Crossing the Nuussuaq Peninsula

On July 29, I flew from Nuuk to Ilulissat.  I spent the night there, then caught a morning flight on a Dash 8 plane to Qaarsut, then a helicopter to Uummannaq then another to Niaqornat.  This was the start of a 3-day hiking trip and 2 weeks of fieldwork on Greenland’s Nuussuaq Peninsula.


Link to Google map of waypoints

Lifeline of the trip.
Trusty topo, the lifeline of a trip. And a work of art.
View of mountains on the Nuussuaq Peninsula en route to Qaarsut  Ja, tak!

Five photos of Uummannaq and the lovely view from town…

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Not just the tip of the Iceberg in ocean between Uummannaq and Niaqornat.

Niaqornat is a village of about 50 people in a spectacular location.  If you have the time, check out the film Village at the end of the World, which is a few years old but an interesting overview of life in Arctic Greenland for the Greenlandic Inuit in modern times.  Being a small village in a small world, one of the stars of the film, Ilannguaq, ended up being my main guide to the town and surrounding environment…

First glimpse of Niaqornat from the Air Greenland Helicopter


Lovely little Niaqornat

I stayed in a house that my employer, the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, owns.  It is used as a field station for different research projects, but mostly whale research I believe.  Ilannguaq manages it for the institute, and so he met me at the airport, showed me to the house and then invited me to join him and his girlfriend’s brother as they headed out to hunt tuttu (caribou) the next day.

I spent the first afternoon feeding a dog next door that had one fat little puppy and going for a hike.  The momma dog was pacing around and squeezing the puppy in her mouth until it cried, so I tried to intervene as the crying had me very anxious.  I gave the mom some water and some leftover food and that seemed to help her relax.

Puupy is snuggled against her belly

I hiked up behind the village, almost following the 4 km of blue pipe that lead to a lake that was the water source for the village.   I continued from there to the large river nearby, scouting out the route I planned to take and making sure I could cross the river.  It was doable.  It is a beautiful place.

Landscape along coast near Niaqornat
A little greater change in topography than the topo suggests, but easy firm walking. I saw a peregrine falcon here.
Mouth of the river I would need to cross if I were not catching a boat ride to the other side.
Upriver, definitely crossable with a packraft.
Heading back to Niaqornat. Hygge!

The next day I hung out around the beach, sitting with different residents that came to enjoy the sun and hum a tune.  I don’t speak any greenlandic, so we did some pointing at whales and smiling at different people.  I hiked up to the cemetary.  Wow, what a place to lie for eternity.

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Around 4pm a large cruise ship with mostly danish passengers pulled in.  I watched the reaction of humpback whales that had been feeding in the bay all day to the arrival of the boat.  At first they moved away, but by the time the passengers were loading into the large zodiacs, the whales were right behind them.  It was good to see.  I met a family that was partly from the US and many people with a love for the Arctic and Arctic travel.  The few people that weren’t out hunting or visiting relatives in other towns welcomed the turists with traditional costume, handcrafted items, a short tour and a song.  I guess it was about 7pm by the time the boat had left and the two hunters were ready to go.

Check back for the video tomorrow….

We loaded in a boat and got dropped off on the far side of the river, where there is better walking and no need to cross major rivers.  It was nice to have someone that knows the landscape lead the way.  The landscape was interesting.  Thick soils from eroded sedimentary deposits that are capped by basalt in some places.  The Greenlandic government hopes there are oil deposits in this region.  You can read more about the area and the oil here.  We didn’t see any wildlife, and fortunately we were far enough north it did not get dark even on the last day of July.  We set up camp and when I looked at my watch it when I climbed into my sleeping bag, it was 2:30am.  We had walked about 15 km or 9 mi.  It was a good start!

Hiking at 8:30pm
Camp site near the river with dwarf fireweed blooming.
Camp site near the river with dwarf fireweed blooming.

