Qeqqata expedition part IV – a muskox slalom from Eternity Fjord to Kangerlussuaq

I have ended the previous part of my report with an obligatory rest day because of high winds – at the most stupendous of places along the Eternity Fjord. After the wind drops in the evening, I am able to start the last leg of my long solo expedition the following morning: paddling to the tip of Eternity Fjord, hiking away from it through an extremely remote and spectacular valley, and then climb onto the plateaus which I will cross on the way back to Kangerlussuaq during the last days of the trip.

During those last days, the variety and number of fauna I encounter on the way are impressive: countless arctic hare, reindeer and muskoxen dot the rocky tundra on this forgotten strip of land seperating the ice sheet from the icy waters of the Davis Strait. Slalomming through herds of muskoxen, carefully climbing across moraines and boulderfields not to surprise aggressive bulls, was an extremely powerful sensation – a sensation where I did no longer feel like a spectator in the wilderness, but like an integral part of it, obeying to the same laws of nature as any other animal out there.

As I reach Kangerlussuaq on a cold, wet and windy september morning, my passion for Greenland – its people, its spectacular natural richness and variety, the crisp clear sky bound by the ice sheets on a distant horizon, the cottongrass-bearded ponds and streams, the vast wind-swept plateaus and the intimity of lush green valleys, the roar of meltwater thundering through mineral alpine winderness, the whisper of icebergs sailing through the fjords, the ghostly shadows of the northern lights dancing through the arctic night, the sun clinging ever closer to the safety of the horizon on the approach of a new winter, and the sheer, most ancient human pleasure of travelling through unknown and mysterious landscapes – has crystallized into a love more pure and profound than I could have deemed possible for any place.

Paddling in the upper Eternity fjord

Paddling in the upper Eternity fjord

Beaching my packraft at the tip of Eternity fjord

Beaching my packraft at the tip of Eternity fjord

Climbing away from Eternity Fjord

Climbing away from Eternity Fjord

I travelled through an extremely remote valley for the next 25km - encountering my first muskoxen of the trip on the way

I travelled through an extremely remote valley for the next 25km – encountering my first muskoxen of the trip on the way

The valley I travelled through is squeezed between two ice sheets, with countless outlet glacier diving down into the valley on many places.

The valley I travelled through is squeezed between two ice sheets, with countless outlet glacier diving down into the valley on many places.

One of the outlet glaciers diving into the valley, and calving iceberg into a proglacial lake.

One of the outlet glaciers diving into the valley, and calving iceberg into a proglacial lake.

One of the outlet glaciers diving into the valley, and calving iceberg into a proglacial lake.

One of the outlet glaciers diving into the valley, and calving iceberg into a proglacial lake.

The glaciers in this area are retreating at an alarming pace. This one dives down all the way to a proglacial lake on Google Earth images from 2014. Now it had already retreated over 100m from the lake. Instead of using my packraft to bypass the glacier front on the lake, I could ford the icy meltwater stream

The glaciers in this area are retreating at an alarming pace. This one dives down all the way to a proglacial lake on Google Earth images from 2014. Now it had already retreated over 100m from the lake. Instead of using my packraft to bypass the glacier front on the lake, I could ford the icy meltwater stream

Evening splendour.

Evening splendour.

While camping in the valley, I had my most active aurora display of the trip.

While camping in the valley, I had my most active aurora display of the trip.

While camping in the valley, I had my most active aurora display of the trip.

While camping in the valley, I had my most active aurora display of the trip.

Climbing out of the valley on boulders.

Climbing out of the valley on boulders.

Looking back through the valley, and all the way into Eternity fjord.

Looking back through the valley, and all the way into Eternity fjord.

As soon as I made it up the vast plateaus, I started encountering muskoxen pretty much every single kilometer.

As soon as I made it up the vast plateaus, I started encountering muskoxen pretty much every single kilometer.

Reindeer were also present in big numbers.

Reindeer were also present in big numbers.

The muskoxen typically roamed on the tundra in groups of 4-8 animals.

The muskoxen typically roamed on the tundra in groups of 4-8 animals.

Paddling across a lake on my way north across the plateaus.

Paddling across a lake on my way north across the plateaus.

The weather finally grew cold and dull during this part of the trip, with temperatures hovering just above freezing. It seemed to make the arctic hare, which were impossible to approach earlier during the trip, switch to an energy-saving mode where they did no longer bother about my presence.

