Qeqqata expedition part II: the lower Eternity fjord, and towards Maniitsoq

In the first part of this series I have hiked and paddled roughly parallel to the Sondre Stromfjord through remote valleys for 10 days. By the 15th of august I have made a crucial crossing of the fjord, which allows me to penetrate deeper into the astounding labyrith of fjords and mountains near the lower Eternity fjord. The weather conditions remain outstanding throughout this part of the trip, which allows me to climb a few nameless mountains along the way. This was without any doubt one of the most beautiful weeks I have spent in the wilderness in my entire life.

Another splendid morning while hiking down the valley

Another splendid morning while hiking down the valley

Crossing a low pass towards an elongated lake in the next valley.

Crossing a low pass towards an elongated lake in the next valley.

Views from a nameless summit

Views from a nameless summit

I camped high in a small side valley in order to climb a few summits in a nameless range during the evening hours.

I camped high in a small side valley in order to climb a few summits in a nameless range during the evening hours.

Views north while climbing up a nameless peak in the evening hours

Views north while climbing up a nameless peak in the evening hours

Views towards the mountains lining a valley draining directly into the Davis Strait.

Views towards the mountains lining a valley draining directly into the Davis Strait.

Evening high in a nameless range

Evening high in a nameless range

Sunset in a nameless range on another splendid summer evening

Sunset in a nameless range on another splendid summer evening

Descending back down the side valley the next morning

Descending back down the side valley the next morning

I crossed the next pass as fast as I could to reach the next fjord before the fjord wind picked up.

I crossed the next pass as fast as I could to reach the next fjord before the fjord wind picked up.

Crossing the next fjord - a 2.5km crossing - on a beautiful august morning

Crossing the next fjord – a 2.5km crossing – on a beautiful august morning

The terrain to climb away from the fjord and up the next pass was harsh

The terrain to climb away from the fjord and up the next pass was harsh

Easy rolling terrain on the descent towards the next bay and paddling section.

Easy rolling terrain on the descent towards the next bay and paddling section.

Reaching the stunning lower Eternity Fjord.

Reaching the stunning lower Eternity Fjord.

Paddling on the lower Eternity Fjord in the evening - I paddled a 23km section up the fjord

Paddling on the lower Eternity Fjord in the evening – I paddled a 23km section up the fjord

A magnificent evening paddle on Eternity fjord

A magnificent evening paddle on Eternity fjord

Another splendid morning along Eternity Fjord.

Another splendid morning along Eternity Fjord.

Continuing the long paddling section on the fjord the next morning, with a 3km crossing towards the Southern shore.

Continuing the long paddling section on the fjord the next morning, with a 3km crossing towards the Southern shore.

Taking out of the fjord after a 23km paddling section just before the fjordwind picks up again.

Taking out of the fjord after a 23km paddling section just before the fjordwind picks up again.

I camped in a small side valley, ready to give it a blast up one of the many nameless mountains lining the fjord.

I camped in a small side valley, ready to give it a blast up one of the many nameless mountains lining the fjord.

Climbing up a nameless mountain on rock slabs in the evening hours.

Climbing up a nameless mountain on rock slabs in the evening hours.

Views from the nameless mountain on the southern edge of Eternity Fjord. I called it the Garden of Eden

Views from the nameless mountain on the southern edge of Eternity Fjord. I called it the Garden of Eden

Views from the nameless mountain on the southern edge of Eternity Fjord. I called it the Garden of Eden

Views from the nameless mountain on the southern edge of Eternity Fjord. I called it the Garden of Eden

Views from the nameless mountain on the southern edge of Eternity Fjord. I called it the Garden of Eden

Views from the nameless mountain on the southern edge of Eternity Fjord. I called it the Garden of Eden

Views from the nameless mountain on the southern edge of Eternity Fjord. I called it the Garden of Eden

Views from the nameless mountain on the southern edge of Eternity Fjord. I called it the Garden of Eden

Sunset from the Garden of Eden

Sunset from the Garden of Eden

Sunset from the Garden of Eden

Sunset from the Garden of Eden

The sea fog had penetrated deep into the fjord by the next morning. It dissolved again by noon.

The sea fog had penetrated deep into the fjord by the next morning. It dissolved again by noon.

Hiking up a valley the next day.

Hiking up a valley the next day.

Snow grouse could be spotted pretty much anywhere during my trip.

Snow grouse could be spotted pretty much anywhere during my trip.

I climbed another nameless mountain the next day. Access towards the vast summit plateau was difficult, and I searched for a way up for over 2 hours. Eventually I gained access through this naste 45° couloir full of scree, boulders and with a short scrambling section. As I wanted to sleep high on the mountain I carried up my backpack - hard work!

I climbed another nameless mountain the next day. Access towards the vast summit plateau was difficult, and I searched for a way up for over 2 hours. Eventually I gained access through this nasty 40° couloir full of scree, boulders and with a short scrambling section. As I wanted to sleep high on the mountain I carried up my backpack – hard work!

Climbing up the nameless mountain I called 'The Stegosaurus' because of it spectacular broken summit ridge.

Climbing up the nameless mountain I called ‘The Stegosaurus’ because of it spectacular broken summit ridge.

Views from the Stegosaur

Views from the Stegosaur

Sunset from The Stegosaurus

Sunset from The Stegosaurus

Sunset from the Stegosaurus, with sea fog invading the fjords from Davis Strait.

Sunset from the Stegosaurus, with sea fog invading the fjords from Davis Strait.

Bivy high up the slopes of The Stegosaurus.

Bivy high up the slopes of The Stegosaurus.

By the next morning sea fog had filled the fjords again; it dissolved once again around noon. I had an easy morning to make the difficult descent in fair weather.

By the next morning sea fog had filled the fjords again; it dissolved once again around noon. I had an easy morning to make the difficult descent in fair weather.

Descending towards the fjord.

Descending towards the fjord.

This walk along the fjord was of an extraordinary beauty.

This walk along the fjord was of an extraordinary beauty.

Greenland beauty at the outflow of a nameless lake.

Greenland beauty at the outflow of a nameless lake.

Greenland beauty at the outflow of a nameless lake.

Greenland beauty at the outflow of a nameless lake.

