Qaanaaq, Northern Greenland, April 2023

Part 2

The flight to Qaanaaq was uneventful.

For most of the distance, the weather was fine. Good visibility and hardly any clouds.

On the way to Qaanaaq On the way to Qaanaaq

Closer to Qaanaaq, things got slightly worse, with larger cloud banks and also a couple of wide leads where the ice surface had broken and drifted apart.

Fjord with cloud cover Leads in broken ice surface

Not ideal. But also not worrying.

The leads didn't go all the way to the shore. So they would not stop a car/sledge/snowmobile from getting across or along the fjord.

And there had been a lot of open sky on the way in, so (presumably) this was the local weather at the moment and not a sign of any large scale cloud coverage.

Soon the mountains of Inglefield Fjord were in sight.

Inglefield Fjord

And then it wasn't long before we flew over Qaanaaq on the way to the airport.

Qaanaaq from above Qaanaaq from above

Side remark: I'm trying to avoid confusion with place names, so here's a short breakdown of places and the names I use: I'll use Inglefield Fjord for the main fjord near Qaanaaq. The traditional name of that fjord is Kangerlussuaq Fjord. But that can be confused with the fjord where Kangerlussuaq is, which is also sometimes called Kangerlussuaq Fjord (unless the Danish name is used, which is Søndre Strømfjord). And it doesn't help matters much that there is an abandoned village roughly 40 km from Qaanaaq named Kangerlussuaq as well. (Or, like both fjords, Kangerlugssuaq - transcription rules being somewhat fluid.)

As far as I can tell, "Kangerlussuaq" means "Big Fjord" (so "Kangerlussuaq Fjord" is technically "Big Fjord Fjord", but I'll happily ignore that). And you can't really blame Inuit from centuries ago that they didn't check whether obvious names (and both fjords are big fjords) had been used in other places, hundreds of kilometers away.

It doesn't help matters that there's a Qeqertaq (which is not far from Ilulissat), which sometimes gets confused with Qeqertat (near Qaanaaq) (both words meaning "island"). And that Disko Island (opposite of Ilulissat) is called Qeqertarsuaq in Greenlandic. And thus has the same name as the island (and village) opposite to Qaanaaq. It's an appropriate name for both islands, as it means "the big island", but it can be confusing.

So, when I refer to Qeqertat, Qeqertarsuaq or Inglefield Fjord, I mean the geographic place and features around Qaanaaq. Kangerlussuaq and Kangerlussuaq Fjord are the town and the fjord near the airport in the south of Greenland. And the Icefjord is the main fjord near Ilulissat.

The weather in Qaanaaq was 'interestingly arctic'.

Long distance visibility was good.

That was obvious, as the plane wouldn't have gone to Qaanaaq if visibility had been bad.

The interesting thing, later on, however, was that it was hard to notice things, even when you could see them.

The issue with a complete cloud cover is that all light is diffuse. You don't get any reflections or highlights.

In most environments, that doesn't matter much. You see different colours and shades. And these are sufficient to, literally, build your view of your surroundings.

In Arctic areas, however, the only 'colour' is white. There sometimes aren't any shades or colours to make the shapes of things apparent.

The iceberg in the picture below is two kilometers or even more away. Visibility is good. There's no fog between the camera and the iceberg. But as it is a diffusely lit white object on a diffusely lit white surface in front of a diffusely lit white background, even though it is easy to see, it's hard to 'see'.

Whiteout icebergs

But before we go there, the first stop was at a building in Qaanaaq for a short phone conference. As few people in the area speak English (neither my host in Qeqertat, not the one in Qaanaaq did), Saki had suggested a phone conference, so she could act as a translator and sort any potential issues out early on.

One of them was a change of schedule.

While the original (revised) plan was that I would stay in Qeqertat until Monday, weather reports for Monday weren't favorable. There was a high probability of foggy weather. Which could mean that we would not be able to drive back to Qaanaaq on Monday.

And it wasn't quite clear how long conditions might stay like that.

Besides the fact that this would be somewhat unfortunate for photographing icebergs, it also could mean that we might not be able to get back to Qaanaaq in time for the return flight on Wednesday. Which might or not matter, as, if the fog continued, there might not be a Wednesday flight in any case. But it could also happen that I might be stuck in Qeqertat due the local weather around there. And if the local weather around Qaanaaq was good, I might miss my flight.

The new plan was now that I'd only be in Qeqertat for a day and that we'd drive back to Qaanaaq the next afternoon, while the current weather was still holding.

It also worked well for my host in Qeqertat. He needed to be in Qeqertat the next afternoon, as a delegation of Canadian Inuit was visiting. But he had business in Qaanaaq afterwards, so he would be driving there anyway and wouldn't need to come back the following day to fetch me.

To allow me to make more efficient use of my time, Saki had also organized dogsled transport to the icebergs the next day. As I would be in Qeqertat for less than 24 hours, she suggested that someone would ready a dogsled at 9 am and I would point at some iceberg of my choosing.

The Inuit would drive me there and drop me off, returning to Qeqertat. I could start walking around the icebergs and taking pictures. Afterwards, I had to walk back to Qeqertat. But I would arrive fresh and rested at the icebergs. And I would only need to cover the distance between them and Qeqertat once, giving me more time 'on location'.

After everything was sorted out and I got my (surprisingly large) bag of food, we were ready to head out to Qeqertat.

(As I had arrived after the shop had closed in Qaanaaq, I didn't have a chance to buy any food. So I had made a shopping list and Saki had organized that someone went to the shop earlier that day and bought food. I had a couple of 'maybe this or that' choices on that list, since I didn't know exactly what the store in Qaanaaq might have. And whoever went shopping clearly wanted to be on the safe side and got at least one of each. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure whether the list might have been written at a time where I was still scheduled to be in the area for a whole week. In any case, I was sure that I would not go hungry during the trip.)

The weather in Qaanaaq itself wasn't great at that point. But there was a small gap in the cloud cover near the other side of the fjord, which allowed some good pictures of icebergs and mountain silhouettes.

First day Qaanaaq weather First day Qaanaaq weather

By the time we got going, the cloud cover was complete. And, most of the time, the scenery looked like standing in front of a whiteboard.

It was easy to see the sides of the fjord, as the mountains there are steep and most of the snow falls off. And the dark rock is easy to see. (This is, essentially, why planes don't mind that kind of whiteout conditions. As long as the runway is free of ice, it's a clearly visible dark rectangle.)

Mountains near Qaanaaq Mountains near Qaanaaq

And, conveniently, the leads, where the ice cover had broken up, were clearly visible.

Lead in ice surface

While there were some wide leads in the fjord, they became small leads close to the shore, so we could make a detour and cross them there. But a lead is not something into which you want to drive a car. So it was a good thing that these weren't covered with snow yet.

In general, however, I have no idea how the driver managed to follow the track.

Track not easily visible

There is a track there. It's not that he was simply driving across the ice, heading roughly towards Qeqertat

One of the reasons for following a specific track is that you know there aren't any unexpected obstacles (like chunks of ice) in the way. They are rare (mostly the flat surface is just a flat surface), but you don't want to crash into them either. Especially if you don't see them coming and don't brake.

