In April 2018, I embarked on a two-person, twelve-husky, dog-sledging expedition from Diilerilaaq to Isortoq. Our route was uncertain. Max, the team’s driver, a former professional hunter and an experienced Ice Cap explorer, mapped a few leads after consulting other hunters and village elders. Our first challenges were to boat across Sermilik Fjord and to disembark safely onto the fast ice that clogged Johan Petersen Fjord. Next, we would start scouting the coastline for a way up the mountains onto the Inland Ice. Thereafter, we’d navigate by the sun, GPS and wayfarer’s intuition. Max calculated a distance of eighty or ninety kilometres - as the crow flies. But as the dog-sledge glides, our reconnaissance could (and did) fare many kilometres more.
Barring three-days of low-hanging fog, unrelenting snow storms and limited visibility that forced us to stay in camp, we were able to navigate a route without major incident. We did blunder a wrong turn or two, at one point rolling our sledge on a precipitous cornice and hurling two-hundred pounds of dog food into the abyss. (No photographs of that!) Yet, we recovered quickly and made smooth, exhilarating, sailing once we plateaued the Ice Cap.
The most demanding aspects of this seven-day adventure were our ascents and descents up and down the Ice Cap through labyrinthine mountains, crevasses, moraines and melt-water puddles. Recreational skiers from Europe and America have recently taken to testing their abilities with an Ice Cap “crossing.” Yet often they begin and end on the plateau, leaving out the more formidable parts. Hats off to their local, dog-sledging support teams who risk navigating such rough terrain, not to mention encounters with piteraqs and polar bears.
After a day of resting and visiting friends, Max and the dogs headed back the way we came. With what we learned on our reconnaissance run, he improved our route and bettered our time. I stayed behind to get further acquainted with Isortoq before returning to Diilerilaaq by helicopter - extraordinary travels in themselves.
Here are some expedition highlights -
Waiting expectantly for high tide and loading twelve dogs, one sledge and heaps of gear aboard a hunter’s powerful, open boat:
Punting the narrow channel of Diilerilaaq harbour:
Crossing Sermilik Fjord amidst iceberg phantasmagoria:
Grinding through a kilometre of fast ice at the mouth of Johan Petersen Fjord:
Disembarking warily and swiftly onto thin ice:
Camping on a frozen lagoon under a glacial head wall for three fogged-in days and at last waking to an auspicious dawn:
(Mis)finding our way onto the Ice Cap and attaining its plateaus of infinite whiteness:
Dodging crevasses, rock mazes and pooling meltwaters on our descent to Isortoq:
Seeing Isortoq and meeting hospitable villagers after an incredible twelve-hour push: