ALONE IN THE ARCTIC - My journey on the Arctic Circle Trail (Greenland) (Day 3)

September 4th, 2014

(Canoe Center to Ikkattooq)

Miles Walked: 13.5

Canoe Center Hut, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Canoe Center Hut

    I was a little too well hydrated last night and woke up in the middle of the night.  Just outside the hut, while "adjusting my hydration level", I looked up and noticed the faint shadows of what must have been the Northern Lights.  They weren't the brilliant green colors you so often see in pictures but simply shades of black and grey.  Still worth getting up for!  Canoe Center is by far the largest hut on the trail, boasting beds for 22 people, and floor space for many more.  Of course, as the title of this journal entry implies, I had it all to myself!  I felt a bit like Goldilocks as I examined the empty rooms and decided which of the 22 empty beds would be mine for the night.  

Inside the Canoe Center Hut, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Plenty of room for a "pack explosion"

    Still no sign of any other humans, which is particularly a shame for this hut since the kitchen is so large and even boasts full sized picnic tables.  I always enjoy sitting around the campsite in the morning, enjoying breakfast, conversation, and especially coffee!  Since I had the place to myself I studied the map as I ate and even had time for a coffee drinking selfie.

Inside the Canoe Center Hut, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

This early in the trip there are still plenty of meal options "on the table"

Inside the Canoe Center Hut, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Fueling up for the day ahead

     As I left the hut to begin the day's walk I realized that I still hadn't seen any canoes!  Had they been removed?  Had they sunk?  With only 300 people a year walking this path, and with that group speaking many languages, I wondered if the canoes were long gone and that word of their departure had simply not made it into English language guide books.  Or maybe it was just another piece of trail lore where someone who had hiked the trail 20 years before would tell you about their experiences with the mythical canoes.  All I knew was that there were no canoes at the "Canoe Center", nor anywhere else along the lake where they were supposed to reside.  

Reindeer, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Reindeer running up the mountain

     Not long after leaving the Canoe Center, I finally spotted a canoe!  It was, as I had sort of expected, carelessly left on the rocky shore.  I wondered if someone had capsized, swam to shore, and left the canoe to drift here, or if they had somehow picked this spot as the optimum place to make landfall.  There's a nice, sandy beach directly in front of the canoe center, which would be perfect for launching onto the lake but for some reason the boat stand is located almost 2 miles to the West, which is where I found the rest of the canoes.  They were in varying states of seaworthiness and several served as evidence of someone's extreme confidence in the effectiveness of duct tape!  

Canoe from Canoe Center Hut, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

The Lone Canoe (At Center)

Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Lakeside Landscape

Canoes from Canoe Center Hut, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Canoe/Kayak Stand

Canoes from Canoe Center Hut, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Duct tape really can fix anything!

      THEN THE RAIN HAPPENED.  I say it happened because it didn't just fall, it was an event.  It began as I was enjoying the gradual downhill walk through the valley between Lake Amitsorsuaq and Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq.  The rain fell lightly at first but soon became steady and heavy.  Initially I just kept moving and hoped it would pass, but soon realized it was here to stay.  Reluctantly I put on my rain gear.  

     Anyone who's walked a few miles in "breathable" rain gear knows that it is only breathable to a point.  Though far superior to traditional rain gear, breathable fabrics are still sweat inducing so most experienced backpackers only wear them when they are absolutely necessary.  I had debated whether to bring my Marmot Spire Gore-Tex® Jacket, which I normally reserve for Winter hikes in the single digits, or my much lighter, Marmot Precip® Jacket, which saved weight but offered less protection.  Precip® is my go to shell for most of the year, and I had even worn it on Iceland's Laugavegur Trek when encountering hurricane force winds and heavy rains but in extreme conditions I like the extra confidence that comes from having a Gore-Tex®, or similar laminate type shell, in my pack.  The forecast didn't look to bad and of course, on this journey, weight was a major concern.  I was expecting to complete the trail in 8 days but realized that there was a very real possibility that I might be weathered in for at least 1 day, which necessitated bringing 9 days of food.  I didn't weigh my food but I generally find that 2 lbs per person, per day, is a good estimate for backpacking food.  To counter the extra 2 lbs of food, I decided to go with the Precip® Jacket, which is a coated jacket, and not a laminate, but that had done so well for me just a few weeks before in Iceland.  There's a saying that "ounces make pounds, and pounds make pain!"  Though lighter, the risk of my choice to save weight and go with the "coated" Precip® Jacket was that it could be come saturated in a heavy, sustained, downpour, but I felt the weight savings was worth it and I didn't expect much rain or temperatures below freezing during the day when I'd be walking and exposed to the elements.  I know this gear discussion may be taking away from the adventure of this post, but don't worry, it will come.  Plus this is an important discussion for anyone considering completing a journey on the Arctic Circle Trail.  

    Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Before the rain

     My rain gear held up well at first and I felt like I had made the right decision to go with the lighter rain gear.  However, as the day went by and the rain intensified fairly rapidly I started to get wet as the shell became saturated.  The temperature was also dropping and the wind was picking up so hypothermia was a concern.  Hypothermia is a possibility in temperatures as high as 60 deg F and I've had the early stages of it in the past.  I was cold and wet but I knew if stopped to change into dry clothes now I wouldn't have any dry clothes to change into when I reached the hut.  My plan was to keep moving so that my body temperature wouldn't drop, and to change into dry clothes once I reached the shelter of the hut.  Setting up my tent and getting out of the rain was always an option but it didn't look like it was going to stop anytime soon and I was still focused on completing the day's miles.

