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Qooroq Ice Fjord – South Greenland

My final excursion in South Greenland was a boat trip out to the Qooroq Ice Fjord to see the calving glacier.  Unfortunately, I was the only one going on this particular day, so it was a small, fast boat out, and a rather solitary experience 🙁

Qooroq Ice Fjord boat tour - Narsarsuaq - South Greenland

Just me and the captain!

On the way across to the glacier, however, we did swing by some of the larger icebergs in the Tunulliarfik Fjord for a closer look.   Although I’ve see a lot of icebergs in the past couple of years both in Patagonia and Antarctica, I never get tired of them.

Large icebergs - Qooroq Ice Fjord Boat Tour - Narsarsuaq - South Greenland

Then it was on to the glacier itself.  Apparently, we got a lot closer than what most trips get (having a smaller boat and all), but we were still 6km away! 

Qooroq Glacier - Narsarsuaq - South Greenland

As close as you go. And we got closer than most!

I had expected to get right up to it like you do with the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, so I have to admit I was a little disappointed.  Thank goodness for zoom lenses!

Qooroq Glacier - Narsarsuaq - South Greenland

But, just because I was the only passenger didn’t mean that I missed out on my cocktail with a chunk of million-year-old ice in it.   I initially opted for water, but then thought “stuff it” and had a very small sip of the proffered pre-mixed martini.   Hmmm… I don’t think I’ll be ordering one of those anytime soon … I admit, most of it got tipped overboard!

Million-year-old ice in a drink - Narsarsuaq - South Greenland

After enjoying the peace and quiet for a little while, it was back to Narsarsuaq to get ready for my flight to Nuuk.

Qooroq Ice Fjord Boat Tour - Narsarsuaq - South Greenland

Goodbye South Greenland.  It has been a lot of fun!

Time: ~1.5 hours (though if you have other people, you get a bigger boat and it can take up to 3.5hrs)

Notes:  You don’t really get that close to the glacier.  If you have the chance – I’d suggest doing the boat trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentinian Patagonia.  It is infinitely more spectacular.

Discover more about Greenland

If this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland, learn more about this amazing country at Visit Greenland, and check out the wide range of tours and accommodation available at Guide to Greenland.  

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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Sillisit – South Greenland

Leaving Igaliku turned out to be quite difficult, thanks to the bad weather that had kicked up the day before on my return from the Waterfall hike.    There were 6 of us scheduled to leave, and although we hiked over the King’s Road to be at the dock at Itilleq at the appointed time, they ended up taking us back to the Igaliku Country Hotel, as the boat had been delayed due to the wind and they weren’t sure how long it would be.

We eventually left 3 hours later, but the wind was too strong to drop me at Sillisit – the sheep farm I was meant to be staying at for 2 nights, which is located just across the Tunulliarfik Fjord

Rough seas - South Greenland

Rough seas!

So I ended up back in Narsarsuaq, where I was greeted very enthusiastically by David and the 2 German couples who happened to be having beers in the Blue Ice Café.

It was determined that I would stay the night in the Narsarsuaq Hostel (another awesome, awesome hostel and another dorm room to myself) and, hopefully, the wind would die down overnight so I could be dropped at Sillisit the next morning.    In the end, I had a great night with the gang having dinner at the Hotel Narsarsuaq, so I wasn’t too bummed about missing a night across the fjord 😊

Reunion of friends - Hotel Narsarsuaq - South Greenland

Next day dawned clear-ish and not too windy, so was dropped at Sillisit at 10am and shown to the Sillisit Hostel.  Yet another room to myself – I’m scoring well with these rooms!   Sat out on the front deck – which has the most amazing view over the fjord across to Itilleq – and just couldn’t bring myself to move from that spot.  

View from Silisit Hostel - South Greenland

Grabbed a chick-lit book I’d just started reading, and stayed put for the whole day.  Heaven!

Also talked for ages with a girl from Spain who was working at the farm.  We switched to Spanish pretty quickly and it was awesome to be able to have a long conversation and realize that I haven’t lost too much of my ability to speak that language, even though it’s been 5 months!

We both also had dinner with the owner of the sheep farm, Elna, and her family – amaaaaazing roast lamb with couscous salad and pasta, finished off by banana cake!   I think I ate more in that one meal than I’ve eaten in the past 3 days!  It was absolutely delicious though.

And sunset (at around 11pm) wasn’t too bad either!

Sunset views from Silisit Hostel - South Greenland

Sometimes you need a rest day 🙂

Discover more about Greenland

If this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland, learn more about this amazing country at Visit Greenland, and check out the wide range of tours and accommodation available at Guide to Greenland.  

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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Igaliku – South Greenland

“Don’t walk on the grass!”

This is the first thing you are told when you arrive in Igaliku, and it is an anathema to an Australian who loves walking on grass.  Of course, there is a valid reason for this directive – Igaliku is a sheep farming town and the grass is fodder for the sheep.  But they could have at least made a narrow path between the Igaliku Country Hotel (the local hang-out joint and where I had to check-in) and the Gardar Hostel (where I am staying), rather than having to always walk the long way around a very big paddock that sits right in the middle of town.

Igaliku - South Greenland

View of Igaliku and fjord. You can see the circular area in the middle of town with no buildings? That’s for sheep!

I’d arrived in Igaliku having caught my boat transfer up the fjord from Narsaq

Blue Ice boat transfers - South Greenland

This is how you get from place to place in South Greenland – boat transfers. The boats are very nice actually!

and after having walked the 4kms along the very pebbly “Kings Road” that links the dock at Itilleq (located in the same fjord as other key centres in the area) to Igaliku (which lies in a different fjord). 

