The east coast of Greenland is an awesome wilderness. Only 3,500 people, scattered among small towns and settlements, inhabit its 2,600 kilometres of stunning coastline. This is the Arctic with all its breathtaking beauty and striking scenery.
The stretch of coast between the Ammassalik area and Scoresby Sound is considered to be one of Greenland’s most challenging and foreboding. The mountains rise almost vertically from the sea to form a narrow bulwark, with rifts through which active glaciers expel large quantities of ice. Here are the highest mountains in the Arctic with some of the longest and most ice-filled fjords. This is the polar bear and narwhals dominion. A place that only a few hardy adventurers in the annals of Arctic exploration have ever deigned to challenge.
Aurora-Arktika has been exploring this majestic area for many years. Each year we undertake exclusive expeditions to this spectacular place with only a few seats available. This is true exploration—the final itinerary only gets decided upon after setting sail from the Ísafjörður harbour. We take into account weather and sea-ice conditions and always look for the best possible option. What is assured is that each trip will be a little bit different and we will try to visit at least one “new“ place every trip. The following description gives an idea of how a day-to-day plan might materialize.
We will sail from Ísafjörður on the north west coast of Iceland on our sturdy expedition sailboat AURORA, across the Denmark Strait and make landfall on the southern edge of the Blosseville coast. From here we will journey south to the Ammassalik area and visit many magnificent locations such as Nansen Fjord, Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord, Nigertuluk and Kangertigtivatsiaq Fjord. Each night we will secure a safe anchorage and there will be ample oportunities to explore on foot or by kayak. The trip will conclude in the village of Kulusuk where our guests will catch their flight back to Reykjavík. This is an expedition, suitable for anyone in search of a true adventure off the beaten path.
Our sailboat AURORA is a 60 foot expedition sailboat that can accommodate 10 people — 8 guests and 2 crewmen. It serves as our movable ‘backcountry hut’ and awaits us at the end of each day’s excursions with gourmet meals, warm and comfortable bunks, and friendly conversation.
Our expedition sailboat AURORA departs from Ísafjörður at 7pm, weather permitting. Crossing the Denmark Strait takes approximately 32 hours. If the weather is not in our favour, or the sea-ice conditions difficult, we will delay our crossing and shelter in the beautiful fjords of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve where we will do some hiking and/or kayaking.
Crossing the Denmark Strait. During the afternoon, we should start glimpsing the mountains of Greenland. We will keep a watchful eye for icebergs that are always present in this area. Dolphins and whales are likely to be riding our bow wake.
Arrive in Greenland in the early morning. We will attempt landfall at Søkongen Island on the southside of Nansen Fjord. The great Christian IV Glacier calves into Nansen Fjord which is often full of ice bergs. This is a prime area for polar bears and we will keep a vigilant eye. The Watkins Mountains and the highest peak in the Arctic—Gunnbjørnsfjeld (3693 m)—line the horizon. Depending on the ice conditions we will attempt to find an anchorage here for the night.
We will sail to Mikis Fjord and anchor. There will be an option to hike into the flower-filled Sødalen Valley and perhaps search for gold and platinum in the creeks and rivers of the Skærgård intrusion (the minerals were only discovered a few years ago by a geological expedition). Long-abandoned Inuit ruins exist in Mikis Fjord, alluding to a time when the Dorset culture populated the northeast coast.
We continue our journey to the great Kangerlugssuaq Fjord (‘big fjord’). The AURORA will anchor in Suhaili Bugt. This is a very sheltered anchorage where Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (first man to perform a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of the globe) and Sir Chris Bonington (Britain’s best-known mountaineer and one of the most successful expedition leaders in history) anchored their vessel, the Suhaili, during their attempt to climb the Cathedral Peak in 1991. This will be our base camp for the following few days.
Photo: Charly Braungardt
In Kangerdlussuaq Fjord we have plenty of options for hikes, climbs, and kayak-tours. We can paddle over to the abandoned Skærgård Inuit settlement and explore the Uttendal Sound towards the ice-filled Watkins Fjord. We can also hike in the hills of Kræmer Island where there are fantastic vistas of the surrounding fjords, mountains and glaciers.
