........Spring 2010

Greenland 2000

Six week trip with a "1-week" kayak excursion around Aasiat In 1999, I was the first time in a kayak outside a swimming pool. About 6 years earlier I took a kayak safety course where I learned how to get in and out of a kayak after a capsize. The next assignment was to learn how to roll. I don't remember how often I actually tried that but was unable to master the Eskimo roll. The training was on Mondays. That night I was laying in bed and rolling over and over again ... in my dreams. Some participants were finally able to do it, I envied them. Later I found out that most of them had taken the course at least one or more times before:)... no wonder!! But I thought, kayaking and rolling go together. So I gave up to fulfill my dream of one day riding the waves of beautiful bodies of water.
Little did I know that the course was for white water kayaking, and that sea kayaking is a totally different story. Still it is good to know how to roll, but reading many reports about accidents, I found out when capsizing in a sea kayak, usually it is in extreme weather conditions. Many kayaker's rolls fail under these conditions. They even exhaust themselves trying to roll and don't have any more strength left to pull themselves up into the kayak in a more "conventional" way. I went to Lake Michigan to hike on Isle Royal. There I met a group of four sea kayakers who were circumnavigating the Island. I was standing at the beach admiring their kayaks and envying them. I asked how good they could roll. They all laughed " not at all!" I was surprised, "how can you come out here and paddle?"
They explained how to get back in the boat after a capsize without rolling. That was my moment of enlightening! When I came back to the mainland, I took a half-day tour around the harbor and fell in love with kayaking forever! I will never forget the ducks in the harbor just bobbing in the water and fearlessly looking at me as if I was part of their environment! That did it. I started dreaming of all these wonderful places which one can go only by cruise ship to see. Extreme places such as Greenland, Antarctica, Spitsbergen, Newfoundland, Elsmere Island, and many, many more extraordinary places in this world. I wanted to go anywhere, where cold water is, and icebergs, too. My first tour was planned to Greenland. I went there for 6 weeks, hiking and sightseeing. I planned to go paddling for a week around the town of Aasiat, which is south of the Disco Bay.
I was a total beginner. My first boat I had bought in a gear sale in February of that year. When I booked the kayak trip per phone directly in Greenland with the Aasiat tourist office, I told them that I was just starting to kayak. I was told that would be ok. I went to the town about 3 days before the trip began because I wanted to get familiar with the area. I stayed in a small Bed and Breakfast and the last night in the seaman's home of the town, which is usually a nice low-budget hotel in the different port towns around Greenland. My future tour guide for this one-week paddling excursion I met when he was putting in his traditional Greenland skin on frame "qajaq", dressed in traditional paddling clothes. He also used a traditional Greenland paddle which I had never seen before. I had observed the traditional boat frames looking like skeletons without either canvas or sealskin sitting on the roof of sheds beside the houses. I would have loved to take one of these home:) but they are custom-made just for one paddler. Which I did not know at the time. I also enjoyed walking around in town learning about many customs in these small Inuit community.
In the Seaman's Home, I met the second tourist who had signed up for this kayak journey. He was a seasoned paddler, which scared me a little bit since I was a beginner! Later I found out that our tour guide and his girlfriend were both Greenland qajaqing champions in their class. The day of the start, we gathered at a boats house in the small port of Aasiaat. Boats, paddles and paddling jackets and wetsuits were passed out to us. Everything was new to me. I got a wooden paddle, it couldn't have been heavier. But I didn't know better. We started our journey around noon. The sky was gray , it drizzled, and quite some wind was slowing us down. I tried to paddle as much as I could. It looked to me that I was making quite some progress. The water was just rushing by my boat, I must have been FAST:) After quite a while of strenuous paddling, the guide came to me and asked me how I was doing. I told him I was fine and felt great. He told me he would like to tow me at least as long as the wind was so strong. I couldn't believe was I was hearing, I thought I was just zooming through the waves? He suggested to look at the shoreline during I was paddling. And now I could see it, I was paddling in one spot , hardly moving at all. What a bad surprise! I got towed for over two hours, what a bad hit at my fragile paddler ego! It took me a while until I could cope with that! After landing on shore, we had dinner.
