mountain, climbing, adventure

One-Week Adventure: Eastern Greenland

Words & Photos: Chris Brinlee Jr

A seven-day itinerary for those itching to travel into remote regions. 

Eastern Greenland is as stunningly beautiful as it is rugged and remote. Its landscapes are defined by intricate and expansive fjord systems where vast glaciated peaks plunge straight down into turquoise waters. Rogue icebergs from the nearby ice shelf – the world’s second largest after Antarctica – carelessly drift around next to the whales. Tiny villages dot the fjords, their brightly coloured buildings popping up against the stony ground. Looking around, it’s no wonder that the place is a haven for wilderness adventures.

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Commerce, trade, and tourism on the eastern side of the world’s largest island originates in a village called Tasiilaq, which has a population of 1,800 people. To get there, you must first fly into Reykjavik, Iceland, transfer airports, and then fly into Kulusuk, Greenland, population 240, where you’ll land on a gravel airstrip that was constructed by the US military during the Second World War. There are a tonne of opportunities for adventure that can be had around Kulusuk, but because there are no roads connecting villages in Eastern Greenland together, you need to take a two-hour boat transfer or a short helicopter ride to reach Tasiilaq. Our one-week itinerary will give you the best that both areas have to offer.

Day 1: Hike to Second World War Ruins

Check out some ruins while taking in the views.
Hiking for eight miles from Kulusuk

hiking, Greenland, nature

The US Army and Navy militarised Greenland and Iceland during the Second World War, creating forward operating bases that could help to defend the mainland against attacks. A lot of these bases didn’t see much action, but their influence over the regions where they were constructed remains. Kulusuk airport’s gravel runway, which was built to bring in troops and supplies, is still in use today. Hikers can also explore some decrepit military sites on the same island.

The hike can be started from the village. The hilltop at its peak, near where the ruins are located, provides a nice view of the area. All in all, it shouldn’t take more than a few hours to complete. It’s a great way to stretch your legs after a long day of flying.

Day 2: Hit the local crag for climbing and bouldering

Several walls here have recently been developed by Icelandic Mountain Guides.
Climbing and bouldering in Kulusuk (5.6-5.10 difficulty), over single- and two-pitch routes

climbing, bouldering, mountain

 This recently developed crag is just a 30-minute walk from the Kulusuk Hostel and offers unparalleled scenic beauty. Its granite cliffs directly overlook the ocean, which is framed by seemingly endless ridgelines and glaciated peaks.

Icelandic Mountain Guides (IMG) has spent the past couple of seasons cleaning and bolting the walls to create several single- and two-pitch sport routes ranging from easy (5.4) to difficult (5.10 and beyond), offering both face and crack climbs. There are also lots of boulders in the area, providing plenty of potential for developing new problems, so there’s really something for everyone.

Kulusuk crag was initially developed as an area where IMG could offer free climbing clinics to local children to provide them with a mechanism for coping with clinical depression, which is common in areas close to the North Pole where levels of light – and sources of vitamin D – are non-existent during the long winter months.

Day 3: Kayak in the Ammassalik Fjord

The Ammassalik Fjord provides near-endless opportunities for kayak exploration.
Kayaking in Kulusuk for around four miles

kayak, Greenland

 Indigenous Arctic peoples have been using kayaks as a primary means of transportation for thousands of years and kayaks still remain one the best ways to explore eastern Greenland today. Kulusuk and Tasiilaq lay across from each other at the mouth of the Ammassalik Fjord, providing astonishingly easy access to a system consisting of hundreds of miles of interconnected fjords.

Whether you’d like to paddle for an hour, a day, a week, or a month, there’s plenty to see, including mountains, glaciers, alluvial plains, the continental ice shelf, icebergs, and amazing wildlife. We enjoyed regular close encounters with whales as they breached.

Day 4: Camp near a glacial river in the wilderness

Leave the village behind for an unparalleled wilderness camping experience.
Camping near Kulusuk for one day and one night

camping, travel, greenland

 Due to Eastern Greenland’s remoteness, its access to the wilderness is unparalleled. Upon leaving one of the region’s small villages, you’ll be met with unprecedented grandeur and an overwhelming sense of desolation.

