Kayaks and Glaciers

So on Thursday, my second to last day in Greenland, I was scheduled to do a three hour kayak trip from 9 to midnight, but after checking the weather forecast, I opted to switch times and go on the earlier trip at 1.  Turned out to be a very good choice as the afternoon was perfect with periodic sunshine while the evening was a downpour.

Kayaking in Disko Bay

Anyway, at 12:45 I arrived at the Ililussat Adventure office and got suited up in a dry suit and booties, was handed a paddle and walked down to the water with three other folks.  We were given a safety briefing and then hauled the kayaks down to the water where we slid into our kayaks, adjusted the pedals and were off.

Iceberg in Disko Bay
Kayaking in Disko Bay
Me and my kayak
View from my kayak

We started out paddling away from town towards the valley where I had hiked the day before.  We were told to stay clear of the large icebergs and to try and avoid the smaller bits of ice although that was easier said than done.  Just as I would paddle towards a clear part of the water one of the those large chunks would bop into my lane and then … thump followed by scraping noises and then I would finally be clear of the chunks.  This was repeated throughout the entire three hour paddle.

Now the kayaking was a great deal of fun.  Being a sea level and looking up at these enormous icebergs gave an entirely different perspective on the size and colour of these incredible sculptures. In addition, the weather could not have been better.  The sun would pop out from behind the clouds and the icebergs would literally glisten and glitter in the sunlight.  The blue hues of the icebergs popped and there were even hints of green.

And the water barely rippled making it incredibly easy to paddle.  We spent about 2 hours paddling around south of town before we stopped in the middle of the bay surrounded by three huge icebergs to enjoy a break with some blueberry tea and biscuits.  The tea was steaming hot and while not super cold outside, it was still a welcome warmup as I had opted not to wear the gloves so my hands were freezing from the water dripping from my paddle.

Looking back to Ilulussit
Yep – a man standing on ice in Disko Bay

After the warmup break, we reversed course and paddled back towards town.  Now along the way, we came across the most bizarre sight.  One of the locals had moved his boat up onto a flat piece of ice and was standing on the ice cleaning the underside of his boat.  Seriously.  This guy was in the middle of the bay on ice that could break apart at any moment cleaning his boat.

Our kayak guide, Sharon, could not believe it.  Quite frankly none of us could believe it, but she was beside herself.  She even went over to the guy to speak to him, but he either did not want to talk or did not understand English or Danish.  (Greenland is a Danish protectorate so everyone in Greenland speaks Danish, Inuit and English so it was surprising this guy claimed he did not understand.)

Anyway, after the bizarre encounter, we paddled back to shore, pulled the kayaks out of the water and walked back to town.  It had been a terrific afternoon in remarkably good weather.

Now the same can’t be said for Friday, my last day in Greenland.  It was absolutely pouring when I got up, which was not good news because I was off on a boat trip to Eqi Glacier, two hours north of Ililussat.

I walked up the street to the World of Greenland offices and by 8:45 seven of us were loaded in a van and off to the boat.  Now the great thing about this tour and World of Greenland is that they employ local Inuit as boat captains and guides as opposed to hiring folks solely from Denmark.

Nick and the Captain

And today, our guide was a 21 year old kid named Nick who turned out to have been a star on the Greenland indoor soccer team that won the Arctic games held in Yellowknife last year.  Nick was an interesting fellow and was a wealth of information about Inuit life in Greenland, which he parsed out throughout the trip.

Anyway, once on the little boat with the reinforced steel hull (to get us through the ice fields), our “Captain” (never did get his name) steered the boat out of the harbour and to the north.  We took the same route I had taken on Tuesday through the ice field to the little village of Ogaatsut.  From here we continued north another hour and fifteen minutes in a constant rainstorm.

Giant waterfall

We made one stop along the way in front of a giant waterfall before we hit the ice flow that had come from the Eqi Glacier.  Now the area we were heading to had three different glaciers, but the easiest to reach was the Eqi Glacier, which is 200 meters high and 5 km wide.  In addition, the glacier is known as the “calving glacier” for its frequent shedding of ice.

Eqi Glacier
At Eqi Glacier

Just about two hours after we left Ililussat, we caught our first glimpse of the glacier, a stark wall of white against a very gray sky.  As we approached, it looked like we were right on top of the glacier, but Nick advised we were still 800 meters from the glacier.  Startling given how close it looked.

And the glacier did not disappoint.  Almost immediately upon shutting the motor off the boat, we heard a cracking noise followed by a crash.  However, we did not see any ice falling. And that is because a lot of calving occurs out of site behind the front of the the glacier wall.  Fortunately, though, the front of the glacier also put on a show over the next two hours repeatedly shedding ice.  We would hear the rumble, followed by a roar and if we were quick we would spot the falling ice.

Periodically as large section would calve off causing significant wave action and rocking on the boat.  The Captain kept a close eye on the glacier to make sure there weren’t any tsunami like walls of ice falling down that would overwhelm the boat.

One end of the Eqi Glacier
Other end of Eqi Glacier
Birds over the Eqi Glacier
Birds in front of the glacier
Ice from the Eqi Glacier
Birds and ice


The front of the Eqi glacier

Now I was outside on the little deck during the entire two hours.  Fortunately, the rain had let up and we were now only experiencing the odd sprinkle.  Nevertheless, being so close to a wall of ice greatly affected the air temperature and I could see my breath every time I spoke.  However, the beauty and spectacle of the glacier was worth a few frosty fingers and face.

And all around us there were little chunks of ice floating amongst the larger icebergs reminding me of a large glass of water filled with crushed ice.  Unfortunately, there were no seals (or whales) popping out of the ice, but there were a large number of black legged gulls hanging out on the floating ice and flying overhead, which made for some pretty cool looking pictures.

As we watched the glacier, Nick gave us some information about the history of the area, the glacier (which continues to grow) and the marine life found in the area (which was still MIA).

By 1:00 it was time to head back to Ililussat, but not before the glacier gave us one more show.  A huge boom and then a large chunk of ice came down just as we were heading back inside the boat.  One last sendoff as we headed south.

And the calving was not done yet.   As we passed a huge icebergheading south the entire side of the iceberg calved off send huge waves towards our boat.  Fortunately, the Captain outran the waves, but it was quite the spectacle.  First time I had seen that happen.

Goodbye Eqi Glacier
Waterfalls on the trip back

Now as we headed south, the fog rolled in and the rain came down harder.  Yuck.  I was a little worried that the fog might cancel my flight (been known to happen), but as we got closer to Ililussat the fog lifted (yay), but the rain continued.

We passed the now familiar rocky hillside and entered the ice fijord in front of Ililussat just before 3:00.  By 3:15, I was back at my hotel and packing.  My trip to Greenland was over, but damn it had been a fantastic trip.

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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