I paddled 12km down the fjord in dense sea fog the next morning. The weather cleared as I started my difficult alpine crossing towards the next fjord.

I paddled 12km down the fjord in dense sea fog the next morning. The weather cleared as I started my difficult alpine crossing towards the next fjord.

Looking back towards the fjord during the first part of the climb on moraines and boulders.

Looking back towards the fjord during the first part of the climb on moraines and boulders.

At an altitude of about 550m I had to turn back as glaciers and steep rock slabs blocked the way further up towards the pass.

At an altitude of about 550m I had to turn back as glaciers and steep rock slabs blocked the way further up towards the pass.

Bivy behind a moraine down by the fjord on another splendid evening.

Bivy behind a moraine down by the fjord on another splendid evening.

Bivy behind a moraine down by the fjord on another splendid evening.

Bivy behind a moraine down by the fjord on another splendid evening.

I climbed a nameless summit along the fjord in the evening, with fantastic views towards the mountains I had not been able to cross earlier that day.

I climbed a nameless summit along the fjord in the evening, with fantastic views towards the mountains I had not been able to cross earlier that day.

The next morning I paddled another 10km down the fjord in sea fog and chilly conditions with a slight headwind.

The next morning I paddled another 10km down the fjord in sea fog and chilly conditions with a slight headwind.

Reaching the sea strait seperating the mainland from the Hamborgerlandet Island

Reaching the sea strait seperating the mainland from the Hamborgerlandet Island

I did not want to cross all the way towards Maniitsoq in my tiny packraft as the sea straits have vicious tidal currents. I waited for boat transport to town near Ikamiut, a building designated for school outings. During the evening and night the place was deserted, but the next morning a group of 16 kids arrived - the first humans I had seen in 16 days. We played handball and soccer until my boat transport arrived.

I did not want to cross all the way towards Maniitsoq in my tiny packraft as the sea straits have vicious tidal currents. I waited for boat transport to town near Ikamiut, a building designated for school outings. During the evening and night the place was deserted, but the next morning a group of 16 kids arrived – the first humans I had seen in 16 days. We played handball and soccer until my boat transport arrived.

Cruising towards Maniitsoq with Niels in dissolving sea fog.

Cruising towards Maniitsoq with Niels in dissolving sea fog.

Arriving in Maniitsoq

Arriving in Maniitsoq

DISCLAIMER:

This Greenland trip offered the purest, most pristine wilderness I have ever travelled through. I want it to remain that way. Therefore I have not included geographical references in my report. Whilst this might sound a bit egoistic, I’m sure experienced wilderness travellers will be able to design their own route – the possibilities are virtually endless!

I have received many messages asking for more details about my trip. Without underestimating anyone’s abilities, I want to point out that this was the most difficult trip I have ever made. The terrain was often harsh, with relentless boulderfields, moraine, serious river fordings, peat bogs, and quicksands near glaciers close to the ice sheets. There are no trails, no huts, or any other facilities for hikers along this route, and topographic maps are virtually inexistent for much of it (I used the 1/250000 Saga maps for over half of my trajectory). Backpack weight is heavy because of the lack of resupply options, I started with about 32-33kg despite using ultralight gear – but I tend to eat a lot! To packraft the fjords, one should have a good insight in the dynamics of tidal currents, (fjord)winds, katabatic winds, and how they interact in creating waves. If you are not able to fully assess these risks, or are not mentally prepared for the difficult terrain, you won’t have a lot of fun in the first place, and may end up in dangerous situations which I don’t want to be held responsible for in any way.

Qeqqata expedition – Part I: Along the lower Søndre Strømfjord

In the coming weeks I will post a series of 4 post with pictures from my expedition in Southwest Greenland, a 5-week solo hiking and packrafting trip through extremely remote areas, roughly in the fjordlands and plateaus between the settlements of Kangerlussuaq and Maniitsoq. I had only one resupply en route in Maniitsoq. Apart from one hunting Inuit family on the second day, I did not encounter a single soul during the entire trek.

This trip offered the purest, most pristine wilderness I have ever travelled through. I want it to remain that way. Therefore I have not included geographical references in my report. Whilst this might sound a bit egoistic, I’m sure experienced wilderness travellers will be able to design their own route – the possibilities are virtually endless!

The first views of Greenland's wild east coast, with massive glaciers calving icebergs into the North Atlantic, gave me the goose bumps again

The first views of Greenland’s wild east coast, with massive glaciers calving icebergs into the North Atlantic, gave me the goose bumps again

The view of the ice sheet while descending towards Kangerlussuaq is completely different, with crevassed glaciers with meltwater streams sliding down towards the rolling hills at the head of the Søndre Strømfjord

The view of the ice sheet while descending towards Kangerlussuaq is completely different, with crevassed glaciers with meltwater streams sliding down towards the rolling hills at the head of the Søndre Strømfjord

Waiting for boat transport down the Søndre Strømfjord. To avoid a few days in less interesting terrain and an even heavier backpack, I decided to get dropped about 60km down the fjord.

Waiting for boat transport down the Søndre Strømfjord. To avoid a few days in less interesting terrain and an even heavier backpack, I decided to get dropped about 60km down the fjord.

Alone in the wild - the boat which dropped me along the fjord starts it way back towards Kangerlussuaq. I have 18 days and 270km ahead to reach Maniitsoq.

Alone in the wild – the boat which dropped me along the fjord starts it way back towards Kangerlussuaq. I have 18 days and 270km ahead to reach Maniitsoq.

Climbing away from Søndre Strømfjord.

Climbing away from Søndre Strømfjord.

Descending into the valley in glorious sunny weather on the first day of the trip. There were almost no insects in this area after a long and dry summer.

Descending into the valley in glorious sunny weather on the first day of the trip. There were almost no insects in this area after a long and dry summer.

Taking out of the first lake at the end of the first day.

Taking out of the first lake at the end of the first day.

I made an early start during the warm first days of the trip. the fjordwind picked up around noon every day, and to avoid headwind on the lakes and fjords while travelling west I tried to paddle as many kilometers as possible during the morning hours.

I made an early start during the warm first days of the trip. the fjordwind picked up around noon every day, and to avoid headwind on the lakes and fjords while travelling west I tried to paddle as many kilometers as possible during the morning hours.

