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!

11 thoughts on “Qeqqata expedition – preparing for 5 weeks in Southwest Greenland

  1. reikull says:

    Looks amazing, I’m already looking forward to the trip report. Looks like a challenging trip but the best trips always are. The crossing of the valley between the Sukkartoppen glacier and the ice cap looks especially difficult, how are you planning to solo-cross the outlet glaciers?

    • Willem says:

      Hi Reikull, it looks like a very special valley indeed. No glacier travel – I should be able to avoid glacier hiking and river fording altogether on this stretch by alternating hiking and packrafting across the proglacial lakes. It is a very interesting area to check out on Google Earth.

      • reikull says:

        I see it now on Google Earth, the outlet glaciers seem to have retreated quite a bit in recent years making the area much more accessible. Maybe you’ll be one of a few who has ever traversed that valley.

  2. poksumdo says:

    True wilderness exploration and solo. Big Ideas and a brave heart. Best wishes Willem for a beautiful and succesful journey. From Australia

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