Icebergs, fjords, whales and wind. Jagged peaks, glacial runoff, freezing waters, and the infamous Greenland icecap. There is no doubt that East Greenland is an enigma—a land of harsh landscapes, brilliant vistas and exceptionally remote communities.
For the last few months, I’ve had a small case of writer’s block. Luckily, ideas come and go, but memories can remain fresh if they were important enough to leave an impression. Greenland certainly left an impression.
I left for Greenland in August, with a three-day stopover in Reykjavik, Iceland. I circled the city 50 times on foot, looking for something new I hadn’t found since my last visit eight years ago. I marveled, explored and sought out beauty in its many corners. While Reykjavik holds tremendous allure for travelers, my excitement was to get to East Greenland as fast as possible.
I met our group the first morning of the journey at a hotel in the city center. After introductions, I grabbed the bags for each traveler and helped the driver place them into the transport vehicle. We then sped off to the airport for our flight to Kulusuk. Upon arrival, we found ourselves in a sleepy little town, where we quickly jumped in the back of a Danish helicopter that carried us over the icy bay to Tasiilaq, which would serve as our base of operation for the next two days.
Upon our arrival in Tasiilaq, we met with our guides for the trip, who serve as a conduit for our interaction in Greenland. Once everyone was settled in, we went out for a hike through the valley of flowers, where we saw packs of sled dogs, the town cemetery and a sea of beautiful arctic flowers that dotted the Arctic landscape. Like many isolated northern towns, there were also broken-down snowmobiles in front yards, destroyed washing machines and evidence of difficult winters that the locals had clearly managed to negotiate year after year. But this is real life, and seeing it adds to the experience. There is no polish to be found in this environment, which can be harsh and unforgiving during the winter.
The following morning, we left Tasiilaq by boat and made our way three hours north to Natural Habitat’s Base Camp Greenland. Along the way, we passed hanging glaciers, rigid rock faces, frigid winds and stunning landscapes. Upon arrival into camp, we explored the surrounding valley on a wonderful hike across the Arctic tundra.
The following morning, we took out the Zodiacs and explored the depths of the Sermilik Fjord, navigating a sea of icebergs, with some as large as city blocks. Every shape, style and formation was present in spades and perfectly imposing. Geared up in our mustang expedition suits, we sped into the wind, searching for the next shape, the next picture to capture with our minds and cameras. The icebergs glistened with perfect refraction and offered those exceptionally picturesque moments that are so rare and important in life.
Continuing on, we navigated and negotiated the ice chunks and flows with great care. We skirted past blocks of ice that were thousands of years old, that would soon melt and find their way back in to the active water cycle of the planet. Watching the amount of ice that had calved was like watching Earth as a living organism—ever-changing and adjusting. As we continued to push forward, we found ourselves within view of the magnificent polar icecap. The Greenland icecap is so intensely large that we spent the next 45 minutes cruising at break-speeds to reach the face. Arctic blues, grays and powdery whites filled our color spectrum and lead the way like a beacon blinking in the distance. When we finally arrived, we found ourselves front and center of the Greenland icecap, with perfect views that produced slack-jawed expressions. It was enormous, sublime and fully unique in every way. Never have I experienced anything of this magnitude. Truly, it felt inconceivable.
We spent the rest of our time hiking through various areas with no defined trails, as well as kayaking into the open waters in search of wildlife, peace and tranquility. In such a harsh environment, a settled wind creates a vacuum of serenity—probably the last time I’ve felt it since my return.
Greenland is unique, compelling and highly remote. Its beauty is unparalleled in many circumstances, and it is truly one of the last places on the planet where one can find themselves feeling as though the world hasn’t been fully discovered, monetized and commercialized. Most of the families there still feed their family members through subsistence seal hunting. East Greenland is a raw destination filled with pure excitement, remote existences and adventures awaiting those who are willing to make the journey.
This guest post was written by Nat Hab Adventure Specialist John Holahan. All photos © John Holahan.