Inuit Hunter

In 1993 we paddled over 300 miles along the west coast of Greenland, from Sisimiut to Ilulissat.  After several weeks paddling we called in at Qasigiannguit, in the south east corner of Disko Bay.  Formerly known as Christianshab, the town was established in 1734, making it the second oldest town in Greenland.
It is situated in the heart of a rich archaeological region so not surprisingly there is an interesting museum.  At the museum there was a traditional kayak and in conversation with the curator we asked if there were still any people hunting in the traditional fashion.  He replied that possibly there were still traditional hunters around Thule, in the far north, but certainly not in the area that we were paddling in.
It came as a complete surprise, therefore to encounter this Greenland hunter two days later in the ice, on the southern side of Ilulissat icefjord.  He was paddling up into the ice and then drifting back on the melt water current occasionally shooting a seal.  This is a scene from 1993 which I doubt exists today, certainly in visits to the area since 2008 there have been no similar encounters.

Inuit hunter
A hunter paddling among the ice on the southern side of Ilulissat Icefjord

Some Greenland Kayaking Advice

Having visited Greenland on a number of occasions and paddled close to 1,500 nautical miles along the west coast, there are a few bits of pertinent information, which I have picked up along the way and might prove useful to anybody contemplating a visit to these northern waters.
Buy all of your food when you arrive.  It is a waste of time and money shipping food.  Even the smallest villages have a shop where you are able to buy anything from cream cheese to a sewing machine.  Ilulissat has a number of well stocked supermarkets, which can meet all your needs prior to heading out kayaking.
Shop in Saqqaq, northern Disko Bay.
Mosquito Net
Take a spare in case you mis-place your first one.  Have it ready to put on as soon as you get off the water.  You may not need it but like a good Boy Scout be prepared.  Remember to remove it when cooking in case the stove flares up, the molten material could make a real mess of somebodies face.
Some people use a complete bug suit, not just a head net.
Although it can be a bit of a pain to carry they are a great piece of group equipment.  Perfect for those rare days when the weather isn’t good enough to sit outside and ideal for providing some relief when the insects are particularly troublesome.  You can end up spending a significant amount of money on a tipi but I bought a cheaper version in 2009 and it is still going strong.  It can have a significant impact on your luggage allowance so I have left mine in Ilulissat, ready for my next visit.
Pressure Cooker
Perfect for helping with fuel economy, bring the rice to the boil and then take it off the flame for between 8 and 10 minutes.  The rice will be cooked to perfection.  They are Ideal for most meals.  It takes a bit of searching to find one with small enough handles that it goes into a kayak hatch, we eventually found a suitable one in a back street in Istanbul.
 Nets off when cooking
 Granite slabs
Look for the those slabs which have been scoured by the ice, close to the waters edge.  They are perfect at lunch time for relaxing on and hopefully there will be no standing water nearby, which will reduce the insect menace.
Learning to relax on granite slabs is an essential skill for paddling in the Arctic.
Down jacket
The absolute essential item of dry land equipment.  Don’t leave home without one.
Relaxing after a good days paddle along the Vaigat
Don’t always paddle to the rear of the bay, when kayaking in Greenland.  Think about collecting  plenty of water during the course of the day and camp on a low headland.  The location may be more exposed to wind, which will keep the insects down and the views are likely to be far more spectacular.  This was something which Greenlanders have known about for hundreds of years because quite a few of the low headlands we stopped at had indications of previous habitation.
A memorable campsite just the north of the abandoned village of Agpat.  There was no standing water nearby and we had a relatively insect free evening.

Ilulissat – the final day

It was all so straightforward.  Paddle out of Pakitsoq, camp on the slabs at Anoritoq, have an evening meal in Oqaatsut and been in Ilulissat in time for lunch.  It just about went to plan apart from the evening meal bit.

Leaving the inner part of Pakitsoq. It was pretty important to make sure that we left around slack water.

There was no rush in the morning as our calculations indicated that the best time to pass through the narrows was at around 10.30, on this particular morning high water at Ilulissat was at 09.38.  It turned out that our calculations were pretty accurate and although we needed to do a bit of ferry gliding we escaped into the outer part of the fjord with very little effort.

There were a few intermediate size icebergs around but very little in the way of small ice, which might impede our paddling.
This large arch caused some concern as it looked pretty unstable.
Collapsed arch
Although there had been a few indications that the arch was unstable it still came as a complete shock when it collapsed. There is no doubt that if you had been paddling underneath it you would have been killed. Total proof that those pictures where you see kayaker’s sitting underneath an arch are completely foolhardy.

