloos look in cartoons and that's the look people expect.

The igloos here were the most basic ones. A dome made from cut-out snow blocks and the entrance was though a tunnel going under the dome. And while the igloos had the basic round shape, no effort had been made to make it look (semi-)spherical, like it is often done with more fancy ones.

Greenlandic Igloo Greenlandic Igloo

The inside looked as bleak as was to be expected. No decoration at all. A snow platform to sleep on. And nothing else.

Igloo interior

So, for a night in a basic igloo, these seem like a good choice.

Igloo in the sun Igloo in the sun

I considered myself lucky that I didn't know these existed.

I probably would have booked a night there for a night when I would be staying in Ilulissat on the way back. Had I done that, that would have been yet another cancelled booking to potentially pay for.

We continued on the snowmobile to another lodge. This on belonging to another company. It belonged to the company that was offering the snowmobile tour I was doing. It is not as much a lodge as the other one was. It was mostly a big wooden box with one room in it and panorama windows. More a hut than a lodge.

But the location was perfect.

It was up on a rocky hill, with a panoramic view of the icefjord and the glacier edge that produces all the icebergs.

Icefjord panorama

By then, most of the fog had lifted and it was possible to see the icebergs in the fjord and also all the way to the inland ice and the glacier edge.

Icebergs in icefjord Glacier edge

From there we drove a bit further and then walked a bit the top of a hill, which also offered a good view of the icefjord, the glacier and the scenery around.

Icefjord view Icefjord and lodge view

It wasn't that far from the lodge. (The lodge can be seen on the right side of the previous picture.)

Going farther didn't make much sense as, due to geography, following the shore would have brought us farther away from the icefjord. In any case, it was about time to start the return journey to Ilulissat.

Before we left, I noticed something interesting. At least to me. I don't think it is interesting to nearly anyone else.

There were icebergs frozen into the sea ice in a side fjord.

I was interested in that, as that was exactly the kind of environment I was travelling to Qaanaaq for. (And as there doesn't seem to be a thriving tourist industry taking people to Qaanaaq to walk around icebergs and enjoy the scenery, I doubt there is a large group of people interested in that.)

Sikuijuitsoq fjord Sikuijuitsoq fjord Sikuijuitsoq fjord

It turned out to be Sikuijuitsoq Fjord, a side fjord of the icefjord.

While there is a glacier at the end of that Sikuijuitsoq Fjord as well, that is a 'dead' glacier. The glacier edge doesn't move. So no icebergs calve of the glacier's edge.

In summer, icebergs drift in from the icefjord. While the ice on the icefjord itself is in almost continual motion from the icebergs pushing from behind, icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord are, sort of, out of the 'iceberg highway' and in, literally, much calmer waters.

The icefjord is full of icebergs, small ice floats and open water, all moving around, so you can't walk there. Close to the glacier, you can't even go among the icebergs by boat.

But the ice on the side fjord looked (at least from afar) as if you could walk on it safely.

So I got a bit of a 'preview' of what I was heading for soon.

In the evening, clouds started to come in again and it seemed like the sunny phase that lasted three days would end now.

Ilulissat sunset Ilulissat sunset

It was time for another hike on the next day. This time under cloudy skies.

This time I was walking the 'yellow route'. It's much shorter than the blue trail. Half of it is along the shore of the open sea and the other half is on the shore of the icefjord.

There are good views of individual icebergs floating in the sea. As there's a shallow area near the end of the icefjord, icebergs get stuck there, until they get small enough to float across or until the pressure from behind builds up sufficiently to push them across.

This leads to the icebergs in the fjord are close together and it's more like a fractured ice landscape than individual icebergs. Once on the sea, icebergs drift freely and, depending mostly on the wind, they are pushed together or separated.

I enjoyed walking along the trail. But with the overcast skies, the scenery looked a bit sad, so I didn't take that many pictures.

Icefjord on a cloudy day

When walking back from the Icefjord Centre, I passed the 'dog fields'.

