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.

A Christmas stint in Southern France

Wonderful and exceptionally warm weather was expected over most of Western Europe as the Christmas days drew closer, and I made a late call for Southern France for 9 intense days of outdoor sports.

Most of my program is normally not possible at this time of the year because of frost, ice and snow. In the end, what I was able to do was rather the busy schedule you would expect from a wonderful summer holiday.

I started of with three intense days of biking, hiking, packrafting in the beautiful Verdon Gorge. With Philipp, I biked up and around the iconic Mont Ventoux, piercing through the morning clouds of the Provence; and we had two days of biking and paddling in the Cévennes and Gorges du Tarn.

But the absolute highlight of the trip was a 3-day trek in the Mont Pelat Range, during which I was even able to climb the 3051m summit on the 26th of december! I chased flocks of chamois, admired sunrise and sunset with the most brilliant alpenglow from the summit with views ranging all the way to Corsica and the Pyrenees, and slept at over 2900m with temperatures hardly dropping below zero. The pictures below are from this rare winter trip in summer conditions. A Christmas not easy to forget!

New Zealand part III: Mount Aspiring National Park, and down to the ocean

When I arrive in Makarora after three intense weeks through the backbone of the South Island, I know the hardest part of the trip is now behind me. But… my favourite week of the entire traverse was yet to come!

The section through Mount Aspiring National Park is probably the most beautiful of the entire trip. I paddle down the Makarora River and across Lake Wanaka, and hike up into the mountains through the remote and Albert Burn Valley. Now in top shape, I make long days to camp on the most beautiful spots I can find on the map – including the best bivy’s of the trip on the slopes of Dragonfly Peak and on Cascade Saddle, with astounding high-altitude sunrises and sunsets. I float down the wild Dart River, and even paddle the length of the youngest lake on earth! It all just feels like a perfect week out in the mountains.

Once Mount Aspiring National Park is behind me, the journey starts to wind down as I walk down the immensely popular Routeburn Track, and continue south on the Greenstone-Caples and Mavora Tracks, with the mountains becoming lower and more rounded as the kilometers fly by. With march now on the calendar, the days become shorter and the weather more unsettled, with regular rainy episodes.

I use my spare days to make a 2-day detour on another ‘Great Walk’, the Kepler Track – beating the crowds by paddling the Waiau River section and starting the long ridgewalk before sunrise. A surprisingly beautiful 3-day, 110km paddle down the Waiau River guides me further south to conclude the journey. And eventually I hear the wild roar of the Pacific grow louder while covering the last kilometers towards the mouth of the river. Goose bumps!

Putting in near the confluence of the Wilkin and Makarora Rivers

Putting in near the confluence of the Wilkin and Makarora Rivers

Paddling down the Makarora River

Paddling down the Makarora River

I had a 5-6 beaufort tailwind while paddling along the shore of Lake Wanaka towards the base of the Albert Burn valley, with increasingly high waves which required attention.

I had a 5-6 beaufort tailwind while paddling along the shore of Lake Wanaka towards the base of the Albert Burn valley, with increasingly high waves which required attention.

Hiking up the Lower Albert Burn valley. The river has to be forded a couple of times, which will be impossible during adverse weather.

Hiking up the Lower Albert Burn valley. The river has to be forded a couple of times, which would be impossible during adverse weather.

The 8-bunk Albert Burn Hut in the Albert Burn Valley. Although the Albert Burn is a wonderful access into Mount Aspiring National Park, I was only the second person in 10 months passing this hut!

The 8-bunk Albert Burn Hut in the Albert Burn Valley. Although the Albert Burn is a wonderful access into Mount Aspiring National Park, I was just the second person in 10 months passing this hut!

The track through the Albert Burn is cut up to 1150m, after that it becomes a bad bush-bash with a lot of Spaniards grass and one particularly rough section, climbing up along a spectacular S-bend cataract in the river up to the high valley.

The track through the Albert Burn is cut up to 1150m, after that it becomes a bad bush-bash with a lot of Spaniards grass and one particularly rough section, climbing up along a spectacular S-bend cataract in the river up to the high valley.

The terrain becomes easier in the upper part of the Albert Burn valley.

The terrain becomes easier in the upper part of the Albert Burn valley.