Our campsite for the evening was close to the slabs at Anoritoq, which is probably my favourite place to stay along this section of coast.  An easy landing, plenty of flat space for tents, a great stream and a never ending range of glacial features to explore.

Sheltering from the wind whilst preparing food. eventually we had to move as the wind increased significantly in speed.
Solar chargers
One of the significant developments in recent years has been the use of more electrical equipment whilst out on trips but the current range of solar chargers means that keeping things topped up is pretty simple. All you need is sunshine.

The following morning the wind was blowing offshore and packing up was put on a temporary hold.  A temporary hold, which stretched in 22 hours.  Bit by bit the wind increased in strength until it was blowing offshore at about 50 mph.  There was clearly no way we were paddling in those conditions.
The consequence was that we had to miss out on our stop in Oqaatsut, and were still quite concerned about the possibility of strong winds but when we got up at 05.00 the storm of the day before had abated, so in perfectly calm conditions we headed south for the 13 miles back to Ilulissat.

Heading to Ilulissat
On the final day of our 19 day trip we woke to calm conditions and limited ice so we made quick progress towards our final destination, Ilulissat.

Landing just after 11.00, we unloaded our kayaks for the final time, we had been out for 19 days.  At times strong winds created challenging conditions but our journey through northern Disko Bay had been truly memorable.

Pakitsoq – sunshine and tide races

After the winds of the day before it was a pleasure to wake to a calm morning.  Breakfast was a very pleasant affair as we knew that we would be heading south, towards Pakitsoq, after the delays of the last 24 hours and could start to relax, with a good forecast for the next few days.  We were quickly underway and our first stop for the day was Kugssuaq, where we knew that there was an easy landing and a good stream.

After the winds of the day before it was a pleasure to paddle in such calm conditions.
Always a pleasant place to stop for lunch, the beach at Kugssuaq.
Washing hair
In addition to being an ideal lunch spot Kugssuaq is a great place to wash your hair.

I have crossed Pakitsoq 13 times in the last few years and on every single occasion have seen whales.  This year was no exception, although the views were rather distant.  The first indication of whales in the vicinity is when you heard their breathing or saw the spray from their breath rising above the surface of the sea.  Our focus though was ensuring that we managed to enter Pakitsoq safely, through the tidal narrows.
I have always found that the safest way to enter Pakitsoq is to arrive at the narrows early, whilst he tide is still pouring out. Then either sit and wait or play in the tide race, until the outgoing flow has slackened enough to enable you to paddle through the narrows with a degree of control and in relative safety.  We managed to enter, with a bit of uphill paddling at 17.30, this was on a day when high water at Ilulissat was at 21.05 and low water was at 14.18.  The tide times are available here.

Looking into the narrows which lead into the inner part of Pakitsoq. It was just a matter of waiting for the tide to rise and the outgoing stream to slow down.
taken a couple of years ago this shows the quantity of moving water in the narrows

Once you are inside Pakitsoq a totally different world is revealed. The biggest difference is that there are no icebergs, so camping and moving the kayaks is much easier. There is no longer the need to have the kayaks 10 metres above the high water mark, just in case a large berg should roll over. Just as no bergs will make it through the gap because of the narrow water and the tides the same probably applies to large marine mammals so don’t expect to see whales swimming around in here.
One thing to take into account is that the two daily tides are unequal in height. The evening tide is normally quite a bit bigger than the morning one, so take this into account when deciding how far to lift the kayaks up, the last line of wet seaweed is probably not far enough. On the day we entered the evening tide had a height of 2.6 metres, which seems to equate to a Spring, whilst the morning high water was only 1.8 metres.
Once inside there are a number of options available but we chose to paddle the southern arm, which is much narrower and to explore some of the small islands scattered around the bay.  Last time we had been in this area we camped at the head of the inlet, which allowed us to walk and see an amazing glacial landscape.

This was the furthest we could paddle into Pakitsoq. The icecap wasn’t to far away. Wind blown deposits were gradually smothering the vegetation. This felt a very bleak spot.
Some of the group felt the inner parts of Pakitsoq to be claustrophobic and felt happier as we headed back towards more open water.
There is always a desire to climb to the top of the island and this was no exception. Great views alround. Note everybody is wearing Crocs the perfect footwear for kayaking in the Arctic.
Paddling away from one of the islands inside Pakitsoq. The water is coloured by the small particles which have been carried into the bay by the glacial meltwater streams.

Overall a very enjoyable day and made that much easier by the fact we didn’t to pack and unpack the kayaks.  A day paddling an empty kayak is almost like having a rest day.  The evening was spent relaxing around the campsite, admiring the view and rejoicing in the fact that there were no insects to bother us.  The only negative feeling was a growing realization that in the next couple of days the trip would be over.  Greenland was once again casting its spell as a truly special sea kayaking destination.