I've tried to spot the track, but except for a few short glimpses, I didn't see it. The driver (whose name, I think, was Arqiunnguaq - at least the name was mentioned in one of the mails, although I don't know whether there had been any changes in plans after that and the driver might have been someone else) had put on some yellow sunglasses, which, supposedly, provide increased contrast and make the track more visible. But I doubt that they had any real effect. (Although Trying to use a yellow filter with the photographs doesn't seem to make any noticeable difference.)

He did manage to follow the track somehow (probably) and we did get to Qeqertat without crashing into anything.

The first thing I did after arriving there was to go for a little evening walk to some nearby icebergs.

Iceberg close to Qeqertat

The weather wasn't good and the icebergs were small and unspectacular. The main purpose of going there was to figure out how 'walkable' the ice and snow on the fjord was. And to get an idea how far I could walk the next day.

That was important, as I needed to walk back from the icebergs to Qeqertat the next day. And I didn't want be farther out than I could comfortably walk back.

The closest icebergs to Qeqertat were about a kilometer away and I didn't have any issues walking there - it was like walking on a paved road.

Next morning, I went out at 9am and found someone getting a dog sled ready. So I hopped on the sled and soon we were ready to go.

Leaving Qeqertat Leaving Qeqertat

As there are tides in the fjord, the ice close to the shore is always broken up and jumbled. The start of a dogsledding tour has the guide walking beside the dogs until the sled reaches the flat ice further out.

At that point, the dogs start running (I didn't manage to figure out whether there is a specific command for that or whether the dogs start running on their own) and the guide jumps on the sled as it is rushing by.

Jumping on the passing dogsled

Then it was time for some pointing to clarify to which iceberg we were going.

Pointing at icebergs

And after some verbal commands (supported by some work with the whip), we were heading in the right direction.

Changing direction is more a group process than it is with the recreational dogsledding that I have done in Sweden.

In recreational dogsledding, the dogs are running in pairs beside the gangline (the central rope or wire that has the sled at the end). And the pair of dogs in front (or sometimes a single dog in front) are the lead dogs.

If the dog driver gives a command (like 'gee' or 'haw'), the lead dogs are supposed to listen and change directions. All other dogs follow the lead dogs and (mostly) don't need to pay attention to what the driver says.

In Greenlandic dogsledding, there's no gangline. (Well, technically, there is a short bit of rope in front of the sled to which all the dogs are attached. But the dogs all have individual tuglines attaching to a single looped section of it and not to multiple attachment points along the line.)

With a 'fan hitch' the dogs are, in theory, free to choose on which side they want to run and what way to pick. (In reality there's often not that much freedom. Partly because of the 'pecking order' of the dogs, as a 'higher ranking' dog will sometimes keep another dog from running in a specific position. But also often as the lines get tangled and there's less sideward mobility than there was earlier on in the run.

If the driver gives a command (in Greenland it's more commonly "ili" for "right" than "gee"), then this goes to all the dogs. Some of them are smarter, more alert or quicker on the uptake. So they turn right first.

Two dogs turning right

After a moment, the dogs close to them start to wonder what is going on, listen up and start turning right as well.

More dogs turning right

And those who still haven't noticed get a reminder with the whip.

Dogs getting signal with whip

Soon the direction was adjusted ad we were heading towards an iceberg,

Dogs heading towards iceberg

About a hundred meters before the iceberg we stopped (not for any security concerns - I signaled that I wanted to stop there, as wanted to do some pictures of the icebergs in its 'pristine environment' first, without having foot and paw prints all around it).

I paid the driver. (For some reason Saki had insisted that I should under no circumstances pay him before getting to the iceberg. I don't know why, but it created a bit of a "don't pay the ferrymen" feeling.)

Then he turned the dogsled around and headed back to Qeqertat.

Dog sled heading back Dog sled heading back Dog sled heading back

So, finally, I was alone out there with the icebergs.

Iceberg and me

Time to take some pictures.

As the sky was overcast in the area around Qeqertat, the pictures all have a 'pastel' look with shades of blueish-white against similar shades of blueish-white.

Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat
Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat
Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat Iceberg in diffuse light near Qeqertat

The only thing with a bit more contrast was a black speck on the ice in the distance - a seal that had come up on the ice for some rest and relaxation.

Distant seal on ice

Distant views towards the west were sometimes looking strange.

While there were low hanging clouds around Qeqertat, there was sunny weather closer to Qaanaaq, so there were odd little strips of scenery on the horizon, where sunny mountains were visible between the ice below and the clouds above.

Sunny scenery in the distance Sunny scenery in the distance Sunny scenery in the distance

Out there on the ice, it felt as weird as it looks on the pictures - like looking at the world out of the slot of a mailbox. Or like looking under a sofa.

After I walked around two icebergs (and took hundreds of pictures), I started heading out to a third one.

There was one in the distance, which had a round opening, that looked a bit like a huge bandshell (visible on two of the pictures a bit further up). But it is difficult to estimate distances and after walking ten minutes towards it, it wasn't getting significantly bigger. I assume it was more than 5 km away (and in a direction away from Qeqertat). So I didn't go there and went to an iceberg with a (much smaller) triangular 'cave' instead.

After spending a few hours out there, I started my way back towards Qeqertat.

Walking back to Qeqertat Walking back to Qeqertat Walking back to Qeqertat

A few kilometers onwards, I came across the dog sled track from earlier that morning and followed it for the final kilometer to Qeqertat.

Almost back in Qeqertat

In the meantime, the delegation of Inuits from Canada had arrived and was getting ready for their meeting. After some smalltalk (as they spoke English), they went to the local community building, while I went to the hut that I had been staying on overnight and made some lunch (coffee, cup noodles and sliced bread with cheese...)

Interestingly (at least slightly), everyone was using the same type of car.

We drove from Qaanaaq to Qeqertat in a new Toyota Hilux, which belonged to the person who drove me to Qeqertat and in whose house I spent the night.

The delegation from Canada (they had flown to Qaanaaq with a chartered plane from Canada) had been transported to Qeqertat with various official vehicles. One of them belonged to the municipality of Avannaata (where Qaanaaq is located). It was a grey Toyota Hilux. One of them belonged to the Telcom/Post service - another grey Toyota Hilux. And there was also white Toyota Hilux, with some company logo on it (I think it was the electric power company, but I am not sure).

In any case, all four cars that were present in Qeqertat were all the same maker and the same type: Toyota Hilux.

I should not have been surprised. It's often the car of choice in remote locations, as it is considered to be nearly indestructible. And it's simple enough that, if problems occur, most of them can be fixed on-site with simple tools (e.g. a hammer). So I should have expected it to be popular. But even then, I was surprised how (almost) exclusively it was the car of choice.

When I was back in Qaanaaq, I looked a bit more closely at cars. And while there were some other cars around, most private or official cars were, indeed, Toyota Hilux cars. (The only obvious exception were the car the police used - made by Land Rover. I'm not sure though, whether the model was a Land Rover or a Range Rover. And then there was the other car with the logo of the municipality of Avannaata - presumably the one given to the lowest ranking person in the local administration - an old Lada Niva.)

After their meeting had finished, the delegates left Qeqertat. And, after some housekeeping, we went into the car and made our way back to Qaanaaq.

Weather was improving and the track was clearly visible now.

