Qeqqata expedition part III – Iceberg graveyards and a fjord for Eternity

After resupplying in the Inuit town of Maniitsoq, I head out into the wilderness again for my return journey towards Kangerlussuaq: a challenging 14-day, 230km trip without even the slightest hint of civilisation along the way. It is late august by the time I get dropped at the tip of the Kangerdluarssuk fjord, and I expect the weather to grow colder, whilst it starts to get sufficiently dark at night to enjoy the first aurora displays of the season.

I just talked to people in the harbour of Maniitsoq to arrange my transport to the tip of the Kangerluarssuk fjord. After going for coffee in their cozy house Svend and Katerine took me and dropped me at the desired location.

I just talked to people in the harbour of Maniitsoq to arrange my transport to the tip of the Kangerluarssuk fjord. After going for coffee in their cozy house Svend and Katerine took me and dropped me at the desired location.

Hiking up the lower valley

Hiking up the lower valley

The bedrock near Maniitsoq is the oldest in the world (about 3.4 billion years) which outcrops on such a big scale, and one does not need to be geologist to see that they have a long history.

The bedrock near Maniitsoq is the oldest in the world (about 3.4 billion years) which outcrops on such a big scale, and one does not need to be geologist to see that is has a long history.

Hiking through the barren valley, with meltwater coming down from the ice sheets at both sides.

Hiking through the barren valley, with meltwater coming down from the ice sheets at both sides.

Following a large meltwater river, often on difficult terrain with boulderfields.

Following a large meltwater river, often on difficult terrain with boulderfields.

I camped high in the valley and got my first aurora show that night with some faint displays under a full moon. It was a very warm night and I gazed up in t-shirt for half an hour.

I camped high in the valley and got my first aurora show that night with some faint displays under a full moon. It was a very warm night and I gazed up in t-shirt for half an hour.

Camping under the northern lights.

Camping under the northern lights.

I continued my way down the valley the next morning, with spledid views towards the glaciers and ice sheets draping the slopes and summits.

I continued my way down the valley the next morning, with spledid views towards the glaciers and ice sheets draping the slopes and summits.

Glaciers on the way down through the valley

Glaciers on the way down through the valley

Fording the massive meltwater river thundering down the valley was simply impossible. I used my packraft to get to the left bank by paddling across one of the nameless lakes.

Fording the massive meltwater river thundering down the valley was simply impossible. I used my packraft to get to the left bank by paddling across one of the nameless lakes.

Taking a break along the massive meltwater river roaring through the valley.

Taking a break along the massive meltwater river roaring through the valley.

This descent towards a proglacial lake with a few icebergs was difficult.

This descent towards a proglacial lake with a few icebergs was difficult.

Paddling across the proglacial lake.

Paddling across the proglacial lake.

Massive views onto the glaciers streaming down from one of the ice sheets south of Eternity fjord.

Massive views onto the glaciers streaming down from one of the ice sheets south of Eternity fjord.

Massive views onto the glaciers streaming down from one of the ice sheets south of Eternity fjord.

Massive views onto the glaciers streaming down from one of the ice sheets south of Eternity fjord.

I made a very long day to make it all the way towards the iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup tasia in fair weather.

I made a very long day to make it all the way towards the iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup tasia in fair weather.

Camping high above the iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup tasia

Camping high above the iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup tasia

Traversing high above the iceberg graveyard Iluliagdlup tasia on a dull late august day.

Traversing high above the iceberg graveyard Iluliagdlup tasia on a dull late august day.

I encountered many reindeer again during this part of the trip.

I encountered many reindeer again during this part of the trip.

A second bivy high above Iluliagdlup tasia. Slight rain fell for much of the night and the next morning, and I made a very late start to cross the lake towards the northern shore.

A second bivy high above Iluliagdlup tasia. Slight rain fell for much of the night and the next morning, and I made a very late start to cross the lake towards the northern shore.

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.

The last bit of the descent - where I was moving through a maze of stranded icebergs - was a nightmare of deep, meltwater-soaked clay and lake sediment. I sank in up to my knees at many places and was happy to reach the shore in the end and start paddling across along fantastic icebergs.

The last bit of the descent – where I was moving through a maze of stranded icebergs – was a nightmare of deep, meltwater-soaked clay and lake sediment. I sank in up to my knees at many places and was happy to reach the shore in the end and start paddling across along fantastic icebergs.

Looking back at the iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup tasia, with a nice view of the stranded icebergs above the present lake level.

Looking back at the iceberg graveyard of Iluliagdlup tasia, with a nice view of the stranded icebergs above the present lake level.

Bivy with views back towards Iluliagdlup tasia.

Bivy with views back towards Iluliagdlup tasia.

Crossing the plateaus towards the next fjord.

Crossing the plateaus towards the next fjord.

I encountered many carcasses of reindeer, arctic foxes and (later during the trip) muskoxen along the way.

