Greenland 2009 part I: Tasermiut fjord

During the summer of 2009 I’ve spent five weeks on the southern corner of Greenland. This is the first long post out of four about this long adventure.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Small iceberg drifting in Tasermiut fjord.

At the time I arrived at Nanortalik, the Inuit village on a small island 87km from Cape Farvel, Greenland’s southernmost cape, everything immediately turned into a hurry. I had arranged a boat charter for the next day with Niels from the tourist service. He was waiting for me at the heliport and after we met he suddenly told me I could go on a boat into Tasermiut fjord already in two hours! A professional American photographer working for National Geographic Magazine had arrived in Nanortalik. He was going to photograph the mountains in the fjord and I could join with him on its boat charter into Tasermiut instantly. I rapidly went to the supermarket to buy the latest provisions for my trip into Tasermiut while not trying to worry about the prices, then packed my backpack as fast as I could and went to the port quay where two Inuit were preparing the boat.

Unfortunately I didn’t had my camera by hand on the boat because of the hurry but the views were already amazing. The deeper we entered into Tasermiut the more wild the mountains became. Isolated icebergs were drifting on the southern part of the fjord. I even noticed a few seals on the ice. They jumped into the water each time we came too close. Peter the photographer was sitting in the front of the boat next to the Inuit steersman. Peter was talking all the time but I couldn’t understand the conversation because of the noise from the engine. I was sitting in the back next to a young Inuit, about my age. He was not able to speak English so I remained looking around admiring the landscape. Then suddenly the steersman asked me what I was going to do in the fjord. I explained him my plans. The reaction of the Inuit on trekkers like me is every time the same. Most of them don’t really seem to understand the satisfaction you can get from hiking in a remote place for a long time. But the young Inuit didn’t react as such. He showed me a picture on its cell phone after the steersman started to communicate with Peter again. It was a picture of himself standing on the branches high in a big tree. The picture surely wasn’t taken in Greenland as there are not such big trees here. I assumed the picture was taken in Denmark. Then he made some gestures and I immediately understood what he was trying to say. The Inuit was proud he could have climbed in such a big tree for once, trees which he had never seen before in his homeland. And that is the reason why I was here in Greenland too, not for the trees but for these wild landscapes which I cannot find at home.

I was dropped on the beach at the mouth of Kuussuaq river, the big river which drains Tasersuaq, a huge lake next to the fjord enclosed between alpine peaks. The boat was leaving to drop Peter deeper in the fjord at Klosterdalen. We waved at each other and while the boat left an unpleasant feeling immediately grew in me. The feeling was bilateral. I felt lonely, but this feeling wasn’t really bothering me as it felt more positive than negative. I also felt a sudden pressure, a pressure not to fail on this remote trip. Never before I was so abruptly dropped of in the wilderness. Before I had always started from a village or a road to start penetrating deeper into the wilderness. Immediately there was no way back now. I was alone and isolated. Did I have enough food with me? Did I forget to bring a critical gear item? Maybe something fell out of my backpack unnoticed when I was stuffing the food in my backpack in Nanortalik? I tried to suppress these thoughts which were nothing more than signs of initial stress and walked to nearby Tasersuaq to search for a bivouac place on the tundra next to the sand beaches of the lake. The surroundings were majestic but also a bit frightening at the same time. It was the end of June now and the summer had yet to begin. There was still a lot of snow on the peaks, snow that would be inevitable once I would climb away from the fjord. But what frightened me more were the polar willows. There were willows growing almost everywhere below 200m, covering the ground as a one to two meter thick layer of shrub, difficult to bushwhack. I kept my food close to my body when I went to sleep under the tarp. I had already noticed the footprints of a few polar foxes in the sand on the beach. I didn’t want to let steel my food in my sleep.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Walking between stranded ice on the beach of Tasermiut fjord.

The next days I walked northward on the beach next to the fjord. It was a hard time and my progression slow as my backpack was still weighing over 30kg. Humps of field ice were laying stranded on the beach each time at low tide.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The wild walls and spires of Ketil and Ulamertorsuaq partly hidden in clouds, seen from the summit of Suikkassuaq.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Evening on the third day with already a lot of midges and mosquitoes circling around my head.