Track to Qaanaaq Track to Qaanaaq

One last look back to Qeqertat and off we were.

View towards Qeqertat

The closer we got to Qaanaaq, the better the weather got. So when we passed it, the edge of Hubbard glacier was clearly visible.

Edge of Hubbard glacier Edge of Hubbard glacier Edge of Hubbard glacier

No icebergs nearby, though.

By the time we passed the entrance of Bowdoin Fjord, most of the clouds were gone and we got a good view of the mountains along the coast. (Reflections in the first two pictures are due to taking the photo through the car window.) We also had time to stop for a quick 'Arctic Hero' photo of the Toyota...

Mountains near Bowdoin Fjord Mountains near Bowdoin Fjord Mountains near Bowdoin Fjord Mountains near Bowdoin Fjord Car near Bowdoin Fjord

By the time we arrived in Qaanaaq, in the early evening, the sky had turned blue and it was perfect 'go out and photograph some icebergs weather'.

That was the thing I had come for. And I was lucky enough that, during the shortened stay in the far North, I had at least one 'perfect day' (or at least a few perfect hours). Even when the plan was to stay there a week, there had been a good chance that the weather would be mediocre at best.

I wanted to drop my luggage at the guest house and get out there as quickly as possible.

But then there was one more unexpected issue...

There had been a polar bear warning and everyone was expected to stay in town.

People had seen fresh polar bear tracks earlier that day. And the polar bear might still have been somewhere close.

So the recommendation was not to go out on the ice. Especially not alone. And not without a weapon. (And, preferably, not without at least a dozen dogs, who would likely notice a polar bear way before anyone else would.)

On the other hand, the weather was perfect.

So I thought about it for a moment and decided to walk to the icebergs anyway.

Which, at least I assumed, wasn't as foolish as it may seem at first glance.

It was unlikely that the bear was still somewhere close to town. People had been looking for it all day. And Qaanaaq is still to a large part a hunter community.

And with experienced hunters looking out for the bear, as well as the whole town being on alert, and nobody spotting it, it seemed reasonable to assume that it would be far gone already. (Polar bears are good at walking long distances.)

Also, the dogs (and Qaanaaq has a lot of them along the shore) seemed quiet. Well, they are never that quiet, but there didn't seem something unusual about their behaviour, like all looking in one specific direction.

So I figured that, if I remained in sight of Qaanaaq and didn't venture out too far, I would be sufficiently safe.

Not perfectly safe, of course. If I got unlucky, the bear might be resting behind an iceberg three kilometers out of town and then pounce on me the moment I walk around. But that seemed unlikely. And about as risky as being run over by an out-of-control car when walking down the pavement beside a busy street back home. Can happen. Does happen. But usually it doesn't keep me from walking around outside either.

So, with all that in mind, I grabbed my gear and walked out, a bit nervously, to the nearest ice bergs.

In short: The weather was fantastic. I did get lots of great iceberg pictures. And I wasn't attacked by a polar bear (or even saw one).

To avoid writing hundreds of sentences like "I carefully continued", "took another picture", "the weather was great" and "nervously looked around", here's a large bunch of pictures I took, without any remarks.

Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day
Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day
Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day
Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day
Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day
Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day
Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day
Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day
Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day Iceberg near Qaanaaq on a sunny day

I had a fantastic time out there. It was what I had hoped for to see and the environment I had looked forward to be in, when I had decided to travel to Qaanaaq again.

It had been well worth the risk.

Well, at least in hindsight.

With risks, you obviously never know.

There might have been a risk of 99.9% of me getting killed by a polar bear. And I had simply been incredibly lucky.

As my knowledge of polar bear behaviour is, admittedly, not that big, my assumption of "yeah, I think I'll be fine" might have been utterly unrealistic and over-optimistic.

On the other hand, nothing did happen, so maybe I was as safe out there as I thought I'd be.

Which, presumably, wasn't as safe as walking down the pavement at home. But I assumed that there would be a higher risk of an iceberg 'calving' when I was close to it and I'd be hit by a couple of tons of ice crashing down, than of being attacked by a bear, even if it had walked nearby earlier the next day.

Although, on retrospect, I'm not sure whether that's really a comforting thought.

Admittedly, I would be thinking different about the whole thing if I had looked at one of the drone videos later on and had spotted a polar bear somewhere on it. But I didn't, so it's fine.

In any case, at some point I decided to call it a day, turn around and walk back to Qaanaaq.

Qaanaaq Panorama

Goodbye icebergs (for now).

Tracks away from icebergs near Qaanaaq
(Footprints are mine. Not polar bear tracks.)

I didn't go out to the icebergs the next day.

As the forecast had said, the weather was deteriorating a bit.

Icebergs spot lit by the sun Icebergs spot lit by the sun Icebergs spot lit by the sun Fog rolling in over fjord

And while it looked interesting in the morning, with only some icebergs illuminated by the sun, I could already see the first signs of fog rolling in. And I didn't want to go out on the ice at get caught up in the fog.

I had a GPS with me, so I would have been able to make my way back to Qaanaaq. But the thought of being out there alone without being able to see much of the iceberg, didn't appeal to me.

So I took a walk around town and visited the museum (which is small, but interesting).

Qaanaaq Museum Qaanaaq Museum Qaanaaq Museum
Qaanaaq Museum Qaanaaq Museum

I've also watched a couple of young dogs fighting (playfully) for an empty black garbage bag.

Dogs competing for garbage bag Dogs competing for garbage bag Dogs competing for garbage bag Dogs competing for garbage bag Dogs competing for garbage bag

I also visited the shop. I didn't buy much (I still had enough food). But it was interesting to see what kind of selection a store has that is the only shop in town, so it needs to provide everything people will need. From "Happy Birthday" banners to guns.

Qaanaaq store

I also revisited a couple of places I've seen in 2007, like the church or the former tourist office, where Saki used to work.

Qaanaaq church Qaanaaq church Qaanaaq former tourist office

In general, Qaanaaq looked more 'closed up' than it had been in 2007.

Back then, it seemed that Qaanaaq was trying to 'open up' for tourism, with a tourist office, a list of activities offered, a store for local handicrafts, an active web page for the hotel and similar things. Now there's no tourist office, no handicraft store (thought there might have been one that I didn't identify as one - see below) and no list of things to do. And half of the links on the hotel's web page are dead now.

I'm not sure whether this is because tourism in Qaanaaq didn't work out well. After all, it's a long way away from anything. And unless you have very specific interests, Ilulissat is a better choice for tourists. And Ilulissat is doing well in that respect.

It might also be that Qaanaaq didn't like being in 'tourist destination' and decided not to promote itself much in that direction, preferring to stay a closed, mostly unchanged community. Or, maybe, with only about 600 people living there, there was at best a handful of people promoting tourism. And once they left or became disinterested, nobody followed up on their activities. (Or, although unlikely, Air Greenland got so unreliable that regular tourism is no longer possible.)

Whatever the reason, except for the store and the museum, I didn't find any publicly accessible buildings at all in Qaanaaq.

Unused building in Qaanaaq Boarded up kiosk in Qaanaaq

One popular place (at least for pictures) was no longer there - the 'Polar Grill', one of the most northern fast food places. Though I don't know when it had ever been open. It was closed when I was there in 2007 - supposedly it only opened in the summer time. But I don't think I've ever seen a picture where it is open or somebody is eating there.

