As an avid sea kayaker, Greenland has been a paddling dream destination of mine for several years. And as an outdoor photographer, I’m always seeking out giant open landscapes in beautiful light. Hours of Greenland’s low-angle arctic light is hard to beat.
My big Greenland kayaking dreams came true this summer with a 10 day paddling adventure to the Ammassalik area of East Greenland. Our group of nine European and American kayakers paddled 60 miles around the northern half of Ammassalik Island, starting in the settlement of Kusuluk and ending with a hike across Ammassalik Island to the town of Tasiilaq.
A fun group and perfect weather made it easy to enjoy the arctic landscape, icebergs, whales and vertical mountain scenery.
Settlement of Kulusuk
A few colorful Danish-style houses in the settlement of Kulusuk overlook Torsuut Tunoq sound. Kulusuk provides East Greenland’s primary airport to the rest of the world, with up to two flights per day from Iceland. We packed our boats and immediately headed off to our first camp on the side of Ammassalik Fjord, where a feeding mink whale entertained us just off-shore.
Paddling on Ikaasatsivaq Fjord
Our group of 9 paddlers in 5 kayaks (I was in the only single boat) paddled through vertical mountain scenery alongside Ikaasatsivaq Fjord. Loaded down with camping gear and food, we paddled an average of 20 km (12.4 miles) each day. I carried my SLR camera on deck in a Ortlieb dry bag for quick access.
Here I am, enjoying an un-named glacial-fed river and mountain scenery on Ammassalik Island near our camp on Sammileq Fjord. The glaciated mountain Qimmeertaajaliip Qaqqartivaa rises 974 meters in the distance.
Tiniteqilaaq on Sermilik Fjord
On Day 3, we made a quick stop in the settlement of Tiniteqilaaq to re-supply our food (and enjoy some ice-cream bars). Most settlements, even Tiniteqilaaq with a population of around 110 people, has a decent grocery story stocked with imported and locally hunted foods. Here, we also get our first glimpse of the Greenland icecap and the iceberg-filled Sermilik Fjord, which we will be exploring for the next 4 days.
Navigating through Icebergs on Sermilik Fjord
81 km long and ranging from 5 to 14 km wide, Sermilik Fjord is full of icebergs calving from the Helheim, Fenris and Midgard Glaciers. Google Earth images show that some of these icebergs can be 1 km across. Our route took us 7 km north from Tiniteqilaaq, where we then enjoyed a day away from the kayaks to climb nearby hills.
We enjoyed watching icebergs moving with the tidal currents over our 36-hour stay at this camp. It was interesting to see them all moving at different speeds and different directions, even colliding with each other. My theory is that icebergs of various depths can get pushed around in different directions by currents flowing in different directions at different depths. Watch their dance in this experimental time-lapse video.
Glacial Striations on Bedrock
Much of Greenland’s edges are comprised of bare bedrock that has been exposed to multiple ice-ages of glacial activity. This leaves the rock scared by parallel scratches known as glacial striations.
More Icebergs and Fog Sermilik Fjord
After our rest day, we paddled south through hundreds of icebergs along Sermilik Fjord for another 2 days. Our perfect weather never let up, though we did fight head winds a few times.
After leaving our sea kayaks with a water taxi, we hiked across Ammassalik Island and arrived in Tasiilaq, East Greenland’s largest town. With a population of approx 2100, Tasiilaq holds about half of East Greenland’s population, which is about 5% of all of Greenland’s population.
Here we spent the next fully day exploring the town of Tasiilaq and its surrounding hills. On the tenth day of our trip, we then ferried back to Kulusuk by boat for our flights home via Iceland.