On the third day after a rainy night which threw a fresh layer of snow on the mountains, I decided to climb Suikkasuaq (1524m) from the fjord. I left my tarp behind with my food well packed in the backpack underneath. The mountain looked steep from the fjord but I took a route up the mountain from its much less steep southern flank after ascending in the small adjacent valley above the fjord. I could reach the summit easily through the snow without any technical difficulties. Despite the weather wasn’t clear, I was able to see almost the entire length of Tasermiut fjord with snowy peaks around in every direction.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
A resting moment at the fluvial delta of Qoorormiut river before the crossing of the icy cold water. In the background the snowy mountains on the other side of Tasermiut fjord.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
At the river in Nulamertorsuaq valley with evening glow on the peaks.

The next day I arrived at Nulamertorsuaq valley while the weather finally cleared up. As surprise I wasn’t alone there. A group of Swedish climbers were on a alpine expedition, trying an attempt on the big wall of Nulamertorsuaq and the tower of Ulamertorsuaq. They pitched their base camp close to the fjord. Only two climbers were now in base camp. The others went to the base of the wall of Nulamertorsuaq in the head of the valley to construct a secondary camp over there. But there was also another guy. It was Peter. He was renting a zodiac from the tourist office in Nanortalik and had arrived here after a few days in Klosterdalen. He didn’t photograph anything yet. The weather had been too bad all the time for its professional photography. The climbers told me they were already a month nailed in their base camp because it had been raining or snowing frequently the entire past month and the low clouds never lifted during the dry spells in between. Happy as they were now that Niels told them over their satellite telephone that a period of nice weather would break through, they immediately were heading for the big wall.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The spires of Ulamertorsuaq seen from an altitude of about 1000m on its northwest ridge. The scenery one can see from this spot is so encredibly wild.

The valley was really wonderful. Big granite peaks with huge vertical walls were standing like monuments next to the fjord. I remained one day in de valley, climbing on the ridge of Ulamertorsuaq under its tower during the morning until there was no further possibility to climb any higher. At midday a was napping on top of the inselberg in the valley which gave a superb view over Tasermiut and the mountain peaks. In the evening I started climbing towards the summit of Piramiden, not knowing were I would be stranding again. At the end I was climbing on crampons and with ice axe on the snow, almost reaching the summit of Piramiden. The peaks were lit by alpenglow when I arrived just 30m under the final spire which made the summit of the peak. The place is really amazing and incredibly wild with view onto needle like peaks everywhere in the east and north.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Tasermiut fjord and the fluvial delta of the river from Nulamertorsuaq valley.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Looking at Ulamertorsuaq’s north face with Nulamertorsuaq in the back.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Resting moment under the vertical walls on the southwest ridge of Piramiden with a beautiful view over Tasermiut fjord.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The view from Piramiden (1560m).

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Ketil (2003m) as seen from just under the summit of Piramiden (1560m).

It became harder the further I continued northward along the fjord during the next day. Beside the willows, dwarf birches appeared more often now. The bushes were a nerve racking job to bushwhack and a beach was absent most of the time next to the fjord so there was no other choice than to bushwhack. Suddenly I saw a polar fox between the trees. We were both looking each other straight into the eyes while after a few seconds the fox fled away. Minutes later I stumbled upon an open spot between the thickets where another young polar fox, I don’t know if it was the same one of a few minutes earlier, remained barking at me constantly. I was happy to meet these cute foxes.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Lost in the birch trees along Tasermiut fjord. I didn’t like the bushwhacking here.

