We all look for something special when we travel. An experience that no one else has had, something we can hold close to our heart for the rest of our lives. The crack of the whip erases my train of thought and I realize where I am. Gliding across the Arctic ocean of ice with my troop of dogs and Inuit hunter friends. Every so often we pass by bright blue glaciers the size of skyscrapers and mountains reminiscing a fairy tale scene. Being this remote, so far from the civilized world in a place that most will never even know exists is the kind of destination I have always dreamt of. This is travel, in its purest most special form. It’s a transformative experience that you will leave from as a new person. Welcome to Uummannaq, Greenland, the last true adventure!
Ilulissat to Ummannaq, Getting to the Unknown
Mention that you are traveling to Greenland and it surprises most but traveling to Greenland’s North is even more of an adventure. From Iceland, I began by flying to the UNESCO city of Ilulissat located above the Arctic Circle on Greenland’s Western coast.
Ilulissat is a great place to introduce yourself to life in the Arctic with plenty of amazing experiences to be had. This is where most travelers to Greenland come as it has developed into somewhat of a tourist mecca for the Arctic. As I have been here before I met up with my friends for some snowmobiling to the Inland Ice sheet and a photo shoot into the Ilulissat Ice Fjord!
Leaving Ilulissat is where the adventure begins into off the beaten track Greenland. It’s a one-hour flight to the remote airstrip of Qarsuut where you then board a helicopter to Uummannaq.
As the helicopter pummels through the fog the heart shape rock island emerges through the clouds, surrounded by endless nature and stunning mountains. Looking down on the ocean ice you can spot ice fisherman with their dogs. When the helicopter lands and you exit the airport the first thing you notice is the absolute silence. Nowhere on earth has captivated the essence of silence quite like Ummannaq.
Uummannaq Island, The Heart of the Arctic
The heart shaped rock that looms above Uummannaq town has given the island its namesake. Uummannaq town is one of the more traditional communities that you will find in Greenland. The colorful box houses are scattered about the steep hills that lead down to the central historic part of town. Here you will find a blubber house, church and of course the giant mailbox that holds Santa’s wish list letters.
Being so incredibly remote you will not find regular tourist infrastructure here. There are no hotels, souvenir shops or fine dining. This town is remote and raw truly transporting you to another time.
Exploring the town is easily done by on foot, but if you want to explore other parts of the island I recommend doing as the locals do and hopping aboard a snowmobile.
Our first night in Uummannaq we walked the quiet streets with the only noise being sled dogs howling in the distance. We met up with the hunters that we would be living with for the next week to plan.
You are probably wondering where I stayed at this point, well as for accommodation in Uummannaq your only option is home stays. Luckily a few locals here are very accustomed to the odd foreigner arriving. We stayed with a lovely older Inuit woman who cooked us wonderful local delicacies and told us stories of long ago.
Into the Arctic, the Adventure Begins in Uummannaq
I awoke and peered out the window to be bewildered of a winter dreamland. Our homestay sat high above on a hill with an incredible view. In the distance, giant icebergs sit frozen in the ocean ice and epic mountains further afield.
We met at the harbor, the Uummannaq hunters already packing the sled and gathering the dogs together awaited us. It’s cold here, so cold that we were instructed to cover all parts of your skin as sitting on the dog sled the wind can freeze your skin almost instantly. Because of this, I was given a jacket made of sealskin and pants made of polar bear fur!
When the dogs were all tied up, we set off, the sled slowly pulling past the Arctic ice, the sound of the dogs panting only to be broken by the odd crack of the hunter’s whip, it was instantly a hypnotic experience. Crossing this frozen dessert to our hunting camp took about six hours with a few stops for the dogs to rest.
On the journey, we came close to some of the incredible mountains that jetted out of the ice in stunning colors of red. During our trip, the hunters also taught us some Greenlandic words that are used to instruct the dogs. Taking control of the sled I tried them out and yelling out the commands to turn right, go faster and halt, the dogs listened to every word.
Living Amongst Hunters in Uummannaq
After six very cold hours, we arrived in the Hunters camp. A simple wooden hunting shed that was pulled here by sled dogs sit n the ocean ice near to the shoreline of another remote island. When the dogs were tied down the first task to be completed at camp was to get water. Here in Uummannaq water is gathered from cutting the nearby icebergs into chunks and heating them inside the cabin.
Being winter in the high Arctic the sun was already beginning to set. We gathered in the warm cabin to cook together. Here we made a delicious meat stew and played an Inuit card game. Leaving the cabin into the darkness of night I was shocked by the absolute beautiful Northern lights that lit the sky up in colors of green and purple. Never have I seen such a dazzling display of northern lights before.
