Walking in the Orkneys, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland – Part 12 Greenland, Kangerlussuaq, a UNESCO World Heritage site – Russell Glacier.

Post 287: 9 August 2018, Kangerlussuaq

Having left Sisimiut at 18.00 hours and reached our most northerly point, including being above the Arctic Circle, we were now heading south and were due to arrive in Kangerlussuaq at 7am. P1120878Kangerlussuaq is the only inland town in Greenland and is located at the end of the 106 mile (170km) Kangerlussuaq fjord, which is the longest in western Greenland.  We crossed back below the Arctic Circle halfway along the fjordThere is only a population of 499 in Kangerlussuaq.

It would be necessary to tender from the ship. Due to mud flats and a low tide only 25 passengers could go in each tender as opposed to the normal 70.  However, most Britains are good at queuing, even at temperatures that turned out to be up to 22 degrees.

The big landing platform was a wreck from the military occupation of the area in the Second World War. P1120867 The ship Ocean Diamond (Quark Expeditions) was also in the fjord. It only has a tonnage of 8,282 and 207 passengers and is for discovery-minded participants who enjoy a comfortable travel environment. P1050893As we approached the land in tender boats it occurred to me that these World War II landing craft might have been useful to increase the number of passengers that could be landed!P1050804It also reflected how Kangerlussuaq came into being due to the war. The town was founded in 1941 when it was opened as a US Air Force Base. The Americans remained here until 1992.

There is a lot of writing on the rocks at the small dock. The earliest I could identify was 1959.

The air base briefly came under Danish control in 1950 but, following mounting concerns about the Cold War threat, a new agreement saw the U.S. re-open Bluie-West-8 under the name of Sondrestrom Air Base in 1951.P1120866

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P1120864After lunch we had an excursion booked to the Russell Glacier on partially off-road 4 wheel drive adapted vehicles. P1120835The bus was an interesting adaptation! Larger tyres? They were needed because it was a 16 mile (25km) drive along a track that in many parts was just sand. P1120836On the way out we passed a few ‘hikers’P1050819

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P1120815We passed some unusual rock art and trees.P1120809

P1120812 The area is home to Greenland’s most diverse fauna including muskoxen, caribou, arctic hare and gyrfalcons. From the coach we saw the first two but from a moving bumpy coach at distance they were almost impossible to photograph. The muskoxen were very large – we had earlier seen knitting yarn made from gathered muskoxen fleece for sale at £60 a ball! P1050888We also saw the site where a Lochheed T-33 Shooting Star and two other planes had crashed in a blizzard in 1968. All pilots are believed to have ejected safely.

We followed the dusty track along the river Qinnguata Kuussua alluvial valley.P1120863

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P1120861Before reaching the glacier we stopped at an incredible UNESCO World Heritage viewpoint .P1050824

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P1120834Flora was all around us.P1120853

We then drove past some locals who are not allowed to hunt in this UNESCO World Heritage area, but do go further afield to hunt muskoxen and caribou.P1120837 The glacier, which descends from the ice-cap, came into viewP1050832Finally, we reached it. P1050892

P1050874It was very impressive.P1120839P1120844P1120845The vertical walls reach as high as 131 feet (40metres)

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P1050856There has been a biological darkening of glaciers due to cryoconite build-up. This is powdery windblown dust made of a combination of small rock particles, soot and bacteria. It is spread by wind and rain. It absorbs heat more quickly than white snow and ice and speeds up the melting of glaciers. Human influences such as emissions from cars, coal fired power stations and soot from fires play a part in its production as does rock particles from volcanic eruptions and mineral dust from warmer regions. P1050857

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P1050859A dramatic end to a stunning day. Again the weather had been kind to us when it mattered and we felt very blessed.P1050863It is easy to forget that the locals, who are not wealthy, have to go and hunt for their food. As we arrived back at the tender dock, a father and his son were just going hunting. P1120868

P1120869There was about an hours delay in getting some passengers back onto the tender boats and one or two passengers did complain. However, if you wish to go to these remote stunning places you must be prepared to adjust to the local conditions, tides and weather. Otherwise don’t bother!

The ship was due to depart at 16.00 hours but actually departed at 18.30pm. No problem. We were able to sunbathe on deck in Greenland – in shorts. Unbelievable! Global warming is here and now with all the implications of melting ice-caps and glaciers.

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Walking in the Orkneys, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland – Part 11 Greenland, Sisimiut, the 160 Mile Arctic Circle Trail – Ice-Cap to Cost!