Just inside and on the southern shore of Pakitsup ilordlia is a perfect camping spot. Great views and no worrying about icebergs, because there aren’t any.

Arve Prinsens Ejland – West Coast

Arve Prinsens Ejland is a large island, which dominates the views of north east Disko Bay and offers some fascinating kayaking. Although we only had a short day planned there was plenty of variety, with a number of stops planned.
Our first target was a small Bay where I know that there is some excellent evidence of a former settlement. We had first camped here in 2008 and it was here that I really thought about the similarities of modern recreational kayaker and generations of former Greenlanders. We travel through the environment at the same speed as the Greenlanders did hundreds of years ago and our needs are almost identical. An easy place to land a kayak, a flat area for tents and a stream for water. As soon as I realised that we had identical needs and knew what to look for almost everywhere we camped we could identify signs of former human use.
As we approached the small bay it was clear that there were quite a few local fishermen in residence and it looked like most were still in bed, so we avoided landing there. We carried on pottering along the coast with the next target an area where Brunnich’s Guillemots nested. En route we passed a couple of very confident White Rumped Sandpipers. Quite an amazing bird, which is one of the greatest long distant migrants in the world, some individuals traveling from northern Canada to Patagonia. On their way north to breed they are thought to undertake non-stop flights up to 2,600 miles in length.
Brunnich’s Guillemots are a species which you are likely to encounter in the U.K., as they spend their lives in areas where the sea temperature remains below 8 degrees Celsius. So it’s always a pleasure to seem them on their breeding grounds. We weren’t disappointed today with quite a few individuals flying around in addition to variety of other species.

Brunnich's Guillemots
We were heading towards these cliffs to see Brunnich’s Guillemots although there were thousands of birds of different species

Our destination for today was just to the north of the abandoned settlement of Agpat, which is on a small island just off the west coast of Arve Prinsens Ejland. It is somewhere, which is always worth exploring. After landing Louis, headed back out to test his new fishing kit. As he headed back to shore it seemed that he was making hard work of what should have been a short paddle, it was only as he entered shallow water that we realised he was towing 4 Greenlandic cod, each of which would provide enough food for 7 people. 3 were delicately released whilst the unlucky 4th fish was on an open fire with 10 minutes of leaving the water. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Cod on the open fire within minutes having been caught. Delicious.

The evening was spent exploring the old settlement. This was my 6th visit and it is sad to see how the buildings are deteriorating over the years. Amazingly it was also the first time that we haven’t seen other people there. Some of us carried on exploring the village whilst several decided to walk to the highest point on the island, which was marked by a substantial cairn.
A great day but we went to bed in the knowledge that the following day we were heading south along quite an exposed section of Arve Prinsens Ejland. All we needed was weather like we have had for the 6 days and life would be great.

Looking at the main buildings of the village from offshore.
School house
Some evidence of the use of the building. The cheque is dated February 1985 and some of the graffiti is dated 2004.
Angus and Kate at the high point on the island. I always wonder about the history of such a large and significant landmark. Looking at the lichen’s growing on the rocks we assumed it was pretty old.

Islands and ice – Disko Bay

The day after we were forced to change our route in northern Disko Bay we headed west along the north coast of Arve-Prinsens Ejland.  Passing between the ice to the north and the cliffs to the south, there was no real prospect of an easy landing, I always think that this a challenging stretch of water.
As we passed through the narrow gap to the west of Arve Prinsens Ejland we caught a glimpse of our first Arctic Fox.  This is one of two land mammals that you might see whilst paddling in this area.  The other is the Arctic Hare, which we encountered a couple of days later.
Once inside the gap it is advisable to stop, there is a nice sheltered beach and its probably been at least 3 hours since you have been able to have a toilet stop.
After lunch a quick scramble up the slopes behind the beach gives you a good view across to the small settlement of Qeqertaq and it is possible to assess the ice conditions for the crossing of the fjord.  More importantly there is a really good mobile phone signal, which is great for checking in with home after 7 days out but also enables you to get a reasonable weather forecast.  We have used Weather Underground, on recent trips and have found it to be pretty accurate.
Oqaatsoq, is the smaller island to the west of Arve Prinsens Ejland, and there is delightful campsite in a small bay on the south east corner of the island.  There are some dramatic bird cliffs on the opposite side of the bay to the camp and we have seen whales on a regular basis.  What better place to pass some time.
We camped for two nights, with some of us paddling the 13 nm around the island, with empty kayaks.  A real pleasure.  What we saw to the north though didn’t inspire confidence for the future, substantial numbers of large bergs appeared to be blocking the route to Saqqaq, where we planned to replenish our food supplies.  The future looked uncertain but there was nothing we could do as we retreated to the tents with a possible storm approaching across Disko Bay.

