If you love trekking and getting away from everything, the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland is absolutely perfect for you. You will likely not see another human being (apart from those in your group) for almost 2 weeks, and there's no mobile phone coverage either!
(Note: this is a very brief summary of my experiences. Visit my blog for a more detailed description of my adventures on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek)
The Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures by Icelandic Mountain Guides, was my favourite thing I did during my 5 weeks in Greenland in the summer of 2017. Actually, it was my favourite thing I did in my whole year of full-time travel in 2017!
Now, admittedly, I love long-distance trekking in remote places - something that I know most people find a little perplexing. But if you are the same, or if you enjoy hiking and have been thinking about doing a longer-distance trek to see what it's like, I highly recommend this one!
The first day of the trek doesn't actually involve much trekking. Rather, it is a day of travel and logistics: an early flight from Reykjavik to Kulusuk in East Greenland, followed by a light lunch at the wonderful Kulusuk Hostel, followed by loading the speedboats with all the gear for 12 days, followed by a 2 hour trip up the Sermiligaaq Fjord to the first campsite in the Karale Fjord.
There we unloaded the speedboats, and our guide showed us how to pitch our sleeping tents as well as the main dining tent. Yes - you have to help out with the camp logistics on this trip - but that is all part of the fun!
Once all that was done, we could relax and enjoy our surroundings.
And what surroundings they were! From this first campsite, we had a view of 3 different glaciers along the Karale Fjord - impossible to fit in one photo!
On Day 2 - we hiked ~6 hours (out-and-back) to a lookout point over the Karale Glacier. This is actually Day 3 in the itinerary that Greenland Adventures provides, but our guide decided to swap the days around based on weather predictions and the fact that we would spend 3 nights camped here.
The hike basically tracks along the fjord and involves walking over a lot of scree, but it is not particularly difficult.
It also gave many in our group their first taste of glacier hiking, as you have to cross an "unnamed" glacier on the way to the lookout.
And, of course, the views once you arrive are stunning.
Day 3's hike had us climbing 850m up some pretty steep slopes for incredible views of the Knud Rasmussen Glacier, and both the Karale and Sermiligaaq Fjords.
This was actually one of my favourite days of the whole trek, and we had a little visitor waiting for us when we got back to camp - an Arctic Fox.
Day 4 started with us packing up camp and leaving everything on the edge of the fjord for the boat transfer to collect and take to our next campsite. This is one of the fantastic things about this trek - it is boat-supported, so you only ever have to hike with a day-pack.
The route retraced our hike from Day 3 initially, but we did eventually find our way through the fog and over the mountain to the next valley. There we followed the river down to what would have been a lovely beach, had we not all been freezing cold and wet. Yes, we experienced a whole variety of weather in East Greenland!
The weather had improved slightly for our hike along the Sermiligaaq Fjord towards the abandoned American WWII air base known as Bluie East Two on Day 5.
At the end of the war, the Americans destroyed the base and walked away from the mess. They left everything to decay and rust, including the skeleton of the large hanger, dozens of vehicles, and an uncountable number of fuel barrels.
It is a very surreal experience to come across this after days of pristine wilderness, and fortunately, the Danish and Greenland governments have now committed to cleaning up the site. We had plenty of time to explore the remains, as our camp for the night was on the dock that used to serve the airfield.
Half-way through the trek, Day 6 was our easiest day of hiking yet. The main obstacle was a very large glacial river system that we needed to cross to reach the Tunup Kua valley and our next campsite.
The packing list for the Unplugged Wilderness Trek specifically mentions bringing sandals or an extra pair of shoes for river crossings. We'd changed from our hiking boots to our "river shoes" a few times during the previous days, but this would be the longest crossing.
Our guide tried to minimize the amount of time we would spend wading through the freezing water, and did an awesome job of finding the shallowest, narrowest areas for us. It was still quite painful though for those of us without neoprene booties! They do help protect from the cold.
Fortunately, the sun had come out by the time we reached our new camp with a view of icebergs floating in the fjord.
Beautiful blue skies and warm weather greeted us as we made the crossing overland from the Sermiligaaq fjord system to the Tasilaq fjord system. This was another of my favourite days, hiking along the river in the Tunup Kua Valley with granite mountains towering above us.
We had another glacier tongue crossing on the other side of the pass
Before arriving at our campsite, with an amazing view of "The Triplets" at the end of the Tasilaq Fjord.
Rather than hike straight up the edge of the fjord on Day 8, our guide led us back into the mountains for a more scenic route. The mountains were spectacular, and we enjoyed hanging out at a small, high lake, before descending to our new campsite further along the Tasilaq Fjord.
On Day 9, we left our tents and most of the camping gear on the edge of the fjord, and made our way to the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut armed with our sleeping bags and enough food for three days and two nights.
The hike along the Tasilap Kua Valley is gorgeous and surprisingly green.
Then it is up the glacial moraine to an almost vertical climb to the Hut! Fortunately there are ropes to help on this last section.
The reward is worth the effort though. The Tasiilaq Mountain Hut is in the most spectacular location!
Unfortunately we awoke to heavy rain today which meant we couldn't climb to the summit behind the hut. Partially because our guide thought it too dangerous, partially because (if we were honest) we didn't really want to go outside when it was so cosy inside!
So a lazy day spent reading, chatting, sleeping, playing UNO, eating, and drinking copious amounts of tea and coffee. By this stage on the trek we were all great friends and didn't mind at all being couped up together in the hut relaxing.
We actually managed to cram the hike we were mean to do on day 10 into our hiking for Day 11. It meant getting up early, but it was absolutely worth it in every way!
The summit behind the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut has incredible views over the Tasilap Kua Valley and the high, snow-filled valley to the East. The following images show my attempts at a super-wide panorama (top) showing both valleys, with other panoramas of the Tasilap Kua Valley (middle) and high valley (bottom) in more detail.
I could have stayed here forever!
But we were against a tight schedule, so it was back to the hut, back down the vertical cliff, back down the moraine, and back along the valley to our campsite.
The speedboats had come to collect us and all our gear, so we loaded up and headed down the Tasilaq Fjord on the 2 hour journey back to Kulusuk.
Day 12 was nice and relaxed again :) An opportunity to wander around town exploring Kulusuk.
And getting an extremely interesting guided tour of the Kulusuk Museum, which shows a variety of aspects relating to the Tunumiit Inuit way of life.
The last hike for the trip was out to the airport for the flight back to Reykjavik, where it was very sad to say goodbye to this amazing group of people I had the pleasure of trekking with.
If you really want to get away from it all (even for Greenland), East Greenland will definitely deliver.
In my mind, the best way to explore it is on foot on either the Unplugged Wilderness Trek, or another of the treks offered in the area. However, if you aren't up for trekking for several days, there is a boat tour to Bluie East Two airfield if you wanted to see that before the governments clean it up.