Camping high on the slopes of Dragonfly Peak, Glacier Dome (2367m) in the back

Camping high on the slopes of Dragonfly Peak, Glacier Dome (2367m) in the back

Bivy high on the slopes of Dragonfly Peak

Bivy high on the slopes of Dragonfly Peak

Mount Pollux (2536m) and Castor (2518m) from the summit of Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Mount Pollux (2536m) and Castor (2518m) from the summit of Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Glacier Dome (2367m) from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Glacier Dome (2367m) from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Evening views from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Evening views from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

The moutains around Minaret Burn from the summit of Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

The moutains around Minaret Burn from the summit of Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Lenticular clouds above Mount Avalanche (2606m) from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Lenticular clouds above Mount Avalanche (2606m) from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Alpenglow on the Mount Aspiring Range at sunrise, from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Alpenglow on the Mount Aspiring Range at sunrise, from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Sunrise from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Sunrise from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Mount Cook (3724m) at the horizon as seen at sunrise from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Mount Cook (3724m) at the horizon as seen at sunrise from Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Morning glory, Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Morning glory, Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Morning glory, Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Morning glory, Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Panoramic bivy high on the slopes of Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

Panoramic bivy high on the slopes of Dragonfly Peak (2165m)

The East Matukituki Valley as seen while descending on the west side of Albert Burn Saddle

The East Matukituki Valley as seen while descending on the west side of Albert Burn Saddle

A recent wildfire made the bush-bashing down into the East Matukituki way easier

A recent wildfire made the bush-bashing down into the East Matukituki far easier

Walkwire across the East Matukituki.

Walkwire across the East Matukituki.

View up the Kitchener Valley from Junction Flat.

View up the Kitchener Valley from Junction Flat.

Down the beautiful East Matukituki Valley.

Down the beautiful East Matukituki Valley.

Bivy along the West Matukituki.

Bivy along the West Matukituki.

The West Matukituki Valley near Aspiring Hut. The weather was getting worse and I sprinted up the difficult 1300m climb up to Cascade Saddle to make it there before the rain set in.

The West Matukituki Valley near Aspiring Hut. The weather was getting worse and I sprinted up the difficult 1300m climb up to Cascade Saddle to make it there before the rain set in.

The West Matukituki Valley as seen while climbing up to the Cascade Saddle Ridge.

The West Matukituki Valley as seen while climbing up to the Cascade Saddle Ridge.

Laura from Canada on the last bits up to the Cascade Saddle Ridge.

Laura from Canada on the last bits up to the Cascade Saddle Ridge.

I camped in the Cascade Creek valley across the Saddle, and sat out the rain for most of the afternoon and evening. The weather cleared during the night and I hiked back up the ridge in the morning twilight for sunrise. This is Mount Aspiring (3033m) minutes before sunrise.

I camped in the Cascade Creek valley across the Saddle, and sat out the rain for most of the afternoon and evening. The weather cleared during the night and I hiked back up the ridge in the morning twilight for sunrise. This is Mount Aspiring (3033m) minutes before sunrise.

The Dart Glacier at sunrise from the Cascade Saddle Ridge (1800m)

The Dart Glacier at sunrise from the Cascade Saddle Ridge (1800m)

Sunrise on the Cascade Saddle Ridge (1800m), the mountains at the head of Dart Glacier in the back

Sunrise on the Cascade Saddle Ridge (1800m), the mountains at the head of Dart Glacier in the back

Mount Liverpool (2482m), Mount Barff (2252m) and Mount Aspiring (3033m) at sunrise from the Cascade Saddle Ridge (1800m)

Mount Liverpool (2482m), Mount Barff (2252m) and Mount Aspiring (3033m) at sunrise from the Cascade Saddle Ridge (1800m)

Mount Tyndall (2496m) at sunrise from the Cascade Saddle Ridge.

Mount Tyndall (2496m) at sunrise from the Cascade Saddle Ridge.

Hiking along Cascade Creek

Hiking along Cascade Creek

Down along the Upper Dart River, Mount Edward (2620m) in the back

Down along the Upper Dart River, Mount Edward (2620m) in the back

Reaching Cattle Flat in the beautiful Dart Valley.

Reaching Cattle Flat in the beautiful Dart Valley.