A new place was a somewhat vague souvenir place.

Some souvenir place

I am not sure at all what kind of souvenirs they might be offering. (The building itself was closed, with shuttered windows, so I couldn't have a look inside or see any offers on display.)

At first, I thought that they might sell souvenir thimbles. But that seemed to be a highly specialized kind of shop in such a remote place. And it seemed unlikely that there was a big market for that in Qaanaaq.

Later I found out that 'systue' is Danish for 'sewing room' or 'haberdashery'. So they might sell local handicrafts. Which might explain the finger and the thimbles. But unless the thing on the right is a extremely bad rendition of a bobble hat, I don't see the connection (and also the souvenir value) of a molluscs at all. Or its connection to sewing.

By the time I went back to the place I was staying in, it had become clear that it had been a good idea to stay in town.

Foggy view across Qaanaaq Foggy view towards fjord

The fog had rolled in and it had become impossible to even see the icebergs close to the shore (or, indeed, even the shore).

It was a good time to stay inside, prepare some food (a dozen cups of instant noodles needed eating...) and plan for the next day.

In the meantime, it turned out that my walk towards the icebergs on the previous day had not remained unnoticed.

While polar bears sometimes come close to Qaanaaq, that doesn't happen that often. Back in 2007 I was told that happens maybe twice a year. I don't know whether that has been changing with the climate, but it seems to be something that still is neither sensationally rare, nor is it commonplace.

So if there's a polar bear warning, people look out. Literally.

Many locals had been sitting at their windows with binoculars, trying to spot the polar bear.

And while the didn't spot the polar bear, they spotted some idiot who walked out onto the ice all alone. Without dogs, transport or any kind of protection. (Except for a leather jacket, which any self respecting polar bear would laugh at, if polar bears had a sense of humor.)

So they called the police and (essentially) asked what they were going to do about it. And whether someone should go out on the ice and warn me.

Essentially (as far as I can tell), the police told them that, yes, I had been warned that there was a polar bear alert. And that there was no law against being an idiot and going out anyway. (The "polar bear warning" wasn't any formal "state of alert" or anything like that. It only meant that people told each other "Be careful, there might be a polar bear out there.") And that they knew precisely who I was and would have no problem putting my name on the accident report in case I was eaten. (I am making the last part up. They didn't tell that to someone calling the police. At least I think so. But it would have been true anyway.)

Now, it's not that I am (or had been) so notorious that the police knew who I was.

And Qaanaaq is (as far as I can tell) not that totalitarian that the police keep close surveillance on everyone who doesn't live there.

The reason they knew about me (and why I, in turn, know that someone had called them about me) has more to do with housing and administrative matters. In a roundabout way.

The place I was staying in belonged to an elderly lady called Regine. As far as I gathered, she is in her eighties (which is also why I don't feel that bad about calling her an "elderly lady") and it seems that she rents out part of her house to guests.

I'm not sure about the details. I'm not even sure why I was staying there.

When planning the time in Qaanaaq, the plan was to stay at some place called "Kista's guesthouse". At some point that had changed to Regine's place. I don't know why. Probably something to do with the fact that I didn't get to Qaanaaq until a week later than originally planned. Maybe the other place was booked out at that time.

In fact, I didn't notice that the place I was staying at wasn't "Kista's guesthouse" until I had returned from Qaanaaq. There wasn't any internet available to check addresses or anything else. As far as I knew at the time, my host's name might have been Regine Kista and that was her guesthouse. (Looking at the map later showed that the address for "Kista's guesthouse" was a different. And that the pictures of the guest room were not remotely similar.)

But, to come back to the point, Regine had three boarders when I was there. Me, an American, who was up there to photograph dogs, and a woman from Nuuk (the capital of Greenland), who was in Qaanaaq on business.

She was working for the police, mostly in an administrative capacity.

And they had some who had recently transferred to the police office in Qaanaaq.

While it seemed that the new person was good at the policing itself, the department in Nuuk had decided that the administrative handling (i.e. proper filling of forms) of cases in Qaanaaq wasn't up to the standard they expected. So they had sent someone up from Nuuk to provide some help and training with the administrative side of police work.

And she was staying at the same house as we were.

This was an unexpected convenience, as she was speaking Greenlandic as well as English, so she could also translate for us when we wanted to ask Regine something.

She had also been the person who told me about the polar bear tracks someone had seen and advised me not to go out to the icebergs.

Which is the reason why the police had been sure that I had been warned about the polar bear danger. And also who I was and what I was doing out there. (And that's also how I heard about the story the next day.)

Time for another lengthy remark about communication before going on to the next day.

Having someone at the guesthouse who spoke English and Greenlandic was an unexpected bonus. Most people in Qaanaaq don't speak English. For planned activities, this had been taken into account. For the time when I was in Qaanaaq, there was a daily 'conference call' with Saki to plan the next day. Saki would then talk to any Greenlanders present or call them later and organize things.

But for anything unexpected, I assumed I would be pretty much on my own.

So I tried to get a Greenlandic-English Dictionary, at least for the time in Qeqertat, where there wasn't anyone who spoke English and there also wasn't any phone service.

This turned out to be more difficult than anticipated.

I didn't find any proper Greenlandic-English dictionary at all. Neither as a printed book, nor in digital form. The closest I found was a German book on the grammar of the Greenlandic language. Not a very current one. The description mentioned "This book was originally published prior to 1923, and represents a reproduction of an important historical work...". So not only was the vocabulary presumably a bit outdated. It also did seem something more useful to linguist, wanting to know about the language, than to someone traveling to Greenland, who wanted to communicate in the language.

But I did find a "Greenlandic Extended Phrasebook" in an e-book format, which seemed, at first, perfect.

I like having stuff as an ebook when travelling.

Firstly, it doesn't add any weight to the luggage.

And e-book readers, if the technology is based on e-ink, are great for Arctic travels, as they consume next to no energy and are often the last devices still running, when all the other batteries have gone flat.

It was also cheap.

So I bought it and was disappointed. I don't think I've ever seen something that useless and made without any thinking.

For starters, it doesn't even work on an e-reader. The format isn't compatible with an e-ink device, so it has to be used with the e-reader app on a tablet.

And the layout, though it is text based, looks more like someone took screenshots of sections of a spreadsheet than anything resembling a book. You can't change the font size and there are always at most ten pairs of Greenlandic/English text on screen, regardless of device size or orientation. And information is always presented in landscape format, so if you use your tablet in portrait mode (or even worse, use a smart phone) then the text is on a small section in the middle of the screen, with about 2/3 of the screen being black blocks on top and bottom of the screen.

It looks like nobody ever looked at the phrasebook or tried to use it.

There are also a couple of phrases that makes the whole thing look like the publisher had a large spreadsheet of phrases with columns for dozens of different languages on it. And then selected two columns of them and published those as a phrasebook. Without any regard on where the phrases might be used.

So obvious things like "Is that ice safe to walk on?" or words for "polar bear" and "seal" are missing. But to make up for that, the phrasebook is happy to let you know the Greenlandic words for "mango" and "banana", as well as "strawberries", "raspberries", "lemon", "grapefruit" and "orange". I'm not sure how often I would be tempted to ask for "chopsticks" in Greenland, but the phrasebook covers that as well.