There are many sled dogs in Ilulissat.

Well, officially they aren't. It's more that there are many sled dogs around Ilulissat.

Supposedly, it's not allowed to keep sled dogs over the age of six months in the town of Ilulissat.

That doesn't seem to be strictly true, as I've also seen adult dogs in town.

But it's possible that there are special rules it you have one or two dogs.

Adult dog in Ilulissat Adult dog in Ilulissat

Or, maybe, there is a rule, but it's widely ignored.

It doesn't apply at all to puppies, who can go wherever it pleases them.

Dog puppy in Ilulissat

Although, in general, it seems to be true that all dog teams are chained to special areas outside the town limit, the dog fields.

That might be because of local regulations, but it also is a sensible place to keep dog teams. You don't want to start a sled trip in the middle of the town. It makes much more sense to place the dogs (and the sleds) somewhere that has direct access to the trails.

Sled dog field in Ilulissat Sled dog at Ilulissat Sled dog at Ilulissat Sled dog at Ilulissat
Sled dog at Ilulissat Sled dog at Ilulissat Sled dog at Ilulissat Sled dog at Ilulissat
Note: Some of the pictures were taken on the day when I walked the blue route, so they have some sunshine in it.

It is not a good idea to approach the dogs. There's a sign at the dog fields strongly advising you against it.

Dog warning sign

The first time I was in Greenland, the advice was phrased as: "If you want to touch a Greenlandic dog, make sure you use a hand you no longer need."

This is probably no longer strictly true, especially in Ilulissat. Up north, in Qaanaaq, dogs are still used by hunters, so they are almost feral. Here, in Ilulissat, they are for recreational use, so they are not intentionally kept aggressive.

But, on the other hand, nobody puts any effort into teaching them good behaviour (as the sign states - they are not pets but, essentially, seen as living engine parts, so nobody really cares that much whether they fight, as long as they can run).

More relevant for whoever is approaching them is that they can bite without warning. So while the dogs around Ilulissat will probably not bite you, there won't be any growling and barking before there do.

So unless you are really good in evaluating dog posture and behaviour, it's best to stay away.

Which makes it a bit irritating when you are standing at the edge of the dog fields, taking pictures, secure in the knowledge that all dogs are secured on chains, and one of the dogs takes an interest in you and you notice that this one is moving freely.

Unchained dog

Nothing happened, of course. I walked further down the street and the dog went to greet some other dogs. But it was irksome.

A similar moment happened later when I walked along a well trodden path in the snow between dogs tethered on both sides. I assumed that the path was there, as it was in the middle of the groups and outside the reach of both of them. And was a bit surprised when I found out that both had chains long enough to get onto the path. Again, nothing happened. But it was a tense moment nonetheless.

In the evening, the clouds were partly gone again. Nice sunset.

Sun on sea and icebergs Sunset

Not much to say about the next day.

No activities planned for the day and I had already done the hiking routes. And I had a flight to Qaanaaq the next day, with lots of subsequent walking among icebergs. So I took it easy, visited the two local museums, the Knud Rasmussen Museum and the Art Museum, drank some coffee and walked around Ilulissat.

Knud Rasmussen Museum

While 'downtown' Ilulissat had changed a bit, mostly due to the addition of new hotels, it was still recognizable.

But the other side of the Ilulissat harbour was no longer recognizable.

When I was there the first time, back in 1996, the only thing on that side of the harbour was the hotel.

Hotel Arctic in 1997

Not only has the hotel gotten much larger now (although the extension was already there in 2007). It is no longer a building standing alone, but now it is part of a new suburb, with busy building work to make it even larger.

Hotel Arctic and surroundings Hotel Arctic and surroundings Hotel Arctic and surroundings

I had a nice farewell dinner at the Hotel in the evening.

Partly to celebrate that I would be going to Qaanaaq the next day, but also because my food selection would be somewhat limited in the following week.