I was deeply frustrated, I didn't expect to be so weak:) Later, back home, I bought a Carbon-Kevlar paddle that was as expensive as my plastic boat that I still own. But that paddle was the best investment I had made in my gear collection. I started to become a much stronger and faster paddler since then. The difference between the wooden paddle they gave me in Greenland to the light-weight Kevlar paddle is between day and night. The next day had a little bit better weather for us. But I was still slow and lagging behind. They tried to accommodate my weakness, but it must have been difficult for them. It was a beautiful route we took. We passed icebergs, always keeping a respectful distance because of the danger of them rolling . Whenever they were stranded they weren't dangerous at all. We could go much closer and even touch them. Later, we stopped for the day at an old deserted Inuit village.
A group of volunteers were working there to restore a hut that could later be used to house tourists. It was planned to change the hut into a museum to allow tourists to see how the Inuit lived up the early 60th before they were relocated by the Danish colonial government. We slept with the about 20 volunteers from all over the world in one big hall, after we accepted their invitation for dinner . The next morning we left after saying good bye to some of our new friends we had made. When I got in my boat, I realized that there were some foot pedals, that I could not reach since they were much too far away from my feet in the front of the boat: yes these foot pedals that help you to get some power into your paddle stroke. I had paddled without them for two days:) now the pedals were set right for me which made a tremendous difference for the rest of the trip. Finally i was able put a bit more power into my stroke! This was a real "learning-by-doing " experience. They did not have to tow me for a while.... The weather became warmer, less wind and lots of ice bergs. It was gorgeous. Small fish was jumping all around us. I forgot their names. Greenlander catch them and either dry them and eat them as snacks in winter or they cook them and eat them fresh. We cooked them , they tasted good but were too small to be really a satisfying meal. Later that day we collected muscles and cooked those.
We boiled them in the saltwater so we didn't have to add anything, a real delicacy. That day we took a long rest, where we slept in the warm sun enjoying the beauty and serenity of this country. We stopped at a small protected bay where an Inuit village must have been located until the 60th. The foundation of a number of houses were still visible. We also found the old cemetery. Traditionally these were mostly on top of the bay, overlooking the bay and the surrounding sea. Mostly the most beautiful place in the village, but also the most exposed. The souls of the deceased had the best view in town. We found some ancient graves. The bones were stacked on top of each other. A skull in each graves showed that these were for sure human remains. Nobody ever disturbed these graves they were at least 400 to 500 years old. These graves were part of very old Inuit settlements. The foundations of the outer walls of these dwellings had the form of horseshoes. They were usually relatively small. About 15-20 feet long and maybe 12 ft wide. The houses were build with peat. Their entrances were narrow and above the floor of the dwelling. whenever their inhabitants had to go in or out, the cold air wouldn't move into the hut. On later trips through Greenland, I have seen these types of remains a lot more often. They have been excavated by the Danish. Important and valuable artifacts were brought to museums in Copenhagen. There was something very interesting about many of the small islands, we passed on our way. Very often these had quite unusual dwellers living on them. Dogs. Sometimes when we passed, the dogs came all the way to the shore of the island, one dog even swam a few meters after us.
Our Danish guides told us the story behind it: These were entire sledge dog teams. Sometimes with a few young dogs among them. After the sea ice melts, the dogs are brought on the islands. The owners come once a week and throw food on shore. That was the reason why our appearance always brought a certain degree of excitement to the inhabitants. These dogs established a kind of pecking order among themselves. In fall, when they were brought back to town, they were peaceful teams where every member knew its place. A genius idea. The rest of this paddle adventure went relatively uneventful. One night, we stayed on a higher hill from where we could see far into the fjord we were camping. We could hear whales moving up and down the fjord, spraying water out of their blow holes loudly. Another night we spend too close to a polar foxes den. He was upset with us and complained all night about the intruders into his territory. My earplugs always help me survive such situations The very last day the weather was changing again. The winds became stronger, it started to rain again, and it became much colder.
