A week kayaking in Greenland

I’d been anticipating our Greenland kayaking trip all year (we’d put down deposits last December), but as we made the circuitous travel to Greenland via London and Copenhagen, I tried not to set my expectations too high. Would the group be a great bunch? Would the weather turn out fair? Would we get to see the northern lights and also enjoy spectacular sunsets? Would we get to see tons of icebergs?

It was everything I expected and then some. 

We had an amazing bunch of people. All super helpful, proactive, and hilarious with their odd British witticisms and slangs (and oof, the copious amount of tea they drank at every opportunity!). With the exception of two Canadian brothers in university, everyone else lived in the UK, including a transplanted Kiwi and Aussie. It was awesome to chat with like-minded folks who shared a similar love for exploration and travel.

First day on the water
Camp site 1 – I didn’t spot the auroras that night, but our east facing view afforded the perfect viewing of the milky way

The weather for the most part held up as well. Days were between 3 and 10 degrees Celcius, and felt pleasantly warm in the sun. I didn’t need to use my pogies (mittens that went over the paddles for kayaking) at all paddling, and only pulled out my gloves for the glacial hike. We were only rained out one night / day, when the wind howled and slapped against our tent so violently the entire night that we slept in fits and starts. The Canadian boys’ tent pole broke under the relentless assault. We were quite relieved, thus, when at 630am, our guide came by to tell us that we weren’t going to have to pack up camp and kayak to our next spot after all. I’d already finished packing my loose gear and about to embark on the tedious process of pulling on my dry suit, but happily unrolled my sleeping bag again for a lie in. That day, a third of the group, hardier souls, ventured out into the elements for some hiking. I preferred the comfort of the dining tepee, where I camped out literally the entire day playing my new favourite game of Monopoly Deal.

A reindeer skull that Malcolm picked up on his early morning jaunt around the campsite. We did spot plenty of live reindeers too, which was super neat, considering our failed attempts in Norway a few years ago. We also saw a couple of eagles tending to their young in a nest on the side of the mountains, a couple of seals, and a whale.
Hereafter known as the fig roll stop. Where we stopped for a brief break to relieve our bladders on our longest day on the water – 6 hours. And enjoy some fig rolls of course

We did see the northern lights. Our first night in Greenland, we stayed in a hostel in the tiny town of Narsaq. Everyone was feeling a bit jet lagged and no one stayed up, but according to our guides there was a display that night. Our first night camping, I couldn’t see anything when I got up in the middle of the night to shoot some pictures, though when Jeff woke up to pee he thought he saw a faint glow on the horizon. It was not only till the second night camping, when I took a test shot on my camera at 11pm that we realised the faint glow on the horizon – what we mistook for city lights, even though there wasn’t a town for miles – was in fact the green-purple glow of northern lights. But on night 3, just after sunset, the spectacle was so clear and active that we couldn’t mistake the scene. This time, everyone was still awake, and we spent easily a half hour in the deepening chill, gazing awestruck at the dancing display above head.

People in the tents waking up and putting on their layers, ready to step out to see the northern lights display
Our west facing camp 2
Our dining tent which comfortably held our group of 14 for daily evening meals
Camp 3 – optimal aurora viewing time, right after dinner and before bed

With that incredible display of northern lights, I wasn’t terribly disappointed thus that we never got the vivid colours of pink purple at sunrises or sunsets. Still, we couldn’t complain with the beautiful warm days, paddling through mostly flat water, traversing through broken pieces of melting icebergs. Some of the icebergs were small enough pieces that we didn’t bother slaloming around, and instead paddle right on top and through them. Others were taller, dripping structures fifteen feet high from water level. We stayed a respectful distance from these.

Grabbing lunch in the sun, with the view of the gorgeous Sermilik Glacier a deceivingly close 2km away. We stayed at this campsite 3 nights, one more than originally planned, because of the weather

So yes, we had a most fantastic trip. Our visit seemed most timely, right in the middle as it was of Trump’s outlandish offer to purchase Greenland, and at the tail end of a season with a heartbreaking record heat wave. The BBC article that was published right at the end of our expedition showed in stark detail just how much the Sermilik glacier (the very one we were camped across for 3 nights) has receded in the last 15 years.

Fun by the water. It was bracing and refreshing after 3 days of not showering. Honestly, the anticipation of the cold was much much worse than the actual sensation
Huge chunks of ice constantly calved from the glacier, and the shifting tides and winds moved the icebergs about, such that the waters were ever changing
Our merry group on our glacier hike. We met 2 other groups on the ice that day, before and after our 1.5 hour tour. It felt a little jarring to encounter other people in the otherwise remote wilderness that was our home for the week
Navigating the ice soup was the best highlight of the trip for me
Final paddle to our pick up point, sniff

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