2017 Greenland (1/3): Nugssuaq – Ilulissat

Places Western Greenland; Ilulissat, Nugssuaq (Nuussuaq) Peninsula, Arve-Prinsens Island
Time & length July 2017, 3 weeks
Partners Florian Schmid, Atalwin Pilon
After sailing from Ilulissat north to the Nugssuaq Peninsula, we hiked and packrafted all the way back to town within 16 days. Due to massive ice blockages in the fjords, we had to change our route significantly and couldn’t travel as close to the ice sheet as we planned.
Click here to see our route and the changes we had to make: Nugssuaq – Ilulissat Route

About the whole Greenland idea and how this journey came together:

In December 2016 I received an email from two Belgians, Willem Vandoorne and Sofie Vanmaele, who apparently have followed my travel reports for the last few years. Now they wanted to start a guiding business in Greenland and asked me if I had any interest in guiding for them. The idea was to charter a large sailing yacht, sail around Greenland and do longer and shorter trekking trips on land with the yacht as a base. They wanted to start commercially in 2018 and do test runs and explorations in summer 2017. I was invited to join their test runs in 2017 in order to prepare for commercial guiding jobs in 2018. Obviously I was interested.

I looked into the trips they had planned and found them to be very well selected for any potential clientele, but as an ambitious adventurer and experienced explorer I was looking for something more challenging to fill my own summer. My suggestion was: I explore Greenland for myself and/or with my own friends, the Belgians support me logistically with their yacht and I work for them in 2018. Willem and Sofie agreed, so that’s how we did it.

Willem, Sofia and their friends planned to leave Ilulissat on July 5 and sail north. That allowed me to sail with them, get dropped off and make my own way back to town on foot and packraft. Two friends of mine were with me: Florian, who already joined me on a trek in the Pakistani Hindukush the year before, and Atalwin, who I met in Lebanon in 2012.

Note: All my Greenland routes from 2017 were only possible with the use of packrafts. Alpacka Raft agreed to sponsor us, so we received three brand new boats that allowed us to cross dozens of rivers and fjords over the course of this three months long summer in Greenland.

My two friends and I met on July 3 in Copenhagen from where we flew to Kangerlussuaq and spent the night in our tents. The next day we arrived in Ilulissat, rested and went for a day hike on July 5, together with Willem, Sofie and their friends.

In the evening we entered the yacht and took some time out on the ocean to explore the huge icebergs around Ilulissat with the dinghy, bevor we actually headed north around 10 pm. We sailed over night.

We reached the Nugssuaq Peninsula at 10 am in the morning. It was a beautiful day in a stellar landscape, so after some repacking we started our journey. The first days were relatively difficult, plenty of loose rocks and boulders slowed us down. Plus, we still had a lot of snow on the ground and one of my partners was less fit as I had hoped. Yet we made progress and stayed optimistic.

After a few days we climbed a plateau and were able to look over Torssukatak Fjord which we had to cross soon. It was obvious that the fjord was completely packed with ice in the area were we planned to paddle across, close to the glacier in the east. That was unfortunate, but we had ways to improvise – crossing the fjord further west was an option, but then we had to walk over Arve-Prinsens Island. Before we reached Torssukatak Fjord, we had to cross one of its side arms and practiced paddling between ice bergs a bit.

Then we reached Torssukatak Fjord, which was full of ice. Paddling across with packrafts seemed dangerous, but not impossible. It was a 7 km stretch and the center seemed packed with new ice. But we got lucky: In the morning when we got ready to paddle, three fishermen arrived with their boat, they went on land not far from where we camped. We talked to them and they offered to ferry us across the fjord which we thankfully accepted. An hour later we arrived at Arve-Prinsens Island.

We climbed up the steep northern end of the island until we reached a rocky plateau-like area with many hills and lakes. That was the terrain we were facing for the following four days. The views over the fjords were amazing but the terrain remained challenging: Loose rocks, snow fields and countless lakes and ponds we had to navigate around. A day before we reached the southern end of the island, the weather changed and we had to walk in rain, wind and very poor visibility.

On July 17 we left the island and had to cross 2 fjords in a row in order to make it to the mainland. That meant 20 km paddling in light headwind, it took us 8 hours on the water. After that, it took forever to find a good place to camp, so it was after midnight when we finally fell asleep.

From there it was only 2 day hikes to Ilulissat. I heard via sat phone that the weather would be terrible the 18th, so we walked as far as possible and luckily reached a little hut in the evening of the 18th. We went inside and stayed for two nights until the severe weather had passed.

On July 20 we reached Ilulissat.

Florian and Atalwin flew back home and I continued my journey in Kangerlussuaq where it was a lot warmer and dryer. Yet, what I missed during the next few weeks was these massive icebergs: the areas around Ilulissat, Disko Island and the Nuggsuaq Peninsula are the perfect location for spotting the most impressive icebergs in the fjords.

This route was a successful beginning of my Greenland journey and I was looking forward to the more than 10 weeks to come.