The dock at Itilleq which provides access to Igaliku. Two of the red and white Blue Ice transfer boats are visible as is a private yacht

The red and white boats are those owned by Blue Ice, and were how I got around in South Greenland when not hiking.

Fortunately, luggage transfer is included in my trip so I only had to carry my day pack 😊

Hiking across King's Road to Igaliku - South Greenland

Views from King’s Road on the way to Igaliku

Igaliku was one of the most important sites in Greenland during the Norse era, having been settled by Einer (Eric the Red’s best friend) in ~985AD.  The parliament and court were located here, and, once Christianity arrived, the Episcopal residence was also located in Igaliku.  The ruins of this residence, the cathedral and associated buildings (including barns that would fit 100 cattle) are located right in town, and apparently there are other Norse ruins scattered all around the area.

Norse ruins - Igaliku - South Greenland

Also, and unlike elsewhere in Greenland, many of the houses in Igaliku are constructed from the same sandstone that the Norse used 1000 years ago (literally – they raided the ruins).  Though more modern buildings, built after the introduction of the Preservation Act for Greenland in 1937, are constructed of wood.

Stone houses - Igaliku - South Greenland

Gardar Hostel is fantastic (I even have a dorm room to myself 😊), and I found packets of stew (designed for hikers – you literally put the closed packet in boiling water for 10 minutes to heat the contents up) in the Pilersuisoq (grocery store chain) here. 

Guess what is for dinner for the next 3 nights?!

Discover more about Greenland

If this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland, learn more about this amazing country at Visit Greenland, and check out the wide range of tours and accommodation available at Guide to Greenland.  

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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From Iceland to Narsarsuaq – South Greenland

After 25 years of waiting to visit, I seemed determined not to make it to Greenland!   For the second time in as many days, my brain was an hour out on timing and I went very, very close to missing my flight from Iceland to Greenland!

The first occasion was in Tehran, where I was sitting one gate over from where my flight was departing and was engrossed in writing emails.  Fortunately, it was ridiculously early in the morning and ours was the only flight leaving from that part of the terminal, so the nice Ethiad Airways man came over and asked me if I was on the Ethiad flight – and if so – well, they were going to offload me!  I was completely stricken (and must have looked so) and I pleaded with him not to do that as I had 4 interconnecting flights.  His response, “Well, you are going to miss all of them”…  But then he let me on the plane 😊

This second occasion, I had decided to catch the local bus from the Smart Hostel (fantastic hostel and dorms if you want to stay near the airport in Keflavik) so decided on a departure time in order to make it with plenty of time to spare.   Then, when I was waiting at the bus stop, I looked at my watch and suddenly had a heart-attack with the realization that it was only an hour before my flight took off!   Panic ensued, and I ended up waving down a passing car and offering them 2000ISK (~AUD$30) to take me to the airport immediately.  Fortunately, it was a lovely young lady and she did just that.  Ran into the check-in area and the lady didn’t seem anywhere near as stressed-out as I was as she tagged my bag and handed me my boarding pass.

In all my years of travelling, I’ve only gone close to missing a flight once (when they changed the gate on me and I was again distracted working on the computer) – now twice in 2 days??!!   Pay attention Lisa!

Once I was actually on the plane, the flight from Reykjavik to Narsarsuaq in South Greenland was uneventful.  The bonus was that the plane was less than ½ full so we each had a window seat 🙂  Fortunately, the clouds cleared as we approached our destination (the weather was really crappy in Iceland) and the views were incredible!   So much ice!

Views flying from Iceland to South Greenland

Middle-right picture – can you tell what is ice/snow and what is cloud?

Then, suddenly, the uninterrupted ice and snow was replaced with a glacier and mountains that lined our approach to our landing destination: Narsarsuaq.

Approach to Narsarsuaq Airport - South Greenland

The Narsarsuaq airport actually has an interesting history.  It was originally code-named Bluie West One, and was built in 1941 (along with many of the buildings in Narsarsuaq) to as a key base of operations for US aircraft on supply missions between America and Europe during WWII.   These days, it is the second-longest runway in Greenland and so several international flights (from Denmark and Iceland) land here in the high season for tourism.

Narsarsuaq Airport - South Greenland

I met the lady from Blue Ice Explorer at the airport, took possession of my book of vouchers and information for the next 14 days and headed off to the harbor to catch my boat to Narsaq.

My voucher book and brief information brochures from Blue Ice Explorer

You have to be comfortable traveling independently with only this much information!

There were 6 of us heading there and, given the weather was stunning, I decided to sit out on the back of the boat as we made our way down the fjord.  It did get a tad chilly, but was totally worth it for the views.

Up the fjord to Narsaq from Narsarsuaq - South Greenland

Our boat (top left) and some of the views heading up the fjord from Narsarsuaq to Narsaq

Arrived in Narsaq and was picked up at the port and taken to the Hotel Narsaq – it turns out I’d been upgraded 😊   Time for an early night (even though it is still broad daylight outside at 9:30pm) to see if I can catch up on some of the sleep I missed while travelling from Iran.  Time to start hiking tomorrow!

Discover more about Greenland

If this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland, learn more about this amazing country at Visit Greenland, and check out the wide range of tours and accommodation available at Guide to Greenland.  

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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Trekking Argentina – South Patagonia Icefield Expedition – Marconi Glacier – Day 2

The trip description from Serac Expeditions for the South Patagonia Icefield Trek says this about Day 2:

…we trek up the glacier until nearing the Marconi pass – entrance to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.  This will surely be the Expedition’s toughest day.