I reached the tip of the westernmost lake just as the wind picked up.

I reached the tip of the westernmost lake just as the wind picked up.

Cottongrass low in the valley

Cottongrass low in the valley

Reaching the fjord at the end of the second day. The last part of the valley the terrain became slightly harder with some swaps and easy bushwahcking, but overall travel was relatively easy.

Reaching the fjord at the end of the second day. The last part of the valley the terrain became slightly harder with some swaps and easy bushwahcking, but overall travel was relatively easy.

Camping between the cottongrass at the tip of the fjord. A fierce 6bft fjordwind raged until sunset.

Camping between the cottongrass at the tip of the fjord. A fierce 6bft fjordwind raged until sunset.

I paddled a 7km section on the fjord early the next morning through sea fog, with the fjord flat as a mirror. The weather cleared as I took out. To my big surprise, I met an Inuit family camping along the fjord; the men were gone for reindeer hunting, with the wives, the grandparents and children staying behind to pick berries and take care of the camp and to butcher the reindeer they shot the day before.

I paddled a 7km section on the fjord early the next morning through sea fog, with the fjord flat as a mirror. The weather cleared as I took out. To my big surprise, I met an Inuit family camping along the fjord; the men were gone for reindeer hunting, with the wives, the grandparents and children staying behind to pick berries and take care of the camp and to butcher the reindeer they shot the day before.

Although we could not talk because of the language barrier, I stayed with the family for almost  three hours, with a mutual feeling of respect and understanding which is hard to explain.

Although we could not talk because of the language barrier, I stayed with the family for almost three hours, with a mutual feeling of respect and understanding which is hard to explain.

Climbing away from the fjord

Climbing away from the fjord

Climbing into the valley with my 32kg backpack was hard work. I climbed high above the valley floor, where a massive meltwater river thundered through an inaccessible gorge.

Climbing into the valley with my 32kg backpack was hard work. I climbed high above the valley floor, where a massive meltwater river thundered through an inaccessible gorge.

The mountains at the other side of the valley seen from a nameless mountain

The mountains at the other side of the valley seen from a nameless mountain

Following reindeer tracks through the upper valley. Travel through this valley was remarkably easy, with a few river fordings as only noticeable obstacles.

Following reindeer tracks through the upper valley. Travel through this valley was remarkably easy, with a few river fordings as only noticeable obstacles.

Travelling through the beautiful valley on the fourth day of the trip.

Travelling through the beautiful valley on the fourth day of the trip.

Travelling through the beautiful valley on the fourth day of the trip, once again in glorious sunny weather.

Travelling through the beautiful valley on the fourth day of the trip, once again in glorious sunny weather.

As I bended north into the next valley branch, the terrain started to become slightly harder as I approached the bushline.

As I bended north into the next valley branch, the terrain started to become slightly harder as I approached the bushline.

Splendid bivy in the valley

Splendid bivy in the valley

I forded the large meltwater river braiding through the valley near this point, a long thigh-deep wading. I think fording this river is only possible late in the season and in the morning hours when the meltwater flow reaches its minimum.

I forded the large meltwater river braiding through the valley near this point, a long thigh-deep wading. I think fording this river is only possible late in the season and in the morning hours when the meltwater flow reaches its minimum.

Climbing towards the pass and west into the next valley.

Climbing towards the pass and west into the next valley.

This valley was harder to travel through, often with swamps and squishy tundra with deep moss.

This valley was harder to travel through, often with swamps and squishy tundra with deep moss.

Camping along a nameless lake. After 4 days of glorious weather, a warm front came in that afternoon with light rain during the night.

Camping along a nameless lake. After 4 days of glorious weather, a warm front came in that afternoon with light rain during the night.

Views towards the nameless lake.

Views towards the nameless lake.

I hiked 12km down the valley in damp condition the next morning, often on annoying tundra terrain with low shrub and wet sections. When reaching the fjord around noon, I immediately inflated my raft to cover the 7km east in perfect conditions.

I hiked 12km down the valley in damp condition the next morning, often on annoying tundra terrain with low shrub and wet sections. When reaching the fjord around noon, I immediately inflated my raft to cover the 7km east in perfect conditions.

The next day it often rained and the cloudbase remained very low. As I had to cross a difficult pass to access towards the Søndre Strømfjord, I decided to wait it out. After almost 72 hours of grey skies and patchy rain, the weather finally cleared again on the morning of day 8, and I started rushing towards the pass.

The next day it often rained and the cloudbase remained very low. As I had to cross a difficult pass to access towards the Søndre Strømfjord, I decided to wait it out. After almost 72 hours of grey skies and patchy rain, the weather finally cleared again on the morning of day 8, and I started rushing towards the pass.

Another view of the camp low in the valley while the weather starts to clear.

Another view of the camp low in the valley while the weather starts to clear.

Fow bog while hiking up the nameless valley

Fow bog while hiking up the nameless valley

Disolving morning fog while hiking up the nameless valley

Disolving morning fog while hiking up the nameless valley

Crossing the nameless pass (which I called 'patience pass') towards the Søndre Strømfjord valley, often on moraine and boulderfields which required attention.

Crossing the nameless pass (which I called ‘patience pass’) towards the Søndre Strømfjord, often on moraine and boulderfields which required attention.

Descending in the lush, green valley on the way towards Søndre Strømfjord. For the first time in the trip the insects were out in big numbers. It was glorious warm and sunny weather again and I had a full wash in one of the many ponds low in the valley.

Descending in the lush, green valley on the way to Søndre Strømfjord. For the first time in the trip the insects were out in big numbers. It was glorious warm and sunny weather again and I had a full wash in one of the many ponds low in the valley.

The Søndre Strømfjord as seen from a nameless knoll.

The Søndre Strømfjord as seen from a nameless knoll.

Low in the gorgeous valley

Low in the gorgeous valley

Camping low in the gorgeous valley.

Camping low in the gorgeous valley.

Camping low in the gorgeous valley, with the massive north faces of the mountains at the other side of the fjord in the back.