     I soon reached the sandy beach on the shore of Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq which had looked so inviting and out of place in the pictures I had seen in the guide book.  I had hoped to take a long break here, maybe even a nap or a brief dip in the lake.  Instead, I filtered water, ate a quick snack, and kept moving to warm up.  By now I was thoroughly soaked and since I was going downhill I had kept up a fairly rapid pace to stay warm.  Once past the beach however, I would be climbing for most of the day's remaining miles.  I knew heading uphill would make it easier to stay warm but I was also starving by this point.  I couldn't stop for a proper lunch, as my body's temperature would cool rapidly, so instead I searched through my food bags for anything that was high energy or high in sugar.  I ate mostly on the move and my "lunch" consisted of Honey Stinger® waffles, dark chocolate, and a single energy gel.  I decided that if even moving at a brisk pace couldn't keep me warm I would stop, set up my tent, and get warm as quickly as possible.  Shivering would be my proverbial "canary in the coalmine".  

The beach at Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

The beach at Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq

     This was already the second longest day of the trek and being cold, wet, and hungry only seemed to make the miles last longer.  I kept my mind busy with time distance calculations, wondering if I would encounter any other humans on the trail and where they were likely to be from, and of course, what I would eat when I reached Sisimiut, but kept coming back to imagining how nice it would be to finally have the hut in sight!  When I felt a bit chilled I sped up to generate more heat.  I remembered from the map that there should be a series of small lakes as I approach the hut so when I began seeing these I knew I was getting close.  When I passed those lakes and still had no hut in sight I realized that this was the equivalent of a "false summit" and the lakes that I was expecting were further down the trail.  In the guide book it mentioned that this hut was the only one not painted red so I then wondered if maybe these were in fact the lakes I was expecting and that the hut was just a bit camouflaged, with it's unpainted, weathered wood blending in among the colors of the Arctic Fall.  I broke out my monocular and scanned the horizon for anything that looked like a man made structure.  After inspecting several boulders and rock formations I realized the hut was still further down the trail.

Looking back towards Lakes Kangerluatsiarsuaq and Tasersuaq, Arctic Circle Trail, Greenland

Looking back towards Lakes Kangerluatsiarsuaq and Tasersuaq

     About 2 miles or so down the trail I spotted a faint red object in the distance.  At first I just assumed it was some brush, but as I got closer it seemed to have more rigid borders.  I was expecting a weathered grey or brown structure but stopped to examine the object with my monocular.  IT WAS THE HUT!!!  What was essentially a wood shed painted red, looked absolutely majestic in the pouring rain.  So for those of you who will soon be setting out on the trail, please note that the hut is in fact painted red and not left bare as described in the guide book.  As I walked the last bit of distance to the hut I reveled in the fact that I would soon be dry, warm, and fed.

     As was now the norm, the hut was empty.  I threw my pack down and sat on the bench, dripping with both water and relief.  It was the first time I had taken a break all day but I knew I could not yet rest as my body would soon cool down rapidly and I still had chores to do before I could get out of my wet clothes and into my sleeping bag.  I went down to the shore of the lake to filter water for the night and then boiled some for both dinner and some hot tea.  Most of the huts have vents that should allow you to cook inside but since backpacking stoves are meant to be used outside, and will expose you to carbon monoxide poisoning if not used in a well ventilated area, I always cooked outside of the hut while on the trail.  

     Now back inside I finally started to shiver.  I got out of my wet clothes and into my wool long underwear, and spare wool socks.  My hat was soaking wet from the rain so I cut a small section of paracord and used it to tie up one end of my neck gaiter so that I could use it as a spare hat.  When you're cold, you're body needs to burn more energy to keep warm so I usually give my clients hot cocoa before they go to bed which is not only a good way to end the day, it also helps to keep you warm as the sugar helps your body regulate heat through the night resulting in a better night's sleep.  Not having any cocoa with me I added 2 sugar packets to my tea.  My meals were pretty well planned out, and I was only carrying what was necessary, so this meant that I would have no sugar for my last cup of coffee on the trail in a few days.  Now shivering pretty bad in the unheated hut, I took the tea with me and got in my sleeping bag.  Even though I was on a wood platform and not directly on the ground, I still used my sleeping pad for extra warmth and insulation.  The dry long underwear felt like the finest garments ever stitched together.  

     With one arm reaching through the now narrow opening of my mummy bag, I enjoyed my sugar sweetened tea but still worried if I would be able to warm up and stop shivering.  Had I passed the point where I could treat myself?  I grabbed my SPOT beacon and checked to see if it had locked onto a satellite in case I needed help.  I knew that the steps I had taken should work but if they didn't I also knew that it could take hours for a helicopter to be summoned and finally reach my position, which might be too late.  That is of course if the signal was actually received, for I also knew when I began this trip that I was on the edge of coverage for the beacon and that self-rescue may very well be the only option.   I stuck with my training and experience and curled up into a ball for extra warmth.  As the sleeping bag began to trap the heat I was giving off I finally started to warm up.  I ate as much food as I could, knowing that my body needed energy to keep me warm.  I wondered what the weather would be like for the next few days but had no way of learning the forecast.  If the rain kept up for days would my choice of rain gear force me to end my trip early or would I risk falling victim to "summit fever" and press on in the rain despite the risk?  I had read that it's possible to encounter fishermen near the Maligiaq Fjord and negotiate boat passage back to Sisimiut or Sarfannguit but knew this was unlikely as it had been 3 days now since I'd seen another human.  Those decisions would have to be made tomorrow.  All I had to do tonight was stay warm and get some rest.  I drifted off to bed early, exhausted from the day's adventures, and hoped for good weather in the morning.  



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