The weather finally grew cold and dull during this part of the trip, with temperatures hovering just above freezing. It seemed to make the arctic hare, which were impossible to approach earlier during the trip, switch to an energy-saving mode where they did no longer bother about my presence.

Arctic hare on the way to Kangerlussuaq

Arctic hare on the way to Kangerlussuaq

Bivy along the lake

Bivy along the lake

I had a long, high section on a day with regular showers of rain and sleet. Visibility was often limited, making orientation exciting with just my 1/250000 Saga map.

I had a long, high section on a day with regular showers of rain and sleet. Visibility was often limited, making orientation exciting with just my 1/250000 Saga map.

More actic hare

More actic hare

More actic hare

More actic hare

Bivy along a smaller river on the plateaus.

Bivy along a smaller river on the plateaus.

Still spotting countless muskoxen.

Still spotting countless muskoxen.

Descending into the splendid Paradise Valley. The amount of muskoxen in this valley was impressive - I spotted about 300 on a single day.

Descending into the splendid Paradise Valley. The amount of muskoxen in this valley was impressive – I spotted about 300 on a single day.

The going through the Paradise Valley was incredible - flat, dry terrain without boulders or bush!

The going through the Paradise Valley was incredible – flat, dry terrain without boulders or bush!

Arctic desert in Paradise Valley

Arctic desert in Paradise Valley

Hiking across the plateaus

Hiking across the plateaus

Time.

Time.

Camping along the shores of one of the countless lakes on the plateaus.

Camping along the shores of one of the countless lakes on the plateaus.

I had some aurora displays through the Sc-sheets during the night.

I had some aurora displays through the Sc-sheets during the night.

Morning sun on the last long day of the trip.

Morning sun on the last long day of the trip.

Reaching the outflow of Lake Tasersuaq.

Reaching the outflow of Lake Tasersuaq.

I paddled about 14km on Lake Tasersuaq to reach the northern shore. It was the last day of the 2016 summer in West Greenland.

I paddled about 14km on Lake Tasersuaq to reach the northern shore. It was the last day of the 2016 summer in West Greenland.

Taking a short break along lake Tasersuaq.

Taking a short break along lake Tasersuaq.

Continuing the 14km paddling section on Lake Tasersuaq.

Continuing the 14km paddling section on Lake Tasersuaq.

Climbing away from the vast Tasersuaq Lake.

Climbing away from the vast Tasersuaq Lake.

Reaching Sondre Stromfjord!

Reaching Sondre Stromfjord!

Descending to Sondre Stromfjord on a splendid september afternoon.

Descending to Sondre Stromfjord on a splendid september afternoon.

Beaches along the Sondre Stromfjord

Beaches along the Sondre Stromfjord

Preparing for a long packraft crossing of Sondre Stromfjord in perfect conditions.

Preparing for a long packraft crossing of Sondre Stromfjord in perfect conditions.

Climbing away from Sondre Stromfjord at the end of a 36km-day, making the best of the splendid september weather.

Climbing away from Sondre Stromfjord at the end of a 36km-day, making the best of the splendid september weather.

Almost sunset, almost there.

Almost sunset, almost there.

Northern lights near Kangerlussuaq - I stayed awake that evening waiting for the northern lights. A warm front kicked in from the west around midnight, ending the fun.

Northern lights near Kangerlussuaq – I stayed awake that evening waiting for the northern lights. A warm front kicked in from the west around midnight, ending the fun.

Descending to Kangerlussuaq in the worst weather of the entire trip: cold, wet and windy.

Descending to Kangerlussuaq in the worst weather of the entire trip: cold, wet and windy.

Hasta pronto Greenland!

Hasta pronto Greenland!

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.

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2 thoughts on “Qeqqata expedition part IV – a muskox slalom from Eternity Fjord to Kangerlussuaq

  1. Van Couteren - Speecke says:

    Dit is werkelijke een superknappe verslaggeving.
    De ruimte, de rust, de ongeziene taferelen … Daar krijgt een mens zin van.

    Het lijkt me wel psychologisch zwaar en, gezien je dit alleen doet, ook niet zonder gevaarm Had je een satelliettelefoon mee voor noodgevallen? Grt, Raf

  2. Willem says:

    Dag Raf, bedankt voor je berichtje! Ik had inderdaad een satelliettelefoon mee – niet enkel voor noodgevallen maar ook voor weerberichten onderweg. Daarnaast had ik als back-up nog een SPOT noodzender.

    Groetjes,
    Willem

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