Camping low in the gorgeous valley, with the massive north faces of the mountains at the other side of the fjord in the back

I have to paddle across the Søndre Strømfjord to gain access towards Maniitsoq, but in the evening and the entire following day the winds are too strong to make a safe crossing. The uncertainty linked to such daring fjord crossings always caused some stress. I used my extra day here to climb a mountain lining the fjord.

I have to paddle across the Søndre Strømfjord to gain access towards Maniitsoq, but in the evening and the entire following day the winds are too strong to make a safe crossing. The uncertainty linked to such daring fjord crossings always caused some stress. I used my extra day here to climb a mountain lining the fjord.

I made a long daytrip to climb the mountain (around 1000m) at the right. That day, I received news that my friend Karel had broken the all-time speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail. I decided to name the mountain (Karel Sabbe toppen) after him in honour of this incredible achievement. The beautiful lake now carries the name of his support buddy Joren (Jorensuaq)

I made a long daytrip to climb the mountain (around 1000m) at the right. That day, I received news that my friend Karel had broken the all-time speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail. I decided to name the mountain (Karel Sabbe toppen) after him in honour of this incredible achievement. The beautiful lake now carries the name of his support buddy Joren (Jorensuaq)

Another view of Jorensuaq and Karel Sabbe toppen.

Another view of Jorensuaq and Karel Sabbe toppen.

Looking back at the lake while starting the ascent of Karel Sabbe toppen.

Looking back at the lake while starting the ascent of Karel Sabbe toppen.

Views from the summit (around 1000m).

Views from the summit (around 1000m).

Views from the summit (around 1000m).

Views from the summit (around 1000m).

In the evening hours the wind, which sent high breaking waves across the fjord, finally started to fall. I did not hesitate a second, and decided this window to cross the fjord with my packraft - the most crucial decision of the trip.

In the evening hours the wind, which sent high breaking waves across the fjord, finally started to fall. I did not hesitate a second, and decided this window to cross the fjord with my packraft – the most crucial decision of the trip.

Fighting against the incoming tide, I made my 6km crossing while the sun started to set. The wind dropped almost completely, but a nice swell was still present on the fjord.

Fighting against the incoming tide, I made my 6km crossing while the sun started to set. The wind dropped almost completely, but a nice swell was still present on the fjord.

Reaching the base of the valley at sunset.

Reaching the base of the valley at sunset.

Crossing the fjord in the evening hours proved to be the most crucial decision of the trip. During the night the wind picked up again, blowing at 6bft by sunrise. And it kept blowing for 36 more hours.

Crossing the fjord in the evening hours proved to be the most crucial decision of the trip. During the night the wind picked up again, blowing at 6bft by sunrise. And it kept blowing for 36 more hours.

The valley was not the most easy to travel through, with some nasty moraines and boulderfields.

The valley was not the most easy to travel through, with some nasty moraines and boulderfields.

Reaching the next pass, with the massive north face of mountain 1360m in the back.

Reaching the next pass, with the massive north face of mountain 1360m in the back.

Descending into the beautiful lush valley - first on boulderfields, later on easing terrain.

Descending into the beautiful lush valley – first on boulderfields, later on easing terrain.

Looking back through the upper valley.

Looking back through the upper valley.

I paddled a wonderful 4km section on the river with a fierce 5bft tailwind.

I paddled a wonderful 4km section on the river with a fierce 5bft tailwind.

Taking out at the southwestern tip of the splendid glacial lake. A fierce 5bft tailwind propelled me across the lake in no time.

Taking out at the southwestern tip of the splendid glacial lake. A fierce 5bft tailwind propelled me across the lake in no time.

I tried to climb the nameless peak (around 500m) at the southern side of the lake, but stranded about 50m below the summit. the views into this side valley were remarkable anyway.

I tried to climb the nameless peak (around 500m) at the southern side of the lake, but stranded about 50m below the summit. the views into this side valley were remarkable anyway.

A splendid evening - my tarp can be spotted near the river connecting the two lakes.

A splendid evening – my tarp can be spotted near the river connecting the two lakes.

A splendid evening low in the valley

A splendid evening low in the valley

A splendid evening low in the valley

A splendid evening low in the valley

DISCLAIMER: I have received many messages asking for more details about my trip. Without underestimating anyone’s abilities, I want to point out that this was the most difficult trip I have ever made. The terrain was often harsh, with relentless boulderfields, moraine, serious river fordings, peat bogs, and quicksands near glaciers close to the ice sheets. There are no trails, no huts, or any other facilities for hikers along this route, and topographic maps are virtually inexistent for much of it (I used the 1/250000 Saga maps for over half of my trajectory). Backpack weight is heavy because of the lack of resupply options, I started with about 32-33kg despite using ultralight gear – but I tend to eat a lot! To packraft the fjords, one should have a good insight in the dynamics of tidal currents, (fjord)winds, katabatic winds, and how they interact in creating waves. If you are not able to fully assess these risks, or are not mentally prepared for the difficult terrain, you won’t have a lot of fun in the first place, and may end up in dangerous situations which I don’t want to be held responsible for in any way.

Back from Greenland

Last weekend I returned from Greenland after almost 5 weeks in the wilderness.

Every long trip I have made throughout the last decade has been unique in it’s own way with rich memories which I will take with me for the rest of my life. My Pyrenees trips in 2007 and 2010 were the first long trips, where I discovered myself and started developing this passion. The 2750km Scandinavia thru-hike in 2012 was the one where I felt a very special drive on the way which provided my with seemingly infinite energy in often harsh conditions – it is the trip on which I look back with a lot of pride. Greenland in 2013 was the first real wilderness experience, and the South Island traverse in early 2015 during which everything seemed to go so easily, just because of the relaxed feeling you automatically get in New Zealand – it was the best trip of my life.

And then there was this Greenland expedition… a trip which was without any doubt the most beautiful I have ever made and which has impressed and touched me deeply. The feeling which I had during those weeks in the wilderness is hard to explain. As I stuggled through boulderfields and moraine, watched the sun set from mountain with views unknown to human gaze, and slalommed along countless muskoxen, I no longer felt like a spectator of any kind in this vast wilderness, but was an integral part of it, obeying to the same rules and laws of nature as any animal out there.

