So I spent Wednesday morning on a three hour hike to the Sermermiut Valley, on the outskirts of Ililussat. The hike was through the UNESCO world heritage site overlooking the Ililussat ice fijord.
The hike initially took us up a hill past a commercial dog sled operation where tourists can take dog sled rides in the winter. The dogs (like all sled dogs used in the area) are only “on the job” 4 months out of the year. The remainder of the year, they sleep, eat and pretty much just hang out. (At one time the dogs were active around 5 to 6 months out of the year, but climate change has reduced the amount of snow and ice in the area so that sled dogs are used far less. Nevertheless, the dogs are still an important part of life in the small villages that dot the Greenland coast line.)
We eventually reached the Icefijord Museum where we climbed the roof for a view over the ice fijord. Now I had debated about visiting the museum and while some folks raved about the museum others gave it mixed reviews. Still not sure if I will take a visit inside, but the outside of the museum was rather interesting.
As we hiked, our guide, Christian, told us about the valley and the fact that the area is believed to have been inhabited more than 5,000 years ago. Remnants of villages have been found around the coastline and evidence of more recent settlements have been found in stone walls and partial stone buildings. In fact, we saw one such settlement on the hike.
The walk took us through a grassy tundra like area and we actually spotted an arctic fox on the the hillside. Unfortunately, the little guy moved so quick I wasn’t able to snag a picture, but score one for animals I have seen.
In order to preserve the area, UNESCO required that a wooden path be constructed through the valley and wandering off the wooden boardwalk into the grasslands was strictly prohibited. As we meandered along the route, the ice fijord came into view and we were allowed to scramble up the rocks to get a better view of the bay.
Now here is where it got a little gruesome. Christian told us that the Inuit were not much for looking after the elderly and the feeble. Once you could not longer cook or hunt, they pretty much wanted you gone. So elderly women would come to the rocks we were standing on (a place called “Widow’s Fall”) and end it by jumping into the bay. Ugh.
And as for the men. They would be be taken out in the middle of nowhere and left to freeze to death. Now, I am not sure which one is worse, but talk about a harsh reality. There was also a way to cull the less productive men (i.e the lousy hunters). They would be banished from the village and if they were able to survive on their own they could return to the village and be welcomed back. Survival of the fittest at its extreme!
Anyway, we moved on from the rocks and back onto the path where we hiked up the hill for an even better look out on the fijord. Here, we climbed up more rocks to a lookout point and ended up sitting on a bench drinking a hot black current beverage eating biscuits and taking in the view. As we sat on the bench a number of little birds flitted about. One little fella kept buzzing around and he finally sat still long enough for me to take a quick picture of him.
After about 20 minutes at the top, we started the climb down and reached the wooden walkway just as it started to rain. So glad the rain held off for most of the hike.
So three hours after we started out, we reached the center of town. I grabbed some lunch at the local Inuit Café (jumbo prawns) and took a nap before heading back to the Ililussat Adventures office for a whale watching tour from 4:00 – 6:30 also with Christian.
So our little group of 7 suited up in wet suits and hiked down to the pontoon boat for a ride out to the fijord with a hope of spotting whales. Unfortunately, we were shut out. We puttered through the ice field, moved near large icebergs, watched from both sides of the boat and … nothing. And while the views continued to amaze me, I was rather disappointed that with all the time I have spent on the water I have seen two seals and that is it.
Now Apparently the humpback whales have been pretty sparse in the area with most of the spotting well to the north of Ililussat. So I am hoping for better luck on Friday, my last day in Ililussat, as I am headed for a six hour trip to the Eqi Glacier (also known as the calving glacier) located 70 km north of Ililussat. Fingers crossed that the last day will be the charm!