The day remained bushwhacking all the time until I suddenly stumbled on a big river. It was the Uiluiit Kuaa which drained Klosterdalen. The river was just on the edge of flooding with the grey silty glacial water flowing at high speed through the river bed. I immediately started to search for a place to ford. The river emptied into the fjord over a wide waterfall. It was possible to step further into the river bed over the rocks here. According to the information written on the backside of the map, this should be the suggested place to wade the river, just above the waterfall. But there was no single hair on my body which wanted to even try it over here. The water was way to furious and fast. If I would try it here I definitely would be swept away by the current into the waterfall. So I continued to search for a ford further upstream while sounding the depth of the river with my walking poles. Just next to the river bank I sometimes couldn’t even feel the bottom with my poles which meant the river must have been deeper than 1.5m already next to the river bank. Further upstream the river turned into churning whitewater. Wading here would mean committing suicide. I realized I was stuck here. The river was impossible to wade or I must swim to the other side over the deep and more quiet section just upstream of the waterfall. Seen the icy temperatures of the glacial water this was the last thing I would try. I ended with studying the mouth of the river into the fjord just below the waterfall. It was high tide now but despite the high water level in the fjord and the cloudy water there seemed to be a river delta present under water. So I made the decision the bivouac close to the fjord and wait for low tide tomorrow at 06h17 and try to wade over the delta in the fjord. If this wouldn’t succeed there would be no other solution than to keep bushwhacking deeper into Klosterdalen to search for a spot to wade the river much further upstream.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
This young polar fox was always barking at me. When I came too close he hid behind the rock.

The next morning the water levels in the fjord had dropped for two meters and sandbars now emerged above the water level. A river delta appeared in the low waters of the fjord. Happy as I was I immediately tried to wade over the delta. The wide river channels were only knee deep now and the current slow. I only had to fight with the icy temperature of the water but that was now only a detail. I was happy not to end up swimming through the river.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The falls of Uiluiit Kuua river into Tasermiut fjord. On the right you can see the delta of the river in the fjord at low tide. That is the place where I found a possibility to wade.

I continued further north along the fjord which meant bushwhacking again as the shore existed of a low cliff face next to Klosterdalen. The thickets even grew closer to each other than ever before on the trip. I was more climbing into the trees and putting steps from branch to branch than walking on the soil between the trees. After a long time I reached the gravel beach passed the cliffs and the day became a relief as I could remain walking on the beach all the way to the huge fluvial delta of Tiningnertooq river draining the next valley. Sermeq came now well into view, the glacier which came down from the ice cap into the fjord, while yet new impressive peaks appeared on my right towering high above Tiningnertooq valley.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Looking at Sermeq from the huge fluvial delta of Tiningnertooq.

When I approached the large fluvial delta of the river, I suddenly heard those typical screeching noises above me. I looked up into the sky and saw two big eagles circling around. I had never seen such big eagles before in my life. It were a couple of Greenlandic white tailed eagles which apparently seem to be the second largest eagle on the planet. I immediately stopped walking and remained staring at those beautiful large birds while a raven came flying closer a moment later, attacking the eagles in flight. Despite their extreme wingspan they didn’t seem to be left alone here by the much smaller ravens. I was so stunned about the eagles that I forgot to take pictures of them. One of the eagles returned to its nest which seemed to be built high on a ledge in the almost vertical walls of a nearby mountain. The other flew away over the fjord.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The wild Tiningnertooq valley with its green bottom, the silty river and the glaciers in the back.

Not much later I encountered the delta of the Tiningnertooq river. The river was huge but was spreading itself out in multiple channels over the delta which didn’t seem to be that deep. I took off my pants and mountain boots and waded the five channels to the other side. The water was extremely cold but the wading itself remained without troubles.

Then I hid a food cache between stones on the valley slope and took a short midday nap. The plan was to make a loop of two days further north so I could leave excessive food behind. In the lower part of the Tiningnertooq valley the terrain remained rather easy walking on the tundra, but that changed deeper into the valley. I crossed several swamps and than encountered the first willow bushes. The polar willows grew two to three meters high here. Bushwhacking remained somewhat easier here than through the dwarf birches along Tasermiut but progression remained slow and agitating nonetheless. I tried to find an easier passage along the river without much success. Deeper in the valley I changed plan to climb over the rock slope above the bushes even though that asked for stone hopping from boulder to boulder. This way I had a wide view over the valley but at the end it didn’t turn out as easier walking. So I descended back into the willows.