Bivy on the beautiful, but sandfly-infested Cattle Flat in Dart Valley.

Bivy on the beautiful, but sandfly-infested Cattle Flat in Dart Valley.

Descending into the Dart valley. Several whitewater sections (mostly in the sections through the forest) are present down to Daleys Flat Hut. I put in about 1km downstream of the hut.

Descending into the Dart valley. Several whitewater sections (mostly in the sections through the forest) are present down to Daleys Flat Hut. I put in about 1km downstream of the hut.

At the time I was paddling here this was probably the youngest lake in the world - it formed by a massive rock avalanche (clearly visible in the back) damming the Dart River 5 weeks earlier. A rim of dead trees along the shore testifies to the recent flooding. As all existing trails in the valley are washed away, I was probably the first to make it down the Dart valley in its new configuration.

At the time I was paddling here this was probably the youngest lake in the world – it formed by a massive rock avalanche (clearly visible in the back) damming the Dart River 5 weeks earlier. A rim of dead trees along the shore testifies to the recent flooding. As all existing trails in the valley are washed away, I was probably the first to make it down the Dart valley in its new configuration.

Taking out at the natural dam at the western end of the Lake.

Taking out at the natural dam at the western end of the Lake.

The outflow of the lake now thunders through what used to be the beech forest on the left bank; an obligatory portage for any packrafter who wants to make it down alive.

The outflow of the lake now thunders through what used to be the beech forest on the left bank; an obligatory portage for any packrafter who wants to make it down alive.

Portaging the rapids on the rock avalanche.

Portaging the rapids on the rock avalanche.

Putting in again downstream of the rapids - at the start of the most powerful part of the river.

Putting in again downstream of the rapids – at the start of the most powerful part of the river.

Bivy at the confluence of the Rock Burn with the Dart River - the Earnslaw Burn Range in the back.

Bivy at the confluence of the Rock Burn with the Dart River – the Earnslaw Burn Range in the back.

Early morning put-in at the confluence of the Rock Burn and the Dart River

Early morning put-in at the confluence of the Rock Burn and the Dart River

The beautiful summits around Beans Burn as seen while paddling the Dart River.

The beautiful summits around Beans Burn as seen while paddling the Dart River.

Stunning paddling on the braided lower Dart River.

Stunning paddling on the braided lower Dart River.

I put out of the Dart River near the Routeburn Farm, picked up the food drop which I had left there over 2 months earlier, and continued my trek on the popular Routburn Track, on of New Zealands 'Great Walks'. This is a morning view down the Routeburn Flats, with clearing showers after a rainy night.

I put out of the Dart River near the Routeburn Farm, picked up the food drop which I had left there over 2 months earlier, and continued my trek on the popular Routburn Track, on of New Zealands ‘Great Walks’. This is a morning view down the Routeburn Flats, with clearing showers after a rainy night.

The Upper Route Burn valley.

The Upper Route Burn valley.

The Routeburn Track offers wonderful views down into the Hollyford valley - a future packrafting destination!

The Routeburn Track offers wonderful views down into the Hollyford valley – a future packrafting destination!

I hiked most of the 32km Routeburn Track in a single day, and climbed Key Summit (909m) in the evening to sleep there under the stars.

I hiked most of the 32km Routeburn Track in a single day, and climbed Key Summit (909m) in the evening to sleep there under the stars.

The mountains lining Hollyford Valley as seen from Key Summit (909m).

The mountains lining Hollyford Valley as seen from Key Summit (909m).

Evening beauty from Key Summit (909m).

Evening beauty from Key Summit (909m).

Lake Howden on a cold late february morning.

Lake Howden on a cold late february morning.

Hiking down the beautiful Caples Valley. I initially planned to hike the length of the Livingstone Range off-trail, but didn't feel like it at the moment and continued south on the Caples-Greenstone and Mavora Tracks instead.

Hiking down the beautiful Caples Valley. I initially planned to hike the length of the Livingstone Range off-trail, but didn’t feel like it at the moment and continued south on the Caples-Greenstone and Mavora Tracks instead.

A lazy afternoon with good company at the Mid Caples Hut.

A lazy afternoon with good company at the Mid Caples Hut.

Further down the Caples Valley the next morning.