I encountered many carcasses of reindeer, arctic foxes and (later during the trip) muskoxen along the way.

First views down towards the tip of Eternity fjord.

First views down towards the tip of Eternity fjord.

The crevassed glaciers diving down towards Eternity fjord.

The crevassed glaciers diving down towards Eternity fjord.

Camping high above the tip of Eternity fjord.

Camping high above the tip of Eternity fjord.

Descending down to Eternity fjord proved to be much harder than I had expected. I spent hours scouting for a way down, and had a very early start the next morning.

Descending down to Eternity fjord proved to be much harder than I had expected. I spent hours scouting for a way down, and had a very early start the next morning.

Views towards the ice-capped mountains lining Eternity fjord while hiking towards my descent route.

Views towards the ice-capped mountains lining Eternity fjord while hiking towards my descent route.

Descending into a steep, boulder-infested gully which was the only possible way down to Eternity fjord. I had to take extreme care on some sections of the descent, which was probably the most difficult part of the trip.

Descending into a steep, boulder-infested gully which was the only possible way down to Eternity fjord. I had to take extreme care on some sections of the descent, which was probably the most difficult part of the trip.

Finally down at Eternity fjord.

Finally down at Eternity fjord.

Preparing for 22km of paddling on Eternity fjord, with a nice 3-4bft tailwind.

Preparing for 22km of paddling on Eternity fjord, with a nice 3-4bft tailwind.

Paddling the Eternity fjord, propelled by a nice tailwind.

Paddling the Eternity fjord, propelled by a nice tailwind.

The wind gradually became stronger, and I took out at this peninsula to wait it out and camp for the night.

The wind gradually became stronger, and I took out at this peninsula to wait it out and camp for the night.

A bivy for Eternity along the Eternity fjord.

A bivy for Eternity along the Eternity fjord.

I had my first active aurora displays that night, but like a real rooking I forgot to remove the polarisation filter from my camera, pretty much ruining all my pictures.

I had my first active aurora displays that night, but like a real rookie I forgot to remove the polarisation filter from my camera, pretty much ruining all my pictures.

Incredible bivy spot along Eternity fjord. The wind was blowing at 5-6 bft the next day, so continuing my paddle was not an option. But I didn't care too much having a rest day here, really...

Incredible bivy spot along Eternity fjord. The wind was blowing at 5-6 bft the next day, so continuing my paddle was not an option. But I didn’t care too much having a rest day here, really…

A second evening at my 5-star hotel along Eternity fjord.

A second evening at my 5-star hotel along Eternity fjord.

Could have stayed for weeks...

Could have stayed for weeks…

In the evening, the wind started dropping, and I knew the next morning I would be able to continue my paddle on the fjord, and start the home straigth towards Kangerlussuaq.

In the evening, the wind started dropping, and I knew the next morning I would be able to continue my paddle on the fjord, and start the home straigth towards Kangerlussuaq.

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.

3 thoughts on “Qeqqata expedition part III – Iceberg graveyards and a fjord for Eternity

  1. Michael Jordan says:

    Hi Willem, although I read your disclaimer you have inspired me to get outdoors like you do. This year I did a 18 days solo packrafting trip through the Tasermiut Fjord after reading your blog posts. Thanks for the inspiration. I spoke with a Greenland helicopter pilot who searched for a solo packrafter a couple years ago in a similar location you just did and they never found him – your warnings are well warranted.
    I’m curious how your shoes held out this trip. I can’t find a pair that’s durable enough for the Greenland terrain. You mentioned in your gear list you’d try out the Salomon speedcross – would you recommend them now the trip is over.

    • Willem says:

      Hi Michael, glad to hear you enjoyed the wonderful Tasermiut area – what an incredible fjord isn’t it? 🙂

      I know the story of the German packrafter who disappeared 2 years ago, from his PLB-messages it looks like he was 3 paddling days down the Sondre Stromfjord, then suddenly stopped sending ok-messages (or SOS-messages). It’s a dramatic event – and many people in Kangerlussuaq strongly recommended me not to start my trip.

      As for the Salomon’s – for me they are a perfect fit, and that is the main reason I took them on this trip. In terms of durability they suck in this kind of terrain 🙂 I was aware of this and sent a second pair to my resupply town of Maniitsoq. Glad I did, the first pair was already full of rips and holes by the time I made it there. Still, I’m glad with my choice just because I walk so comfortably with them. The models I used on previous trips (Inob8 Roclite315; Millet Trident) are far more durable, but did not provide the same comfort. But as you know, the choice of a shoe is something extremely personnel.

      Cheers,
      Willem

      • Michael Jordan says:

        Thanks Willem, will try out the shoes and test the fit. I think we were in Greenland the same time this year…… and watching the same aurora light display. I made a short time lapse video of the lights at different locations down the Tasermiut Fjord and Nanortalik early September. https://vimeo.com/184088488

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