Milan in Greenland

On the wild side

Milan Marcus

Milan Marcus

  • Age: 29
  • Place of residence: Cologne
  • Profession: Communication skills trainer
March 2016. An expedition to Greenland. More precisely: a photoshoot in Greenland that feels more like an expedition. And I got to go!

#Arrival Welcome in Tasiilaq

I’m Milan. I live my “normal” life in Cologne and work as a communication skills trainer. I haven’t kept a blog before, let alone film myself. However, I got the chance to go to a real Jack Wolfskin photoshoot in Greenland thanks to a friend. Greenland? GREENLAND?!

How do you prepare for 9 days in Greenland? What should you expect? How do you get ready for the extreme weather conditions? What will it do to me? Everyone knows that Greenland is even further north than anywhere that we're familiar with. How far it is out of my comfort zone, who knows. See for yourself. I’ve tried to describe everything as exciting as I possibly can, even if it was indescribable. Yet unforgettable. #MakeYourLifeUnforgettable

14 March 2016. Famous expeditions always start with a logbook entry. I feel a bit like that today because the big day has arrived: we’re finally jetting off, and not just to anywhere, but to endless expanses of whiteness. We’re going to Greenland!

It’s no surprise that you can’t fly there directly from Germany. You need to fly from Hamburg to Reykjavik. The morning after spending the night in a hotel, the taxi takes us to the airport, which is around 50 km outside of the city. This alone is a great experience. The entire airport hardly seems bigger than the propeller aircraft that we’re going to fly with, and after an hour and 40 minutes, we’re there.

"Arriving in Greenland exceeds all expectations. The never-ending ice surfaces broken up by water and fjords are simply wonderful in their natural form."

It’s completely different to anything I’ve ever seen to do with snow and mountains! In Kulusuk, we board the helicopter that will take us to our main destination – Tasiilaq. Just over 2,000 people live here but it is still one of the biggest places in Greenland. The first view from the helicopter: brightly painted houses on high superstructures that picturesquely circle a huge fjord, acting like colourful cubes that are dotted across the landscape. It reminds me of Scandinavia, and Greenland is actually part of Danish territory.

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ALPINE TRAIL 36 Alpine Backpack

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£100.00

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3/15/16
10:17 a.m.
Kusuluk, Greenland
5° 33′ 59″ N, 37° 10′ 59″ W
-3°C
 

The first real challenge: getting us and all of our luggage into the helicopter!
Milan at Kulusuk airport
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£200.00

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Map
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Arriving in Tasiilaq

Date: 3/15/16
Local time: 4:20 p.m.
Coordinates: 65° 36′ 42″ N, 37° 37′ 56″ W
Temperature: -5°C
Population: 2017

Tasiilaq means “the place with a lake”. Locals gave it this name due to the majestic fjord where the town is located. Today, Tasiilaq is the main point of arrival for Europeans visiting Greenland.

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Arriving in Kulusuk,
transferring to a helicopter

At 103,000 km2, Iceland is the second biggest island in Europe after Great Britain, and is the biggest volcanic island on the planet. Gardar Svavarsson, a Viking, discovered the island after spending the night in the northern part of it in 870. On 17/6/1944, the democratic union of Iceland was founded. The national language is Icelandic, and the currency is the Icelandic króna.

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Stopover in Iceland

At 103,000 km2, Iceland is the second biggest island in Europe after Great Britain, and is the biggest volcanic island on the planet. Gardar Svavarsson, a Viking, discovered the island after spending the night in the northern part of it in 870. On 17/6/1944, the democratic union of Iceland was founded. The national language is Icelandic, and the currency is the Icelandic króna.

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Flight to Iceland

Date: 3/14/16
Local time: 3:35 p.m.
Coordinates: 64°08′07″ N, 21°53′43″ W
Temperature: 3°C
Population: 121.23

The flight time from Hamburg to Reykjavik is 3 hours 35 minutes. Reykjavik is just 269 km south of the Arctic Circle, making it the most northerly capital city in the world. The first people settled here in 870 AD. However, Reykjavik was only officially recognised as a city in 1786.