My trip was blessed with sensational weather conditions – during the first 4 weeks of the trip I had only a few overcast days with some rain and a few mornings with sea fog – all the rest was just blue skies and warm temperatures. I hiked over 80% of the distance in t-shirt in august. In september summer slipped away and the conditions started detoriorating quickly, with snow down to sea level by the time I reached Kangerlussuaq. Thanks to all this amazing weather, I was able to complete almost my entire planning including summits, although some proved to be a bit too difficult to make it all the way up. But who cares, really.

What West Greenland lacks in terms of big icebergs in comparison to most other places around the island, it makes up with a rich wildlife. I spotted countless arctic fox, muskoxen, reindeer, arctic hare, white-tailed eagles, seals and ptarmigan on the way, often from very close distance.

It will be a pain adapting to the rat race again after such a sensational experience in the wilderness. Apart from a hunting Inuit family on the second day, I did not encounter a single soul during the entire trip. I will take it easy the next few weeks to give myself the time to process all of it, so don’t expect any trip report too soon.

Greenland, I’ll be back!

I met an Inuit family when beaching my packraft on the second day of the trip. The men were gone hunting for reindeer, but I got a warm welcome with coffee and cookies from their wives, children and grandparents. They were the last people I would see throughout the entire trip.

I met an Inuit family when beaching my packraft on the second day of the trip. The men were gone hunting for reindeer, but I got a warm welcome with coffee and cookies from their wives, children and grandparents. They were the last people I would see throughout the entire trip.

Camping in a nameless valley north of Sondre Stromfjord

Camping in a nameless valley north of Sondre Stromfjord

Paddling through the Taseq qutdleq valley

Paddling through the Taseq qutdleq valley

Reindeer could be seen throughout the trip

Reindeer could be seen throughout the trip

Another splendid morning in the Taseq qutdleq valley

Another splendid morning in the Taseq qutdleq valley

Ancient Viking grave on a place I will not tell

Ancient Viking grave on a place I will not tell

During the endless string of sunny days during the first half of the trip I managed to climb a few nameless mountains with views which were probably unknown to human gaze. I called this one towering above the Eternity Fjord the Garden of Eden.

During the endless string of sunny days during the first half of the trip I managed to climb a few nameless mountains with views which were probably unknown to human gaze. I called this one towering above the Eternity Fjord the Garden of Eden.

Views from another nameless summit, which I called "The Stegosaurus" because of its spectacular broken summit ridge.

Views from another nameless summit, which I called “The Stegosaurus” because of its spectacular broken summit ridge.

Views from another nameless summit, which I called "The Stegosaurus" because of its spectacular broken summit ridge.

Views from another nameless summit, which I called “The Stegosaurus” because of its spectacular broken summit ridge.

Mighty summits in the Niaqornata qula range as seen from the outflow of the Tasersuaq lake.

Mighty summits in the Niaqornata qula range as seen from the outflow of the Tasersuaq lake.

Another beauty camp in at the head of the Puiartoq Bay.

Another beauty camp in at the head of the Puiartoq Bay.

After 18 days solo in the wild, these Inuit children were the first humans I saw. We played handball and soccer for hours while I waited for boat transport to my resupply town of Maniitsoq

After 18 days solo in the wild, these Inuit children were the first humans I saw. We played handball and soccer for hours while I waited for boat transport to my resupply town of Maniitsoq

Paddling nameless lakes with travelling through a remote valley north of the Qapiarfiup sermia ice sheet

Paddling nameless lakes with travelling through a remote valley north of the Qapiarfiup sermia ice sheet

During the second half of the trip I travelled remote valleys squeezed in between ice sheets, with massive glaciers all around the place.

During the second half of the trip I travelled remote valleys squeezed in between ice sheets, with massive glaciers all around the place.

The iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup Tasia, a lake which is dammed by 2 massive glaciers, preventing the water to drain. The water level of the lakes rises at a rate of about 40-50m per year, and eventually lifts the damming glacier enough to allow a spectacular outburst flood, which drains all the water in the entire lake (with a surface of about 50km²) in a single go. This happens about every 7 years, after which a new cycle begins. The lake level was low this year, and I found icebergs on land up to 100m above the current lake level, all suggesting a relatively recent last outburst event.

The iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup Tasia, a lake which is dammed by 2 massive glaciers, preventing the water to drain. The water level of the lakes rises at a rate of about 40-50m per year, and eventually lifts the damming glacier enough to allow a spectacular outburst flood, which drains all the water in the entire lake (with a surface of about 50km²) in a single go. This happens about every 7 years, after which a new cycle begins. The lake level was low this year, and I found icebergs on land up to 100m above the current lake level, all suggesting a relatively recent last outburst event.

Crossing the iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup Tasia

Crossing the iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup Tasia

Back down to Eternity fjord

Back down to Eternity fjord

I was stuck at this spot along the Eternity Fjord for almost 48 hours because of wind and high waves preventing a safe crossing by packraft. But I didn't mind too much, really ;-)

I was stuck at this spot along the Eternity Fjord for almost 48 hours because of wind and high waves preventing a safe crossing by packraft. But I didn’t mind too much, really😉

Paddling on Eternity fjord

Paddling on Eternity fjord

Taking out of Eternity Fjord

Taking out of Eternity Fjord

Travelling through the very remote Kangerdlugssuatsiaup qingua valley.

Travelling through the very remote Kangerdlugssuatsiaup qingua valley.

Waterfall in the remote Kangerdlugssuatsiaup qingua valley.

Waterfall in the remote Kangerdlugssuatsiaup qingua valley.

I saw the northern lights on every single clear night as soon as it got sufficiently dark from the end of august onwards. But this night they were extremely active and dancing through the entire sky.

I saw the northern lights on every single clear night as soon as it got sufficiently dark from the end of august onwards. But this night they were extremely active and dancing through the entire sky.

I spotted up to 300 muskoxen per day during the final week of my trip, and my path must have looked like a drunk man's slalom as I tried to keep a safe distance to the aggressive bulls.

I spotted up to 300 muskoxen per day during the final week of my trip, and my path must have looked like a drunk man’s slalom as I tried to keep a safe distance to the aggressive bulls.

Arctic hare were easy to spot on the tundra. It was difficult to approach them during the first weeks, but when the weather grew colder in early september them seemed to freeze into a lower state of consciousness, pretty much like my fingers as I struggled with the controls of my camera.