Which would be fine, of course, if it would be a comprehensive dictionary that tried to cover as many words as possible, but many more useful words are missing. And phrases like "Where is the train station?", "At what time does the train leave?" and "Where is the beach?" seem a bit silly in a country that hasn't trains and where people rarely go for a beach holiday.

In parts, the phrasebook gives the impression that it's not so much aimed at someone visiting Greenland, but more at someone from Greenland, visiting an English speaking country. At least this would explain why all entries are in an Greenlandic first, English second order. (Although that doesn't matter at all, as neither of those is sorted alphabetically. If you want to know what the Greenlandic term for "book" is (or, inversely, the English word for "atuagaq"), then you have to go to the "Objects" section and browse through the pages there. (Although, to be fair, it is possible to use the search function.)

But if it is mainly for Greenlanders, then it doesn't make much sense to have a note (formal) only behind the English version of some phrases (like "Can I take a message? (formal)") as a Greenlander would already know that the Greenlandic form is a formal one. (And as there is no example where a formal and a non-formal version of a phrase are given, it isn't particularly useful for the English speaker either.)

In general, it seems like the phrasebook assumes the reader to be some sort of business traveler going to a conference or trade fair, with phrases like "Could you send this package by courier? (formal)", "Our e-commerce website generates 23% of our sales." or "We are ranked very highly by most search engines." (And there are also the somewhat ominous phrases "This email contains a virus." and "I back up all my files every Friday.")

Or possibly an investment broker with lines like "This is a high-risk investment.", "How does the stock market look today?" or "This company is quoted on the New York stock exchange." All phrases I am unlikely to ever need during travelling. Especially if I don't speak the language. Even assuming I would need to know that for some reason and I would show the Greenlandic phrase for "How is your brand positioned" to someone - what would I do with the answer in Greenlandic?

There are also some interesting omissions, where the phrases seem more like a sample of possible phrases than something that might be useful in a variety of situations. For example, there is an entry for "I am married and I have to children." But there's no entry for "I am single." There's also "I am a teacher." and "I am applying for a job as a teacher." But if you have (or want to be) any other profession, you're out of luck. And, for shopping, there's "Have you got a smaller size?", but no "Have you got a larger size?". And so on.

There's also no guide to pronunciations. It's nice to know (and easy to remember) that the Greenlandic term for "compact disc" is "CD". But how do you say that? Like in English "cee-dee"? Or differently? (It also dates the phrasebook a bit, as it also has the word for "cassette", which is rarely needed.)

It also seems that, at some point, someone also tried to generate a German/English phrasebook from the same source (which supports the suspicion, that it is based on some large multi-language spreadsheet).

One section of the phrasebook gives country names. And besides Finland, France and Greece, there's also the mystical country "Greenlandicy". With the Greenlandic name "Tysklandi".

Now, I'm pretty sure that "Tysklandi" is the Greenlandic word for "Germany". (Most country names in Greenlandic are only slightly modified versions of the Danish name for the country, often with an 'i' added at the end like "Frankrigi" being close to the Danish word "Frankrig" for "France". Or "Portugali" for "Portugal", "Hollandi" insted of "Holland" (for the Netherlands), "Ungarni" for "Ungarn" (Hungary) or "Egypteni" for "Egypten" (Egypt).

As the Danish word for Germany is "Tyskland", it seems highly probable that the Greenlandic word "Tysklandi" means Germany as well. And not "Greenlandicy".

So where does the word "Greenlandicy" come from? My best explanation is that the phrasebook comes from a template that had "German" in it (like a "German/English Phrasebook") someone simply replaced "German" with "Greenlandic", thus turning "Germany" into "Greenlandicy". And nobody bothered to proof-read the phrasebook later.

So, yes, given that this was the only help with the Greenlandic language I had with me, I was happy that Saki and the lady from Nuuk, who was staying at the guest house, were able to translate.

(And if it seem that I spent way too much time looking for mistakes and oddities in the phrasebook - I had been delayed in Ilulissat for a week and didn't have much to do in the evenings...)

The weather forecast for the next day was somewhat dull.

It would be better than on the previous day. No fog expected. But also no sunshine. It would be more or less the same as it had been around Qeqertat two days earlier. Good visibility, but full cloud cover. So everything would be in pastel tones of white on similar white.

Not an "everything looks fantastic" kind of day, but clearly not an "indoors" kind of day either.

Being out among the icebergs was still going to be great (even though the pictures might look somewhat 'flat' - but I already had my 'perfect sunshine' pictures, so it didn't matter much anymore).

As I had already been to the icebergs close to Qaanaaq (within 3 km distance or so) and I had all day, I wanted to go to some of the icebergs farther away.

The initial plan had been like the one in Qeqertat. Someone would provide some one-way transport (by car, snowmobile or dogsled) out to the icebergs. And I would walk around, enjoy being there, take some pictures and walk back to town.

But then Saki suggested that someone could take me around to the icebergs by dogsled and stay with me, like a kind of chauffeur service around the icebergs. So instead of driving me to an iceberg of my choosing and leaving me there, the dogsled driver would stay near the iceberg while I walked around and took pictures. And I would then hop back onto the sled, point at another iceberg and we would go there. Allowing me to make most of my time out on the ice, as I could get faster from iceberg to iceberg. And I wouldn't need to plan in the time to walk back to Qaanaaq.

I am not completely sure how much that change of plan had to with my behaviour two days earlier.

It certainly was convenient and allowed me to make much better use of my limited time up in Qaanaaq (my flight home would already be on the following afternoon). But I also have the slight suspicion that a certain amount of "It's better not to let this irresponsible fool go out alone again. The polar bear might still be around somewhere. And tourists getting killed by polar bears creates a mess. Literally and administratively." was involved. (But there was no way to find out. Realistically, what answer could I expect if I actually had asked "Is the dogsled driver staying with me for my convenience or because you think I'm an idiot?" That's not even a question that I'd expect any of my friends to answer truthfully. Though my friends might be more likely to say "You're an idiot." But probably more on general principles than in this special case. But that's quickly getting off topic...)

In any case, next morning I found myself at meeting point next to the local pier, trying to figure out what dogs would be my 'engines' for the day.

Soon the driver appeared, put most of the dogs (except for one) in front of a sled. I pointed in the general direction of Qeqertarsuaq. And we were on our way.

The one dog that was not in front of the sled was an unexpected photographic bonus.

It was a young dog, which would pull with the other dogs, but currently still too young for it.

The dog was in harness and also had a tugline attached to it. But the tugline was not attached to the sled, so the dog was running free.

As a result, I got a few images with an enthusiastic looking fluffy dog between me and the icebergs in the distance. Providing some depth and scale to the picture. And making them cuter.

Fluffy dog and icebergs Fluffy dog and icebergs

Most of the other images, however, looked like the ones I took in Qeqertat two days earlier - somewhat alien looking pastel images with slightly different shades of white.

White iceberg with white background White iceberg with white background

Although, with the wider range that the dogsled allowed, there was also a larger number of icebergs to see. Which, at least, was interesting on-site, even though that variety in the scenery might not be that obvious in the pictures.

But, again, having a dog in some of the images might be of some help there.