For the days where I would be staying in Qaanaaq, I would have use of a kitchen, so I would be able to prepare some 'proper' food. (Also, there was a shop there to buy stuff.) But for the time in Qeqertat, I would have only access to hot water. I would probably live from cup noodles, instant coffee, cookies, chocolate bars and candies.

So it seemed a good idea to have a 'proper' dinner before Ilulissat.

Next morning, I was off to the airport.

The incoming flight had arrived on time. And the flight to Qaanaaq was going to start as scheduled.

No problems with the weather up in Qaanaaq this time.

I had checked in, dropped my luggage and was ready for boarding.

When an announcement came, reading a list of names and asking them to come to the counter.

The news was frustrating. (And that is putting it politely.)

It turned out that the flight was overbooked. (What a surprise! Flights to Qaanaaq are usually well booked, especially at that time of the year. And if you cancel a full flight and put the passengers on the next full flight, it can be expected that they won't fit. But it seemed to surprise Air Greenland.)

Ten of us would not be boarding the plane (including me).

For some reason, they didn't give any priority to people from the cancelled flight four days earlier. (At least no stated reason - given the general attitude, I suspect that they assumed that we were already bitter about Air Greenland. And it wouldn't make much difference if we were antagonized even more. So it would be better to keep the people originally booked on the flight happy. And leave us stranded a bit longer. At some point we might even leave and stop bothering them with wanting to go to Qaanaaq.)

So all there was to do was to stand at the airport and watch the lucky passengers board the plane.

Plane to Qaanaaq

I was now booked on the flight leaving the following Saturday, three days later.

One week after I originally had planned to fly to Qaanaaq.

At least I had changed my return flight to the following Wednesday. If I had left everything as it was initially booked, I would have flown to Qaanaaq, spent about an hour at the airport and then gone back with the same plane.

I was running out of vacation, though.

It wasn't possible to move my return flight to the Saturday a week later (which would give me a full week in Qaanaaq), as I wouldn't make it back home on time. So I had to fly back the following Wednesday, allowing me only three full days (and two half-days on arrival and departure) in Qaanaaq.

But something else needed to be addressed first - my luggage.

That had already been checked in. And I definitely wanted to have it with me for the next few days. Having it fly ahead of me and wait for me in Qaanaaq wouldn't be as useful.

When they told us that we were now off the passenger list, they also told us that our luggage would be unloaded. But so far it hadn't appeared anywhere. And the plane had finished boarding and was about to leave.

I asked at the counter. They asked "Isn't it standing in the luggage area?". No, it wasn't.

A short call by the counter stuff and there was a moment of hectic activity at the plane.

Some people received their luggage.

I didn't.

The people at the counter didn't see it as a problem.

"There are three options. Either it hasn't been loaded on the plane in the first place and it's standing around here somewhere. Then we will find it later. Or it's on the plane. Then we'll fly it back on the return flight from Qaanaaq and you'll have it in the evening. Or, and that is what we assume at the moment, we accidentally put it on the plane to Kangerlussuaq, which left twenty minutes earlier. Then we will find it in Kangerlussuaq and send it back with a flight later this afternoon. So, whatever it is, you will have your luggage back later today."

[To be fair, the luggage was back in the hotel in the evening. I did see it standing in the lobby when I went for dinner. And, given where I was, I don't mind that. In other places, I would be angry about putting my stuff in a public place (as opposed to putting it to my hotel room) and not telling me about it (as opposed to sending me a mail "your luggage has arrived"). Greenland is not a place where you worry about someone pinching your stuff. What worried me more is that they might have put the luggage on the wrong plane. Assuming that I would have been on the flight to Qaanaaq as planned, then my luggage would not have been. And I would have been without most of my gear for another three days, until the next plane would fly to Qaanaaq.]

For the moment, however, there was nothing to do but stand at the airport and see the plane depart for Qaanaaq.