Arctic hare were easy to spot on the tundra. It was difficult to approach them during the first weeks, but when the weather grew colder in early september them seemed to freeze into a lower state of consciousness, pretty much like my fingers as I struggled with the controls of my camera.

By the end of august the tundra exploded into autumn colours

By the end of august the tundra exploded into autumn colours

Qeqqata expedition – preparing for 5 weeks in Southwest Greenland

I already mentioned it in a post a few weeks ago: I’m travelling to Greenland beginning of august for 33 days of heavy solo hiking and packrafting. It’s been three years since my previous Greenland expedition in Cape Farewell Country in 2013, which is – in terms of sheer staggering grandeur of the landscapes and mental intensity – still the most incredible trip I have made. Even long before arriving in Nanortalik, I knew I would come back to Greenland.

A bivy of a lifetime, Cape Farewell Country, july 2013

A bivy of a lifetime, Cape Farewell Country, july 2013

This time I’m aiming at the coastal labyrinth of fjords, ice and mountains in the Qeqqata region, roughly situated between Kangerlussuaq and Maniitsoq in Southwest Greenland (the bit without polar bears). I will make a large, 500km loop around the Sukkertoppen Ice Sheet: a first leg of 18 days without resupply from Sondre Stromfjord towards Maniitsoq, hopping from one fjord to the next, and then a home stretch of 14 days back to Kangerlussuaq which will guide me further inland, with a short excursion on the astounding Evighedsfjord. About 170km of it is packrafting, mostly on fjords, but I also included some nice, easy rivers. I everything works out as I hope, this trip should potentially be even more beautiful and varied then my 2013 expedition.

The first leg is basically pioneering – the map is virtually nameless and many valleys and mountains I would like to visit and climb are likely unknown to human gaze. My preparation for this first leg is entirely based on 1/250000 old Soviet cartography and Google Earth, and it is highly likely that some things on the terrain will not work out as I hoped. There are three sections about which I feel a bit uncertain: (i) the fording of several glacial rivers in the Tunugdliarflik Valley, very early in the trip; (ii) skirting around the snout of the Sermitsiaq glacier on vast moraines when reaching Evighedsfjorden, about 11 days into the trip; (iii) descending towards the Sermilinguaq fjord on steep rock slabs after having crossed from the Puiartoq fjord. If these sections do not feel safe, I will have to make 1-2 day detours. And then there are 7 fjord crossings where I will need to be a bit lucky with the wind. My time schedule for this fist leg is very easy – it will allow me to climb as many mountains as I want and give me time for detouring or to wait for improving weather if needed. I will also take it easy the first days as my backpack will be weighing over 30kg at the start of the trip and I don’t want to risk injuries.

The special thing about this first leg is that most of my track is situated at the transition from the coastal flats and islands towards the wild and inaccessible inner fjords. It should make for very varied travel and panorama’s from the countless summits which are on my ‘to do’ list. Located closer to the ocean in a relatively cool climate, I don’t expect too much bushwhacking except for some sections low in the valleys. Boulderfields and steep rock slabs might cause more difficulties – although travelling late in the season should minimize the amount of meltwater making them wet and slippery. I will also have to watch out for quicksands when putting in/out with my packraft on river deltas fed by glacial rivers at the head of some fjords.

1320m Kinguleq
Point1045m

Tassersuaq

I have not fould a single picture from any of the mountains or valleys I want to climb and walk during the first leg of my trip - so Googly Earth is my appetizer. (1) Views into Napiarissat qôruat from a nameless mountain (1320m) in the Kinguleq range. (2) Views towards the ocean from peak 1043m, north of the Kangâmiut kangerdluarqquat fjord. (3) Views down the Ikamiut kangerdluarssuat fjord from the slopes of mountain 1230m, which is very high on my 'must do' list. (4) The Taserssuaq lake along the fjord looks like one of the most beautiful I will ever see. (5) If the weather is nice, and on the last day before reaching Maniitsoq, this ridgewalk on a nameless peak (970m) seperating the head of the Sermilinguaq and Manitsup sermilia should be an absolute highlight of the trip.

I have not fould a single picture from any of the mountains or valleys I want to climb and walk during the first leg of my trip – so Googly Earth is my appetizer. (1) Views into Napiarissat qôruat from a nameless mountain (1320m) in the Kinguleq range. (2) Views towards the ocean from peak 1043m, north of the Kangâmiut kangerdluarqquat fjord. (3) Views down the Ikamiut kangerdluarssuat fjord from the slopes of mountain 1230m, which is very high on my ‘must do’ list. (4) The Taserssuaq lake along the fjord looks like one of the most beautiful I will ever see. (5) If the weather is nice, and on the last day before reaching Maniitsoq, this ridgewalk on a nameless peak (970m) seperating the head of the Sermilinguaq and Manitsup sermilia should be an absolute highlight of the trip.

The second leg of the trip is partially based on a Russian expedition led by Konstantin Savenkov in 2014. Konstantin and his friends did an excellent job drawing an exceptionally beautiful and varied route on the map. Their trip report is a must read (Google Translate can help) with splendid photography – you can find the bits which are applicable for my trip here, here and here. Once on the plateaus east of the ice sheet, I will divert from Konstantin’s route as I won’t paddle whitewater rivers solo.

This second leg will first take me across rocky plateaus with large proglacial lakes and ice caves, and along and through the Iluliagdlup tasia lake, one of the largest lakes in the world which shows episodic jökulhlaup events. The 20km lake empties itself every 7 years with the production of an immense outburst flooding event. After the lake has emptied, countless massive icebergs remain grounded on the bedrock – it must be a fascinating world to explore and walk through. I have not been able to find out when the last mega-outburst has occured.

Subsequently I will descend towards the wild Evighedsfjorden, probably one of the most beautiful fjords in the world as it is lined by a phalanx of ice-capped 2000+ meter mountains. I will paddle on the fjord for about 20km, and then hike away from it along a chain of proglacial lakes and glaciers flowing deep into the Qârtartorssuit valley. Once I have hiked out of this valley, I will see a rapid transition into tundra plateaus populated with large herds of muskoxen and reindeer, which will guide me back towards Kangerlussuaq during the last 4-5 days of the trip.