From Hamburg, Germany to Tasiilaq, Greenland

Distance: 3,140 km
Total travel time:
6 hours 30 minutes in 3 stages

Greenland

64°10′N 51°44′W
Greenland – the “green” country

Greenland – the “green” country

With an area of 2,166,086 km2 and a length of 2,800 km, Greenland is the biggest island on Earth.
It is around six times larger than Germany but has one of the lowest population densities in the world with 55,984 inhabitants.
Politically speaking, Greenland belongs to Denmark, but is ruled independently by its own government. People from Greenland have a Danish passport and use the Danish krone. The official language is Greenlandic.

Tasiilaq

65° 36′ 49″ N, 37° 37′ 52″ W
The history of Tasiilaq

The history of Tasiilaq

Most people in Tasiilaq make a living from fishing or hunting. More recently, some have been employed in municipal administration. The town was founded by a Danish discoverer in 1894 and named Ammassalik: the place of lots of small fish. The region further south of the town was also called this by the locals. The inhabitants of the town continued to call the area Tasiilaq, and the area was recently renamed.

Drinking water

Drinking water

Water generated from snow is normal in Greenland. Only soft drinks and alcohol can be bought from the supermarket. Drinking water either comes from the tap or is taken from outside and melted.

Supply vessels

Supply vessels

Supply vessels with provisions generally only come to Tasiilaq two to three times a year and during the summer months, and this is a major event every single time. Some inhabitants on boats lead the ships in and welcome them with three cannon shots. Unloading takes place as follows: fruit and vegetables first of all as they have the highest priority. Confectionery comes next.

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16/03/2016
09:03 a.m.
Tasiilaq, Grönland
65° 36′ 42″ N,37° 37′ 56″ W
-1°C

We use the first few hours to get to know our surroundings: the small “Red House” hotel is managed by Robert Peroni. Robert comes from South Tyrol, but has lived in Greenland for 30 years. He is a great and entertaining host, and a legend in expedition and mountaineering circles. He also goes out of his way to make his guests feel welcome. Whatever the supermarket has to offer is always transformed into fresh and tasty, Italian-inspired dishes. Particular praise goes to the huge breakfast buffet that has ten(!) sorts of salami.

Comfort ranges from simple to moderate depending on which guest house and room you find yourself in. The worst case scenario is that you don’t have running water, and electricity is only available sporadically. I’m luckier than other team members – I’ve got both!

Our first walk through Tasiilaq reveals the following: a bar, a supermarket, and lots of children who can sled really well. The latter are very trusting and are definitely pleased to see new faces. We go sledding with them and put them on our shoulders as we trudge through the snow. There is a remarkable amount of containers everywhere that form part of the townscape. We found out that everything that the town needs for the winter months is delivered during the three summer months: including food, machines, and even building materials – just about anything and everything! Spare parts are usually ordered in different sizes, so that if anything breaks, there’s sure to be something that fits.

People are used to living with shortages – it’s a part of everyday life – but it’s by no means an emergency. Being able to improvise, persevere, and put up with things are characteristic features of the people here, and not necessarily typically German virtues.

We’ve yet to really get a taste of this over the next few days. Due to organisational reasons, the dog sledding tour has to start a day later than we’d planned. The helicopter has broken down and there’s another group of people who want to go back home but are stranded. It could happen to us too. Anything can happen here – nature calls the shots. I’m excited!

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THE COOK PARKA

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ROCKY SHORE

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I wonder what the hills look like in summer. Wonderfully green or full of rubbish after the snow has melted?
Milan about Tasiilaq

#DogSledTour Five hours of sweat, hard work, and a whole lot of ice.

Today, we’re looking forward to see what Greenland is known for: endless expanses of whiteness, endless ice surfaces, endless beauty. Countless metres of huge pack ice. The sun, 100 shades of white, and so much light that hurts your eyes. Then later on in the day: snow storms and grey skies. The cold.

But first things first: the morning was good, because the night was good. I finally slept well – I wasn’t kept awake by the monotonous snoring like the previous night. Thanks a lot – you give me hope!

The dogs have just had their breakfast – fresh seal. First for the lead dog, and then for the rest of the pack. Watching these sweet dogs lick their bloody mouths after their feast is quite disturbing.

Especially when the only dogs you’re used to eat tinned food from a bowl. There’s absolutely nothing left of the seal. We humans are a little less wild in nature. What the little shop has to offer makes me dream of German supermarkets. And who knows how long I could be here – I could possibly turn violent for some fresh fruit and vegetables, bread straight out of the oven, or something similar. What they do have here comes in large quantities: strawberry jam, something that will accompany us throughout the trip.