While sitting in amongst the icebergs in the darkness photographing the amazing light display the ocean would shift here and there making a strange popping noise. It was eerie, but such an incredible feeling being here in the absolute raw nature!
Fishing and Seal Hunting in Uummannaq
The next day we head out to one of the hunter’s favorite places for fishing and seal hunting. Near to a massive iceberg, we used the traditional ice cutting tools to slowly edge out a square-shaped whole into the ocean ice. The ice being over two feet thick made the task quite a tough task.
After the whole was cut, we dropped a fishing line down 500 meters with over two hundred baited hooks on it. This line was then attached to a reel and would be left overnight.
Now that the fishing line was ready the Greenlandic hunters showed us the other ways to gather food, hunting! There are two main animals that they hunt in this area, Reindeer and Seals, both are in abundance.
To hunt on the ice takes a lot of skill. The first thing you do is set your gun inside a white-walled tarp. This white tarp hides you from sight allowing an ice camouflage sort of speak. Seals being very smart you must slowly crawl towards them using the white tarp to hide. Although we didn’t find any seals, learning the craft was exhilarating!
In the morning we returned to the fishing hole. Reeling up the line I was amazed at how many fish we caught! All together we had about 20 Cod and 15 Halibut! Some of which were saved for us, but the majority of the bounty will provide food for the sled dogs. This is an essential part of surviving in the Arctic.
Dog Sled Journey to Ikerasak
Awaking early, we prepared the dogs and ourselves for the long journey to Ikerasak. Ikerasak is located on another island deeper into the Uummannaq Fjord. This area is frequented by polar bears and is widely considered one of the most remote towns in the region.
The dog sled journey would take us about five hours following alongside the rocky outcrop of the island. Although the weather was good it was still very cold often dipping below negative thirty.
Setting off in the early morning was a surreal scene, the morning fog was lit up by the soft orange light of the rising sun. In the distance, you could still see the brightly lit orange Uummannaq rock protruding from the sea.
By midday the fog had cleared and revealed an Arctic wonderland of jagged icebergs, purple mountains shaded in snow blowing from its peaks and blue skies as far as the eye can see. It is hard to believe this place is real, but it is!
By late afternoon we arrived in Ikerasak. The town is settled below a large pointed mountain and scattered about the hills down to the sea. Here people heavily rely on hunting and fishing for a way of life. There is no running water in the houses, so locals line up at a pumping station to gather water. This is the real Arctic!
As like the other communities, there are no hotels, luckily for us while visiting a shop and friendly local approached us and offered us a place to stay! His little white box house was cozy and provided a great escape from the frigid temperatures!
That evening our new-found friend took us on a snowmobile to some amazing photo spots where the northern lights jetted over top of the town and nearby icebergs.
Saatut and the Sea of Glaciers
From Ikerasak we continued the long journey by dog sled back to Uummannaq. The final leg of the trip would take us over eight hours, but of course, we made plenty of stops in the nearby mountains!
Completing this leg of the journey in Uummannaq we traded in our dog sleds for some snowmobiles as our next stop was much further than the previous destinations and requires a bit more power.
In the morning we flew across the ice towards another extreme settlement known as Saatut. Saatut is renowned for its hunters. Exploring the town on foot it’s easy to see why! I passed by many fresh polar bear skins, Muskox furs and even a row of Narwhal heads!
The sea next to Saatut is also an incredible sight as this region has an abundance of massive icebergs that get trapped in the winter ice. The odd shapes of them are fascinating and can easily be explored on foot!
Snowmobiling around Uummannaq
Snowmobiling in Uummannaq
Our final days in Uummannaq we explored more of what the heart-shaped island had to offer. Although Uummannaq town is quite interesting and there are the allures of hiking to Santa’s Cabin which are all great I really enjoyed heading north of the island towards where the ice begins to break off into the ocean.
Here are the wild lands. Seal hunters are everywhere, and polar bears are often spotted. Further up the ice walruses and Narwhals can even be seen! The highlight of this region is an iceberg known as the twin towers. It took about three hours journey by snowmobile to get here, but it was very worth it. This iceberg might have just been on one of the most spectacular ice formations I have ever seen!
Guide to Greenland
Getting in the helicopter and leaving Uummannaq was difficult as this was one of the most amazing travel experiences, I have had in my twelve years as a traveler. Working hand in hand with Guide to Greenland we explored the area looking to promote and create amazing tours to the region. If you are interested in doing this same trip and experiencing one of the most wonderful places on the planet you can click HERE! And see the journey that Guide to Greenland and Uncharted Backpacker are making possible!