Fluffy dog and icebergs

So here are some of the images I took that morning without any commentary (then followed by pictures that I have a bit more to say about).

Icebergs on an overcast day Icebergs on an overcast day Fluffy dog and icebergs Fluffy dog and icebergs
Dogsled and icebergs Icebergs on an overcast day Dogsled and icebergs Icebergs on an overcast day
Fluffy dog and icebergs Fluffy dog and icebergs Icebergs on an overcast day Icebergs on an overcast day
Icebergs on an overcast day Icebergs on an overcast day Fluffy dog and icebergs Fluffy dog and icebergs
Icebergs on an overcast day Icebergs on an overcast day Icebergs on an overcast day Icebergs on an overcast day
Icebergs on an overcast day Icebergs on an overcast day Icebergs on an overcast day Fluffy dog and icebergs
Fluffy dog and icebergs Icebergs on an overcast day Icebergs on an overcast day Fluffy dog and icebergs
Fluffy dog and icebergs Icebergs on an overcast day Fluffy dog and icebergs Fluffy dog and icebergs
Drone shot of me and dog sled Drone shot of me and dog sled Guide and dogsled Guide and dogsled
Guide and dogsled Fluffy dog and icebergs Fluffy dog and icebergs Guide and dogsled
Guide and dogsled Fluffy dog and icebergs Fluffy dog and icebergs

Getting the dogs ready for the run took longer than normal.

During the previous night, one of the dogs (the young one) managed to get its hind legs entangled by the rope. I don't know whether that dog managed to do it on its own (not being aware on how to avoid entanglement) or whether the other two dogs that had been tied to the same attachment point had managed to walk around the dog and 'wrapped it in'.

Untangling a hogtied dog Untangling a hogtied dog Untangling a hogtied dog

What surprised me (though it probably shouldn't have) was that the dog driver didn't untangle the ropes directly. He first got someone else to throw a rope (essentially a noose) around neck of the dog and pull that down to the ice.

Sled dogs (even young ones) aren't nice dogs. And they are not accustomed to (or trained to) be handled by humans. So even the owner of the dogs didn't want to risk to help the dog (by untangling the rope around its hind legs) without the dog safely restrained. While the dog, presumably, appreciated being no longer tied up, with the rope cutting into its legs, it will not automatically assume that whatever the owner does is for its benefit and tolerate it (like most house dogs would). If there's any pain in the process, the dog is more likely to assume that the owner is trying to hurt it and react accordingly (i.e. attack).

Having said that, I was surprised that, later in the day, I was permitted to do something I never thought I would be able (or allowed) to do: Pet a Greenlandic sled dog.

While stopping next to an iceberg, the dogs were in a relaxed mood. And while I was putting some equipment back onto the sled and getting ready to continue, one of the dogs came close to the sled to have a look.

To my surprise, the dog driver started petting the dog's head.

I didn't expect that. Especially after the way he was approaching his dog when trying to untangle the rope around its leg. And that was a young dog. So my assumption was that he would stay well clear of any of his adult dogs.

I tried to ask (by mime) whether I could touch the dog as well (and whether he could take a picture of me doing that) and he indicated that it was ok. (At least I assumed he did. Due to language barrier and the somewhat inexact nature of mime, I couldn't be sure whether that was what he meant. After all, he could as well be making the widely accepted Greenlandic sign for "Are you out of your mind? Step away from the dog in an orderly manner as quick as you can!" or, as likely, "Go ahead and try. It's your limbs that are at risk, not mine.")

But, whatever he mimed, it turned out to be ok and I did touch a sled dog in Greenland without losing my hand.

Rest with dog sled Petting a sled dog Petting a sled dog Petting a sled dog

I can't describe why that mattered to me (and it wasn't something that I had been planning on or even thought possible). But I was unexpectedly happy that day about having been able to do that.

Another thing I didn't know that I ever wanted to do, but made me happy when I did it, was walking through an iceberg.

Some icebergs have huge holes and caves in them, where parts of the icebergs have collapsed.

Iceberg with hole

This also, usually, means that it is different to walk close to it, as the floor tends to be covered with broken blocks and shards of ice.

On some icebergs, sections have collapsed all the way through, leaving an opening to see through.

Iceberg with a hole

Often they are too small or too high up the iceberg to get to (or through) them.

But when we stopped near one of the icebergs that day, it had a large 'gateway' near ground level.

Iceberg with a hole Iceberg with a hole

Here was a chance to walk through an iceberg!

It probably wasn't a good idea.

The main reason that there is a hole in the iceberg is that the ice at that point is weak (that's why a lot of it has fallen down), so there's a good chance that more of it will fall down.

On the other hand, the ice on top of it (even when not frozen together anymore, but consisting of individual pieces) forms an arch, which is the most stable form of a gateway. (Well, at least when composed out of stable materials, like bricks or stones - I have no idea how much of that is true for malleable and meltable material like ice.)

But it kind of looked ok(-ish...) to do, so I decided to give it a try.

(It probably wasn't safe, but then again, walking outside during a polar bear warning or, in general, walking on a frozen fjord somewhere amongst icebergs isn't 'safe' either, compared to sitting at home and watching TV. At least it didn't seem insanely dangerous.)

So I walked around the iceberg. And noticed that the part of the iceberg, next to the opening I wanted to walk through, looked a lot like the jaw of a giant ice monster having chomped down on someone.

Not an iceberg with teeth Not an iceberg with teeth

Of course, icebergs don't bite. And Qaanaaq doesn't have any mystical ice giants. But it looked ominous.

Walking through an iceberg Walking through an iceberg Walking through an iceberg Walking through an iceberg

Nothing happened when I walked through the iceberg. The arch turned out to be stable and the ground was flat enough to walk on.

I got through the iceberg without any problems.

And, similar, to petting a sled dog in Greenland, I was happy to have done it.

It's not something that I ever expected to do. And I didn't get up that morning with even an inkling that I would be doing it that day. But it was great to be able do it.

Something else I did that day (which was a lot less exiting, a bit less satisfying and as far as risk was concerned, at best a monetary risk) was flying a drone into an iceberg.

We came to an iceberg with a large cave in it.

Iceberg with cave Iceberg with cave

And it seemed like a good photo idea to take a picture from inside it. Looking out at the scenery, using the mouth of the cave as an irregular frame.

It definitely didn't seem like a good idea to go in there myself.

But it seemed like a good job for a drone.

I flew my drone right into the cave and as far in as I dared (and the rubble inside the cave made clear that it would not have been a good idea to get into it on foot) and then turned it around and made it look outside.

Approaching cave in iceberg Cave inside Looking out of cave

It didn't work quite the way I had intended it to do.

I couldn't get the drone far enough into the cave so that the opening framed the whole picture, so it only provides 3/4 of the framing. But I didn't want to back up the drone any farther, as I didn't want to hit any protruding icicle or something like that. And have the drone crash in the cave. While this would have 'only' cast me the drone, it didn't seem worth doing. And while flying a drone inside an iceberg wasn't as satisfying as petting a sled dog or walking through an iceberg, it had been another thing that I never expected to do.

At that point, visibility was deteriorating a bit.

I noticed that when I thought I had seen an iceberg with a huge hole in it.