Feeling invigorated and excited, we start packing for the tour. Three dog sleds and a few snow mobiles that we have for our luggage are all included in the group. Tinit here we come!

Our guide tells us that whilst the weather conditions might seem wonderful to us by Greenland’s standards, it’s difficult for the dogs.

At 0°C, it’s pretty warm, and the snow has been softened by yesterday’s rain.

This means that the sleds will sink and it’s doubtful whether the dogs will be able to do it alone. A few hours later on, I can assure you that they didn’t manage it alone. IT WAS EXHAUSTING! I’ll get back to that soon.

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17/03/2016
12:36 a.m.
Tiniteqilaaq, Grönland
65° 53′ 15″ N, 37° 46′ 28″ W
-3°C
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Sled dogs

Sled dogs

Greenland dogs, Huskies, are true working animals, and are by no means pets.
They sleep outside the whole year round and their thick winter fur means that they can comfortably withstand temperatures of up to -50°C.
Thanks to their overwhelming energy and their enjoyment in running, they are the main means of transportation in Greenland in spite of snowmobiles. Training to become a sled dog begins when they are just puppies. They mainly eat fresh seal meat.

Sled dogs

Sleds

Nowadays, sleds are mainly made of wood, and parts are made of plastic. They have been a means of transportation for people and goods in Greenland for hundreds of years. The driver of the sled (musher) stands on the back runners and guides the sled by shifting weight, shouting special commands to the lead dog.

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Taking a short photo break by a fjord in Greenland.
Milan on a dog sledding tour
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It will take us five hours to get to Tinit. The first few kilometres are like a dream. The sun is shining and glitters on the endless expanses of snow. The snow crunches under the runners and the dogs run as though they were free.

It’s unbelievable how much power and stamina the Huskies have – our ten dogs pull the sleds along with our sled driver, Kevin, and me!

“Training” Greenlandic Huskies is far from easy: even small and young dogs are taught directly with the sleds. If they are struggling, they are detached from their leashes and can run alongside for a while, or even take a ride on the sleds themselves! The worst case scenario is that they are left behind and have to find their own way home.

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen to us. However, we would soon find out how much of a physical effort it is for the dogs. The temperature remains around freezing point, and after some time, it’s just as our guide had predicted:

The dogs can’t make the inclines on their own. We have to take turns getting off the sled and helping. What this means is pushing the sled through the snow whilst running uphill and breaking with all your weight as it goes downhill so that the dogs aren’t knocked over.

If you’d have asked me before whether I was fit enough to do it, I would have smiled and said: easy. After only a few moments, it’s clear I’ve reached my physical limits. It’s unbelievable how tiring it is! I’m literally dripping with sweat – I would have rather stripped off while I was pushing the sled! As soon as I’m on the sled and the wind is blowing in my face, I’m thankful that I’m wearing lots of warm layers and even more so when we become stuck in the thickest fog, wind and rain when crossing the big glacier surface. We’re soaking wet. We’re not used to such rapid changes of the weather in Germany.

But in Greenland – one minute it’s bright sunshine, the next it’s completely white and you’re unable to see more than a metre in front of you. You can barely see your hand in front of your eyes!

However, the guides and dogs know the score, and as we finally reach the last stretch to Tinit, we are rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of the Sermilik Fjord, icebergs and Tinit itself.

This is exactly how I’d imagined the Arctic! But it’s just rubbish. If you’ve only ever seen photographs and not actually been able to see this unique form of nature in real life yourself, to experience it, to breathe the air, and to hear the sounds, you really cannot imagine how it truly is. It’s the equivalent of seeing a photograph of a delicious meal and being unable to eat it. It’s nice, but you HAVE to taste it for yourself. #MakeYourLifeUnforgettable

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Can you imagine a more beautiful view?
Milan, now a fan of Huskies

#KayakTour Kayaking through the icebergs

Before the beginning of the next day, it's worth saying a few words about the evening, as even that is worth mentioning.

Greenlanders are spontaneous and very hospitable if worst comes to worst. When we arrive in Tinit, exhausted and happy but also completely soaked through, the official tourist house is full. What should we do? The locals clear their house for us!

So we sleep in this emergency accommodation, with three or four people per room. The evening meal consists basically of us using our sparse provisions. Packet soup as a pasta sauce? Of course it’s not our first choice but we’re more hungry than normal. After all, adventure isn't something you only experience during the day here.