Greenland kayaking
Kayaking along the the northern shore of Arve-Prinsens Ejland.  The cliffs on the opposite shore rise to over 700 metres.
Sheltered bay
The narrow gap to the west of Arve Prinsens Ejland leads into this sheltered bay. 2 minutes walk from this beach it was possible to get a mobile phone signal and so our first weather forecast for 6 days.
Steep cliffs
Kayaking along the base of such steep, rocky slabs is always inspiring. The scale is always difficult to grasp.
Disko Bay
Located just above the beach is a perfect campsite. Easy, sheltered landing, great views, flat land and running water
Thousands of pairs of Kittiwakes cling precariously to the cliffs in the bay.
Disko Bay
Sometimes you are really fortunate, when staring out to sea, a whale will enter the bay. The first indication is normally the sound of their breathing.
Storm clouds
Storm clouds gathering over Disko Island. Fortunately it didn’t develop into anything serious.

Northern Disko Bay – kayaking

After a couple of days on any trip you start to settle into a daily routine.  The start of our day had the simple mantra “7-8-9”.  Up at 07.00, breakfast at 08.00 and on the water by 09.00.  By the time we had arrived in northern Disko Bay, the routine was well established and most mornings we were away early.
Entering the waters of entering these waters is always an unknown, as regards ice.  It is possible to obtain sea ice charts from the Danish Meteorological Institute but by the time you have kayaked to northern Disko Bay from Ilulissat they are likely to be out of date.  If you encounter open water no problem but if there is ice it is matter of feeling your way forward and this may involve getting of the kayaks at times, climbing to higher viewpoint to scout for leads in the ice.
In the northern part of Disko Bay there are a number of glaciers which discharge into the fjords so it is impossible to predict how much ice there will be.  What is important is to ensure that you maintain a safe distance between yourself and the ice front.  The closest we approached was 3 nautical miles and we didn’t hang about!
On our journey through the area there were some significant areas of open water but in one place our intended route was blocked so we took a more southerly route.  This actually worked out really well as we ended up camping in a delightful spot at the rear of sheltered bay.  Our only concern was that in the distance we could see a number of really large bergs, which might have an impact on our need to reach Saqqaq, where we planned to replenish our supplies.
There are 2 small settlements in the northern part of Disko Bay, Saqqaq and Qeqertaq, both of which provide the opportunity to buy food, what was uncertain was which one it would be.  As with any sea kayaking in Disko Bay there is a need to remain flexible due to the variations in the weather and ice.

Cliffs and waterfalls
We stopped here to collect our water for the next 24 hours.
An early start to the day meant that in the evenings there was plenty of time to explore the surrounding area.
Sun at midnight
This was the last day that the midnight sun was going to be visible at this latitude so it was inevitable that we stayed up to take photographs.
Ice front
Although spectacular where glaciers enter the sea are not safe places to be so we kept our distance.
Ice front
The glacier close to Eqi. The shattered and heavily crevassed front clearly shows why you need to keep your distance. The closest we approached was about 5 miles.
Small pieces of ice
At first the ice is really easy to paddle through. The small pieces crashing harmlessly along the side of the kayaks.
Sea kayak and ice
Gradually the density of the ice increased and at times the way forward wasn’t always clear.
Picnic spot
We stopped for lunch on these rocks in an attempt to keep away from the insects. We were also able to walk up a small hill which showed that our proposed route in the afternoon was blocked by ice.
Kayaking and ice bergs
After lunch a slight change in direction took us back into open water and much easier paddling.
Tents and water
This sheltered campsite was a delightful place to stop.

Greenland – this summer

July, saw a return visit to Greenland for 19 days kayaking with the Jersey Canoe Club.  The Club is fortunate that it has 8 kayaks in Ilulissat, the main town in Disko Bay, on the west coast.  This means that the logistics of paddling in this area are relatively straightforward.  Book a flight, go to the supermarket in Ilulissat and start part paddling.  What a complete contrast to my first visit to Greenland when we had to ship the kayaks out months in advance, plus boxes of food etc.  That felt like an expedition, nowadays we go on holiday.
On our arrival at the hostel in Ilulissat we met Peter and Sue Bisset, who had used the kayaks before us.  Peter runs the “Paddles with an Anas Acuta” blog and it was interesting to hear his description of their 4 weeks out kayaking.  The weather had clearly been far more unsettled than normal, which had resulted in some exciting conditions.  They experienced several days of snow, which is very unusual for July. It was good to catch up though and to hear of their experiences.
Within 24 hours of arriving in Greenland, we had sorted out the equipment, bought food and were heading north.  Unfortunately as we headed away from Ilulissat the wind started to increase, which was to become a feature of our paddle north.  The first day we had to cut short because of an increasing headwind, although we did manage to do some slightly longer paddles in the following days, which put us back on some sort of schedule.