Flight leaving for Qaanaaq

Back at the hotel (luckily, they put me in the same hotel again) it was time to exchange e-mails with Saki again (who was more furious about what happened than I was - and I wasn't calm about it in the first place). And, yes, that had to wait until the hotel, which had free WiFi. It's not like Ilulissat airport offers free WiFi or that Air Greenland provides you with any WiFi access or vouchers, after they kick you off a flight.)

As I couldn't extend my vacation, we now needed to find a way to pack a seven day vacation into a four day period.

As Saki put it: "You don't need to sleep, do you?"

Which wasn't as facetious as it sounds.

The last time the sun had set in Qaanaaq had been the 20st of March, more than a month before I would get there.

So the sun would not set at all during my time in Qaanaaq. So I had, technically, 24 hours every day during which I could go out and photograph icebergs. Given that the original plan was based on 'normal daytime hours' outside, I might be able to get about the same amount of 'sightseeing time' out of the shorter trip, if I would refrain from sleeping.

Although (even with a lot of coffee) I might not be able (or willing) to stay awake for 96 hours, the plan was to make the most of the hours available.

As my original stay was a week long (which I had paid for), there was some leftover budget, as I wouldn't need as many nights of accommodation as initially budgeted.

So Saki came up with the idea that she would be able to organize a kind of 'dogsled taxi' out to the icebergs on at least two of the days.

Someone would pick me up with a dogsled, I would point at an icebergs and would be driven to it and dropped there.

I would still have to make my way back, but my range would essentially double, as I would not walk to the iceberg and back again, but only one way. Allowing me to spend more time around icebergs and less time walking out to them.

So the plan was now that, after arriving in Qaanaaq on Saturday, someone would be driving me to Qeqertat, where I could walk to some nearby icebergs in the evening.

Then I would have a full day in Qeqertat on Sunday and most of Monday, when someone would be driving me back to Qaanaaq late in the afternoon. A short walk to icebergs close to Qaanaaq on Monday afternoon, then a full day of iceberg appreciation near Qaanaaq on Tuesday and another half day on Wednesday morning, before heading to the airport to catch the flight back to Ilulissat.

So I would have a full day in Qeqertat and Qaanaaq each, plus the previous evening and the following evening, distributing the available time as best as possible between the two places.

It didn't (and couldn't) address the main issue with such a short stay in the Qaanaaq (or Qeqertat) area. The weather.

When I, originally, had planned for a week in Qaanaaq (or, at that point of planning, Qeqertarssuaq) that wasn't because I wanted to see icebergs for a week.

I would enjoy doing it, of course.

The main reason, however, was that I wanted to have one perfect day out there, with blue skies and the icebergs glittering in the sunlight.

As the weather up there is changing often, but is rarely good, staying there for a week increased the chances to get lucky and have a great 'photographing day'.

Being there for a shorter time reduced those chances.

Before that sounds like everything had gone wrong then - spoiler alert - it might be worth looking at the first image of the page again.

While we were discussing plans for Qaanaaq, Saki asked what I was planning to do for the next two days when I would be stuck in Ilulissat again.

I was running out of ideas, as I had done a snowmobile tour, all the local hikes, seen all the local museums and wasn't on good terms with the company offering the dogsledding and helicopter tours. So these were no options, even if there would have been any scheduled for the next two days, which they weren't. (At that time they were still stonewalling and maintaining that they would neither refund nor rebook either tour and they were going to keep all the money I've paid in advance. So I wasn't keen on booking and paying for the same tours again.)

But I did mention to Saki that I had seen an interesting side fjord with icebergs in it, which looked a lot like the scenery that I was hoping to see in Qaanaaq.

Saki said "Ok, I think I know which fjord you mean. Let me make a few phone calls and see whether I can get you there."

A while later, I got a mail asking whether it would be fine for me to go there by snowmobile the next day (it was - it's not like I had anything else scheduled) and whether I would like to be a passenger on the guide's snowmobile or whether I would want to drive my own.

