The original idea was to go canoeing and fishing, but it didn't quite work out as planned...
A last minute decision to buy some more fishing equipment sent me rushing down to Outdoor Emporium to buy a small spinning pack rod, another reel, and some line. (The reel they gave me turned out to be different to the one I asked for, so I exchanged it on my return.) I managed to pack a huge amount of kit into my backpack, and got my backpack into my new travelling tote bag. Ulysses (one of Nick's housemates) and Nick kindly did my washing up as I finished packing. Ulysses drove us to the airport, where we had trouble changing enough money because of silly limits on debit cards; in the end we had to get cash out of an ATM to give to the clerk at the exchange desk.
There were bad omens when a passenger fainted as we boarded the flight to Chicago. Paramedics arrived and a doctor (another passenger) dealt with the situation, and the flight took off delayed, with the now-recovered passenger on board. We had a fair flight to Chicago; I slept a lot of the time. Near Chicago the passenger became ill again, and there was talk of diverting the plane. Fortunately, we did not need to divert, but we touched down late and had to run for our connection to Ottawa. The flight to Ottawa was good, I slept for a lot of that flight too.
Landing in Ottawa, we watched the bags being unloaded, but didn't see ours. After a wait at the carousel, it became obvious that our bags hadn't made the connection.
It is now 11:30 pm, we have spent a long time with Air Canada's baggage handlers trying to work out what to do. There appears to be no way to get out bags from Chicago to Ottawa in time for our connection to Kangerlussuaq.We arranged for out bags to be sent to Nuuk on Saturday and then to Maniitsoq, and then went to look for a bar. It appears that Ottawa was closed at 1 am, so we returned to the airport and spent a fitful night sleeping there.
Arriving in Kangerlussuaq (the old U.S. airforce base of Sonderstromfjord) over the glacially-silted fjord, the water looked as if it was solid from the silt. The weather was nice, sunny and warm, so I didn't feel too badly out of place in my sandals. The ice cap was shining in the sun in the distance. We met Michael, Ib, and Jacob, all from the ATI at Maniitsoq, who were taking us down to Maniitsoq. Our lost baggage was still a concern, so we had a beer whilst we discussed what to do, and contemplated the 13km walk to the boat.
We got lucky, and managed to get a lift to the boat. All of the taxis had been taken by tourists going for whale-watching cruises. A Russian boat which is used for whale watching was moored in the fjord when we got there. The channel from the quay is dredged into the silt out towards the middle of the fjord, and we had to be careful even in a small boat, since it is so shallow. We admired the impressive scenery as we started battering into the waves on our way out of the fjord.
Five hours later, we were still in the fjord, and very tired of the battering. This is a very long fjord. We finally turned a corner between some small islands, and stopped for a dinner of rye-bread and marinated fish (served the Danish way, with mayonnaise on everything).
Several hours later, after more battering into waves (albeit from a different direction) we arrived in Maniitsoq. We were met at the dock by Terkel, also a colleague of our host Per at the ATI, who gave us a key to Per's apartment. It was now early morning, but there was still plenty of light to find our way to the apartment. Tired, we went to bed and fell asleep immediately.
Maniitsoq is a small town with only 3000 people (it is still the second largest settlement in Greenland), but the few shops are surprisingly good for outdoor equipment. The bank was closed by the time we got to the shops, but we were given credit by the local shops when we explained our predicament; they didn't take any credit cards, they just told us to come back and pay in a few days! We managed to hire tents, sleeping bags and a stove off the tourist office, and I bought new boots, trousers, thermals, and a fleece.
Terkel borrowed the ATI boat (a small open dory) to take us to Amitsuarsuaq, and we set off; we had a wild ride for a couple of hours, with a small diversion to see some humpback whales up close. I was glad of the fleece boat-suit I had borrowed from Terkel for the trip. (Throughout our stay in Greenland, I was constantly surprised by the distances that the locals would travel in small open boats, without any life-jackets or safety equipment, to go fishing or hunting.)
We pitched camp, and then immediately went fishing with equipment borrowed from Per's apartment. I got my first bite; not from a fish, but from a mosquito! The mosquitos in Greenland are numerous, large and voracious, and their bites brought me out in large welts. The first fish went to Nick, followed shortly by my first catch; my fish has taken the hook deep, so I kept it for dinner. I caught another nice fish for dinner, and then we fished for a while, putting some more back.
Terkel left to take the boat back to Maniitsoq, while Nick and I fished on. After a while, we decided it must be dinner time, because the light was fading a bit. A check of Nick's watch revealed it was actually 12:30am! We walked back towards our camp, and Nick caught another fish which he had to keep on the way back. We had pan-fried Arctic Char with pasta for dinner, finally getting to bed at 2:30am. It had been light all night, and was getting lighter.