This is what had been fueling my fears for months!

We awoke to rain and wind, and had a brief breakfast of cornflakes and tea while still in our sleeping bags.  Although I put it off as long as possible, I did eventually have to emerge, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the rain was not as heavy as it sounded from inside the tent.  We got dressed in our waterproof pants, jackets and gaiters and packed up quickly ensuring, as per Juan’s advice, that our sunglasses, crampons and harness were easy to get to in our packs.

And so began our climb up to the glacier and the entrance to the Icefield.

Trekking companion on the climb to the face of the Gorra Blanca Sur glacier - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

A not-so-steep part at the beginning of our climb to the face of the Gorra Blanca Sur Glacier.

Was it as tough as it was made out to be?  

Absolutely!

And this was despite the fact that we had a pretty good day for this part of the trek!  On some expeditions the wind is so strong that they have to stay extra days at Lago 14 waiting for it to abate.

The first 1.5 hours of the climb was essentially straight up a vertical cliff – in many places more like rock-climbing than hiking.  There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. changes in climate over the past few years have made ascending directly via the Marconi Glacier too dangerous.  This new route accesses the Icefield via the Gorra Blanca Sur Glacier, whose face is at a higher altitude than the Marconi Glacier. 
  2. we were trekking at the end of Summer.  Earlier in the season this area is covered in snow and you can essentially just snow-shoe your way directly up to the glacier face.
Beautiful light on the mountains - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

At one point Rafa tapped me on my shoulder and said “Mira detrás de ti” (“Look behind you”). The light was truly spectacular, and provided a welcome distraction as we climbed

There were some very tricky parts – particularly for a person with short legs and carrying more than 1/3 of her bodyweight on her back!   One of my favourite images from the entire expedition is the following, which completely encapsulates the challenges of Day 2.

Juan helping Anita on top of a narrow ledge with a steep drop-off to the left - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

An encapsulating moment. Overcoming the third obstacle of the trek, but with the most incredible view

We had already climbed up from below the lake, being careful to brace ourselves against wind gusts and not fall on the slippery, wet rocks.  Juan instructed us to put on our harnesses as we faced our third obstacle of the trek – a “step” that was taller than I was, with a sheer drop-off on the left-hand side.  An attached rope provided the solution as we harnessed ourselves to our guides and used the rope to pull ourselves up onto the 1 metre-wide ledge.  Anita has just executed this maneuver in the image and Juan is unhooking her.

At this point, we found a slightly sheltered place behind a rock for one of our short snack stops.  The food provided by Serac Expeditions for this trek was great, and included Argentinean empanadas for lunch on the first 2 days!  I chose to eat one of these, rather than diving into the chocolate bars, muslei bars, and other snacks – partially to save the others for later when I would be craving something sweet, and partially because they were the heaviest food item I was carrying!  Anything to reduce weight 😀

Argentinean Empanadas for lunch - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Argentinean empanadas for lunch. There was no shortage of food on the expedition

Another obstacle we came across a little later was essentially a rock “chute”, where I had to brace myself against the walls in order to reach the top.  Usually I’m quite coordinated, but on this particular occasion I somehow managed to get myself turned around and wedged pretty tightly in the narrow crack.  I wasn’t at all sure how I was going to get myself out.  But I was determined not to have to ask for assistance, and through sheer force of will I managed to extract myself.

Up, up, up we climbed.  I couldn’t imagine doing this if it had been any windier!

Silhouette of trekking companion climbing toward the glacier - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Did I mention it was steep?

Eventually we reached the face of the Gorra Blanca Sur Glacier and it was time to affix our crampons.  

Affixing crampons - - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

I’ve worn crampons before, but each time they are slightly different. Juan affixed them the first time for me. Yes, it was still raining

Then up onto the ice.

The next hour was a steady 30 degree climb up the glacier to the Icefield.  At this time of year all the snow had melted so we were walking on hard ice and had no trouble spotting and avoiding the crevasses.  The views back down the glacier were stunning, though the rise of the glacier itself seemed to be never-ending.

The view behind (top) and in front (bottom) as we climbed the glacier - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The view behind and in front as we climbed the steady 30 degree slope of the Gorra Blanca Sur Glacier

It was a relief to finally reach the Icefield where our trek flattened out.

Looking back across the flat icefield towards where we'd come from - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Looking back across the flat icefield towards where we’d just come from. These two people were the only ones we saw for 6 days, and this was as close as we got to them

Here, the crevasses became wider and deeper, often with small trickles of water falling into the abyss. We also came upon a Moulin – a hole created when melt-water encounters a weak-spot in the ice and, due to the Coriolis effect, begins to boar a narrow vertical shaft into the glacier.  Ultimately, both processes deliver water to the base of the glacier to lubricate its movement, and it is for this reason that glaciers tend to move faster during Summer. 

Crevasses and a moulin - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Learning about Moulins (top) and some of the larger crevasses on our hike to the hut

An hour later, the hut (our home for the next couple of nights) was in sight, though there was one last uphill in order to reach it.

Approach to the Garcia Soto Refugio - - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The Refugio Garcia Soto was at the top of this rise on the bare rocky ground. Climbing another hill was the very last thing I wanted to do after scaling what was essentially a cliff to get here

We had crossed the border into Chile at around the point where the glacier flattened out, and arrived for a late lunch at the CONAF hut. 

Exterior of Refugio Garcia Soto - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The Refugio Garcia Soto – our home for the next two nights

There are usually 3 Chilean Carabineros (police/border guards) stationed here (seriously, you find these poor guys stationed at the most remote outposts of their country) but, given their absence, we had the place to ourselves and quickly settled in.  The hut was not warm (renewed respect for the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut in East Greenland), but we spent a great afternoon drinking tea and chatting around the dining table.