I answered that I would prefer to drive myself, after which I got the question back "Can you drive a snowmobile?"

I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I liked the order in which those questions were asked.

The instructions for the next day were a bit ominous.

I was supposed to be at 2pm at the corner of the local football field. And that someone would meet me there. It seemed more like a clandestine meeting in a spy novel (at least I didn't need to remember any phrases and counterphrases) than the start of a tourist trip. (From the way it was phrased, I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to be on the actual corner of the football field or on the street corner next to it. When I arrived there, some schoolkids were playing football, so I decided to stay outside the playing area. That worked well. I am not sure what the typical look for someone who "Wants to go out to a fjord and photograph icebergs" is, but I likely look like that.)

So I walked with the guide to two snowmobiles standing nearby and off we were to Sikuijuitsoq Fjord.

Driving the snowmobile was difficult in parts but manageable

I had been on a one-week snowmobile trip the previous year, so I had a reasonable amount of experience. In Sweden, however, we had been driving almost exclusively on marked trails over mostly level terrain. (And when we went off the main trails, I promptly got stuck with the snowmobile in deep snow.)

The marked snowmobile trails in Sweden are like 'snowmobile highways', so they are designed to get you quickly and safely from one place to another, without any challenging or tricky sections along the way.

Trails in Greenland are, mostly due to different geography, but also due to different purposes, a lot steeper and going up and down mountainsides more often.

When I had been on the first snowmobile tour, a couple of days earlier, when I was riding as a passenger behind the driver, we had been going up some steep sections where I was thinking "That's not the route I would have dared to go."

In most cases we skipped the really steep bits this time. In most cases there was a 'winding' trail going up the hill side, serpentine fashion, and while we had often used the 'direct' way up the first time, this time we followed the longer, but not as steep trail.

Still, it was exciting on the way down, as I needed to drive the serpentines at a speed that was a bit faster than I was comfortable with. But, admittedly, it was a lot of fun.

As so often with snowmobiles, the best way to avoid problems is to speed up. Trying to brake on a downhill section (especially one with curves) is not a good idea, as the snowmobile then becomes a 'flat' sled. So it will (often) glide downhill anyway (admittedly slower than before), but it will no longer be steerable and might drift sideways.

As long as the snowmobile drives forward under its own power, it's steerable, which is preferable in corners, but a bit scary.

In the end, the best way of driving seems to be to hit the brakes once hard along a straight stretch, in order to slow down a bit, and then accelerate slightly through the curve to keep control over the steering. This is bit counter-intuitive and not the way you would do it with a wheeled vehicle, but it seems to work. Once again, applying more power is often a good way to keep out of trouble. But if you misjudge that, it also means that you run into trouble at higher speed. Worrying, but fun.

In any case, we drove straight to Sikuijuitsoq Fjord.

And it turned out that the ice there was thick enough, even level and unbroken (no water or fresh ice leads in sight) to drive on it without a problem.

Snowmobile on Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Snowmobile on Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Snowmobile on Sikuijuitsoq Fjord

The weather was great when we were at the fjord. And there were a lot of cool looking icebergs there,

A perfect opportunity for many iceberg pictures.

Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord
Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord
Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord
Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord
Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord Icebergs in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord

Having snowmobiles available (and, as it is obvious from the pictures, a drone) made things much easier. We could quickly move from iceberg to icebergs, stopping for photographs and then continue to the next interesting looking location.

I also tried to walk around one of the icebergs to take some photographs from different directions. The snow was (roughly) ankle deep. It was possible to walk there, but it required to lift the feet high up, so it was more stomping ahead than a casual walk.

Footsteps in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord

Walking there was helpful as a frame of reference. If the snow in Qaanaaq was anything like that, then my walking range would be severely limited.

