Greenland Pt.3 – Packrafting

In Trip Reports On Sunday, January 1, 2017

A week into the trip we were both starting to hit our stride. Whilst the photographic conditions had yet to become spectacular we had nonetheless enjoyed fine weather and awe-inspiring scenery.

Our breakfast spot

Our breakfast spot

Under cloudy skies we had a lazy start, heating up granola next to the waterfall we had photographed the night before. The plan for the day was a modest paddle across the fjord followed by an evening hike up one of the nearby mountain sides.

An iceberg lingering near the opposite shore gave us something to aim for as we made quick time on our packrafts.

Harsharn inspects an iceberg

Harsharn inspects an iceberg

greenland-tasermiut-fjord-2

Once on the opposite shore beneath the tower faces of Ulamertorsuaq we found the first real signs of people. There were areas which had clearly been damaged by camping and evidence of less than savoury camp practices. This was no doubt the effect of large groups – sad to see in such a pristine wilderness.

Our campsite at one of the less pristine areas of Tasermiut.

Our campsite at one of the less pristine areas of Tasermiut.

As the afternoon progressed the pressure dropped and rain started to fall. Our plans for a hike were soon abandoned in favour of playing it safe – there was little to indicate a positive change in the weather.

My Suunto Core was a useful weather station on the trip - dropping pressure potentially means bad weather is on the way. Fortunately the rain didnt last long.

My Suunto Core was a useful weather station on the trip – dropping pressure potentially means bad weather is on the way. Fortunately the rain didn’t last long.

A view across to the opposite side of the fjord where we had camped that morning.

The opposite side of the fjord where we had camped that morning.

One of my favourite images of the trip. I couldn't feel my feet by the time I finally stepped out of the river.

One of my favourite images of the trip. I couldn’t feel my feet by the time I finally stepped out of the river.

Well rested from a day of relative inactivity I was ready to take on the world at the start of our 8th day. It was just as well – we had 16km to paddle that day and a strong wind was blowing against us, whipping up 2ft waves. We had our work cut out!

Feeling strangely cocky I hopped into my packraft, put in my earphones and paddled out into open water. The boat rocked and rolled, regularly splashing me as I nosed the bow into a cresting wave. The more I paddled the more confident I felt. I hit a rhythm. Soon I was belting out “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “9 to 5” and “Soul Man” paddling in time with the music and leaving Harsharn in my wake. The wind blew, the clouds grew heavy overhead and blisters started to develop on my hands. This was what we had come for: Adventure!

As the day progressed we beached ourselves from time to time for a rest and a snack. Each time we stopped it seemed that the wind had strengthened but by the late afternoon the sky had visibly brightened and we felt positive about reaching our goal – the food cache!

We ticked off the last few kilometres with relative ease, finding another iceberg not far from the shore. I had previously abandoned the idea of standing on an Iceberg (an initial hope for the trip) but finding a perfect bay to park my raft I had to give it a go. Harsharn didn’t like the look of it, predicting I would end up flat on my back. I’d just started teasing him for being a wimp when my feet shot out from underneath me and I hit the ice hard on my back. Lesson learned I sheepishly returned to my boat and paddled away!

Yours truly feeling a genuine sense of achievement after a 17km packraft in unfavourable conditions.

Yours truly feeling a genuine sense of achievement after a 17km packraft in unfavourable conditions. Photo (c) Harsharn Gill.

We had left the food cache under a building that Malik, our boat driver, had suggested at the beginning of the trip. After checking under the rafters we realised to our horror that our food was gone. Fortunately we were there a day earlier than planned and still had a bit of extra food in our packs. Nevertheless we were starting to wonder whether we might have to take a massive detour to Tasiusaq (at least) to restock our provisions. Whilst I panicked internally Harsharn inspected the building spotting our packs through a window. He spent some time considering how to break in to what we ultimately realised was a school building, but there was no way in without brute force.