Halfway the valley I got above the tree line and walking became finally easier. The deep U-shaped valley was impressive. Big wild glaciers fell down to the bottom of the valley head and the peaks above the southern side of the valley were still covered with a thick snow cover. At a certain moment I heard a loud noise above me. An avalanche of wet snow was descending from the mountains and fell down all the way onto the valley floor where I had been walking a minute earlier, carrying a lot of boulders on its way. It was impressive to see but I was happy at the same time not to be standing in its path.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Standing on the mountain pass with a view towards the Tininnertuup towers.

At the head of the valley close to the tongue of the glacier, I left the valley floor behind me and started climbing in zigzags over the northern valley slope towards a mountain pass in the mountain ridge. There was a black hiking route drawn on the map over the pass. By climbing over boulders and snowfields and later on with my hands over the rocks I reached the 950m high mountain pass where I was amazed by the wild views. Only steep mountain peaks, some of them towering into the sky like needles, snow, glaciers and grey rocks were the only things to see around.

A glacier was lying below at the other side of the mountain pass just like was drawn on the map. There were no open cracks visible in the glacier. It was instead still covered by a snow deck which must be even thicker than one meter, just what I had been hoping for. I descended the rocks and stepped onto the glacier. The snow was soft now and I sagged till my hips in the snow. That was less fun. Much further the glacier became steep enough so I could start sliding down over the snow on my butt.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Bivouac under an overhanging rock under the Tininnertuup towers. During that night my sleeping mattress got leak on the rocks.

Below I reached the glacier bed were a chaos of boulders had been left aside by the retreating of the glacier. Much snow was still lying between the boulders. The snow was now more compacted so I tried to walk on the snow as much as possible but a few times I sagged into a melting hole in the snow. It was getting dark already but there was no possibility to make a bivouac on this terrain. I kept walking until I reached the lower part of the moraine were I found a nice spot to sleep under an overhanging boulder between a maze of more boulders, snowfields and streams of melting water. This way I didn’t have to pitch the tarp and was staying dry from the rain. During the night I woke up by the cold leaking through my Prolite air mattress. All the air seemed to be escaped out of my Thermarest. The valve was still tightly closed so it appeared to have become leak on the scree. I blew it up as much as I could and could find a good nights sleep again. A dense fog had formed around with drizzle falling onto the boulder. Water drops were dripping next to my bivy bag but I stayed dry myself.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
In the mountains under the glacier in the head of Tininnertuup valley with midges and mosquitoes flying everywhere around.

An unbearable amount of midges and mosquitoes was teasing me during the morning. I sprayed DEET for the first time but it didn’t make much difference. The creatures kept buzzing around my head and only didn’t land on my arms anymore.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Walking through Tininnertuup valley towards the fjord after wading several smaller streams.

The fog was dissolving rather quickly during the morning and when I was ready to go the sun was shining vigorously. It even became a warm day in the mountains. I left the moraine and walked further through the valley under the Tininnertuup towers towards the head of Tasermiut, crossing several glacial streams. Lower in the valley the fjord came back in sight. Just before the point where the valley starts to make a steep final drop down to the fjord, I stepped onto the side moraine wall of Sermitsiaq, the most southern glacier of Greenland which drains the ice cap. The glacier was impressive despite the fact that it didn’t make contact anymore with the fjord. About a century ago the glacier fell down into Tasermiut and has now already retreated for 2km. I descended the boulders of the huge moraine wall and walked to the small extending peninsula between the fjord and the lake scoured out by the glacier. There was a lot of wind around the fjord so I waited till the evening to pitch the tarp. I was now close to Sermeq too. This glacier still fell down into the fjord but the glacier front was now only a bit less wide than 100m while on the map the glacier front was drawn like 800m wide. A few small icebergs were drifting in front of the glacier front. I assumed Sermeq had once been much more active with producing icebergs. Maybe one or a few years from now and the glacier will not touch the fjord anymore.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Lifting morning clouds at the bivouac place under Sermitsiaq glacier.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Sermeq at the head of Tasermiut fjord with dissolving morning cloud.

