mountain, climbing, adventure

One-Week Adventure: Eastern Greenland

Words & Photography: Chris Brinlee Jr.

A one-week itinerary for those itching to travel into parts unknown. 

Eastern Greenland is as stunningly beautiful as it is rugged and remote. Its landscapes are defined by intricate and expansive fjord systems where 6000-foot glaciated peaks plunge straight down into turquoise waters - their ridgelines expand as far as the eye can see. Rogue ‘bergs from the nearby ice shelf (the world’s second largest after Antarctica) carelessly drift about. Whales can be seen and heard breaching all around. Tiny, scenic villages dot the fjords, their brightly colored buildings popping up against the stony ground. Looking around, it’s no wonder that the place is a mecca 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 (Population 1,800). To get there, one must first fly into Reykjavik, Iceland, transfer airports, and then fly into Kulusuk, Greenland (Population 240), landing on a gravel airstrip that was constructed by the US military during WWII. There are a ton of opportunities for adventure that can be had around Kulusuk, but because there are no roads connecting villages in Eastern Greenland together, one must take a boat transfer (2 hours) or an Air Greenland helicopter transfer (10 minutes) in order to reach Tasiilaq. Our one-week itinerary will give you the best that both areas have to offer.

Day 1: Hike to WWII Ruins

Check out some historical ruins while taking in the island views.
Statistics: Kulusuk, Hiking, 8 miles RT, 4 hours

hiking, greenland, nature

During WWII, the US militarized Greenland (along with Iceland) creating forward operating bases that could help to defend the mainland against Axis power attacks. A lot of these bases didn’t see a ton of 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. Some decrepit military sites can also be explored by hikers on the same island.

The hike can be started from the village. The hilltop at its pinnacle (near where the ruins are located) provides a nice overview 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 sport climbing and bouldering

Several walls in have recently been developed by Icelandic Mountain Guides.
Statistics: Kulusuk, Climbing, 1-2 Pitch Sport (5.6-5.10 difficulty), Bouldering, 2+ hours

climbing, bouldering, mountain

 This newly 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 tons of boulders in the area, providing plenty of potential for developing new problems - so there’s really something for everyone.

Remarkably, Kulusuk crag was initially developed as an area where IMG could offer free climbing clinics to the local children in order to provide them with a healthy outlet for coping with clinical depression - an epidemic in the area given its proximity to the North Pole, which results in long winters with long winter nights.

Day 3: Kayak in the Ammassalik Fjord

The Ammassalik Fjord provides near-endless opportunities for kayak exploration.
Statistics: Kulusuk, Kayaking, 4+ miles, 2+ hours

kayak, greenland, red bulletin

 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 is plenty to see. Including: mountains, glaciers, alluvial plains (where glacial rivers empty into the sea), the continental ice shelf, icebergs, and amazing wildlife. We had 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.
Statistics: Near Kulusuk, Camping, 1 Day/1 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. Stay awhile. One of the best ways to experience that is by camping. Pitch your tent near a glacial river and drink its pure water. Hike up nearby mountains to take in views of the fjord. If visiting in September or October, sleep beneath the Northern Lights as they dance overhead.

The best campsites are most easily-accessed from the island of Kulusuk by kayaking; this can also serve as the approach for climbing a nearby glaciated peak.

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 traveling beyond the villages, it’s imperative that one take bear-safety measures around camp, and carry a shotgun or a rifle as a last defense.

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Day 5: Climb a glaciated peak

Several glaciated peaks tower above the sea directly across from Kulusuk.
Statistics: Near Kulusuk, Mountaineering, Up to 5000-feet elevation gain, 1 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 the mountaineer.

Most of the glaciated mountains in this area can be summited by combination of glacier travel, snow climbing, and easy rock scrambling. With elevations of between 5000 and 6000 feet, they 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.
Statistics: From Tasiilaq, Helicopter Flight and Glacier Walking, 4-8 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 from the helicopter 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 provides for bright, colorful, cultural experiences.
Statistics: All Day, Walking

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, one will discover Eastern Greenland’s largest village - Tasiilaq.

Though Tasiilaq remains a native village, it was first settled by the Dutch in 1894 as a trading outpost. As a commercial hub, Tasiilaq grew much larger and much more quickly than neighboring settlements. And it remains a staple for the area today, handling all sea-based imports and exports for the area.

The village features a hospital, sports complex, supermarket, the Eastern Greenland tourist information center, a couple schools, cafes, stores, an artisans’ workshop (where a variety of native animal bones are hand-carved into intricate ornaments), a hotel, a couple of hostels and bed & 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-colored 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 local music and art.

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

Where to Eat: Cook at Kulusuk Hostel (groceries can be purchased from the local store; fresh meat or fish can be purchased from the local people) or eat out at Kulusuk Hotel—or perhaps befriend a local whale hunter to sample some of the region’s more cultural dishes.

Ammassalik Hotel has a daily breakfast and dinner buffet featuring traditional dishes—or groceries can be purchased from the supermarket. There’s also a small pizza shop in town that makes a mean pie, if you’re in the mood for something else.

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 purchased from the supermarket in Tasiilaq (or in limited supplies from the local stores.) Weapons (for Polar Bear protection) 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 traveling around the globe. Wanna see what he’s currently up to? Follow his adventures and stories on Instagram.

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