Not an iceberg with a hole

It took me a moment to realize that I wasn't seeing through an iceberg. What I was seeing was a mountain in the distance with an iceberg in front of it. And the icy-white of the iceberg was a shade brighter than the snowy-white of the mountain. Making it seem as if light would be coming through the mountain.

By that time, it had started to snow. (Which, obviously, doesn't show up much on pictures, except in front of dark backgrounds.)

Iceberg on a snowy day

Soon even icebergs that weren't that far away became hard to see.

Hard to see iceberg

It was clearly time to call it a day and return to Qaanaaq.

Heading towards Qaanaaq

For me, it was nice that there had been a change in plan and I was out there with a dogsled all day.

It would also have been ok if the sled had dropped me near the icebergs and I had walked back, but in that weather it wouldn't have been much fun. (It's much nicer to walk back and be able to 'see the sights' on the way, than to walk back only to get back. And not being able to see much.)

Snowy day in Qaanaaq

Although it was probably not snowing much, at least not in the sense of snow coming down from the skies. The snow wasn't noticeably deeper on the next day. And I suspect most of the snow was older snow blown around by the wind. And only a smaller part of it was freshly falling snow.

When we arrived, another dog team obviously was about to be fed.

All the dogs in a specific area were focused on a small 'horse transporter box' standing on the ice. And even without seeing someone in the box, it was obvious from the dogs behaviour that 'the boss was around' (and, presumably, that there would soon be feeding time).

Sled dog feeding time Sled dog feeding time

I went back to the guest house where I was staying and had my own 'feeding time'.

Locally sourced dinner in Qaanaaq

Having 'proper' dinner came as a bit of a surprise.

The initial plan (which, as so many plans on that trip) changed a bit.

As I was supposed to stay in another guest house, which was ''accommodation only', I had been asked to take care of my meals myself.

Give that I hadn't been sure what would be available for food preparation. And I also hadn't been sure how many days I would be in Qeqertat and how many I would be in Qaanaaq. And that someone else would have to do the initial shopping for me. And that I had been sure that hot water would be made available, wherever I would stay, I had asked for (more than) enough cup noodles to last me for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the time I was staying in the area.

I hadn't counted on being served food at all.

It turned out that there would be dinner served by Regine every evening. I'm not sure whether that was officially part of the ''accommodation package' at her place or whether she simply liked it to have dinner together with other people, I don't know. But it meant that I got to experience some local food. And it also meant that I (kind of) had to invent additional mealtimes, such as afternoon cup noodle time and later night cup noodle second dinner. (Partly because, even though it didn't feel that cold, you use a lot of energy when you are out on the ice for most of the day. And partly because there wasn't much to do when I was back from the icebergs, so having some food every few hours passed the time.)

The next day was already the day I was scheduled to fly back to Ilulissat in the afternoon (to cut things short - I did).

Initially, I hadn't planned much for that day. Maybe go out on the ice in the morning and have a final walk around the icebergs nearby.

But on the phone call the previous evening, Saki mentioned that another dog sled trip out on the ice was still in the budget. It had to be a tour with the dogsled accompanying me all the way (out to the icebergs and back) again.

This time (probably) not so much because of any polar bear dangers (after three days if nobody spotting a polar bear and without any new tracks, it was (reasonably) safe to assume that the bear was far away by now), but for scheduling reasons.

I had a plane to catch. And it would have been awkward if I misjudged distances and walking times and didn't make it back to Qaanaaq in time for the flight.

The start in the morning was a bit less pleasant than on the previous day.

A moment before the start of a dog fight

When we were ready to go and the dog driver brought two dogs of groups from different anchor points together, two of the dogs weren't happy to see each other.

Or, specifically, they had a massive dog fight.

I did stay well out of it.

It's usually not advisable to try to break up a dog fight, unless you know precisely what you are doing.

And here there were not only the two dogs currently doing the fighting to worry about. But also the rest of the dogs trying to use the opportunity to grab a bit of tourist. Notwithstanding that I had petted one of the dogs the previous day (under careful supervision), it didn't seem healthy to step into a circle of them when they were in a fighting mood.

But I also wasn't there for any sensationalistic pictures, so I kept my camera pointed straight to the ground when the fight was going on. While trying to remain on the other side of the sled and out of reach of any dogs.

Even the owner of the dogs didn't dare to break up the fight with bare hands or the whip.

The first thing he did was to grab a knotted rope from the sled (probably there for exactly this kind of situation) and give the dogs involved a massive thrashing, until they let go of each other.

After the dog fight
(Dogfight break-up rope visible in the foreground.)

As far as the dogs were concerned, it was a minor issue. None of them was badly hurt and, once the dogs were separated, the argument seemed to be settled.

From a human point of view (especially a tourist's) it looked a bit gruesome, with a bloody nose on the defeated dog.

Dog with bloody nose Dog with bloody nose

While it's more my view of it (and the way the image came out) and not at all how dogs perceive it, the victor of the fight did look a bit smug, wearing the other dog's blood like war paint.

Dog with blood smear after fight

In any case, it was a poignant reminder: These dogs aren't nice dogs!

Don't get close to Greenlandic sled dogs, unless you are really, really sure what you are doing.

To avoid any further conflicts (and give the defeated dog a chance to rest and heal), we left the dog with the bitten nose behind and started out on our way to the icebergs.

The weather was good for photographs on that day.

Near Qaanaaq (and also on the other side of the fjord), the sky was overcast, while there were patches of open sky over the fjord. Providing interesting contrasts that hadn't been there on the 'all sunny' or 'all overcast' days.

Sun on iceberg with dark skies behind Sun over Qeqertarsuaq Sun on iceberg with dark skies behind

We kept moving until we reached the area where it was bright and sunny.

Dogsled near icebergs Iceberg near Qaanaaq Iceberg near Qaanaaq
Drone shot of icebergs near Qaanaaq Drone shot of icebergs near Qaanaaq Drone shot of icebergs near Qaanaaq
Drone shot of icebergs near Qaanaaq Drone shot of icebergs near Qaanaaq Drone shot of icebergs near Qaanaaq
Drone shot of icebergs near Qaanaaq Drone shot of icebergs near Qaanaaq Drone shot of icebergs near Qaanaaq

As I had a plane to catch, I had been keeping an eye on the time.

At some point I figured that we had about ten minutes left before we needed to turn around and had back, when the dog driver pointed at some ominous clouds coming in from the other side of the fjord. And indicated that it would be a good time to turn around and head back to Qaanaaq. Really soon. Like right now.

Bad weather skies Bad weather skies Bad weather skies

So we turned around and went back.

Turning the dog team around

While not particularly meaningful, I found it somewhat appropriate that bad weather was coming in right by the time when we needed to turn around and leave anyway. The whole thing had a bit of "the show is over, the curtain is closing, thanks for attending" feeling to it.

(Although, in the end it didn't turn out that way. The bad weather went somewhere else and a few hours later, when I was at the airport, everything was bright and sunny again. But I didn't know that then. So it still seemed appropriate.)

Bad weather skies in the distance Bad weather skies in the distance Bad weather skies in the distance
Dogsled near Qaanaaq Qaanaaq airport Bad weather skies in the distance

Staying ahead of the bad weather, we arrived in Qaanaaq.