Our guides decided they wanted to be home a day earlier than planned . They were expecting friends flying in from Denmark . For that reason we had to hurry now. As I said before, I was a beginner. That pace did not go to well with me. I looked at shore and saw, again- I wasn't going anywhere. They had to tow me again. On one side that was a great exercise for our future Greenland paddling champions, on the other hand , it bend my ego badly again. I still had to paddle, as fast as I could. That did not help too much because the boat was already moving quite fast. Now I had to learn another lesson in clothing this time. I had the sleeves of my paddling jacket pulled over my paddling gloves as I was used from normal clothing. But that allowed the water to run from my paddle down my hands into the jacket's sleeves into my underwear all the way to my skin. I became cold and wet. First I did not realize what was happening, but about half an hour into the tow, I began feeling cold and started shivering. I had never heard anything about hypothermia, but now I learned it fast. We landed in the next bay, they stripped me down to the skin, wrapped me in dry and warm cloth, and gave me hot tea to drink. After about an hour I was back to my old self.
The rest of the trip I paddled myself. The weather had improved and it was obviously better for me to move under my own power than to get hypothermic. We made it back in time to Aasiaat and back to our hotel, where I took a long and hot shower. My trip through Greenland did not end at this point. But this would not be a paddling story:)any more.

Greenland 2001

A two-week paddle around Kulusuk on the East Coast of Greenland This place has captured me forever. I had to come back. The first time in my life I saw Greenland from the air, I was in a plane from Britain to Alaska with British Airways. We flew right over the Greenland Inland ice. I looked down and thought "I have to go there, I have to see that close, that was in 1980! I was going to visit this place of my dreams already the second time. On my first 6-week trip, I had learned a lot about the country and the culture. I was surprised how modern the West Coast of Greenland was. I heard again and again that the Eastern part of Greenland was much more original than the western one, since it was colder, more rugged and less developed. That was what I wanted to see.
Again, I wanted to kayak. But this time I wanted to go by kayak only. I did some research before the trip. Again, I was interested to go with a local group. But it seemed to be difficult to find a tour guide from this area. I finally found a Canadian tour operator. The trip was planned for two weeks. Last time, I flew into Greenland from Baffin Island/Canada. This time the trip went from Iceland through Reykjavik to Kulusuk, Greenland. Our group met at the Youth Hostel in Reykjavik to discuss the last important aspects of our two-week trip. We were taking Feathercraft doubles (Expedition2) boats which we had to take on the plane, and with us into Greenland. Usually, day tourists fly from Iceland into Kulusuk to get a short glimpse into the Inuit culture. They walk around town, get some introduction to the culture by watching a drum dance, and after a nice meal in the hotel, they are flown back to Iceland. From the air we could see how much ice was still flowing through the neighboring fjords and bays. We could see the small port of this town and the snow capped mountains around it. It was beautiful. We landed and were driven with one of the very few cars in town to the small Inuit house which was renovated to become a youth hostel.
A Danish family started to get involved into the touristic activities in town, they helped us to get a place to assemble our boats and get them transported to the harbor next day to start our trip. We were matched up with a paddling partner who we assembled our boats with. My partner and I got a brand-new boat. It took us several hours to get the parts together, I had never done it before. It was my first introduction to folding boats. Some Inuit kids were hanging around and watching us. Here and there they sat in the boats and checked out how it would feel.