``It's in my backpack.''This had become the refrain for any piece of equipment we found missing. The backpack was, of course, still in Iqaluit.
We breakfasted on Muesli and left-over char fillets, and then walk up the river, fishing as we go, and trying to work out where the good spots were. For a little competition, we try scoring points; 1 points per fish, 1 extra for first of a species per day, and 1 for the first cast in a new spot. The last rule is generously amended by me to include ``and each subsequent cast that catches a fish'' when Nick catches two in a row. I regretted this generosity when he caught a third, and was amazed as he went on to catch seven fish in a row. I then took the spot, and caught few on my first couple of casts.
We worked our way up river past the spot we had stopped at the previous night, past a couple of lakes where White-Tailed Sea Eagles were nesting. Lunch was bread, cold meat, and sushi. We planned to fish our way down the stream to our camp to meet Per, but the run stopped. We caught two fish early, released them expecting to catch more, but saw no more for hours. Per and his brother Kurt were eating dinner when we arrived, fishless.
The scenery in this area reminds me of the west coast of Scotland; it is a bit more rocky, the hills are taller and more jagged, but it has a similar look and feel. Of course, the reindeer tracks wouldn't be there in Scotland.
After lunch, we struck camp and packed into Per's boat for the ride back to Maniitsoq. The water was smooth and clear all of the way, except where a glacier dam had leaked silt into the sea. We passed fish drying racks full of fish, and saw an iceberg on the horizon. Per's boat was considerably more comfortable than the ATI dory, it had a small cabin to protect from the cold wind.
We had dinner at the Cafe Píusu in Maniitsoq, which serves surprisingly good Thai food. Friday night in Maniitsoq in funny; for such a small town (it's only about 3 miles across) there seem to be innumerable taxis, which spend most of their time racing each other around town. Cars and taxis are status symbols in Maniitsoq; those who can afford it will drive or ride to show that they are well off. We returned home to drink beer, clean up, and prepare for the the start of our long trip the next day.
Back at Per's we checked with the boat crew who were due to take us out, and found that they had been stuck in Amitsuarsuaq, and only two had managed to get back. Our trip was postponed until at least Sunday afternoon, because they had a Team Arctic ferry trip in the morning, preparing for a fishing camp the following week.
Nick and I got bored, and decided to go fishing for cod on the shore outside Per's window. We climbed out of the window and walked down the rocks to the shore with a couple of spinning rods. This time my luck was better, and I caught a good collection of Fjord-Torsk, Cod, and Sculpin. I would have kept the first Fjord-Tosk if I'd realised that Per was relying on us to catch dinner; it was the only fish of a reasonable size we caught (about 1 kg).
The weather continued to be poor, so after dinner we played cards and started on the Rum, Whisky, and the Grand Marnier we had brought for Per (not all mixed together, although the Grand Marnier was vastly improved by the addition of Rum). The card games were quite a handful; Danish whist rules are somewhat different to the rules I'm used to. The rules about nominated ace holders choosing trumps, swapping cards, nullo hands and jokers became too much to manage as the night wore on, so we switched to playing the much simpler game Mousel until dawn broke and we finished our drinks.
We whiled away the rest of the afternoon with another game (dice this time) before the píece de resistance, a dinner of Narwhal. Whale meat is very dark, with a fine texture and a rich taste reminiscent of liver.
It's raining again and the weather is foul, but that's OK. The difference is that I'm sitting in a tent in the middle of nowhere getting wet, rather than going stir crazy in Per's apartment. The helicopter arrived from Nuuk this morning, with our bags aboard!That was the good news. The bad news was that they had been damaged by Air Canada. My pack had been thumped, crushing an aluminium bottle, and worse, the rod tubes had been bent, breaking both of my spinning rods and Nick's fly rod.
We managed to arrange for a larger boat to take us out and drop us off for a shorter hike than originally planned. The journey was quite fast, because the larger boat rode the waves better, but due to its deeper draft we were dropped off a couple of kilometers short of where we wanted to be. While scrambling ashore I hit my head hard against a rock, drawing blood. We had a hard scrambling trek up and down the shore to get to our intended drop-off point, which took nearly three hours. I got my new Gore-Tex boots wet in a river crossing; I should have taken my old leather boots, which were far more waterproof.
The final mistake of the day was revealed when we pitched tents. I had left my tent at Per's on the understanding that we had three two-person tents for five of us (we had been joined by Tomas, another ATI employee, for this trip). The tents were smaller than expected, so our packs had to stay outside in the rain, covered by plastic bags. Nick's tent, which we had used in good weather before, turned out to have a small leak which we ended up fixing with superglue.