Dog sledd arriving in Qaanaaq Parking the dogs at their place

A short distance away from Qaanaaq, out on the ice, were a few poles stuck into the surface. There was a dogsled race scheduled for the following day and the track for that had been prepared.

Dogsled racing track

I went back to the guesthouse, packed my bag and got ready for going to the airport.

While things worked out as planned, it was a bit more nerve-racking than I expected.

While I didn't have any Internet connection in Qaanaaq, the arrival and departure information for all airports in Greenland is on the TV as teletext.

At first, everything looked fine. The plane was supposed to leave Ilulissat, then stop at Upernavik, continue to Qaanaaq, pick up passengers and fly directly back to Ilulissat.

And the departure information showed that the plane had left Ilulissat and was heading towards Upernavik, where it was expected to land with a slight delay.

All was well.

And then, the display suddenly showed the flight from Upernavik to Qaanaaq as 'cancelled'. And with no plane coming in to Qaanaaq, there was obviously not going to be a flight out to Ilulissat. (Even though the 'departure' page for Qaanaaq showed the flight to Ilulissat as scheduled.)

Bad news.

By that time, I had to get to the airport.

I fully expected that there would not be a flight to Ilulissat that day and that I would be told at the airport that my return flight would be (at least) moved to the following Saturday. And where I would be staying in Qaanaaq in the meantime. (And that would mean that I wouldn't make it back home before the end of my vacation.)

But at the airport, they checked in my luggage and gave me a boarding pass, as if everything was as planned. (Although, as I had a boarding pass and my luggage checked in at Ilulissat a week earlier and they still removed me from the passenger list, that didn't fill me with much confidence.)

The arrival and departure boards at the airport were confusing. According to them, the flight, with the regular flight number, from Upernavik was cancelled. Instead, there was now another flight (with the wrong flight number, which usually denotes the Ilulissat to Upernavik flight) being supposedly a flight from Ilulissat to Qaanaaq.

And while the flight to Ilulissat was still scheduled on the display (although 25 minutes delayed), there was now an extra flight (with a strange flight number ending with a 'D') scheduled for going to Upernavik five minutes before the flight to Ilulissat.

Although there was no plane currently in Qaanaaq, one was supposed to arrive (presumably) from Ilulissat, but then two flights were supposed to leave half an hour later.

It was a bit confusing.

But a short time later, a plane could be heard and landed at Qaanaaq.

Plane arriving in Qaanaaq Plane arriving in Qaanaaq Plane arriving in Qaanaaq
It looks a bit like Qaanaaq doesn't have a "follow me" car, but uses a "follow me" person instead.
(And even though the last picture looks a bit worrying, the person wasn't cut to pieces by the propeller a few seconds later...)

As far as I can tell in hindsight, what happened was that the plane skipped the landing in Upernavik for some reason. Maybe the weather was bad there. Or there were no passengers scheduled to enter or leave the plane there.

So they formally cancelled the flight from Upernavik to Qaanaaq. And kept the flight number originally assigned to the Ilulissat to Upernavik flight for the (now) Ilulissat to Qaanaaq flight. (Makes sense. Switching flight numbers in flight can lead to confusion.)

And then, seemingly, they tried to change the status of the flight to Upernavik in an odd way. As they initial flight from Ilulissat to Upernavik was no longer going there (but directly to Qaanaaq instead), it looks like they changed the original flight number from GL204 ro GL204D (for delayed or deleted?). And then, for some reason, didn't keep the original point of departure (Ilulissat), but changed it to Qaanaaq, creating the non-existing flight that appeared on the departure display.

Ultimately, it turned all out to be ok. The plane had come in directly from Ilulissat, skipping the landing in Upernavik and was now going to fly straight back to Ilulissat.

All fine.

But without any further information, it was a confusing and worrying afternoon.

I had a bit of time until the plane left (for flight inside of Greenland, there are no security controls, so I could walk around outside until boarding started) and took a final photo and a panorama shot of Inglefield Fjord and the icebergs in it.

Inglefield Fjord from airport Inglefield Fjord from airport

Conveniently (for the pictures and also for the flight out of Qaanaaq), the bad weather from earlier that day had gone somewhere else and it was clear and sunny again.

As I has a window seat on the way out, I could take a few pictures of Qaanaaq, the nearby cliffs, Bowdoin Fjord and Hubbart Glacier from the plane.

Qaanaq seen from plane Cliffs near Qaanaq seen from plane Bowdoin Fjord seen from plane Hubbart Glacier seen from plane

I could even see the dogsled tracks from earlier that day around the icebergs and also got a glimpse of Qeqertat, but both were to far away for photographing.

Flying in Greenland is a bit unusual. Beside the fact that there are no security checks at the airport, the information sheets in the plane differ from the ones in other planes.

Plane emergency information

While there's often a pre-flight announcement stating "Even if you are a frequent flyer, pay attention to this briefing, since this plane might be different." (and then it's the same old, same old), up there, things really are different.

I hadn't seen any instructions on how to use your seat covers as legwarmers before and I never felt like I needed to know where the survival box and the polar suits were located...

At least I didn't really need to know that, as the plane got without any issues to Ilulissat.

I had to stay there overnight and then fly to Copenhagen via Kangerlussuaq the next day.

But that detour to Kangerlussuaq will soon be a thing of the past.

As nobody really wants to go to Kangerlussuaq, it only serves as a hub to Nuuk and Ilulissat, as the runway in Kangerlussuaq is suitable for large planes (well, the one Airbus A330neo that Air Greenland has (or, at the moment, hasn't, as the plane got damaged in May 2023 when colliding with another airplane on the ground when towed to the hangar, so Air Greenland is currently a chartered B737 instead.)) and the runways in Nuuk and Ilulissat are only sufficient for smaller planes.

So everyone flies into Greenland via Kangerlussuaq and then gets into a smaller plane to go to the place they want to go to.

But they are now building new airports in Nuuk and Ilulissat, which will enable large planes to land there, eliminating the need to go via Kangerlussuaq.

It is likely to give another boost to tourism in Ilulissat, as it will be a lot easier to get there in the future (and visitors are unlikely to get stuck in a hotel in Kangerlussuaq, reviewed as "Do anything you can do to avoid getting sent to this 'hotel'."). And it will open up tourism from North America, as it is likely that there will be direct flights from there and people won't need to fly to Copenhagen first.

While there's obviously still some work to do at the airport in Ilulissat and it needs to be seen whether the new terminal will be functional in a year's time (opening is expected in 2024), at least things seem to be on track at the moment.

Unfinished new airport building in Ilulissat Unfinished new airport building in Ilulissat
The building on the right will be the new airport terminal, the building on the left will be a service building.

When I flew out of Ilulissat the next day, the weather was still fine, so I got to Kangerlussuaq on time and managed to have a look at the icebergs floating out in the ocean on the way out.

Icebergs near Ilulissat as seen from plane Icebergs near Ilulissat as seen from plane

The flight out of Kangerlussuaq was delayed (again), but there weren't any other problems and I got, as planned, to Copenhagen in the evening.

And that's very nearly it.

As, due to the re-scheduling, I was staying in Copenhagen for a full day (instead of staying one night at an airport hotel and flying home the next morning), there's also a short bit about the day in Copenhagen as a kind of coda to the journey. But that's really short.