The idea of Folding boats was copied by Westerners from the original Inuit skin-on-frame boats, but taken a step further by making the system collapsible and therefore portable. These boats can be taken onto planes and other forms of transportation. They are durable and versatile. Famous became the Klepper company for their folding boats when Hannes Lindeman crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a Klepper Arius folding boat. Next morning our boats were transported to the small port, ready to be packed and launched for the tour. Beside our launch area were at least 8 dead seals laying under water, and tied to the wooden port construction to be kept cool and fresh. It was an eerie sight. We discussed among us that seals are protected. For the Inuit seals are a major food staple. They use all parts of the animals such as the skin for watertight clothing. The traditional kayak clothing was made of sealskin after the hair was carefully scraped off. Kulusuk's port is not too busy.
Twice a year a cargo ship stops to supply the town with the most important goods. Otherwise, people depend on their small boats for transport or air traffic which connects other towns around Greenland. Kids go to elementary schools in their small towns, when they are ready to enter High School they have to go to boarding schools in the larger towns around the coast of Greenland. We packed our boats, and around 3 pm in the afternoon we finally took off. We wouldn't be able to paddle too far that afternoon, but we were eager to leave the populated area to move into the wilderness of Greenland. Packing the boats is almost a science. One has to make sure to balance the gear in a way that the boat moves smoothly through the water. The heavy load goes around the center of the boat. The lightest items are at the ends of the boat. Anything that is used to set up camp has to be in areas easily accessible. The food for on the way should be accessible easily to be able to get to snacks and lunch. Dinner can be a little further away but easy to get to when done setting up camp. Still takes a few days until everyone finds everything and packing becomes a routine. We had to carry all food for the 9 days. Although we would pass by an Inuit settlement, we did not want to buy their food because of the problems they have to get supplies only twice a year. What a sight to look at the snow-covered mountains which surrounded the small port. After we left the bay where the port was situated, we had a breathtaking view, only nature and silence, the most beautiful surroundings.
The weather was great for paddling, we were in kayaker's heaven. After about 4 hours of paddling we finished for the day and set up camp. It was a nice warm-up paddle for the first day. We enjoyed the evening with a nice meal and went to bed in our tents. The next day we paddled much longer. The weather wasn't that nice but cleared up during the day. We passed by a very nice rock outcrop. The Pattern of the wall was in variable grey tones with different geometrical shapes. It could have designed by a gifted artist to decorate a building somewhere in NYC, it was just gorgeous. My paddling partner was from Toronto/Canada. He was married to a blind woman. He and I very often discussed how to help her get a feel for his experiences. It was important to translate everything into audible and touchable experiences, and smells. We had great discussions, which also helped me to grasp the experience of the Arctic with more senses I usually would have done. We looked for example at plants in the ground much more closely. What are bushes and trees in more temperate regions are in the Arctic growing mostly underground, just exposing little wooden parts, leaves and flowers. We found a tree piece which had broken off its roots. With a little saw tool from a Swiss Army knife, we cut the stem , used a magnifying lens, and calculated that the tree must have been 200 years old. Several times we came to at least 400 years old Inuit dwellings. We found the graves sites always above the villages, with the bones exposed under some small rocks covering them loosely.
In other areas we found the remains of Viking villages, which could be easily distinguished from the Inuit villages. They were build highly exposed to the harsh elements of this climate but usually these villages had good landing spots for ships and a great overview of the fjord. So any enemy approaching the village could be spotted from far away. A much different approach to security! In one case we landed at high tide in an area that seemed to be the perfect camping spot. We were very happy and had our dinner and went to bed. The next morning we had low tide. What a surprise! The water retreated further and further. Before we had packed up our gear, the water was half a mile away. to be able to go with our schedule, we had to carry our loaded boats a long way to the water. We needed 6 people per boat. Two of us were holding the carrying straps under the boat to prevent the boats from bending too much. The ground was swampy we sank in half of our boot height. Not a very nice experience. When we were done, the water finally came back.
