21.11.2017

GREENLAND STEP BY STEP

Greenland, despite its image, seemed to be "hot" this year. We received numerous reports and requests for trips across the otherworldly terrain. Classic routes from south to north over glacier and fjords had been attempted. 

This is a report by Gerard Anton, a Spanish dentist and explorer. It is a very honest report you can learn a lot from. 



From the airplane window I see the inland ice infinite white, black summits that rise up some hundreds of feet above the snow. The Nunantaks, glaciers that melt in thousands of pieces, isolation … there is no doubt, I am in Greenland.




A welcome by Polar Bears

I arrived in Narsuarsaq in August 1st. After a short transfer with a boat to Igaliku I started my route. 250km on the map. 200km walking and 50km paddling with my packraft. In the backpack I carry 20kg. 6kg of dried food for 13 days and all the gear I need to spend 17 days in the wild. I always try to go superlight so there is only the essential gear that I think I will need. But I haven’t considered to take some Polar Bear protection. Although the chance to meet a bear is very low. That is what I thought …

Since I arrived in Igaliku, people told me that some polar bears have been in sight last days on the area. It is really weird, but for some reason polar bears came to this place at that time of the year. Two of them were seen in Sondre Serminik just 100km from my route. But anyway I didn’t worry too much about it so I started the route happily.



The Greenlandic conditions

The Greenlandic ground is much harder and slower than I thought. Here in the south, it has been raining so much this summer, all the plants and bushes are growing much more than usual. 

In Greenland there are no paths or trails to follow so you are always navigating with the map or GPS. This is a hard work when the bushes cover up to your knees and you carry a 20kg backpack. Also there are so many flood areas where every step you do your foot disappears eaten by the musk. And in the firsts and last hours of the day mosquitoes are everywhere so it is essential to carry a mosquitoes net on your head, if you don’t want to die eaten by a mosquitoes cloud.


The first days help to get into of temperatures, day and night hours, tide schedules, terrain and loneliness. I do quite long sections in the packraft the first days. Long paddling without a dry suit. I don’t like to spend much time in the middle of the fiord but sometimes there is no other chance. I decided not to bring a dry suit as I don’t have much more room in my backpack, so if I sink I have few minutes before the hypothermia starts. But I trust in my new Anfibio packraft. And here in the fiords the sea is quite calm.


On tour

In my first 6 days I only see the sun for 4 – 5 hours. But it is not raining every day. Every morning it starts foggy and the misty disappears at midday. In the night it is not very cold, I use a Cummulus Quilt 32f , a reactor liner from Sea to Summit, and a merino wool underwear.    

Every day it is getting more difficult and I realise there are more polar bear signs in the area. So I started to worry when I spoke to a farmer who was carrying a gun on the farm. I decided to walk as long as I can every day in order to spend less nights in the wild. But every day progressing on this terrain is getting slower. Bushes and Greenlandic forest are on the menu every hour.

I arrived in Klosterdalen valley 7 days after I started in Igaliku. This is an amazing valley on the north face of Kettil. But the valley is hard. No path again. Mud, flood, bushes everywhere, mosquitoes, Greenlandic forest. And when you think you are up the plants the rocky hell starts. Big rocks you have to cross. I had to inflate and pack the packraft so many times, sometimes just to cross a little 4m wide river but deep enough to make impossible to cross walking.


I don't think it is worth. Seriously, at least when you are there. There are insane views on this valley, but is so hard to walk through it. But when you are home and you look back, sure it is worth ... The next two days going to Tasiusaq were raining all day.



Continue with polar bears?

Once in Tasiusaq the farmers told me that they killed a polar bear 2 days ago on that farm. And it would not be very safe to follow alone to Nanortalik. So I take a boat. The following days I stayed in Nanortalik, Qaqartoq and finally in Narsaq. I also spend some days in Inuit houses. I like adventure and I like to get to know people in the place and see their way of life. Inuit people are so friendly and open minded. But they have a little problem with drinking. They fish or hunt in the morning and drink in the afternoon. After this, I could realize that so many polar bears have been seen in the area. I was worried at that point, but it only remained 60km to the airport so I ask Ramon Larramendi one of the best polar explorers about the chances I met a polar bear. He said that the possibilities were so low. So I decided to continue with the route.


Encounter!

On my last day I slept in a farm. The morning starts with a deep mist. I’ve been walking 4 hours and suddenly I heard a weird noise, a kind of roar that repeats 4 or 5 times in less than a minute. It is not a sheep, not a crow… but I can’t see anything, so many trees and too much fog. I think it is a polar bear, but as I didn’t see it, I just pushed a little faster. This is a very difficult navigation area when foggy. You cannot see the geography unless you are a few meters of what you want to see. But one hour later I climb a little hill and when I up with my eyes watching my GPS direction I saw a polar bear in front of me. He is like 50 meters in front of me eating something on the ground, probably a sheep. Quickly he rose his head and looked at me. The next think I do is turning 180 degrees and start to run as fast as I can in this terrain. I push my SOS button. I don't want to be here anymore. Is it too much risk. Luckily the bear was eating and he was occupied with the sheep. Otherwise I’m sure he would come to eat me.


Conclusion

Two days before a farmer told me that the only chance to escape or at least have more chances to escape from a polar bear is throwing your clothes on the floor when it runs for you. He will run faster for sure but maybe he will smell the clothes and give you a good second to disappear.

4 hours later of my encounter I arrived to the sea where a boat is taking me. I’m safe. Just imagine 4 hours in a misty area trying to reach the coast when you know there are polar bears and the only weapon you have is a whistle.

So, Greenland, what an amazing country. This is wild and beautiful, but also hard. But you can have an amazing packrafting expedition. But if I were you, I would take at least bear spray or bengal signal to frighten the bear, if you encounter one. Polar bears are very weird to find on August in Kujalleq, but this year the firsts 17 days of august 15 polar bears have been seen and hunted. May be the climatic change? I’m afraid yes.




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