I tried fishing but with no success (Per meanwhile caught five fish), getting colder and wetter into the bargain. We had a quick dinner of leftover whale and Per's fish, tried to dry as much stuff as possible, and then went to bed. If there was a lesson from this day, it is not to rely on equipment you haven't tested in bad conditions before.
The first section was very boggy, as we tried to follow the Kangia river to fish. Most of the river was flowing too fast for good fishing, although we found one pools which was clear enough to see many fish lying. We had some some dragging various lures through the pool to see how many fish we could get to follow them.
The bog turned into swamp further upstream. It was no better higher up the valley sides, because of large broken rockfalls. Kurt was suffering, and Nick and my boots were full of water by the time we climed up beside a waterfall and stopped for lunch. The fishing stopped at this point also, since the waterfall is unclimable for sea-run fish and the upstream lake-residents don't come downstream that far. We packed away the rods and slogged through the swamp for a couple more hours.
My bad knee hurt by the time the ground improved, and we moved up to the flat tundra levees on top of escarpments by the river. About this time we saw our first reindeer, grazing across the river. The weather improved as we headed inland too, with less and less rain until it finally stopped. We found a nice camping spot around 6 pm, and set up an impromptu drying line on the tent. A spam stew followed, and the I went down to the river to play with my new fly rod.
I didn't catch anything with the fly rod, but we had some amusement trying to guddle baby char by hand in a small tributary stream.
The walking was much better and the weather was beautiful, opening up a wonderful view of the valley with the river shining in the sun. The tundra flowers (heather, bog myrtle, and others) were in bloom. More reindeer sightings followed, and after we had stopped for a break we heard a bleating sound. Looking round, we saw a reindeer calf looking at us. Per took the video camera and approached it, but the calf was so curious that it came towards him. He was very close by the time it bolted and ran straight past the rest of us.
A tricky tributary crossing brought us to a lake. In the distance, the spray from the waterfall feeding the lake was visible in the sun. We stopped for a bit of fishing; the fish were rising all over the lake. I tried my fly rod, but couldn't cast the distance to cover the fish. Per came by and showed how to do it, his much better technique and more powerful rod allowing him to cover a rise perfectly. I played the fish while Per took some photos of it.
We moved on up to the waterfall, stopping at its foot for lunch. This is one of the most beautiful spots I've been in; this was a beautiful view down the valley with the river braiding and winding down to the small lake, and up to a three tiered, 50m tall waterfall, with cascades of white and green water crashing between the pools.
The hike up to the top lake was hard, working around rockfalls and gullies which dropped into a gorge. As we neared the lake, I saw a line of white, and to my surprise discovered that the lake was still frozen. The weather had been bad for much of the spring, and the nice weather in the weeks before we arrived had not been enough to that it completely.
It also became apparent that the huts were exactly opposite us, and that the walk would be too far to reach that night. This precipitated another change of plan, as we had packed light, expecting to make it to the huts that night. We were out of range for a return to our tents. Nick and I had large plastic survival sacks, and we had some other polythene bags, nylon cord and tape, so we decided to make a bivouac that night. We fished for an hour or two in the unfrozen strip around the edge of the lake. I fly fished for a bit with no success until the wind got too strong.
We hiked back over the top of the hills rather than back down the river gorge. The view was stunning, and the heather over the top of the hills was stunning. The descent was hard on my knees again, and I was really quite sore by the time we reached the small lake. We found a hollow out of the wind in which to cook dinner, and scavenged for firewood.
We had no more success catching fish for a while, the cold wind seemed to have stop them from rising. Per built an over from a flat stone over the fire and some aluminium foil, and baked bread in it. I was very impressed by the success of this.
After dinner, we tried some more fishing, this time as a team; I spotted three char patrolling the lake, and tracked them for long enough for Nick to set up a fly rod, put on a leader and flies, and run up and cast. He cast from the top of the bank overlooking the lake, getting the line in a mess but attracting the fish, and just got it disentangled in time to cast again and get a strike from the rear fish. The other two fish just kept patrolling as Nick moved down the bank to land the fish. We had some more amusement trying to pick off the other patrolling fish until it was time for bed.
The bivouac was constructed of the survival and other bags split and taped together with gaffer tape, with rocks and bags holding their ends down, and a long nylon line holding the ridge up. To everyone's amazement, it survived the night without falling apart. The contraption was christened the ``Frankentarp''.
The final section of the trail led over a precipitous cliff, at times involving awkward manouevres with no room for error. By the time we had traversed it (Per three times, with his own and Kurt's backpacks), we were tired. We made a half-hearted attempt at catching dinner, and then gave up and ate spaghetti and beans instead. The intense mosquito activity made eating awkward, as we tried to keep our nets in place between bites.