Further down the Caples Valley the next morning.

Taking a break in the Caples Valley.

Taking a break in the Caples Valley.

The weather got worse when I continued into the Greenstone Valley and eventually through the vast tussocklands in the upper Mararoa Valley.

The weather got worse when I continued into the Greenstone Valley and eventually through the vast tussocklands in the upper Mararoa Valley.

Clearing weather in the Mararoa Valley.

Clearing weather in the Mararoa Valley.

Along the North Mavora Lake - I hitched towards Te Anau from the campsite at the southern end of the lake.

Along the North Mavora Lake – I hitched towards Te Anau from the campsite at the southern end of the lake.

I had a rest day in the Anau while the rain poured down, and started a 2-day detour on the Kepler Track the day after. I avoided the boring part of the track along the Waiau River by paddling it instead. The Waiau River is the outflow of the vast Te Anau, and the volume of the river, which has some class II rapids, was impressive. My speed was around 10km/hour.

I had a rest day in the Anau while the rain poured down, and started a 2-day detour on the Kepler Track the day after. I avoided the boring part of the track along the Waiau River by paddling it instead. The Waiau River is the outflow of the vast Te Anau, and the volume of the river, which has some class II rapids, was impressive. My speed was around 10km/hour.

Rainforest in the Iris Burn Valley, Kepler Track.

Rainforest in the Iris Burn Valley, Kepler Track.

The Kepler Track includes a long ridgewalk. To beat the crowd, I left at the Iris Burn Campsite over an hour before sunrise, and hiked up through the forest in the pitch dark with my tiny headlight (only works on the Great Walk highways!). I made it up the ridge just as the first sunrays touched the Fiordland Mountains.

The Kepler Track includes a long ridgewalk. To beat the crowd, I left at the Iris Burn Campsite over an hour before sunrise, and hiked up through the forest in the pitch dark with my tiny headlight (only works on the Great Walk highways!). I made it up the ridge just as the first sunrays touched the Fiordland Mountains.

Sunrise from near the Hanging Valley Shelter (1356m), Kepler Track

Sunrise from near the Hanging Valley Shelter (1356m), Kepler Track

The South fjord of vast Lake Te Anau from the Kepler Track

The South fjord of vast Lake Te Anau from the Kepler Track

The South fjord of vast Lake Te Anau from the Kepler Track

The South fjord of vast Lake Te Anau from the Kepler Track

Trampers on the Kepler Track

Trampers on the Kepler Track

Paddling down the Waiau River near Manapouri - the start of my 110km float to the Pacific.

Paddling down the Waiau River near Manapouri – the start of my 110km float to the Pacific.

The Waiau River used to be one of New Zealands main rivers, draining all the water of the vast Lake Te Anau / Lake Manapouri watershed. Most of this water is now diverted into Doubtful Sound for hydroelectricity production, and only spillovers are drained down the Waiau River downstream of this dam at the confluence with the Mararoa River, 10km downstream of Manapouri.

The Waiau River used to be one of New Zealands main rivers, draining all the water of the vast Lake Te Anau / Lake Manapouri watershed. Most of this water is now diverted into Doubtful Sound for hydroelectricity production, and only spillovers are drained down the Waiau River downstream of this dam at the confluence with the Mararoa River, 10km downstream of Manapouri.

Beautiful afternoon paddle on the Waiau River, with the Takitimu Mountains in the back.

Beautiful afternoon paddle on the Waiau River, with the Takitimu Mountains in the back.

The Waiau River was nicer than I expected, with some interesting class II rapids where limestone slabs dipped into the river. Some sections where particularly nice, like the Monowai canyon. I took little pictures as I did not have my camera with me on the water. Here I take a break near the historical Clifden suspension bridge.

The Waiau River was nicer than I expected, with some interesting class II rapids where limestone slabs dipped into the river. Some sections where particularly nice, like the Monowai canyon. I took little pictures as I did not have my camera with me on the water. Here I take a break near the historical Clifden suspension bridge.

Taking out at my last bivy spot, a few kilometers upstream of the town of Tuatapere, and adter paddling 91km on 2 days.

Taking out at my last bivy spot, a few kilometers upstream of the town of Tuatapere, and after paddling 91km on 2 days.

Pacific!

Pacific!