During the night the fjord wind died down and a beautiful morning followed. Low clouds initially obscured the view to the mountains but everything dissolved in about one hour of time. I walked to the mouth of the river from the Tininnertuup valley. Yesterday I had already been looking at the river and it seemed only possible to wade just at its mouth into the fjord. It was again low tide now during the morning, the best time to wade such a river. But the river turned out much more difficult to wade than I had thought before. The water came till my hips and I had much difficulties to keep wading in a straight line. The water was pushing me towards the fjord. Luckily passed halfway I found a shallow bank underwater or I would have been dragged down into the deep waters of the fjord.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Trying to follow my path over the steep boulder slopes along Tasermiut fjord.

Then I continued returning to my food cache in Tiningnertooq valley by walking over the steep mountain slope along the fjord. This turned out in boulder hopping most of the time. There were a few small streams which searched their way to the fjord through a small ravine on the slope. Luckily there was always a spot to find were I could descend down into the ravine, step over the stream and climb back out of the ravine. Later on a pebble beach appeared and walking became easy again.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The huge fluvial delta of Tiningnertooq river in Tasermiut.

My food cache remained untouched. I immediately put everything back in my backpack and walked towards the Tiningnertooq river. It was a warm sunny day now and when I arrived on the banks of the river I almost lost all my courage. The river was flooding! The water level must have been almost one meter higher than two days earlier when I succeeded wading the river on its delta without problems with much less water. I followed the river downstream towards the delta.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The Tiningnertooq river is flooding due to the high amounts of snow melting on this warm and sunny afternoon and I need to find a way to cross it!

The river channels were much wider now but didn’t looked very deep. The water of the fjord was now penetrating deeper onto the delta as high tide was approaching, not the ideal time to wade but I didn’t want to wait for hours for the water levels to drop. Most of the channels were now about 100m wide and not deep at all. The freezing temperatures were the only difficulty to face. But that changed when the main river channel followed at the end. Here everything looked different. The main channel was less wide than most of the other channels but the water was flowing at a much faster speed of around 25km/h. I could hear the sound of scraping gravel on the bottom of the channel bed. I stepped into the water and immediately couldn’t wade in a straight line. I constantly felt small stones, transported into the current, clashing against my feet and lower legs. I needed all my strength to keep my balance in the current with my hiking poles. The water never became deeper than my knees but the current was so powerful that I stepped out of the channel about 60m further downstream, about the distance of the width of the channel.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Crossing the Tiningnertooq river on its delta while a handful mosquitos are sucking in the back of my legs. Here you can see me wading through one of the easier channels.

For the rest of the day I returned the same way as before towards Klosterdalen and heard a polar fox barking at me for a long time along the fjord. In lower Klosterdalen I searched for the ruins of the Norse monastery from the middle ages but didn’t found anything. I pitched the tarp on a hill were I had a lookout over the swamps deeper in Klosterdalen. The Uiluiit Kuaa was also flooding now at some places just like the Tiningnertooq river.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The big tower of Ketil guarding the entrance to Klosterdalen. The big wall on it’s northwest face has a vertical height difference of 1400m. Many of the best rock climbers in the world have made an attempt to climb the peak over this wall, most of them failed. The peak is compared with El Capitan in Yosemite and Monte Fitz Roy in Patagonia, though Ketil’s face is higher and by far less attempted due to its remote location and relatively unknown status.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
A few very young larch trees are growing on a natural way at the entrance of Klosterdalen close to the fjord. Proves of global warming can be found everywhere on South-Greenland.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Bivouac on a hill in Klosterdalen close to the Klosterruin with the mountain peaks glowing under the evening sun.