The rain came on again, and I retired to the tent and dozed and wrote for a while. In the late afternoon I came out again, to find a fire going and several fish being prepared for smoking. Another committee fishing session followed, as Nick and Per guided my casts onto a fish that they could see in a pool. I couldn't see the fish because of the reflections and ripples off the water. When the fish took and I struck, I found I was the butt of a joke; the fish was a tiddler, only a few inches long. It went back in the water after the obligatory photo call.
Dinner was an impressive affair, with soup, then fresh smoked fish, and finally rice pudding. The fish was hot-smoked over the fire in a smokebox constructed from driftwood, rocks and aluminium foil. (Aluminium foil is amazingly versatile for camping.) We sat around the fire for a while drinking whisky, and warming ourselves on the warm rocks from the edge of the fire.
Drying off on the other side, we retrieved our last food cache and set off over the headland. We decided not to return to the point where we were dropped off, but found the closest point with deep enough water and fished for the last hour. The Ikaalaat returned to pick us up, this time using a rubber dinghy to take us on board, where hot coffee (laced with the remains of the whisky) waited for us.
The trip back was smooth and fast; it was calm enough to take a route outside the coastal islands, passing some impressive icebergs on the way. Back at Per's apartment, the washing machine and shower were busy until dinner, which was a feast of Ptarmigan that Per had shot the previous winter.
There is a glacier at the head of the fjord, which makes the water run green and grey throughout the fjord. The birds were abundant; kittiwakes, fulmars, and razorbills. A minke whale blew as we entered the fjord, but we did not see it surface again. We stopped to look at a cliff with thousands of birds roosting on it, then headed up to the end of the fjord. Our attempt to walk to the base of the glacier was thwarted by thick gloopy silt, which stuck our boots in the ground, and stuck to everything. On the way back out of the fjord a low rumbling sound announced an ice-fall, fortunately not a large quantity or close enough to the boat to be dangerous.
From Fullefjord, we sailed to the Karra river, which we had contradictorily been told would and would not have fish running. After a slow start, we found some great sport fishing, casting dry flies across the current into a pool, and watching the fish surf after them as they swung into the current. The pool was slightly out of my casting range, though I missed some takes off my best casts. Nick brought three char back for dinner.
Back in Maniitsoq, later than expected, we finished our washing, cleaned up the house, and packed for the ferry trip in the morning. The fish Nick had caught were excellent filleted and fried in garlic, with roast potato slices and vegetables.
Even after arriving at Kangerlussuaq, it took two hours to disembark all the passengers, the small tender boat had to make many trips to the dock. We arrived just as the bus for the airport and town left, and had to wait half an hour for another, while the mosquitos ate us alive.
We had arranged to meet Kurt in Kangerlussuaq (he flew in by helicopter earlier in the day), and we left our luggage in the airport lock-up and headed for the campsite. By a strange coincidence, Nick bumped into a friend from Seattle who had just arrived in Greenland for a camping trip!
On the way back past the TACAN station we saw another herd on the other side of a small lake, and stalked up on them. We spooked an individual who was separate from the herd, and worried that the herd would have taken flight, but fortunately they only moved a little, and we could crawl to within 40m of the herd for photos. They had several young in the herd ``as cute as only ugly, hairy babies can be''. Musk-ox are known for their bad tempers, so we did not try to go too close.
Walking on to the radar station, we managed to hitch-hike back to town, getting a lift from a car that had dropped off a party of backpackers starting on a week-long hike to the ice-cap. We had our own visit to the ice-cap arranged, a four-wheel drive trip out and back in the afternoon. The ride out was rough and bumpy, across a sandy silted flood plain which, baking in the afternoon sun, provided a strange contrast to the ice wall.
The ice wall was impressive, with the rumbling and crashing of falling ice lending a Wagnerian setting. A bitter constant wind blew off the ice-cap, but we couldn't help standing and watching as ice cracked and fell into the river flowing along its base.
Back in Kangerlussuaq, we discussed packing up and moving somewhere quieter for the night, but Kurt did not want to move far away because his flight was earlier in the morning. Nick and I stayed there too, sampling the night life by going out for beer and darts at a well-appointed local entertainment complex.
Back in Ottawa, we talked to the lost luggage department at Air Canada about our problems, but was told we had to contact the handling agents on our return to Seattle. The thought of another night in Ottawa airport was too grim, so we rented a car and headed out to find a place to camp and fish. We didn't get far before realising we were too tired to be bothered, and wiht an early start, we found a local campsite and stayed there for the night.