Inside the Refugio Garcia Soto - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Making ourselves at home at the Refugio Garcia Soto. It was not heated, so was quite cold inside.

We also made several excursions outside to explore our surroundings.  Although the mountains were obscured, we were treated to a bright rainbow arching over the glacier.

Rainbow over the glacier - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Rainbow view from the Refugio Garcia Soto

Amazing patterns in the ice.

Ice patterns - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

I loved these patterns in the ice, looking towards the Icefield itself

Spectacular vistas over the Icecap (move cursor over the image to scroll the panorama).

 

And to top it all off, a platter of peanuts, olives, cheese, salami and crackers on one of our “tea-breaks” back inside the hut!  Heaven!

Luxury snacks on Day 2 of the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Luxury snacks! The food provided by Serac Expeditions was fantastic, and this was a real treat to celebrate the end of the hardest day of the expedition. No wonder our guides were carrying 26kg!

We finished the day with a beautiful sunset that promised better weather tomorrow, and headed to bed early due to tiredness and the fact that we had to wake up at 5am for our ascent of Gorra Blanca.

Sunset from the Refugio Garcia Soto - - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Sunset over the Fitzroy range from the Refugio Garcia Soto

Hiking Details

  • Hiking time: 5.5 hours
  • Distance Covered: 8.3km
  • Altitude:  +818m, -22m

Read more about the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day South Patagonia Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

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Trekking Argentina – South Patagonia Icefield Expedition – Río Eléctrico – Day 1

I slept surprisingly well despite my nervousness about the trek, and was at the office of Serac Expeditions just before 8am.  There we added 1/2 of a tent (the tents were shared) and our specialised equipment for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition (crampons and harness) to our packs, as well as food for the next 6 days.  

Inside Serac Expeditions with the guides packing the last of the gear

The last of the gear to be packed for the expedition. The entire floor was covered when we first started

Everything was divided evenly and, in the end, each of our packs weighed around 21kg (the guides were carrying 26kg).  I was the smallest person in the group, and this was more than 1/3 of my body-weight.  Lifting it from a standing start was challenging to say the least!

Packing and ready to go on the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Final packing for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition. My backpack (hired from Serac Expeditions) is the one in the middle

Once we had all the equipment and food packed, we bundled into a minivan for the 40 minute drive along a bumpy gravel road to the Río Eléctrico – the starting point of our expedition.

Trekking companions walking past sign to Piedra del Fraile - South Patagonia Icefield - Argentina

Leaving the parking lot at the Río Eléctrico to head toward Piedra del Fraile

The first few hours were nice and flat and followed the river through the Lenga trees to the Refugio Los Troncos at Piedra del Fraile. However, to make it a little more challenging, Juan and Rafa set a cracking pace, which meant I was almost running to keep up as I tried to stop and take photographs along the way.

Valle Eléctrico and Piedra del Fraile - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Hiking through the Lenga forest (top) to reach the Refugio Los Troncos at Piedra del Fraile (bottom)

We stopped at the Refugio for about 1/2 hour for a snack and a rest and to admire the incredible surrounds, before loading up again and continuing past the “point of no return”…

Piedra del Fraile - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Views from Piedra del Fraile (top and middle) and the sign indicating the point of no return (bottom)

From there we entered a wide glacial valley surrounded by impressive peaks

Trekking companions in the wide glacial valley after Piedra del Fraile - South Patagonia Icefield - Argentina

Glacial valleys tend to be wider than river valleys, and U-shaped rather than V-shaped

and eventually reached the Lago Eléctrico, which we skirted around for the next hour or so.

Lago Eléctrico - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The turquoise waters of Lago Eléctrico

About 1/2-way around the lake, we encountered our first major obstacle of the expedition – the Pollone River.  It was time to change from our hiking boots into our river-crossing shoes. 

Trekking companions changing shoes - South Patagonia Icefield - Argentina

Prepping for the river crossing

Just like the rivers in East Greenland, the Pollone River originates from a glacier and is absolutely freezing cold.  Unfortunately, I still don’t own neoprene socks, so by the time I slowly negotiated the deep and very swiftly flowing river (there were a few hairy moments, even with the aid of my trekking poles), my feet were once again in agony from the chill.  

Crossing the Pollone River with Cerro Fitzroy in the background

We continued following the shore of Lago Eléctrico to reach the scheduled campsite at La Playita but, as agreed with Juan at the briefing the night before, we did not actually make camp there. 

Looking back towards the lake and La Playita - South Patagonia Icefield - Argentina

The end of Lago Eléctrico and La Playita campsite

The idea was to hike an extra 1.5 hours on this “easy” first day, to make the “very hard” second day a little less difficult.  Seemed like a very good idea, so we started our ascent toward the alternate campsite at Lago 14.

Trekking companions ascending towards Lago 14 - South Patagonia Icefield - Argentina

A little further on, we encountered our second obstacle of the trek – the raging Río Eléctrico Superior.  This was a huge amount of water flowing down a very narrow channel in the rocks and, in order to cross, we had to use a zipline!  So this is why we were carrying harnesses 🙂

Rafa and Juan setting up the zipline - South Patagonia Icefield - Argentina

Juan and Rafa on either end of the zipline. Juan helped us hook up, and Rafa helped pull us across and disengage us at the other end

I went across first with my 21kg backpack dangling between my legs.  The line was angled slightly up so we actually had to pull ourselves across – thank goodness Rafa was helping out!