The next day I walked deeper into Klosterdalen towards a mountain pass which would give way to Tupaassat valley and Kangikitsoq fjord. Behind the rock beds under the steep colossal north face of Ketil’s tower, towering 2000m above the valley floor, where the whitewater of the Uiluit Kuaa drops towards Tasermiut, the valley floor of Klosterdalen becomes wide and flat. The valley floor is one big swamp here, 8km long and half to one kilometer wide. The river flowed relatively slowly through the swamp in a deep winding channel. Walking through the swamp turned out impossible, so I had no other choice than to bushwhack through the dwarf birches on the valley slope next to the swamp. Deeper in the valley I could step on a levee at the bank of a small river channel in the swamp and keep following the small channel all its way through the swamp. Halfway the valley I left the valley floor and climbed towards the 520m high mountain pass, at first bushwhacking till the tree line.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Hippuris Vulgaris dancing with the winds in the swamps of Klosterdalen.

There was I cold strong breeze blowing through the mountain pass. A frozen mountain lake with a lot of snow on the mountain slopes was all I could already see at the other side of the pass. A ring of stones was constructed on the pass. It seemed I was not the first one who was going to spent the night on the pass. When my tarp was pitched between the ring of stones I found a small can with 300g of pork meet. The word “take” was engraved on the canned meat and “produced January 2007” was typed on it. It seemed to be left here a year ago by the last people who crossed the pass and then survived the winter. I couldn’t help it by opening the can and eat the meat. It wasn’t very tasteful anymore but I ate everything just for the extra calories.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Still overcast the next morning at the bivouac place on the mountain pass above Klosterdalen with a view on the peaks and towers on the other side of the valley.

I passed the icy lake over the snow at its north side opposite as the hiking route on the map suggests. Hiking over the rocky terrain and the snowfields was now easy again. Numerous peaks towered into the sky along both sides of the valley with hanging glaciers draping the steep slopes of the U-shaped valley. At a certain moment I had a view over the entire continuation of the valley with Kangikitsoq fjord in the distance. The valley looked wild and difficult closer to the fjord. Large icebergs were drifting on the fjord, dimensions bigger than I had seen before in Tasermiut. It seemed cold over there.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Passing the icy lake high in Tupaassat valley with only snow and rocks around.

Halfway in Tupaassat valley I passed a 3km long mountain lake while the terrain became hard again. I walked carefully along the lake as there were spots with quicksand. And then at the end of the lake I bumped against hell. The lake was dammed by a huge wall of granite boulders, a moraine left aside by the glacier of an adjacent valley. The boulders measured dimensions ranging from a car to the container of a truck and they occupied the whole width of the valley floor. Passing along the moraine over the valley slope was impossible, too steep. It took a lot of time to find a passage through the maze.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The lower part of Tupaassat valley with too many bushes and to many difficult boulder moraines and Kangikitsoq fjord filled with icebergs behind with the mountainous islands near Cape Farvel behind the fjord.

When I finally stepped out of the first boulder moraine I lost all my courage. After a flat fluvial plain only moraine relics consisting of even larger boulders were visible all over the valley floor. What the hell! I made a short descent onto the plain and started to search for a bivouac spot. Proceeding through the boulders would have been stupid now. The fluvial plain was soggy and all over covered by low willow shrub with frequent small streams of melting water flowing through the shrub. There was no other option than to search a bivouac spot along the river. But the river in Tupaassat was also partly flooding at the moment due to the high amounts of snow melting again in the mountains. Luckily I did found a spot to lay down and pitch the tarp on a higher gravel bar. The river was impressive. A furious glacial stream of white cloudy water joined the crystal clear water of the main river. One half of the river remained cloudy over a long distance while the other half remained clear blue water were I could see the bottom of the river everywhere, two to three meters deep. The water was flowing at very high speed with big loud swirls in the bends. The hiking route drawn on the map suggests to wade the river here! I was asking myself who made that stupid decision to draw it like that on the map. Even with low water levels, this river seemed very hard and dangerous wading.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
The high mountains in Tupaassat valley from a bend in the river. The mountains rise more than 1600m straight from the valley floor.

My head was lost in a cloud of midges during the entire evening. I prepared dinner and went to sleep immediately after. I was a bit anxious, worried what the day of tomorrow would bring. Tupaassat valley seemed like a doorway to hell.