The next morning, Ilannguaq and his hunting partner packed up camp and headed for the higher mountains to find tuttu.  The caribou are mostly near the snowfields and glaciers in the summer, where they stay cool and escape insects.  In Greenland, there are both native caribou that appear to have migrated west from North America as well as feral domestic reindeer from Europe, which are only managed in Southern Greenland and everywhere else they were placed, now live without herding.

What a caribou would have looked like if I had seen one. I did not see any.
What a caribou would have looked like if I had seen one. I did not see any.

I headed my own way, which was further south over the low divide and towards the other side of the peninsula.  It was a gorgeous day and I looked for tuttu, but did not see any or even any sign that they had been around recently.  A few birds and geese were the only animals I saw, and even the plant diversity and productivity was quite low.  Nevertheless, it was an interesting landscape with some cool geology.

The no-Road ahead.
Almost imperceptible divide.
Not a dramatic photo, but this bending gravel outwash was my indicator to go left, so it had great meaning to me 🙂


I got to a large canyon, that looked big on my satellite map, but when I got to it, it was even more dramatic than I expected.  Fortunately the area above the canyon was as gentle as it appeared, and was easy to cross.

A more signficant divide, a geologic one, changing a gentle river into a deep canyon.
Erosion resistent intrusion, creates waterfall
Below the waterfall, dont want to go down there and up the other side. Nej, tak.
Upstream looks good. I could have walked across it but had time to inflate my packraft to keep my feet dry. Only it was so shallow I got stuck and nearly got my feet wet anyway.
The erosion resitant rock along an adjacent mountain. Neato.


I made my second camp by a small pond along an ephemeral river, and fortunately a good breeze kept the bugs away. I think I walked about 17 km this day and another 5 km in the evening exploring the area around my camp.

Where are all the animals? A big empty landscape but for my shadow
Camp 2.


The third day, Sunday, I hiked up a wide gentle river bed towards an overlook of the really big river I would need to cross at the end of the day.  The walking was easy and the scenery beautiful.  It had been a cold and dry summer in the area, and so there was not a lot of water to  have to walk through but also not a lot to drink.  I took a nice long lunch break when I had a view out over the landscape to the river crossing, to Vaigt straight and over to Disko Island.  So beautiful!


The knob on the other side of the river is my landmark for hiking all day

The hiking to the river went just as well as all the other hiking, with no tussocks or marshy tundra. I aimed for some sand dunes along side the river that seemed to be above the muddy river plain and hopefully offered a dry, firm place to launch my boat.  It took a lot longer to get there than I expected, but I think it was about 4pm when I had inflated my packraft, took a selfie and floated into the current.

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I only had to go a very short distance, I think I was on the water 20 min, but having the packraft was essential.  The river was deep and moving quickly.  I love floating in my packraft on an Arctic river, or almost any river for that matter, it is such a nice way to see the landscape and feels so amazing to be in the current.  Above where I put in is about 70 km of floatable river, I believe.  The satellite images suggest there is some whitewater as the river constricts and maybe some rock ledges across the river too.  I will float it someday, but not by myself.  It looks like the most amazing trip, so I hope some of you will come next year!

Trip ideas
Trip ideas

So after my short float, I hiked aacross a gravel plain to an area where there was an exploratory oil well drilled in the 1990s.  You couldn’t see exactly where it was, but there was definitely garbage and barrels remaining from human activity.  I found a nice bit of tundra near the only running water and set up camp.  I set my alarm for 530am, as my colleagues were supposed to be arriving by boat from Ilulissat to start fieldwork the next day.  When the alarm went off, I peeked out of my tent and could see them starting to disembark from the boat.  I quickly got dressed and hussled over to help them.  They brought a ton of shit in large aluminum cases!  So they made a camp much closer to the beach and I moved over there.  It was nice to see everyone and we were all excited about the work ahead.

More about that soon….

Some parting shots of sled dogs of Uummannaq and Niaqornat…

The dogs are mostly white, it is not just my bias towards white dogs. Maybe for camouflage when hunting seals on the sea ice? Also cooler in summer than black. I will ask.


DSCN2526Former Sled Dog.  The End.  Ha Ha.

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