ALONE IN THE ARCTIC - My journey on the Arctic Circle Trail (Greenland) (Day 1)

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September 2nd, 2014

(Kangerlussuaq to Katiffik)

Distance Walked: 15 Miles

Arriving in Kangerlussuaq

    I flew into Kangerlussuaq on the daily flight from Copenhagen and rejoiced in the fact that I had finally arrived in Greenland and was now well north of the Arctic Circle. The airport is an old U.S. Air Force base that was given back to Greenland and Denmark following the end of the Cold War. After retrieving my backpack from the tiny luggage carousel my next destination was the grocery store on the airport grounds that was supposed to have fuel. I had tried to contact the store via email to confirm whether or not they had fuel, and what type of fuel, but never heard back from them so now I was taking a chance that they would have canister fuel for my MSR Reactor stove. For this trail I highly recommend either a pressure regulated canister stove (like the Reactor) or a liquid fuel stove (such as the MSR Whisperlite). Fortunately they did in fact have canister fuel in stock, though it was a much larger size than I needed and was a brand I had never heard of so I was unsure of how well their mixture of propane and butane would work in below freezing temps.  With fuel in hand, I headed backto the terminal. After filling up on water and checking over my gear, I had a quick lunch at the cafeteria and then went to register at the local police station, as recommended in the guide book.  Unfortunately no one answered the door, and since I was carrying a SPOT PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), I wasn't concerned enough to wait for their return, plus I had my biggest mileage day ahead of me (15 miles) and it was already afternoon. 

   

Airport Grounds

    The Arctic Circle Trail starts just past Kellyville (pop 7), which is basically a collection of trailers and a huge antenna pointed skyward.  It's a research station where scientists study the Northern Lights and lies about 9.8 miles WSW of the airport.  Some choose a road walk right from the airport but, living in Brooklyn, I've walked on enough roads and was more than happy to hire a taxi for the ride to starting point.  If I remember correctly the fare was about 350 DKK ($58.34).  Not exactly cheap but then again, nothing is cheap in Greenland.  I asked my cab driver to take a few photos of me at the first trail marker.  When she left I took a look around and realized that, not only was I now alone, I was alone in Greenland.  I had crossed the Arctic Circle and was about to experience a part of the world few ever see, let alone trek through.  It was amazing and I felt extremely fortunate to have the opportunity!

Beginning of the Arctic Circle Trail

    As you can see from the above photo, the trail is occasionally marked with rocks or cairns painted with the rising sun of the Greenlandic flag, though most of it is unmarked and when you do see a trail it is considered more of a "suggested route" than a set path.   Setting off on the trail, I immediately encountered the boggy conditions I had expected to encounter when walking on tundra.  Though not a huge deal with waterproof boots and gaiters, you do start to pine for some dry ground until you remember that you're in Greenland.  The colors of Arctic Fall were everywhere, with dark yellow, green, and deep red being the predominant colors.  

1st of Many Nameless Lakes

Favorite cairn of the day

 


   Finding water is never an issue on this trail as landscape is littered with lakes and streams fed by the winter snow melt.  I had read that the first few lakes encountered should be avoided since they often have a brackish taste due to the proximity to the salt water of the nearby fjord. At many of the lakes you can even see dried up salt along the shore as evident in the picture to the right, which was taken at Lake Hundeso.  

    About 2 hours into the trip to the coast, I spotted my first Reindeer.  I used my monocular to get a better look before he ran off.  Truly a majestic sight, set against the Arctic wilderness. This was also near the first hut of the trek, Hundeso, which was the only one I'd be passing without spending the night.  Hundeso looks like an abandoned set from a "Mad Max" movie but it actually quite cozy inside, though it's placement just 3 miles from the start means that it is only used by those choosing to add a road walk to the trail, and start walking from the airport terminal rather than taking a cab to the starting point.  

 

  

                     HUNDESO (Exterior)                                                    HUNDESO (Interior)

 

    After a brief stop at Hundeso it was time to knock out some miles.  Route finding was generally easy but there were times when I would emerge from a boggy area and the trail was nowhere to be seen.  I found myself frequently referencing the map and the guide book to see where the trail should have been.  My monocular also came in handy when searching for distant cairns.  

 

 

Katiffik Hut lies on what looks like a little peninsula at the center of the photo

 

I reached Katiffik Hut, my destination for the night, around 7:30pm and found it completely empty. I wondered if someone else might show up from the other direction but no one ever did.  I set about completing my camp chores and while filtering water from Lake Amitsorsuaq I realized that I was experiencing absolute silence!  There was no wind, the water was still, no wildlife scurried in the brush, no birds called out, and neither did any people.  As long I stood still and silent there was not a sound to be heard.  I stood there enjoying this for a few minutes but soon went back to gathering water for the night.  The water was beautiful, and a swim was tempting but it was cold, and more importantly, the outside air temperature was near freezing.  I returned to the hut, made dinner, drank tea, wrote in my journal and studied the map to familiarize myself with tomorrow's route.  This wasn't a trail you could follow blindly just by looking for blazes on a tree or rock.  This trail required you to know where it should be, to anticipate it's next move.  I relaxed in the hut, pleased that I was on schedule and looking forward to the days ahead.  This hut had the feel of a rustic cabin, and, with room for 6, I had plenty of room to spread out.  With no heater or fireplace (or trees for that matter) I bundled up in my 20 degree bag and drifted off to sleep on my first night in the Arctic.  

2 Comments

I guess they have more to do than keep track of backpackers. I do highly recommend travelling with a PLB or Satellite Messenger such as SPOT!

Posted by Kevin on February 19, 2015

Hi! I walked the trail In August 2014 with my dad. We actually met a police officer in Kangerlussuaq and asked if we could register but he told us they don’t do that! So it’s a good thing you didn’t wait!

Posted by Ellen on January 19, 2015

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