Obstacle number 2 out of the way, we continued our climb to Lago 14.  We were hiking against a pretty stiff wind at this point and I was very tired when we finally arrived, but you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful campsite!

Campsite at Lago 14 - - South Patagonia Icefield - Argentina

Campsite at Lago 14 – an absolutely stunning location

Juan and Rafa showed us how to pitch the tents and we settled in before it started drizzling.  The views to Cerro Fitzroy were absolutely stunning, and it was clear why it is often called “the smoking mountain”.

Cerro Fitzroy - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Views of Cerro Fitzroy – the “smoking mountain” – from Lago 14

Unlike in Greenland, we had no communal dining tent on this trek.  Juan and Rafa would boil water for tea and cook our dinner, and shuttle-run between the tents to deliver thermoses of hot water and our meals.  I have to admit I felt sorry for them being out in the cold, but very thankful at the same time that I didn’t have to go out there in it!  Although I love the idea of being a trekking guide, I’m not sure I’d really enjoy the reality of it.

Dinner on the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

While camping, Juan and Rafa would deliver our meals to our tents. Yes – our plate was a tupperware bowl

After Jan and I finished our in-tent/in-sleeping-bag dinner, Juan appeared with the map and explained the plan for Day 2.  An early start for the very steep climb up onto the Marconi Glacier and the Icefield itself.  This is the day I’ve been worried about…

Juan explaining the plan for Day 2 in our tent - - South Patagonia Icefield - Argentina

Juan explaining the plan for Day 2, armed with a map and the weather forecast

Hiking Details

  • Hiking time: 7 hours
  • Distance Covered: 8.3km
  • Altitude:  +500m, -185m

Read more about the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day South Patagonia Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

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Trekking Argentina – South Patagonia Icefield Expedition – Prelude

In 2015, I did the 7-day Torres del Paine Circuit trek with Swoop Patagonia.  Although I had hiked most of the trails of the Torres del Paine National Park in my 3 previous visits (it really is one of the most spectacular places on the planet), I specifically wanted to do the Circuit for the moment when you reach the top of the John Garner Pass and have the South Patagonia Icefield stretched out before you.

Looking down on the Grey Glacier and the South Patagonia Icecap from John Garner Pass on the Torres del Paine Circuit Trek

Looking down on the Grey Glacier and the South Patagonia Icecap from John Garner Pass on the Torres del Paine Circuit Trek

I fell in love with long-distance trekking on that trip.

A rainy dawn at the Torres del Paine National Park

A gorgeous sunrise over Los Cuernos in the Torres del Paine National Park meant walking in rain for the rest of the day on the Circuit Trek

From there, I crossed the border into Argentina, re-visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate

Perito Moreno Glacier

The face of the Perito Moreno Glacier – one of the most impressive glaciers I’ve ever seen.

and exploring for the first time around El Chaltén – Argentina’s (then largely unknown) mecca for hiking.   

Approaching El Chaltén and the Fitzroy massif

Approaching El Chaltén and the Fitzroy massif

It was there that I first learned about the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition, in which you spend several days trekking on the Icecap itself.  Guess what replaced the Torres del Paine Circuit on my bucket-list?

Fast-forward to 2017.

One of the friends I made while on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland told me she was traveling to Patagonia in early 2018.  While helping her plan her trip, I suddenly remembered the Icecap Expedition and went searching for it on the internet.  After the 12-day trek in Greenland, the 10-day Huayhuash Circuit Trek in Peru, and the 7-day Torres del Paine Circuit in Chile, I was looking for a new challenge and, having re-read the description, it sounded like the perfect trek to tackle next.  I contacted Swoop Patagonia (they were amazing last time) and signed up for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition with their Argentinean partner company Serac Expeditions.

Storefront of Serac Expeditions in El Chaltén - Argentina

Storefront of Serac Expeditions in El Chaltén

The website makes it very clear that this is a strenuous trek with an intermediate technical difficulty.  While the distance didn’t phase me at all, I have to admit I was a little nervous about the cold, and that fact that I’d have to carry a full backpack for the first time in 20 years.  On my other long-distance treks I only had to carry a day-pack, as the rest was schlepped by porters or donkeys or boats. 

Due to the nature of the trek, both Swoop Patagonia and Serac Expeditions screen potential clients for suitable previous experience and, fortunately, I passed the grade.  But I still had several months to stew on the question of the cold and carrying the weight of the backpack…

It was almost a relief when, the day before the expedition started, the group met at the wonderful Patagonia Travelers Hostel in El Chaltén (I highly recommend it as a place to stay) for a briefing with Juan, our guide, and Rafa, our assistant guide.   There were 4 of us in total – Anita and Reto from Switzerland, Jan from Czech Republic, and me, and this get-together was to make sure that we each had everything we needed to be safe and relatively comfortable on the trek.   

Rafa went through all my gear with me, item by item, and gave me the tick of approval.  Then we all gathered around the map as Juan explained the plan for the next 8-9 days.  

Our trekking route for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

The thick lines highlight our actual trekking route for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition as recorded by Reto and his fancy watch. This was exactly the plan that Juan suggested at this briefing

Despite my fears, it sounded incredibly awesome, and I was really looking forward to getting started.

The last part of the briefing was to take us to the police station to register our trek and get stamped out of Argentina (we would spend several days trekking in Chile), and I decided to have an early night in anticipation.

Sign to the police station in El Chalten

Read more about the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day South Patagonia Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

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Greenland – Summary Information

I had dreamed of going to Greenland for more than 20 years and finally I made it there!  

