Greenland 2017 (3/3): Paamiut – Narsarsuaq

Places Western Greenland; Paamiut, Arsuk, Qassiarsuq, Narsarsuaq
Time & length August/September 2017, 7 weeks
Partners David Hertel, Bernhard Wolf, Madeleine Paulik, Philipp Schwarz
Wonderful packrafting adventure, even though it started with a few disappointments: Bad weather and insufficient fitness of a travel partner made us loose time and we had to change the route significantly. Soon after, I had an accident and needed to be evacuated by helicopter. The second part of the trip (Arsuk – Narsarsuaq) went well, although someone stole from our food cache and made us starve for a week. At the very end of the season, I spent another ten days alone in the area around Narsarsuaq and had time to relax and explore the region.

I put together a quick Greenland teaser, just click on this Youtube link.

The idea was to walk and packraft the whole way from Paamiut to Narsarsuaq via Arsuk. That’s about 470 km, here is route (rough): Paamiut – Narsarsuaq Route

The trip started as a group of three: David, a good friend of mine, climber and guide form Alaska, Bernhard, a friend and photographer from Vienna, and me. Bernhard only joined me on the first leg of the trip (Paamiut – Arsuk), in Arsuk two other friends of mine (Philipp and Madeleine) joined me in Arsuk for the second leg. David was going to travel with me for the entire distance.

We had two food caches deposited by my Belgian friends with the sailing yacht, one HERE, the other one HERE.

Getting to Paamiut wasn’t easy, since several flights around that time were delayed or cancelled due to bad weather. The three of us arrived on August 16, one day later than scheduled. In town, we properly packed our backpacks and bought a shotgun and ammunition: Local police strongly recommended to take a firearm since several polar bears had been spotted in the region not long ago. It’s common for polar bears to float from northern Greenland to the very south on large icebergs, were they can become a threat to farmers and villagers.

The rain started only minutes after we left town, and soon after we realized that Bernhard struggled heavily with the weight of the backpack. We were very slow and took many more breaks than I usually do with other fellow travelers. The next thing we had to do was crossing 5 km-wide Kvanefjord, after that it was pure wilderness and a long distance to Arsuk – once we would cross this fjord, there was no turning back. Before doing so in the next morning, we discussed our situation: We knew that the rain would get harder and last for several more days. Plus, my partner’s lack of fitness made reaching Arsuk in time almost impossible, that much we could already tell.

We decided to go back to town and ask for a boat ride at the harbor: If we could skip a part of the distance, we could then take more time to reach Arsuk, we figured.

It was raining and storming in Paamiut and no local fisherman wanted to take their boat out on the open sea. We found shelter in an abandoned building that we had to clean up a bit before pitching tents inside while it was pouring outside, temperatures were just slightly above 0°C. That was August 17.

The rain got worse in the next few days, still no luck at the harbor. On August 20, a Sunday, we went to church – it was warm and cozy inside. Apparently church-goers help each other out: The next day we were offered a community flat with warm water and heating.

In total, we spent a whole week in Paamiut, waiting for a fisherman to take us south. When the rain turned into drizzle one late afternoon, David and Bernhard paddled around the islands a bit while I explored town and found the local dumping ground… which is located right at the shore, where the waves could continuously take the garbage into the ocean.

On August 23 it stopped raining. A fisherman brought us close to where our first food cache was deposited, he charged €500. We then planned to go on a 4-day round trek over the mountains close to the ice sheet before heading south towards Arsuk, but the weather was bad again and the clouds in the higher altitude forced us to stay low.

So we picked up our food and got ready to hike south.

On August 27, we finally started our trek towards Arsuk. It should have been easy enough to reach this place within a week or so. The weather was finally good and we made decent progress.