My enthusiasm was not that high when I stood in front of the next wall of boulders during the morning. There was again no passage to find to reach the debris cones on the lower valley slope were it looked easier walking. The whole day remained searching passages through a huge labyrinth of boulders. Some boulders had the dimensions of a house. I frequently had to jump from boulder to boulder, turn back as I reached a dead end, waded through waist deep water along the flooded river to avoid another strenuous passage through the maze. After a long time I encountered a debris cone of smaller boulders which fell from the valley slope into the boulder field on the valley floor. I could reach the debris cone and climb over it towards the valley slope. Here progression became straightforward over the debris on the valley slope above the boulders. I was partly relieved.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
A Greenlandic White-tailed Eagle above Tupaassat valley. With a wingspan of around 250cm, the Greenlandic White-tailed eagle is significantly larger than the European white-tailed eagle and the second largest eagle in the world after the wedge-tailed eagle. I saw 6 eagles in total during the trip, always in a couple. One always came circling above me for about ten minutes, I assume of curiosity, while making loud noises. For more information about these eagles have a look at Wikipedia and Greenland tourism.

Towards the end of the valley another lake lies embedded between the boulders. Its name is Drepanocladus Dam. When I was next to the lake a couple of Greenlandic white tailed eagles came circling above me for the second time. Passed by the lake, the boulder moraine on the valley floor stopped and the valley floor now only existed of tundra with scattered inselbergs, some of them up to 60m high. I walked towards the shore of the fjord and pitched the tarp next to the river delta.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Drepanocladus Dam in the lower Tupaassat valley is a natural lake blocked by a boulder moraine. According to the map one should cross the river just downstream of Drepanocladus Dam and continue one’s way upstream the valley along the eastern side of the river. In reality this is deadly dangerous! Some years ago the Inuit youth camp school of Nuugaarsuk walked upstream the valley with a small group of young Inuit children during their summer vacation. They tried to cross the river as the map suggests. Two boys, one of 17 years old and the other 19 years old, were immediately swept away in the furious river. A big rescue operation followed but their bodies have never been found.

It was cold along the fjord. Huge icebergs were drifting on the fjord. About every half an hour a piece of ice broke off an iceberg, clashing into the water with a thunderous sound. I was very tired and went to sleep early. Today I had only covered a distance of 4km on the map. The terrain had been too hard for more.

I couldn’t find a good nights sleep during the night. Temperatures dropped to freezing and I was on the edge of shivering in my sleeping bag on my leak thermarest. Despite the freezing night mosquitoes were very abundant during the morning.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Kangikitsoq fjord with icebergs and the mountains around Cape Farvel seen from an inselberg next to the delta of the river. Note my tarp pitched next to the delta.

I climbed away from Kangikitsoq fjord in the morning towards a 550m high mountain pass which gave access to Qinnguadalen which, according to the map, must be one of the most lovely valleys in entire Greenland. The mountain pass was still all over covered with a thick snow cover but that made it easier to pass over it. I descended into the valley along the young Qinngua river under a huge glacial tongue till at a certain moment I encountered another field of boulders on the valley floor. Oh no, not again!

Yes, it was true. The upper part of Qinnguadalen was not much different then the passage between the two lakes in Tupaassat valley yesterday. It took me hours to find a passage through the boulders. Most of them had again dimensions between a truck container and a house. I spent the entire afternoon and evening to search a way through the 3km long maze of boulders. It was late in the evening when I finally arrived on some tundra terrain still high in Qinnguadalen. Despite all the roughness around, it was an attractive place. Hanging glacial tongues covered the valley slopes, their moraines spreading out onto the valley floor, high peaks along both sides of the valley. And by looking southwest through the U-shaped valley the wild peaks of Putooruttoq were visible above Tasersuaq.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
A dark evening in Qinnguadalen with a splendid view on the mountain massif of Putooruttoq.

The weather had deteriorated today. It was now overcast and windy with gusts rushing downward through the valley. I pitched the tarp behind a wall on the tundra to be somewhat protected against the gusts.

