Return to Greenland | #3

October 15, 2014

Return to Greenland | #3

In order to get back to Tasiilaq, we have a “date” with Johanna Kristina, the supply vessel that connects the villages in East Greenland. There’s a timetable, but you don’t really know exactly when the ship will arrive until it sets off. Luckily, we have a fantastic view over the fjord from our cottage, so we’ll be at the pier in time.

After a wonderful journey through the evening Arctic sun, we use our short stopover in Tasiilaq to repack. Jana and the children are travelling onwards to Tiniteqilaaq, which we fell in love with last winter. I’ve teamed up with Rasmus, the hunter from Sermiligaaq, to realise a long-held dream of mine: to cycle to the ice sheet!

After the a trip to the Greenland ice sheet became impossible last winter due to the poor pack ice, it’s now time for the next attempt.

Problems at the start

“North of Isertoq, the ice sheet juts into the sea at a gentle incline, you’ve got to get up there on your bike ...”, advises Ronert Peroni, who has already started a crossing to the ice sheet from this exact point. I only want to go a little way onto the ice of course, and have prepared my mountain bike as best I can for the challenge: spikes and Rohloff enclosed gears for extreme conditions.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather all day and it seems to be playing along as Rasmus picks me up in his boat in the sunshine. But the first mishap occurs as we load up: I slip on the rocks with my heavy pack and land in the icy Arctic Ocean.

Hurdle race

The next hurdle is the Arctic Ocean itself, as the water is unexpectedly rough. After Isertoq you can’t travel through the sheltered fjords; instead you have to go the long way round, via the open sea – the waves give me my second Arctic Ocean shower and I inwardly ask myself if it wouldn’t be better to just turn around.

I’m not alone with my doubts, and shortly afterwards, Rasmus turns back: “The boat is too small for these waves ...”

Won’t we be able to reach the ice sheet this time either? Disappointed, I study the map and discover an inlet which leads to the Johan Petersen Fjord.

Robert had also started a trip to the ice sheet from there once, although in winter and in other conditions.

Sunrise on the ice

Despite our detour, we arrive at the foot of the Greenland ice sheet with the last rays of the setting sun. The monumental scenery of the calving ice masses is unique, dramatically taken to the extreme by the gale-force down draught which provides a stark contrast to the setting sun. When pitching our tents, Rasmus and I have to make sure that no small parts get blown away, and sleep is not an option in the storm-lashed night with the threat of polar bears – the upside of which is that I get to experience the sunrise over the ice sheet at 4 a.m. After a long photo session and a speedy breakfast, I leave Rasmus and set off on my bike to get closer to the ice sheet.

Previously permafrost

The endless climb on the edge of the moraine is gruelling, but there are moss-covered trails which allow me to get a good purchase with the spikes. After several hours I finally reach the foothills of the ice sheet and find a bike-friendly ascent between the small ice caves in the glacier tongue. The view of the (melting) permafrost takes my breath away, even though I’m already out of puff. Yet an armada of crevasses soon forces me to turn around.

Rasmus is already waiting impatiently on the boat, as the strong wind has pushed the icebergs together in such a way that our passage with the boat is doubtful.

It will definitely take much longer than planned, in any case. Yet Jana and the kids are waiting on the pier of the Tiniteqilaaq as planned, so that we can travel back to Tasiilaq together with the Johanna Kristina.

J. & J. Steingässer

J. & J. Steingässer

“It doesn’t matter how, we just want to be in the great outdoors, experience adventure and meet people.”

Jens (photographer/journalist) and Jana (ethnologist/writer of children’s books) are passionate about hiking and canoeing. They travel the world with their four children, showing them what nature has to offer and the effects of climate change.

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