Red shed in Narsaq with a sign for Greenland Minerals and Energy and an outline of Greenland

Was it worth the wait?   

ABSOLUTELY!  

Though I really should not have waited and made my first trip years ago 🙁  Oh well, making up for lost time – I have already made plans to go back again next year!

It’s a fascinating place, but I didn’t really go into the day-to-day stuff in any of the blog posts that I’ve written, so thought I’d finish off with some random thoughts/logistics/costs.

Things that struck me about Greenland

  • It’s quite European … but in a frontier kind of way.  I don’t know why this surprised me, given it is an autonomous county of Denmark, but it did.
  • Almost everyone under the age of 30 (at least in the major centres) speaks English, most of them extremely well.  This makes it incredibly easy to get around and learn a little about the culture.
  • I loved exploring the Pilersuisoq stores – the big chain of supermarkets in Greenland.  No two were the same – they all stocked different things – and this depended on what had come over in the last shipments, and what had already sold out.  You can buy everything from fresh baked pastries to frozen goods to tinned food to pet food to guns in a Pilersuisoq! In fact, the hardest (and most expensive) things to buy are fresh fruit and vegetables. Remember, everything gets shipped in from Denmark!
A rack of guns in the Pilersuisoq supermarket in Kulusuk, East Greenland

You can buy anything in Pilersuisoq. Photo: Dusan Číčel

  • The vibrantly coloured houses are very typical of Greenland – I imagine to brighten things up a bit during the long months of darkness.

Two brightly painted houses in front of distant mountain

  • South Greenland is very different to East Greenland, and not just in scenery.  Each has their own dialect and South Greenlanders (at least) don’t always understand what East Greenlanders are saying.  I imagine West Greenland will be different again – we’ll find out next year!

Costs in Greenland

Unlike just about everywhere else I travel, Greenland is not cheap!  However, it wasn’t quite as expensive as I thought it would be.  Major expenses:

Getting there

There are only 2 airlines that fly to Greenland:  

  1. Air Greenland – which flies from Reykjavik or Copenhagen
  2. Air Iceland Connect – which flies from Reykjavik

Both are very comfortable airlines, but they don’t fly all the time and the flights are expensive. For example, I paid ~AUD$650 for a one-way ticket from Reykjavik to Narsarsuaq (South Greenland) and AUD$630 for a one-way ticket from Kulusuk (East Greenland) to Reykjavik.

Images of planes and helicopters of Air Iceland Connect and Air Greenland

Getting Around

Because of the icecap, there are no roads linking the “major” centres in Greenland so you have to fly or take a boat.  

Air Greenland is the only domestic airline, which means they can charge what they want for the flights – so getting from one area to the next is not cheap!   For example, I paid ~AUD$520 to fly from Narsarsuaq (South Greenland) to Nuuk, and ~AUD$670 to fly from Nuuk to Kulusuk (East Greenland).  It’s like Australia used to be before Virgin arrived.

Boat transfers – I did some boat transfers in South Greenland (via Blue Ice Explorer) and had originally booked boat transfers between Kulusuk and Tasiilaq in East Greenland.   Without getting too specific – it seems as if it averages around AUD$100 per hour in the boat.  More or less. 

The dock at Itilleq which provides access to Igaliku. Two of the red and white Blue Ice transfer boats are visible as is a private yacht

The red and white boats are those owned by Blue Ice. This was how I got around in South Greenland when not hiking.

These boat transfer companies tend to be quite localised (I will use Disko Line when I travel to West Greenland next year), but there is also the Arctic Umiaq Line which runs between the major population centres of the west coast and South Greenland. 

With both the flights and the boats – it’s always good to factor in some leeway with any connections you might have.   Flights can be delayed due to adverse weather (while I was in Kulusuk, the plane didn’t make it from Iceland at all for 2 days running), and boats can be put out of commission depending on the pack ice (I was advised to switch from boat transfers to helicopter transfers because of the pack ice in East Greenland).

Accommodation

Accommodation is also expensive in Greenland, though not hideously so compared to Australia and other Scandinavian countries.

If you are on a budget, I highly recommend staying in the hostels in Greenland.   All the hostels I stayed in were amazing and the average cost for a bed (shared room) was about AUD$60.   Yes.  Ouch.  It’s a lot for a dorm room.   But on par with Iceland, and all the hostels were warm and wonderful with fantastic caretakers.  I stayed at:

In Nuuk, I stayed in a great little self-contained Airbnb about 5 minutes from the centre for about AUD$100/night

If you aren’t up for a hostel, check out the other accommodation options available at Guide to Greenland or Visit Greenland.

Food

As alluded to above, fresh fruit and vegies are crazy expensive in Greenland.  What is there looks 1/2 expired already and it is more expensive even than fresh food in Australia.   For example, I threw caution (well Danish Krone) to the wind and bought an AUD$7 bunch of asparagus one day because I had a keen need for something green after so much cheese and salami and crackers!

Your best bet is to trawl the freezers (there are a lot of frozen meals available – I had a couple of amazing frozen lamb roasts in South Greenland) and the canned goods 🙂  

Tours in Greenland

For my 5 weeks in Greenland this year I only used 2 companies.  

South Greenland – Blue Ice Explorer

I worked with Blue Ice Explorer to come up with my 14 day excursion in South Greenland for only slightly more money that it would have cost me to arrange it all myself.  The nice thing was that they included luggage transfers with it – so I only ever had to hike with a day pack 🙂

If you aren’t confident traveling independently, then I would probably suggest going with a more formal package tour.   After all – this was all the information I received before being sent off to explore by myself.