In the mornings there’s tea made from snow. The concept of mineral water is generally unknown here, which is perfectly understandable for a place where water is constantly available in every form anywhere you look. And then we pack everything up again. That included us and all of our belongings being packed into the motorboats which would take us through the Sermilik fjord and into the midst of the icebergs.

Even though I haven’t held back with superlatives until now: the sight of these icebergs in all their incredible glory tops absolutely everything!

At the same time, you've got to quickly shake off that sense of amazement and be careful, as the icebergs are quite dangerous - remember the Titanic! Even the models themselves function as guides for the boats and we navigate as close as possible to the icebergs with the motorboats. Going any closer to them is only allowed in the kajaks, and for that reason, we switch over.

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STORMLOCK POMPOM BEANIE

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£260.00

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18/03/2016
3:23 p.m.
Sermilik Fjord
65° 41′ N, 37° 55′ W
-4°C
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I wish I hadn't been quite so cold. I might have enjoyed it more
Milan after the boat tour
Water

Water

The second biggest ice formation in the world is in Greenland. The ice is up to 3,400 m thick, which is only exceeded by Antarctica, where ice is up to 4,700 m thick. The enormous formations of ice are constantly moving, creating icebergs stretching over several kilometres. If the entire Greenland ice sheet were to melt, the global sea level would increase by six to seven metres.

Icebergs

Icebergs

Icebergs are large ice masses that float in the sea and are made of freshwater with air bubbles. Approximately 90% of an iceberg is underneath the surface of the water. The part that can be seen sticking out of the water seems huge, but is still only a fraction of the entire size. Icebergs are created by pieces breaking off from a glacier or ice shelf.


And then there’s a ridiculously high iceberg towering in front of you: bright turquoise and deafeningly loud when it’s cracking and creaking.
Milan, speechless
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Just switching to the kayaks is really wobbly. As the water is 3 degrees Celsius, everyone does their best to concentrate.

The smell of seals almost takes over. It feels like everything here smells of seals, the boats, the air, and even our fingers after a while! And we can see them as well, in front of us, behind us, their little heads constantly bobbing up out of the water and bouncing up and down with the waves.

Sitting in the kayaks, we paddle closely to the icebergs. The light breaks on the ice and everything glitters in a magical turquoise. It is an absolutely magnificent sight.

And then the sheer size of these icebergs that tower majestically 60 to 70 metres right above us make us feel so small. Aside from that, I am also taken aback by the countless cracks in the ice: blue veins which run through, above and beneath the water. On the one hand, you just want to get as close as possible. On the other hand, you are aware that, or rather really afraid that these blocks could just crack and fall right onto the boat. The deafeningly loud cracks and creaks of the ice make you even more scared and can really make you feel pretty queasy.

Strong currents push us closer and closer to the iceberg. It’s unbelievably cold. An icy, wet and humid coldness, which is most noticeable on the hands. After just a short period of time, I can barely feel my fingers.

Our good fortune and source of calm is Tobias, our guide. He exudes the calm of an experienced hunter who knows this raw nature inside and out. He confidently assures us that he can find his way back to the harbour from the icy waters even in the dark. Well at least we’re in the very safest hands and stay as quiet as can be expected for people who are more akin to city life.

One thing is clear to me: this experience tops everything I’ve experienced so far, and you get the feeling that this is something that you’ll be telling your grandchildren.

Back at the harbour, the smell of seals intensifies once again, something I would have never thought possible. Seals that have been shot are tied up here in the icy water and will be used up bit by bit. This is difficult for us to tolerate, but for the natives, it is critical for their survival. The animal is truly revered, as every single part of its body is used up in one way or another.

I’m completely wiped out this evening. It takes hours until I can completely feel my fingers again. The thermal suits have served their purpose well, but my gloves are still not fully dry after the many hours in the ice cold water.

Thankfully, Tobias turns the heating on to dry our clothes. We wouldn't even think twice about that, but here in Greenland, it’s an absolute luxury, and one which we particularly enjoy this evening! What a day. Despite all the effort, I am unbelievably happy to have had this experience.

#GlacierCamping Camping in the eternal ice

The route back to Tasiilaq takes place in two stages and has further highlights in store. After a rather simple breakfast of dried bread, Gouda, and – as ever – strawberry jam, attention turns to packing the dog sleds. It takes what feels like an eternity to pack everything onto the sleds and to strap it down.