Get out, revel in it and stay a while. One of the best ways to experience all this is by camping. Pitch your tent near a glacial river and drink its pure water, then hike up nearby mountains to take in views of the fjord. If you’re visiting in September or October then stay out in the open at night for a chance to see the Northern Lights.

The best spots for camping are most easily accessed from the island of Kulusuk by kayaking; this can also serve as the approach for climbing.

Note: Polar Bears are alpha predators – meaning that they will actively hunt humans for food – have been known to venture south into this area. If travelling beyond the villages, it’s imperative that you take bear-safety measures around camp and carry a shotgun or a rifle as a last defence.

 
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Day 5: Climb a glaciated peak

Several glaciated peaks tower above the sea directly across from Kulusuk.
Mountaineering near Kulusuk up to 5,000ft elevation gain for one day

climbing, ice, winter, sport

Eastern Greenland is riddled with countless glaciated peaks, the nearest of which from Kulusuk are located just across the bay or about a 1-2 hour paddle away. With their glaciers dumping out into the sea, these peaks provide incredibly scenic and accessible challenges for mountaineers.

Most of the glaciated mountains in this area can be summited by a combination of glacier travel, snow climbing, and easy rock scrambling. Most can be climbed in a day. Get a leg-up on the approach by paddling across and camping the night before.

Day 6: Take a heli-flight to hike on the ice cap

Greenland features the largest ice cap outside of Antarctica, and its eastern edge is just a short flight away.
A Helicopter Flight from Tasiilaq and glacier walking for up to eight hours

helicopter, hiking, adventure

 Transfer from Kulusuk to Tasiilaq, then jump on a helicopter flight to the ice cap, which is the world’s largest outside of Antarctica. Views of the surrounding mountains, fjords, ocean and ice cap will be unparalleled, and the experience on the ice will be quite unlike anything else as well.

Day 7: Explore Tasiilaq

Eastern Greenland’s largest town is a unique cultural experience.
Walking all day

greenland, town, travel

 Nestled within a well-protected cove at the mouth of the Ammassalik Fjord near the Atlantic Ocean, just a degree south of the Arctic Circle, you’ll discover Eastern Greenland’s largest village – Tasiilaq.

Though Tasiilaq remains a native village, the Dutch first settled it in 1894 as a trading outpost. As a commercial hub, Tasiilaq grew much larger and much more quickly than neighbouring settlements. Today it handles all sea-based imports and exports for the area.

The village has a hospital, sports complex, supermarket, the Eastern Greenland tourist information centre, a couple of schools, cafes, a variety of shops, an artisans’ workshop (where a variety of native animal bones are hand-carved into intricate ornaments), a hotel, a couple of hostels and bed and breakfasts. Despite – or perhaps because of – the village’s commercial prominence, many fisherman and hunters live in the town as well. Massive whalebones or large fish hung to air dry often mark their brightly coloured homes.

Tasiilaq is a little-known gem. Spend some time walking around and getting to know the area and its people, playing soccer with the kids, or appreciating the local music and art.

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Where to Stay: Kulusuk Hostel (Kulusuk) Hotel Angmagssalik or The Red House (Tasiilaq)

Where to Eat: You can cook your own meals at Kulusuk Hostel or eat at its restaurant. Get your supplies from the stores in town and buy fresh fish the locals. Or you could always befriend a local whale hunter and ask to sample some of the region’s more interesting dishes.

Ammassalik Hotel operates a daily breakfast and dinner buffet featuring traditional dishes. There’s also a small pizza shop in town.

Where to Get Equipment: There are no major outdoor gear shops in Eastern Greenland, so plan to bring most of your own equipment. Camping fuel can be bought from the supermarket in Tasiilaq, or in limited supplies from the local stores. Weapons (for protection from polar bears) can be rented from locals – just ask around. Kayaks and other major equipment can be rented from Icelandic Mountain Guides.

Need to hire a guide? Icelandic Mountain Guides has been leading climbing, hiking, and kayaking expeditions in the area for decades; they’re a great resource for exploring the area.

Chances are that Chris Brinlee, Jr wrote this from the road or on a boat, plane, or train while travelling around the globe. Find out what he’s currently up to by following his adventures on Instagram.

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