My voucher book and brief information brochures from Blue Ice Explorer

You have to be comfortable traveling independently with only this much information!

However, if you are used to traveling alone and figuring things out for yourself – I highly recommend this company!

Cost:  For 14 days, including all accommodation (in hostel dorm rooms), and boat and luggage transfer it cost AUD$1330

East Greenland – Icelandic Mountain Guides

The first few days in Kulusuk and Tasiilaq I actually traveled independently, not with a specific company.   

However, if you love long treks in remote places – I can’t recommend Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides (IMG) highly enough (or simply Icelandic Mountain Guides if you are interested in trekking in Iceland).

You pretty much have to trek with a company if you are exploring these more remote places, and I’ve already sent inquiries to IMG about a few other treks I’d like to do with them next year.  For a couple of my other trekking companions in East Greenland, this was their second trip with IMG, and one of the top-rated New Zealand outdoor adventure companies partner with IMG to run their Arctic Expeditions.

Our trekking guide at a distance standing on a small hill looking up at the mountains towering above him

An Icelandic Mountain Guide in East Greenland

Cost:  Guided hikes in remote places are not cheap – especially in this part of the world!  But totally worth it 🙂 For 12 days of hiking with just a day pack, and with all food and camping gear (minus sleeping bag) included, it cost AUD$4080 for an incredible experience.

Tours in General

Although I traveled Greenland fairly independently, there are some very good tour operators at work there.  Guide to Greenland in particular is an extensive site listing everything from complete package tours to day tours, and is one of the best places to start when looking for what tours are available.

Summary

I absolutely fell in love with Greenland and I can’t encourage you enough to go if you are at all curious about it.  The best places to learn more about visiting this amazing country are the two sites I have mentioned throughout this post: Guide to Greenland and Visit Greenland.  

You won’t regret it!

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Hiking and Trekking Greenland – A Summary from 2017

My long-awaited 5 weeks in Greenland this year were pretty much spent hiking and trekking 🙂  I divided my time between South and East Greenland, which, it turns out, have vastly different scenery!

Trekking group descending towards Karale Fjord with Knud Rasmussen Glacier and mountains in the background

One of my favourite images from East Greenland.  An amazing view over the Knud Rasmussen Glacier taken on Day 3 of the Unplugged Wilderness Trek

I know there are plenty of others out there who are as keen as me for outdoor adventure, so the following is a very brief summary of hiking in these areas, and links off to my detailed blog posts for each of the individual hikes.

South Greenland

I spent 14 days in South Greenland this year between 20 June and 3 July. The weather was good for the most part and, with a couple of exceptions, I often found myself hiking in shirt-sleeves.  The flies and mosquitoes that you read so much about were not too bad on most days, though you definitely need to take a head net.  They will drive you crazy if they do find you!

Me with my head net on, protecting me from the flies on Waterfall Hike near Igaliku in South Greenland

Doesn’t matter how daggy it looks – you need a head net if the flies find you in Greenland!  I’m a terrible selfie-taker 🙁

I worked with Blue Ice Explorer to come up with my 14 day excursion in South Greenland for only slightly more money that it would have cost me to arrange it all myself.  The nice thing was that they included luggage transfers with it – so I only ever had to hike with a day pack 🙂

If you aren’t confident travelling independently, then I would probably suggest going with a more formal package tour.   After all – this was all the information I received before being sent off to explore and hike by myself.

My voucher book and brief information brochures from Blue Ice Explorer

However, if you are used to traveling alone and figuring things out for yourself – I highly recommend this company!

The hikes I did in South Greenland were:

East Greenland

I spent 16 days in East Greenland: 8 – 25 July. It was much colder than South Greenland, and the weather more unpredictable, ranging from bright blue skies with loads of sun (you will need your head net here too!), to fog and rain.  You need to be prepared for all temperatures and weather conditions while hiking here!

I spent the first few days travelling independently, but was limited in the hiking I could do because of recent polar bear sightings.

Paper sign pasted on the door as you exit the Red House, warning about leaving town without first discussing with staff

I admit that this gave me some pause

My main reason for visiting East Greenland, however, was the Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides.   It turned out to be my favourite thing I did in a year of full-time travel – and I highly recommend Greenland Adventures as a trekking company.

I absolutely love long-distance trekking, but unless you are a super-experienced, backcountry trekker who knows how to use a gun (and have one with you), you pretty much have to trek with a company if you want to explore these more remote areas.

The hikes I did in East Greenland were:

  • Kulusuk to Isikajia – an easy hike across Kulusuk Island
  • The Flower Valley – a very easy and popular day-hike from Tasiilaq
  • Qaqqartivakajik mountain – a more difficult 1/2-day hike from Tasiilaq
  • The 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek 
    • Day 1 – Tasiilaq to Kulusuk and along the Sermiligaaq Fjord 
    • Day 2 – Hike to the Karale Glacier
    • Day 3 – Hike to the lookout over Sermiligaaq Fjord and Karale Fjord
    • Day 4 – Karale Fjord camp to Beach camp
    • Day 5 – Beach camp to Bluie East Two
    • Day 6 – Bluie East Two along the Ikateq strait to the Tunu Fjord
    • Day 7 – Tunup Kua Valley to Tasiilaq Fjord
    • Day 8 – Along the Tasiilaq Fjord
    • Day 9 – Tasiilaq Fjord to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
    • Day 10 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
    • Day 11 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut to Tasiilaq Fjord to Kulusuk
    • Day 12 – Kulusuk to Reykjavik
    • Video Slideshow – of some of my favourite images

A Note on Accommodation

I highly recommend staying at hostels in Greenland.   All the hostels I stayed in were amazing, and the average cost for a bed (shared room) was about AUD$60.   Yes.  Ouch.  It’s a lot for a dorm room.   But on par with Iceland, and all the hostels were warm and wonderful with fantastic caretakers.  The other advantage is that you can cook for yourself – food is not cheap in Greenland!  I stayed at:

Discover more about Greenland

If this post has piqued your curiosity about Greenland, learn more about this amazing country at Visit Greenland, and check out the wide range of hiking and trekking tours at Guide to Greenland.