Paddling across a proglacial lake at the head of Majorqaq fjord (photo credits: Konstantin Savenkov)

Paddling across a proglacial lake at the head of Majorqaq fjord (photo credits: Konstantin Savenkov)

Descending to Evighedsfjorden (photo credits: Konstantin Savenkov)

Descending to Evighedsfjorden (photo credits: Konstantin Savenkov)

The tip of Evighedsfjorden, with majestic ice-capped peaks of over 2000m lining the fjord

The tip of Evighedsfjorden, with majestic ice-capped peaks of over 2000m lining the fjord (photo credits: Konstantin Savenkov)

While hiking away from Evighedsfjorden, I will skirt along a chain of proglacial lakes, paddling across some to avoid dangerous river crossings (photo credits: Konstantin Savenkov)

While hiking away from Evighedsfjorden, I will skirt along a chain of proglacial lakes, paddling across some to avoid dangerous river crossings (photo credits: Konstantin Savenkov)

The landscape will change dramatically on the home strech towards Kangerlussuaq as I will travel across vast tundra plateaus, populated by large herds of muskoxen and reindeer.

The landscape will change dramatically on the home strech towards Kangerlussuaq as I will travel across vast tundra plateaus, populated by large herds of muskoxen and reindeer (photo credits: Konstantin Savenkov)

In terms of fauna, I will surely be able to spot bearded and ringed seals on the fjords, and reindeer, muskoxen, arctic hares and possibly polar foxes on land. The fjords entrances around Maniitsoq are also world reknown feeding grounds for humpback whales. During the last week of the trip the autumn colours on the tundra should start to kick in as I cross the vast plateaus back to Kangerlussuaq, and clear nights will be lit by the northern lights.

My gear list will be largely similar to the one from my previous Greenland expedition: Gear list Greenland 2013. I still have not found the perfect shoe; this time I will try on the Salomon Speedcross – I know it is a perfect fit for my feet (I have used on on trips in the Alps and trailrunning races), but it might be confronted in terms of durability on harsh Greenlandic terrain. A new pair will wait for me in Maniitsoq. As I have not been able to find ethanol for my stove in Kangerlussuaq, I will cook on solid Esbit fuel. I won’t take my SPOT, but an Iridium satellite phone, which will (apart from emergency use which I hope I won’t need) allow me to get updates on the weather (to be more safe and efficient with the fjord crossings) and fix boat transport to Maniitsoq and Kangerlussuaq with my local contacts if needed.

I’m still working on the last details, and will upload my final gear list for this trip in before leaving.

So, and now I have to start thinking about the name I will give to all those mountains!

Contrasts of the Vanoise

A few days ago I returned from a 10-day solo trip to the Vanoise Range in the French Alps. Normally I would have been completing the second year of my ‘International Mountain Leader’ training during those weeks, but due to shitty Belgian administration problems I have not been able to participate to the 2 final weeks of internships in the Alps… I decided to drive to the mountains anyway and try to make the best of it myself.

I’m in full preparation for my big Greenland expedition which starts in 3 weeks, so I don’t have time to write an extensive trip report now. Let’s just have a short look at where I went!

Tour de la Vanoise in 3 days

I started my trip with the most classic multi-day hike in the area, the Tour de la Vanoise – a splendid 75km loop around the Glaciers de la Vanoise. After a snow-rich spring and so early in the season, I did not encounter a lot of people yet on the trail, and snowfields where very abundant once above 2300m. On the way, I made a few detours to climb summits: the Pointe de la Réchasse (3212m) and the Pointe de l’Observatoire (3015m).

Lac des Vaches

Lac des Vaches

Crossing Col de la Vanoise

Crossing Col de la Vanoise

Climbing on the slopes of Pointe de la Réchasse (3212m)

Climbing on the slopes of Pointe de la Réchasse (3212m)

On the summit ridge of Pointe de la Réchasse (3212m)

On the summit ridge of Pointe de la Réchasse (3212m)

Morning views from Mont de la Para (2787m), where I spent my first night under the stars

Morning views from Mont de la Para (2787m), where I spent my first night under the stars

Morning descent towards Lac de la Roche Ferran

Morning descent towards Lac de la Roche Ferran

Lacs des Lozières, on the way to Refuge de l'Arpont

Lacs des Lozières, on the way to Refuge de l’Arpont

View up the Doron Valley, Grande Casse (3855m) in the back

View up the Doron Valley, Grande Casse (3855m) in the back

Plan d'Amont, on the way to Col d'Aussois (visible in the back)

Plan d’Amont, on the way to Col d’Aussois (visible in the back)

Solitary male ibex on the way to Col d'Aussois (2916m)

Solitary male ibex on the way to Col d’Aussois (2916m)

Solitary male ibex on the way to Col d'Aussois (2916m)

Solitary male ibex on the way to Col d’Aussois (2916m)

Solitary male ibex on the way to Col d'Aussois (2916m)

Solitary male ibex on the way to Col d’Aussois (2916m)

Pointe de l'Echelle (3345m) as viewed while climbing to Col d'Aussois (2916m)

Pointe de l’Echelle (3345m) as viewed while climbing to Col d’Aussois (2916m)

Thunderstorms coming in during the descent on the north side of Col d'Aussois (2916m)

Thunderstorms coming in during the descent on the north side of Col d’Aussois (2916m)

A night on Levanna Occidentale (3593m)

After a rest day, I crossed towards the Southeastern part of the Vanoise, parked the car in Bonneval-sur-Arc, and hiked up the beautiful upper part of the Arc valley towards Refuge du Carro. My final goal of the day was the summit of Levanna Occidentale (3593m), one of the highest peaks on the French-Italian border you can climb without glacier skills and equipment (and solo). Crampons and an ice axe are necessary however early in the season to cross the snowfields lingering between the Col des Pariotes and the summit.

I climbed the summit late in the afternoon in horrible wet snow. Cumulus clouds embraced the summit until shortly before sunset, but eventually the skies clearled about an hour before sunset to give a splendid spectacle with views ranging all the way to Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn, Gran Paradiso, the Ecrins Range, and Monte Viso. I slept about 50m below the summit on an improvised bivy made with flat stones. The next morning I was on the summit again for a stunning sunrise!

