The email arrives from Natural Habitat Adventures in March 2014. In conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund, it announces a new exploratory trip to a Base Camp on the eastern coast of Greenland, scheduled to begin in August 2015. In the seconds it takes us to read the message, the decision is already made. We are going! Others are clearly of the same view. Within a couple of hours, the four scheduled trips of 12 travelers each are sold out!
In the eighteen months that follow we eagerly read everything we can about what is the ultimate adventure trip to the world’s largest island. Greenland is immense! It stretches 1,700 miles from North to South and 700 miles east to west with over 80 percent of the land covered by the Greenland Ice Cap. Even so, the area that is ice-free is about the size of France.
There isn’t a lot of “Green” in Greenland. So where did the island get its name? According to legend, Erik the Red, the famous Norse explorer who traveled across the North Atlantic as far as Newfoundland in 1000 AD, thought it would be an enticement to European settlers if they thought the land was green. He and his followers settled on the south coast that, presumably, was slightly warmer at the time than it is now.
Inuits have lived here since about 2,500 BC when it is thought they migrated across Canada from Alaska. The last wave of native people to settle here was the Thule, the ancestors of today’s Greenland Inuit, who are believed to have moved here in about 1200 AD. After the Norse settlers returned home in the 1400s, only the Thule survived until Danish and Norwegian missionaries showed up in the early 1700s. Today, Greenland is a self-governing part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and Greenlandic society is a unique blend of Inuit and Danish.
About 56,000 people live here, mostly on the western coast in the capital, Nuuk, and its surrounding settlements. The eastern side of the island is virtually uninhabited except for a handful of small subsistence-hunting Inuit communities. Only about 3,500 people live on the east coast (covering an area of about 1,600 miles), most of them in the administrative capital, Tasiilaq.
Western Greenlanders call this side of the island “the backside.” Perhaps it refers to the geographic distance between the two parts of the island or perhaps it is because the people of East Greenland had no contact with the outside world until the 20th century and developed their own distinct culture and even dialect. Regardless, it is a hauntingly beautiful part of the planet.
Quaint, colorful, Tasiilaq, on King Oscar’s harbor, surrounded by gigantic mountains, is the half-way point of our journey that starts in Reykjavik, Iceland. It is a gray, rainy day when we board our Icelandic Air turbo-prop for the two-hour flight west to Kulusuk, Greenland.
As we fly over the frigid Arctic waters, the sun breaks through the clouds, illuminating a parade of gigantic icebergs sailing south on the ocean currents into the North Atlantic where they, undoubtedly, will be a hazard to shipping.
The airport at Kulusuk (built by the US Air Force in 1956 as part of the early warning defense system) is nothing more than a gravel runway and a corrugated metal building. Only about 250 people live here amidst the rugged, austere mountains. The town itself is a 40-minute walk from the airport. As with the rest of Eastern Greenland, there are no roads anywhere. Travel is by dogsled, kayak, boat or helicopter.
Since Tasiilaq is located on the eastern tip of Ammassalik Island across from Kulusuk, we have only two ways to get there – by boat or by helicopter. Fortunately, there is no fog to keep us from boarding our red Air Greenland Bell Helicopter for the 10-minute flight over an iceberg-covered fjord to the picturesque little town where we will spend the next few days before heading to Base Camp.
Let the Adventure begin!
IF YOU GO
Natural Habitat Adventures plans 11 trips each in the summers of 2016 and 2017. You can contact NatHab at 1-800-543-8917 or by email at www.nathab.com. For more images of Eastern Greenland and Base Camp, see www.allegriaphotos.com.