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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unplugged-wilderness-trek-campsite-4-greenland.jpg

Trekking Greenland – Unplugged Wilderness Day 6

Day 6 of the Unplugged Wilderness Trek saw us wake up to better weather than we had on Day 4 and Day 5 thank goodness!  It looked like the sun might even come out at some point during our hike!

Views of mountains and the runway at Bluie East Two

A better looking morning for our hike today

After packing up camp, we convened on the abandoned airstrip of Bluie East Two for a little more info about the area. The US left the cleanup operation in the hands of Greenland and Denmark claiming that the cost of defending the free world had to be shared.  Adding that if they foot the bill for Greenland, that would set a precedent for the many other countries in which they’d established and then abandoned bases during WWII.

Yes, the Greenland flies also finally managed to find us (note the head-nets)!

Maxime talking to the trekking group who are standing on the old runway at Bluie East Two

We are actually standing on the runway here

We farewelled the rusted remains of this environmental disaster (which the Danish and Greenlandic Governments have now committed to cleaning up

Hundreds of rusted fuel barrels in front of the mountains of East Greenland

You really can’t believe the number of fuel barrels at this site

and set out along the Ikateq Strait towards the Tunu Fjord.   This was a very easy hike compared to the past few days and I spent the majority of it chatting with Filip.  

Different views of mountains and water as we hike along the Ikateq Strait towards the Tunu Fjord

The different views of the Ikateq Strait as we hiked along

The “highlight” of the day, and the thing we’d all been looking forward to with great anticipation (some might say that “dread” was a more accurate word), was the crossing of a major glacial river just before we reached our next camp in the Tunup Kua valley.  Given the recent rain, it wasn’t clear exactly what we’d find when we got there, or for exactly how long we would have to wade (hopefully not swim!) through the water to reach the other side.

The wide river valley we had to cross to get to our next campsite

Maxime did an amazing job of keeping us out of the water for as long as possible and scouting the best places to cross, managing to find locations where the water only came to knee depth on me.  

Trekking group picking their way along the rocks lining the river to avoid the water for as long as possible

We were determined to avoid the water for as long as possible

He gave us a bit of a pep talk, and left one of his hiking poles for me to use (it did actually help with the rivers and I was one of only 2 people trekking without them – I tend to find them more of a hindrance than a help in most instances)

Maxime and some of the trekking group preparing to cross the river

and led the way into the river.  There was nothing for it but for us to grit our teeth and plunge in after him.

Maxime standing in the middle of the river watching the group hike across

Maxime really doesn’t feel the cold!

The above image highlights why I could never be a guide in the places I love to trek.  While we all waded through as quickly as conceivably possible, Maxime just stood there in the middle of the freezing river in case anyone needed assistance.  No way!   And although he assures me that you can train yourself to better cope with the cold, I think he may have started with a much greater tolerance for it than I currently have.  After all, this is a bloke who’s led the Greenland Icecap Crossing twice!

In the end, there turned out to be 6 river channels that we had to wade through.  And I was seriously hurting and wishing for numbness by the time we’d crossed the last one!   OK – this was infinitely worse than crossing the river at the start to the Brewster’s Hut track in New Zealand!

Maxime leading the trekking group across a particularly wide section of water

My feet were in significant pain at this point

Fortunately the campsite was not too far from the last river crossing, though just far enough that I’d warmed up a little by the time we got there.   It also helped that the sun finally came out and we were able to enjoy amazing views 

Blue skies finally and views of icebergs in the fjord from our campsite

Blue skies finally!

and some warmth, before the sun sank below the mountains behind us and plunged us into the cold shadows again.   

View of the green vegetation and the mountain behind our campsite on Day 6

The sun set directly behind this mountain

But not before spectacularly lighting up the tops of the mountains 🙂

Golden light from sunset on the peaks across the fjord from our campsite

Trekking Time:  approximately 6 hours

Read more about the Unplugged Wilderness Trek

If this post has piqued your curiosity about hiking and trekking in East Greenland, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Tour with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides:

  • Day 1 – Tasiilaq to Kulusuk and along the Sermiligaaq Fjord 
  • Day 2 – Hike to the Karale Glacier
  • Day 3 – Hike to the lookout over Sermiligaaq Fjord and Karale Fjord
  • Day 4 – Karale Fjord camp to Beach camp
  • Day 5 – Beach camp to Bluie East Two
  • Day 6 – Bluie East Two along the Ikateq strait to the Tunu Fjord
  • Day 7 – Tunup Kua Valley to Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 8 – Along the Tasiilaq Fjord
  • Day 9 – Tasiilaq Fjord to Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 10 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut
  • Day 11 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut to Tasiilaq Fjord to Kulusuk
  • Day 12 – Kulusuk to Reykjavik
  • Video Slideshow – of some of my favourite images

If it has sparked an interest in Greenland more generally, learn more about this amazing country at Visit Greenland, and check out the wide range of tours of all kinds (not just hiking and trekking) at Guide to Greenland.

This post contains some affiliate links.  If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Your support is appreciated!
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