I walked at Sikuijuitsoq Fjord about 500 meters along the iceberg and then back again. It took me a long time, my legs were aching and I had to sit down on the snowmobile for a moment to catch my breath. If the snow was anything like that in Qaanaaq, then I probably would not be able to walk to any icebergs that were more than 2 km away from the city. An unpleasantly limited range, but at least I had a rough idea of the limitations. (Ultimately, the snow in Qaanaaq was like I remembered it from 2007. In almost all places a thin layer of snow on top of the ice. Walking there wasn't any harder than walking along a level gravel road. But I didn't know that in Sikuijuitsoq Fjord.)

Getting the drone back after a flight tended to work well. Usually, I don't use the 'return to the starting point' function, but fly the drone there 'by hand'.

To get nice pictures of icebergs, I did fly the drone at some distance, so most of the time, I was not able to see or hear it. The only indication of the drone's current location was the streamed video from the drone on the controller screen.

In that environment, that screen is hard to see. You are outside, the sun is shining brightly (plus the refection from the snow), you can't use the (polarizing) sunglasses while looking at the controller - so you squint at a tiny screen that shows white things on a white background. And try to figure out how that relates to what you are seeing. (And there might not be much of an overlap between the two views when the drone is behind some iceberg.)

On the bright side, there is something that is not on the bright side.

If you fly the drone up a bit, so that it sees most of the landscape, at let it rotate, at some point a black spot will appear somewhere on screen. Chances are high that, when you fly towards it, the black spot will turn out to be two black snowmobiles on white snow.

Snowmobiles on the snow

At larger distances, there's some guesswork involved, but two snowmobiles are mostly noticeable. (It was a bit harder to do in Qaanaaq, when it was just me on the ice. )

On the last drone flight, however, I managed to misidentify where I was.


We were already close to the point where we entered the fjord.

There's a little inlet on the side of the fjord. And that's the place where it is easiest to get from the shore onto the sea ice.

And that was not only used by us, but also by fishermen who had driven there with dogsled and snowmobiles.

I did spot something dark on the controller screen and flew right towards it.

Us and fishermen

It was clearly a snowmobile, so I closed in and hovered directly in front of it.

I looked up from the controller, expecting the drone to be right in front of me, but couldn't see it (and then noticed that I couldn't hear it either).

After looking at the screen again, it became obvious that there was a lot more stuff around the snowmobile than we had. And that I had surprised (and probably annoyed) a fisherman sitting on his snowmobile.

Buzzing a fisherman with a drone

I felt somewhat embarrassed about that.

When I noticed the mistake, I quickly flew the drone to a higher altitude, rotated it and spotted two dark dots in the distance. So this had to be our snowmobiles!

Only one of the dots turned out to be a snowmobile. The other was a large tent. Presumably with the other fisherman inside. (At least that one was only annoyed by the noise and didn't have to see an unexpected drone flying right towards them.)

Snowmobile and tent

At least on the third attempt, I spotted the two darks things on the controller screen that were our snowmobiles. (And we could see and hear the drone approaching.)

Drone near snowmobile

After that, we called it a day and drove the (about) 35 km back to Ilulissat

It was a great day out on the ice and I was a lot happier after that.

There was still a chance that the trip to Qaanaaq might not happen. Or that the weather up there would be bad.

But now I had been in the sort of environment that I was hoping to see in and around Qaanaaq. And on a sunny day. And with amazing icebergs.

If the trip to Qaanaaq failed to happen, I would still be disappointed. But the trip would not have been a completely frustrating experience.

The day finished off with a photogenic sunset.

Ilulissat sunset

I didn't do much on the next day. Took a bit of a rest day, as I was going (presumably) to Qaanaaq. And the time there would be (I hoped) a busy few days.

Luckily, on the following day, weather in Ilulissat and Qaanaaq were fine. And the plane wasn't overbooked this time.

So I was actually flying to Qaanaaq that Saturday!

Plane to Qaanaaq

This page is getting a bit long. And the going (finally) to Qaanaaq is a good point to start 'a new chapter'. So more about the second part of the journey is on this page.