Post 286: 8 August 2018, Sisimiut

When the ship’s Daily Information Sheet said we would find a wide range of options for being active in nature in Sisimiut, either taking relatively relaxed hikes or checking out activities for hard-core travellers, I hadn’t expected that there would be a 100 mile (160 km) hiking trail through the wilderness of Greenland. P1120784 I did buy this T-shirt in Sisimiut as I couldn’t resist the ‘mistake’ in the shirt:

Icecap to Cost instead of Icecap to Coast. 

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The Arctic Circle Trail can be walked in 7-12 days. There are a couple of basic wooden huts for bad weather, but packing a tent is recommended. Only 300 people hike the trail every year and many are Danes (those Vikings again). It is possible to go days without seeing another walker. The normal season to walk is from June to August. Early in the summer swarms of mosquitos plague the area and mid-August is thought to be better, although they are still around. The only towns are at the beginning and the end of the trail, Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq both of which I would be going to – albeit by ship! You have to be completely self-sufficient on the trail and mobile phone connection may be non existent. Not a walk for the inexperienced or those of a nervous disposition.

Most walkers start in Kangerlussuaq hiring a taxi to the trailhead and walking west to the coast. I was due to go there the next day by ship, boat and coach. It can snow there even in August!

We arrived at Sisimiut at 8am and it was a bit overcast. Some of the boats had seen better days. P1120765

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P1120802I then had to decide what to do, given that the ship would depart again at 17.30. Of course I would have done the Arctic Circle Trail if I had been there for 12 days but, given I only had just under 12 hours (that’s my excuse!), a more leisurely hike seemed appropriate leaving the ladies to explore the town. There was a hike organised by the ship to Tele Island where Sisimuit started some 4,000 years ago. The Inuit used it as a hunting ground for many years. This would have included turf hut ruins and a burial ground. From the hike it is possible to see the mountain of Nasaasaq at 2,750 feet (785 metres), which dominates the town.IMG_E2990However, Cumbria Man and myself decided to work our own route out to the nearby lakes. We left the port area.

P1120788A good place to get one’s bearings on a walk (some would also say in life) is at the church, which is quite prominent in Sisimiut. P1050750Sisimiut is the second largest city (!) in Greenland with a population of 5,524 (2018) and has some unusual exposed waste disposal due to presumably cost, perma frost and the hard rock hereabouts. There is a small airport. P1050761It also has some poorer quality housing with unique bicycle storage facilities. P1050762 Boats are everywhere, here in front of the museum which specialises in Greenlandic trade, industry and shipping. P1120766P1120797The local cable car is also unique. P1120770Probably due to expansion of the town, the cemeteries with their characteristic wooden crosses are very close to the houses. P1050799

P1050800Dogs, boats and arctic cats are ‘parked’ outside houses. P1050753

P1120772We assumed these stone and turf units were not used for human habitation. P1120773P1120774Fishing and fish processing is the prominent industry in Sisimiut. P1120782

P1120783Hunting is also important to some of the local livelihoods, mainly seals, walrus, beluga whale, narwhale, reindeer and muskoxen. Indeed on our walk we heard a number of gunshots.

The Greenlandic flag is in evidence here and it was adopted on 21 June 1985 some years after home rule from Denmark was granted in 1978. It was designed by native Greenlander Thue Christiansen. The white strip represents the glaciers and ice-cap which covers more than 80% of the island. The white semi-circle represents the iceberg and pack ice.  The large red part symbolises the ocean. In other interpretations the circle is seen as representing the rising and setting of the sun and the midnight sun and polar night (total darkness).  P1050793Leaving town we passed the first lake.

Rocks feature as art extensively in and around the town. P1120775

We eventually got away from the town to more rugged countryside and our second lake. We thought we saw an arctic fox, but couldn’t be 100%. P1120776P1050769We then met a young Danish couple walking from the mountains who had been on a 12 day hike to the ice-cap, being totally self-sufficient, even to the extent of having solar panels on their rucksacks! Maybe they were just finishing the Arctic Circle Trail. 

After visiting the lake we passed through the area where the husky dogs are kept.P1120781

P1050773-1The puppies were very friendly and are allowed to roam free for up to 4 months.P1050787I think this may be a young snow bunting which we saw in the area. We also saw white adults.  P1050789 Also rooks are quite common.P1120791It is hard to believe that, despite all the ice and cold, there are 500 plant species within Greenland, 22 species of trees in the Sisimiut area and 63 species of herbs in central Greenland.

On my next blog I head to the start of the Arctic Circle Trail, a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site and the Russell Glacier descending from the ice-cap….