The hamlet of l'Ecot, one of the best preserved traditionnal mountain villages in France

The hamlet of l’Ecot, one of the best preserved traditionnal mountain villages in France

The hamlet of l'Ecot, one of the best preserved traditionnal mountain villages in France

The hamlet of l’Ecot, one of the best preserved traditionnal mountain villages in France

Hiking up the Upper Arc Valley

Hiking up the Upper Arc Valley

The summit of Levanna Occidentale (3593m) as seen from Refuge du Carro

The summit of Levanna Occidentale (3593m) as seen from Refuge du Carro

The clouds break about one hour before sunset

The clouds break about one hour before sunset

The Glaciers des Sources de l'Arc as seen from the summit of Levanna Occidentale (3593m)

The Glaciers des Sources de l’Arc as seen from the summit of Levanna Occidentale (3593m)

Gran Paradiso (4061m) as seen from Levanna Occidentale (3593m) at sunset

Gran Paradiso (4061m) as seen from Levanna Occidentale (3593m) at sunset

Bivy high on the slopes of Levanna Occidentale during evening twilight

Bivy high on the slopes of Levanna Occidentale during evening twilight

Sunrise from Levanna Occidentale (3593m), view on the summits on the French-Italian border of the southeastern Vanoise

Sunrise from Levanna Occidentale (3593m), view on the summits on the French-Italian border of the southeastern Vanoise

Sunrise above the Po Valley from Levanna Occidentale (3593m), Levanna Centrale (3619m) to the right

Sunrise above the Po Valley from Levanna Occidentale (3593m), Levanna Centrale (3619m) to the right

Sunrise from Levanna Occidentale (3593m), view towards the Mont Blanc (4807m) range

Sunrise from Levanna Occidentale (3593m), view towards the Mont Blanc (4807m) range

Levanna Centrale at sunrise, as seen from Levanna Occidentale (3593m)

Levanna Centrale at sunrise, as seen from Levanna Occidentale (3593m)

Morning views from Levanna Occidentale (3593m)

Morning views from Levanna Occidentale (3593m)

The summit of Levanna Occidentale (3593m) as seen from my bivy spot

The summit of Levanna Occidentale (3593m) as seen from my bivy spot

Descending Levanna Occidentale (3593m) on hard morning snow

Descending Levanna Occidentale (3593m) on hard morning snow

Descending along the upper Arc River

Descending along the upper Arc River

Cirque des Evettes

Cirque des Evettes

A splendid summer evening in the Vallonnet Valley above Bonneval-sur-Arc

A splendid summer evening in the Vallonnet Valley above Bonneval-sur-Arc

Daytrips on Pointe de Lanserlia (2909m, Vanoise) and Dent des Crolles (2062m, Chartreuse)

During my transits, I made some bike tours and two shorter daytrips up Pointe de Lanserlia in the Vanoise, and the beautiful Dent des Crolles in the prealpine Chartreuse Range near Grenoble.

Evening on Dent des Crolles (2062m) in the Chartreuse

Evening on Dent des Crolles (2062m) in the Chartreuse

Evening on Dent des Crolles (2062m) in the Chartreuse

Evening on Dent des Crolles (2062m) in the Chartreuse

Summit views from Pointe de Lanserlia, an isolated summit in the Vanoise

Summit views from Pointe de Lanserlia, an isolated summit in the Vanoise

Descending the South slopes of Pointe de Lanserlia (2909m)

Descending the South slopes of Pointe de Lanserlia (2909m)

A 75km support run for Karel on Tour des Glaciers de la Vanoise

And, last but not least, I ran and speedhiked the magnificent Tour des Glaciers de la Vanoise (75km, 4200m D+) in a single go. It felt like the most origonal way to support Karel Sabbe on his epic Quest for the Crest expedition, by spending a day on the trail like and with him.

No pictures, but you can view a log of my run here

Karel is currently trying to set a new speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail, a 4200km trail through the rugged mountains of the USA’s west coast, from the Mexican to the Canadian border. To do so, he has to run about 80km per day for 52 days straigth. Karel has now survived 24 days of scorching South Californian deserts and the High Sierra Range, and is well over 1850km into his trip, pretty much on schedule. If he makes it, his performance could well be one of the greatest athletic accomplishments in human history.

As a friend, I am extremely exited following Karel’s crazy journey. What is more, he is not just one of these record junkies, but just combines his passions of running, wilderness and exploration (together with a good dose of training and sheer talent) into one mighty adventure.

Highly recommended to follow Karel on Strava, Facebook and his website

Godspeed mate!

48 hours in the Vercors with Fre

Last week I drove to Southern France with Fre for a week in the Alps. As the higher ranges are still covered by winter snow, we picked the prealpine Vercors Range, which I already knew quite well from two winter adventures in 2007 and 2009. When weather got worse later in the week, we moved on to the Provence for 4 days of biking in the Mont Ventoux sector.

I had never been in the Alps so early in the season, and it was a huge positive surprise. Livestock was not in the mountain yet, the plateau was a vast ocean of flowers, the water sources were still flowing strong on this limestone desert, and we met absolutely no-one once off the dayhike tracks.

And we had an extraordinary display of alpine fauna – we observed a herd of almost 40 ibex for over an hour right at our campspot near the Grand Veymont mountain, and the ever-present marmots were keen to pose for some pictures!

Fiets- en Wandelbeurs Vlaanderen

During the last weekend of february, I will be at the “Fiets- en Wandelbeurs Vlaanderen” (Hike and Bike Fair Flanders), the biggest outdoor fair in Flanders. I’ll give a talk titled ‘New Zealand Supertramp’ on my South Island Traverse of exactly one year ago, with my best pictures and video. The presentation of 45 minutes includes heaps of practical information and background on New Zealand’s unique landscape and ecosystem.

On both days my talk is in the ‘Rode Zaal’ at 15.30.

I’ll also be at your service to give independent information about Scandinavia, the Pyrenees, Greenland and New Zealand, with a focus on hiking and packrafting trips. Throughout the day, you can find me at table no°13. Please pass by for a chat!

This year, the fair takes place in ‘Antwerp Expo’. All practical information can be found on the official website.