As we pondered whether to just start walking to Tasiusaq, a boat arrived – the second time a boat had magically appeared in our hour of need. A group of parents and children disembarked and, through a mixture of miming and slow spoken English, we explained our situation. An hour later we had our food and headed merrily on to the shores of Tasersuaq to make camp. On the way we passed the outlet stream of the lake finding the shore and river bed strewn with fish heads. We tried our luck with the rod upstream from the massacre but caught nothing.

Camping next to Lake Tasersuaq.

Camping next to Lake Tasersuaq.

Fishing on Lake Tasersuaq. Photo (c) Harsharn Gill

Fishing on Lake Tasersuaq. Photo (c) Harsharn Gill

We fished more the following morning, ever hopeful that we would catch a whale, but once again came away empty handed. Now at our half way point we were eager to paddle the lake and leave Tasermiut behind. The sun shone, we were in high spirits.

A tail wind developed as we progressed along the lake (noting how immensely difficult it would have been to hike the southern shore route shown on the map). By the early afternoon we had a wind behind us and we flew along the lake – it was an absolute joy.

Who wouldn't want to paddle THAT!

Who wouldn’t want to paddle THAT!

Joining our boats for a snack and map check.

Joining our boats for a snack and map check.

We had a race for the last kilometre or so and found that if we paddled fast enough we could just about catch the waves that were moving along the lake. It was a fun way to end the days paddling and we came ashore at Quinguadalen, Greenland’s only woodland!

Why Quinguadalen classifies as woodland and Klosterdalen doesn’t, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps if we hiked the pass we would have found the trees to be more substantial, but from where we stood it all seemed rather similar to the hell we had hiked through a week before.

We pitched our tent by the river and I set about collecting fire wood.

Our tent and the beginnings of a wood pile. By this point in the trip Harsharn was the home maker and I was the fire maker - a role I much preferred!

Our tent and the beginnings of a wood pile. By this point in the trip Harsharn was the home maker and I was the fire maker – a role I much preferred!

A deep bend in the river near our camp looked like the kind of place I would go if I were a fish and I suggested Harsharn give the fishing another go. He had bites immediately, the river was teeming with Arctic Char – we had hit the jackpot!

Harsharn with the first catch of the trip!

Harsharn with the first catch of the trip!

Me with the second catch of the trip!

Me with the second catch! Photo (c) Harsharn Gill

Then I caught a monster!

Then I caught a monster! Photo (c) Harsharn Gill

I must admit, wrestling with the fish was so much fun that I could have fished that bend until none remained, but on reflection that seemed rather cruel. Instead we made do with the fish we had caught which was plenty for a feast! Harsharn was too squeamish to kill and gut the fish so I did the dirty work. Once the fire had calmed down a little we both came up with ways to cook our fish. Harsharn went for fillets laid on hot rocks whilst I ran a birch branch down the spine and roasted my fish with the skin on. The latter approach ultimately proved to be more successful in retaining the moisture in the fish. Ray Mears would be proud.
I could barely contain my excitement as I peeled back the skin of the fish. Needless to say after more than a week of rations it was food of the gods. As I sat with Harsharn by the fire eating the fish I had a moment of realisation – this was as good as life gets, and, though it might seem absurd, one of the highlights of my life.

As I'm writing this blog post my mouth is literally watering looking at this image!

As I’m writing this blog post my mouth is literally watering looking at this image!

YUM YUM YUM!

YUM YUM YUM!

 

2 Comments

  1. Philip Stewart 16th January 2017

    Truly inspiring read Alex and this adventure looks like quite the dream trip. Glad you managed to catch some fish. I had some Arctic Char at a beautiful restaurant in Iceland but of course, it wasn’t quite as fresh as this! This really makes me want to plan a similar trip.

    • Cheers Philip, absolutely go on a trip like this yourself but maybe do a couple of tough trips in Europe first to get up your experience. Confidence in your ability is a big part of being able to enjoy yourself when things dont go to plan.

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