In the afternoon of August 29 I had an accident. We traversed a steep ridge, I went first, when a big boulder came loose underneath me and I fell down several meters. I was barely conscious, had wounds all over my body and had a hard time moving. No bones were broken, but one of the wounds (on my leg) was so deep that the fat came running out. David cleaned all wounds with alcohol and a high-pressure syringe, but bandages on and stitched up the deepest wound with a normal sewing needle and dental floss. It didn’t work properly, especially since this wound needed inner layer stitching. My first instinct was to keep going after one or two days rest, but my partners and Sofia, who I was in contact with via sat phone, urged me to call for evacuation – in the worst case, a serious infection could cost me my leg, they said. A day later the wound on my leg started bleeding again and I called SOS. The helicopter came only a couple of hours later and I was brought to the hospital in Qaqortoq. A few eyebrows were raised when the personnel saw the dental floss stitches and the rest of my body… obviously I made the right decision, they said.

I stayed and rested in Qaqortoq for a week, while Bernhard and David continued their way to Arsuk. Here are pictures from the helicopter ride and the town of Qaqortoq.

I took the passenger ship (Arctiq Umiaq Line) to Arsuk on September 6 and reached the settlement in the next morning.

Now my crew changed. Bernhard took the same ship I was on further north to Nuuk and flew home from there. Philipp and Madeleine, both friends of mine from Vienna, were already waiting for me in Arsuk, they arrived the day before. The two of them, David and me were ready to leave town right away, we had a long way to Narsarsuaq ahead of us. My body was okay again, I just had to be a little more careful.

Here are the pictures from September 7 to 13.

We knew for days that the weather on September 14 would be terrible: The forecast said heavy rain and wind up 100 km/h. We were in a very exposed area close to the ice sheet, so we almost couldn’t belief our luck when we found this great cabin standing in the middle of nowhere in the evening of the 13th. We stayed for two nights and played cards, I also took out my stitches with a Leatherman. Outside was one of the worst storms I ever experienced in the wilderness.

Here are pictures from September 15 to 17.

In the evening of September 17, we were almost out of food; it was the day we were supposed to reach the second food cache. When we reached Qaleraliq Fjord, we ran into a relatively large camp from „Tasermiut Expeditions“, a Spanish travel company. They couldn’t believe it when they saw us, a group of people coming from Arsuk by foot and packraft! They were nice enough to give us some snacks and a ride over the fjord, where we first pitched our tents and then went to look for the food cache deposited by my Belgian partners.

We were devastated to see that our food cache got raided – somebody stole two thirds of our supplies. All the snacks, the salami, expensive dry fruits, a bottle of Whisky (it was Philipps birthday)… all gone. Weeks later I found out who it was: A female guide from the Spanish travel agency “Tasermiut Expeditions”, they admitted to stealing from us, at least to taking some of the supplies. What an awful thing to do, actions like these can cost other people’s lives.

Anyway, we had to make a decision: Can we make it to Narsarsuaq with the little food we had left or do we have to shortcut to Narsaq? Philipp, Madeleine and I decided to push through, regardless of the hunger. David was too hungry, he decided to stay with us for two more days and then turn south to reach Narsaq a few days earlier.

So we kept going together until we split up on September 18.

It got significantly colder now, small lakes were frozen and the fjords were often covered with a thin layer of ice, enough to make packrafting difficult or impossible.

Here are pictured from September 18 to 21.

The crossing of Isafjord on September 21 would not have been impossible if it wasn’t for the friendly people of the first farm we ran into when we approached civilization. Too much ice for our packrafts, only a solid motorboat could cut through that.

Now it was only two more easy days to Narsarsuaq. We reached our destination in the morning of September 23, a few hours before Philipp’s and Madeleine’s flight home. David was there to meet us at the restaurant – of course, we ate like there was no tomorrow.

I now had ten more days for myself. Originally the German outdoor manufacturer VAUDE had planned to shoot a film with me, but due to political and social differences they cancelled the project at short notice. I’m not going to go into details here, but I will say this: It seems like some people wish I would only do interesting travels and bring home nice pictures, but I do care about societal matters, too, and I’m not the political chameleon some people apparently hope I would be.

Anyways, ten more days to relax, calm down and be on my own was just right for me. I explored the area around Narsarsuaq and then hiked north to Eqalorutsit Kangigdlit Sermiat where I did day hikes with an igloo-shaped cabin as a base. It felt really good to end the season that way.

After three months in Greenland, I flew home on October 3. It has been the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited: A little like Alaska, but with icebergs. Can’t wait to come back in summer 2018…