Right after this experience we were still paddling in low tide. We had to cross through a small opening into the next fjord. This little channel could only be passed during mid-to high tide. We just made it through, paddling one after the other, without getting stranded. We visited one modern Inuit village, stopped by a hunting/fishing hut somewhere in middle of nowhere, and wrestled ice flows all the way through the fjords, had visitors like arctic foxes at night, and one time a group of hikers passed above our camp at night. One experience from this paddle tour will stay in my mind forever: After we visited the Inuit village, we moved along the Eastern side of this big, wide fjord. We were ready for a lunch break. Since morning, we could observe huge amount of ice flows with some small icebergs mixed in. The tide was moving first in one directions, then in the other. In winter, the sea ice becomes between 2 and 3 m thick. After spring break-up, these ice flows collide, and form big chunks of ice which float back and forth through the fjords. We had still enough space between the ice flows to paddle without feeling threatened by them.
Although we had to pay close attention to our surroundings. Everything went fine so far. For lunch, we paddled to a small bay which was hidden behind a land outcrop reaching maybe 80 m into the fjord protecting the landing site from the moving water and ice. A small melt water creek trickled down from the high shore line, the less dense melt water forming a layer above the more dense salty fjord water. When we dipped our paddles into the water the two layers were mixing. No camera could have captured that! We landed at this beautiful site and unpacked our lunches to have a nice extensive break. My paddling partner, a electronics engineer and another group member who was an oceanographer, and I were sitting about 30m above the fjord and enjoyed the breathtaking view. Ice flows were moving with the incoming tide towards the direction we had just come from. We all were looking at this movement, when my paddle partner said "What is the difference between laminar and turbulent flow?" wow he got some answers! The oceanographer and the physics expert began their lecture, poor guy:) but the beauty was that we had the examples right in front of us. Laminar flow in the distance where the water was moving straight and carrying the ice flow in the same straight line with them. Then right in front of the land outcrop with our little sheltered harbor, were all the eddy currents, the turbulent flow.
The water laden with ice flows hit the land and was violently turned around to go in circles which created a constant whirling movement, unpredictable which made it interesting to watch and dangerous to be in with a kayak. We chatted and had fun watching the scenery in front of us. After about an hour, we finished our break time packed our boats to get back on the water. I was surprised to see us moving diagonally right into the eddies we had watched from above. I had to stop myself saying" shouldn't we keep.." I wanted to say ".. to our left along the shore line?" But I decided to keep my mouth shut. Who was I, just in my second year of kayaking? Although I was now one of the faster paddlers and our boat was called Schumie's Red Ferrari, I preferred to keep a low profile. Which was a mistake in this case. Within three minutes we were surrounded but violently rotating and moving ice flows in the middle of an eddy current. First we had some space around us, be we could see how fast the ice flows were closing in on us. My paddle partner lifted already his spray skirt, I did the same.
We were ready to jump out of our boat onto the ice flow we were hanging on to. What to do Now? One of our guides , the woman, decided to move to a very narrow channel that opened on one end of the little swimming pool that was left for us. She jumped out of her boat onto the biggest ice flow and wedged her paddle between the two ice flows. When I later thought of that move, I was assuming we had a lot of luck. These ice flows have the weight of several tons. A paddle or even our boats would have been crushed like tooth picks between them. But the direction of the twirl we were in, must have been to our advantage. The miracle happened, she was able to hold the small channel open until all four boats had passed through. I pulled my camera out and filmed her on the ice flow, getting help from another boat to get back into her K1 Feathercraft. It turned out later, that they had our satellite phone in the boat, had we lost that we would have been stranded on the ice flow.
I still wonder about the fact that we did not even wear wetsuits under our paddling cloths let alone dry suits. We were lucky. We made it out back to our little harbor and calmed down. Then we started moving the way I wanted to suggest in the first place, along the shoreline, all the way to a camp that I'll never forget. It took us hours to get the boats out of the water and up on shore. We had to set up camp in the most unusual way possible. My tent was in a small muddy ditch about 20 m above the water. There was only a mud and gravel slide which we had to move up and down to get all our gear we needed for the night. We were sliding and gliding up and down the hill. None of us kept that camp in a fond memory. But our guides were quiet shaken from the previous experience, they did not want to take any risks any more. We continued the next day to a relatively nice place and settled at this point. I thinks our guides did not want to take any risks at all anymore. Another problem immerging was, we had to get to our flight back to Iceland. But our side of the fjord was clocked with ice.