Late morning, we finally get under way. We are so grateful that it’s stopped raining. For that reason alone, we’re in a great mood. After the first few kilometres on the dog sleds, the sun even comes out.

Check: is everyone wearing sun cream? Even when it's overcast here, you have to use factor 50 regularly as the UV rays can still hit the skin unfiltered. The snow strengthens these rays by reflecting them.
Our destination is a glacier on a high plateau where we will be camping. We find a perfect spot and our team member Lasse becomes an immediate hero by emerging as an absolute master technician. He gives instructions on how to put up the tent, and we help. The tent holds up to 10 men, comes complete with tent poles and separable inner tent areas, and pitching it is therefore a lengthy process. At some point later, our home for the night is ready.

Like a bright yellow sun, our tent stands resplendent upon the plateau, an endless chain of mountains before us and water far beneath us. We’ve really earned our evening meal!

Unfortunately, it takes ages before the packet soup (no comment) is finally ready, the same way that everything here takes an incredibly long time – except for the weather which can change in the blink of an eye. Just having to melt snow in order to fill the pot with water ... patience, Milan, patience. The gas cooker is in the tent – it’s impossible to use it outside because of the wind. We’re already starting to mumble as we wait for the food in our sleeping bags and envy the huskies again, who lie relaxed in the snow, seemingly unaffected by the cold.

Our itinerary revolves around the sunrise and sunset in this part of the Arctic and the fact that we’ve planned our onward journey in the dark: we want to see the huskies running with their LED-light collars!

It gets dark here at 10pm in March and slowly starts to get light again around 3am, so we expect a short night. We get into our sleeping bags long before the sunset. All of us are wearing several layers of clothing and are snuggled up in our sleeping bags with our mobiles, batteries, water bottles and everything else that isn’t meant to be frozen or drained in the morning. The room could best be defined as a damp and soggy. Oh well, good night!

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19/03/2016
5:12 p.m.
Tasiilaq, Grönland
65° 36′ 42″ N,37° 37′ 56″ W
-5°C

A hot drink after a long day in an eternal white landscape.
That's what I call luxury.
Milan, frozen to the core again
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The alarm starts ringing in the middle of the night. Not everyone had a relaxing sleep and the snoring continues to be a topic of debate. But as no one had expected a thorough night’s rest, the atmosphere is slightly sleepy, but good nevertheless!

The tent is dismantled, and the luggage is strapped once more onto the sleds. In the meantime, we know how to do it and are almost a well-coordinated team. The huskies are finally given their LED collars and we are able to set off.

What a sight: the brave dogs run and run, glowing in red and green before us, as we head into the sunrise. Even if my superlatives have already long been used up: this sled ride offers innumerable unique views!

Back in Tasiilaq, there is some sobering news. We learn that the helicopter, which had already been down for several days, has still not been repaired. As this is the only helicopter on the east coast, the replacement parts have not yet been brought over from Kusuluk to Tasiilaq.

The only other alternative for getting to Kusuluk is to cross the open sea with a boat. This possibility only really exists in theory, as such a journey at this time of the year genuinely poses a risk of death. For us, this means that the journey back home has to be delayed for an indefinite period of time.

Back in Germany for Easter? We'll have to wait and see, but for the moment it’s not looking likely. Anyway, we’re back in the Red House and Robert is trying his best to make our unexpectedly long stay as pleasant as possible. We get the Yahtzee dice out, yet again, and visit the local sauna. I can't remember having ever enjoyed the warmth of a sauna so much!

The day finally arrives three days later when the helicopter has been repaired and we board for the journey back home. So what more is to be said? I’ve had the adventure of a lifetime. Every one of us will take the same unforgettable memories back home, even if the highlights vary from person to person.

My favourite moments are undoubtedly the dog-sled tour and the kayak journey, even if I was pushed to the limits on both occasions. Apart from that, I am full of amazement for how people that live with such joy and serenity in these extreme places on Earth are able to master their lives, day after day. Thanks for everything!

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£200.00

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GREENLAND CHECK

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More snow for more tea!
Milan, full of anticipation

The beauty of this view is enough to blow the mind of even the strongest person.
Milan, fan of Greenland
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POINT BARROW

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Now it’s time to make your life unforgettable!

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