“To the Ammassalik people, Kangerdlugssuaq has always been regarded as an especially rich hunting ground—a kind of Arctic Shangri-La that can only be reached in small skiffs after great difficulty. Modern-day attempts to colonise Kangerdlugssuaq date from 1966, when several families from Tasiilaq over-wintered in the remains of an abandoned American weather station and its expedition houses, constructed in the 1930s. The families reported a very good hunting season: 35 polar bears, 62 narwhals and some 2100 seals! But, because of the daunting access to the area, colonisation attempts were abandoned and Kangerdlugssuaq was left to revert once again to an exceptional wilderness.”
The Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord is bar-none the wildest coastal landscape in Greenland. The Lemon Mountain Range – one of Greenland’s highest — lies just north of the fjord. The compact alpine peaks of this vast mountain range offers endless opportunities for mountaineering, with many unclimbed peaks towering to 2,600 meters. In addition, the Lindbergh Range sits just 50 to 80km north and east of Mikis Fjord, exhibiting myriad unclimbed peaks that rise to 3,200 meters and offering magnificent views over the immense Greenland Ice Cap. Further west are the Kangerdlugssuaq Mountains, an expansive realm of alpine granite and gneiss peaks that exceed 2,600 meters. This range comprises of the single largest region of unclimbed summits in Greenland. To the northeast are the Watkins Mountains and GunnbjornsFjeld (3,693m), the highest peak in the Arctic. In all, this range consists of the 10 tallest mountains in the High Arctic—a stunning collection of peaks virtually unknown to the outside world.
We will leave Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord and make our passage south. This area is thus described in the British Admiralty Arctic Pilot: ‘The stretch of coast between Kap SM Jørgensen and KapDeichmann, 90 miles NE, is considered one of the most difficult in Greenland; the mountains rise almost vertically from the sea to form a narrow bulwark, with rifts through which active glaciers discharge quantities of ice, while numerous off-lying islets and rocks make navigation hazardous.’
On our route south, we will explore new areas before entering Nigertuluk Fjord. Here are two spectacular calving glaciers, a sandy beach, and a tranquil mountain lake. All in all, this is a fantastic playground for hiking and kayaking.
Today, we sail across Kangertigtivatsiaq Fjord which has thus been described in hyperbole by Chapman of the British Arctic Air Route expedition of 1930-1931: ‘The scenery here was magnificent. A short branch fjord to the N terminated in a huge glacier, while the longer main fjord was flanked by great needle-peaked mountains, between 1800 – 2000 m high. There are hanging glaciers precariously balanced on the steep hillsides and other glaciers coming right down to the sea. At the head of the fjord, away in the distance, was a superb pinnacled mountain, reminiscent of St. Paul´s Cathedral; this was Ingolfsfjeld.’
We will anchor overnight in Storø.
Our journey continues as we sail further south into the remote and little-explored territory of Depot Sound. We will pass the Idrac Glacier, Fladøerne Island and Smalsund, and will anchor overnight in Sermiligaq.
We will sail further into SermiligaqFjord and enter the stunning IkasaqSound. We will make a short stop at the abandoned WW2 military base of Bluie East 2. From here we will continue our passage to Ammassalik Fjord and anchor adjacent to Kulusuk village in the afternoon.
We will go ashore and visit the village of Kulusuk. Here, our expedition concludes, with guests departing to catch their flights back to Iceland or continue onwards on their own further explorations of Greenland.
The short summer in Eastern Greenland can exhibit all kinds of weather—most of which is governed by the warm gulf current between Iceland and Eastern Greenland. The weather pattern is an unpredictable mixture of marine low-pressure systems mixed with the more stable high-pressure inland climate (generated by the immense, cold Greenland icecap). The temperatures range from 0 to 15 degrees Celsius. In other words, you should prepare for sunshine as well as showers. Winds can shift quickly and we might experience the ferociously katabatic Piteraq hurricanes (very rare, but nonetheless possible). Given the area’s proximity to the Arctic Circle, while it´s a bit early in the season, it may still be possible to see the Northern Lights at night.
East Greenland is the homeland of polar bears. We will take measures to stay away from these beautiful animals, and view them from a safe distance, if spotted. It is advisable not to go for a walk alone or without letting the guide know. The waters are teeming with various species of seals and whales. On land we may meet the Arctic fox as well as various species of birds.