I was curious what the lower part of Qinnguadalen would bring. I passed the latest boulder moraines in the middle of the valley the next morning and then reached the tree line. Yes, lower Qinnguadalen would be the climatologically warmest place on entire Greenland and hence the valley is very green with a thick carpet of willow and birch on the lower valley floor. The birch trees even grow up to 5m high close to Tasersuaq, the highest trees in Greenland. On the map the lower part of Qinnguadalen, where this unique and only forest in Greenland is located, was described like a paradise, but for this bushwhacking soul it didn’t seem to be like that. The thickets meant once again hard bushwhacking all day long. During the afternoon a rainstorm set in and the mountain peaks disappeared in the clouds.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Looking back through Qinnguadalen while wringing and pushing myself through the bushes of willow and birch along the Qinngua river.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
Standing in Qinnguadalen at the remnants of an old Norse farm from the 12th or 13th century.

I reached the most eastern point of Tasersuaq in the evening and pitched the tarp low between the birch next to the shore. The rainstorm continued the entire night and morning. The wind gusts changed direction all the time. It was a miracle for myself to be able to keep myself dry under the tarp.

Greenland 2009: Tasermiut fjord & Cape Farvel
After a night with much rain and wind, the sun is finally breaking through the clouds on the bivouac place at the eastern shore of Tasersuaq.

14 days were passed now. I was slightly passed halfway on my adventure into Tasermiut. Before heading to Tasiusaq where I would be picked up on a boat to Nanortalik, I wanted to search for a passage high through the mountains to reach the fjord land close to Greenland’s southernmost cape, Cape Farvel, where the very isolated Inuit village of Aappilattoq is located. I’ll publish the continuation of the trip in a second long post.

17 thoughts on “Greenland 2009 part I: Tasermiut fjord

  1. Exquiste, Joery. Thank you, now I want to go to Greenland. How do I convince my wife that she lets me go?!

    What camera + lenses are you using? How many accus did you have with you? How did you keep them loaded?

    • Thanks for the comment Hendrik. How do you convince your wife? Hmmm, I’m afraid I don’t have any good tips for such a delicate matter. :-s

      In 2009 I still used a Pentax istDL as camera (replaced by a K-X now) with 12-24, 16-45 and 70-300 lenses. The benefit of these Pentax DSLRs is that they take regular AA batteries. I take lithium AA’s for long trips because they last the longest. With the istDL I could shoot around 1500 shots with one load of lithiums. I think I only had one load of spare batteries with me. But I must admit that I don’t like the weight of all the photo gear and I’m serious considering a jump to the micro four thirds system. Your review of the GF2 recently has only convinced me more.

  2. This is breathtaking stuff – your proximity to snow-capped peaks whilst still in grassland is amazing. What a place Greenland is! It’s a great trip report but the photography is fantastic and I know exactly how long it took you to get some of those images. Really, really wonderful. I particularly like the way you describe the emotional difficulties in overcoming the fears of the unknown terrain ahead. It must have been a really tough trip at times and I am looking forward to the rest of your posts. Great stuff.

  3. Thanks everyone for the comments! By clicking your names I’m discovering some new interesting blogs out there.

    I’ll try to add a map with the route in the latest post together with some practical information.

  4. GREAT adventure, Joery!
    In retrospective wouldn’t you say that a packraft – besides the weight – would have made it easier and especially safer, all this river crossings, lakes to paddle?
    I am glad that I can read about your big adventures out of my safe place in front of my computer as I wouldn’t dare to make this tour solo! But even that I was only on a tiny scale adventure in Greenland last year I can smell and taste and feel very well all the emotions, oh no’s and cold together with your perfect pictures! Keep going!

    • Hi Sabine,
      You’re comment about the packraft is spot on! Every time when I look back at my trip here I’m always thinking I did this trip one year too early. Problem was that back in 2009 I had never heard about a packraft. I think this is the place were you should definitely bring a packraft. That will be the conclusion in my latest post.

  5. Pingback: There is a place |

  6. Pingback: Fjord | TagHall

    • Hi Kari,
      Thanks for letting me know this. I’m glad you had a wonderful and safe trip over there. Makes me want to go back by seeing your pictures.

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