Packing the kayaks always generates some interest amongst the locals.
On the first evening it was a bit of a walk to find water but what a stunning location.
There were some icebergs in the area but they didn’t really present a problem.
The slabs at Anoritoq still showed the remnants of the winter snow. This was the first time I had ever seen snow in this area.
A beautiful arch, 30 seconds later it collapsed, showing the potential danger.
Stopping for lunch in the warm July sunshine. It also provided an opportunity to fill our water bottles.
Sheltered campsite on the third night. Easy landing and just a few pieces of small ice.

Disko Bay – Day 17 – Ilulissat

Your final day on a long trip is always a time of conflicting emotions.  We had taken part in a really memorable paddle through some stunning scenery.  There was far more ice around than I had experienced on my 5 previous trips in Greenland, which at times had presented a significant challenge and even up until the last we weren’t sure how things were going to go.  The French paddlers we had seen a few days earlier had taken 2 days to get out of Ilulissat because of the ice, if we took two days to get in then we would miss our flights home.
There was quite a special feeling, this was the conclusion of a project which had started over 2 years earlier.  At the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium in 2013 we came under some pressure to run another event in Jersey in 2014.  It was eventually agreed that we would go ahead with the event but the aim was to raise enough funds to be able to buy a number of sea kayaks to place in Greenland, which would be available for the participants at the event to use.  Effectively we were aiming to re-invest in the sport.
2015 was the first year that the kayaks were available and they were used for 40 days, which was a successful year from the Jersey Canoe Club’s perspective.  We already have bookings for 2016 as well as tentative inquiries for 2017.  A successful legacy from the Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium, which will hopefully allow more paddlers to experience the memorable kayaking off the west coast of Greenland.
The final morning.  We had lifted the kayaks up quite a distance the night before as there were a number of large bergs just offshore and we didn’t want to risk losing the kayaks on the final night.
Eric heading south through the ice towards Ilulissat.
Our first glimpse of Ilulissat.  We were still concerned about whether we would be able to reach the town.  There was a significant amount of ice, the only indicator which gave us hope were the number of small boats going past.  They had clearly been able to force their way out of the harbour.
 The last few hundred metres and there was a hint of open water between the ice floes.
 The final slabs on which we pulled the kayaks.  At this point we knew that in 36 hours time we would be on the flights home.

Disko Bay – Day 16 – Rodebay

The last but one day on my trips in Disko Bay have always been memorable because the distances have always been short, there is the chance for a few pleasant snacks at lunch time and the evening meal is in one of the nicest restaurants I know, anywhere.  The H8.
I really enjoy the drop in pace, it allows you to adjust gradually back into “normal” life following several weeks out in the field.  Rodebay a small village, to the north of Ilulissat, was the focus of today’s activities with lunch purchased at the shop and the evening meal taken in the restaurant.  It was really nice to be joined by Kampe who made the journey north from Ilulissat, in the evening, in his small boat.
Late in the evening we sat on the slabs, just to the south of the village, trying to come to terms with the awe inspiring view across Disko Bay, to the west, whilst realizing that this was likely to be our last night in the wilderness for some time.  This was a time to savour the experiences, as opposed to rush back to the “delights” of Ilulissat at full speed.
 Paddling towards Rodebay in almost perfect conditions.  We just needed to hope that the restaurant was taking bookings!
 I have always tended to use this narrow inlet on the southern side of town.  Landing was always slightly spoilt by the large quantities of broken glass which littered the beach.
 Toby in front of the kayaks.  The village shop is visible behind.
 The buildings in the village are quite spread out, it is alwaysquite pleasant to wander around the village whilst taking in the superb views to the west.
 Eric made friends with the local wildlife.
 He was quite a delightful dog who seemed quite happy to pass the afternoon in our company.
 Every now and again whilst walking around the villages you will across some surprising discoveries which provide a link to the past.
 Kampe joined us for the meal in the evening.  Coming up from Ilulissat in his trusty boat.
 Camp site just to the south of Rodebay.
 After a meal at the H8 restaurant it is always an emotional moment sitting on the slabs looking out across Disko Bay, knowing that this will be your last night in the wilderness for quite some time.