Paddle on the west coast of Greenland

Paddla på Grönlands västkust

The kayak originates on the world's largest island

Greenland is the world's largest island. Almost 60,000 inhabitants live here. The country is covered by ice up to 3,000 meters thick. 18% of the land surface, mainly along the western and southern coastal sections, is made up of a very barren but at the same time beautiful and magnificent landscape broken by long fjords that can stretch all the way to the ice sheet. In some places, the ice sheet reaches all the way to the sea, usually in the form of glaciers. The kayak originates in Greenland. It was with kayaks that the trappers went hunting at sea.

We paddle at the height of Treriksröset

We paddle in the lee of a band of islands bounding westward towards Baffin Bay and Davies Strait which separates Greenland from northern Canada. It is raining and the wind is fresh. Outside the low rocky islands, giant icebergs drift slowly past to the south. We, six paddling enthusiasts from Brunnsviken's canoe club and the two Greenlandic guides Ti and Hans, started a few days ago in our kayaks from the small village of Kangaatsiaq roughly in the middle of Greenland's west coast. It's early September, autumn is further along than at home. We are approximately at the same height as Treriksröset at home in Sweden.

We battle with the tide and test the dry suit

From the very first day, we get to feel the forces of nature. The incoming tide means that we barely make any headway when we pass a strait despite frantic paddling. Close to the beach, it's a little easier. Our Inuit friends advise us in the event of an encounter with a walrus to paddle close together and look angry. Then it pulls away. We never get the chance to test this crazy thing. At a break, I put down the paddle and above the kayak, a rented one, I capsize and suddenly hang upside down below the surface of the water. Fortunately, we have trained for this eventuality. By so-called T-rescue, my closest friend puts his kayak at right angles to mine and I grab his stern and pull myself up with a jerk, I get quickly and dry shod in the right position. A dry suit is a must here.

The beauty and silence of nature

We spend the night in tents, often next to abandoned settlements where the occasional dilapidated house may remain as a temporary shelter from the wind for captives. Our first night will be less cold than we feared, but then we have used all the warm clothing we brought and crawled into warm sleeping bags with substantial sleeping pads underneath. The temperature drops several degrees below zero and there is ice on the puddles next to the tents. But the morning is amazing. Calm wind. A low-lying sun casts a yellow, warm light over fjords and bare mountains. The silence and loneliness feel overwhelming. The low bush vegetation in the mountain crevices shines in colorful autumn colours. Most nights, large parts of the sky are filled with crackling aurora borealis.

Villages, dogs and sleds

We don't just stay in the wilderness. We also pass a couple of settlements, villages, during the journey; each with about a hundred inhabitants. The Greenlandic policy has long been to get people to move into the villages in order to provide them with necessary services such as school, medical care, shops, etc. The families can then have a more tolerable existence while the men are out hunting and trapping. The standard of living is relatively high. People live in simpler houses but of a good standard. The conduits run on poles half a meter above ground. Around the houses are rows of tied Greenland dogs, surprisingly quiet except when food is being served. The dogs are not pets. They are used as draft animals in winter. The sleds stand outside every house in anticipation of the coming winter.

We finish with paddling among the icebergs

After our long paddle, we go by passenger ship north to Greenland's third largest community, Illulissat, located on Disko Bay and the Illulissat Fjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Through the fjord, the ice sheet calves quantities of gigantic icebergs which, after temporarily being stuck at the fjord opening, continue out into the Atlantic. We borrow kayaks and paddle around the area, however at a considerable distance from the mouth of the fjord so as not to be exposed to overturning or calving icebergs.

Olle Persson