So they tried to call Kulusuk via satellite phone. No connection could be established. Now they called Canada where their company was located. From there the connection was made to Kulusuk to get us out with a small motorboat. We had problems to get fresh water. We used dark trash bags to melt ice for cooking and drinking. That worked slowly but quite well. We were at this point for almost two days before we were rescued. In the distance we could hear small motorboats passing by. Later I heard that this Fjord is famous for being clogged up with Ice on the Eastern shore where we were. When I visited Greenland one year later, our mishap had made the round along the entire East coast. The tour operator of that next trip was laughing about it. Bad news travel fast :)

Greenland 2002

This was another dream-come-true: a three-week trip into the Greenland National Park I wanted to see this place that was only possible to visit with a permit and it is one of the remotest and inaccessable areas one can think off. We would start in Iceland again, go to Acurery from where we would fly with a small airplane right to the entrance of the Greenland National Park. Somehow the hotel accommodations in Reykjavik didn't work out for us. The weather was bad, and we had to wait two more days before we could fly out. I was able to help the group to get into my usual Iceland accommodations in a Bed and Breakfast a bit outside the city, but very nice and friendly. One evening we wanted to have a nice meal, our hotel owners drove us to the restaurant which was a very Icelandic place with the best seafood one can dream about. On the way to the place their car broke down. But we made it and left the next morning to Acurery from where we flew out. The airstrip we landed on was the Sled Patrol's station. It became famous during WWII when German U-Boots landed secretly on Greenland's Northern shores where a sled Patrol which was established to prevent exactly that found and killed them. On our trip, we found some German gasoline drums and other tools which had been abandoned in the high North.
This time we were planning to paddle for about 100 miles along the Northern Coast through areas only a few people ever get to see. We met very few people, sometimes we just saw their boats on shore. This trip went very uneventful. Everything worked out. I paddled with an Olympic champion paddler, we were fast and good. I was now in my third year of paddling. We were always on the look-out for muskoxen. First they were illusive but later we could see herds of them. It was an interesting experience, because if we were on land and got closer to them they lined up against us. All strong males in the front and the little ones protected by them in the back. We didn't see any whales or other exciting sea creatures. I was sharing my tent with the wife of the owner of the company. She was a very nice lady. But I prefer to have a tent of my own on trips like this. A bit privacy when you are around people all the time is worth a lot. We had a few adrenalin-raising experiences. Once I was almost blown into a fjord by the wind when I tried setting up my tent. Maybe I wasn't feeling too good that day. Another day everyone wanted to wash up, I tried to do that too, to wash my hair. Have you ever tried to wash your hair in 0 Celsius water?? Not a good idea, I was screaming! This was the idea of the Danish people among us, they are pretty hardy folks..... We were 12 and 4 of us came from Denmark.
We paddled all the way to a huge glacier that was at the end of a major fjord. It was the most beautiful sight to paddle along the edge of that glacier which was almost two miles wide. We must have spend half a day in that area and enjoyed the view. We were picked up at the end of this trip at an old hunting hut. The airplane, a Twin-Otter the workhorse of the Arctic, would pick us up the next day. So we spent the time to disassemble our boats, washing the seawater off in a little freshwater creek and some of us went fishing. We caught Arctic Char. It was put into a stew which was the most delicious food I ever ate. Especially after four weeks of dried food. One of our favorite staple was herring in tomato sauce made in Germany, I LOOOVE this stuff. We always fought over the last bit if tomato sauce in the can. The Danish people among us were sitting butt naked on a small iceberg enjoying the view:) (they must be descendants of the Vikings or???)