Greener than Greenland

It hasn’t been what a xc skier would consider to be a ’good’ winter.  In addition to very little snow, the winds in November and December made it difficult to be outside for long.  I realized the impact of this on New Year’s Eve when all the kids in my neighborhood were out celebrating, and I realized how little they had been outside playing during the previous month.  January wasn’t as windy, and the low snow has made for good fatbiking and even a little ice skating where a water pipe broke and flooded a good section of the ski trails before it froze.   The skiers training for the Arctic Circle Race have had to do endless laps on just a few kilometers of track to train on for the 160 km race.  It’s not as bad as Anchorage, but not a winter like last year which had lots of snow.20151212_115856

My dad and I had planned to go to the Galapagos in May.   I was tracking a few tours and saw that one was discounted to 2 for 1 in February, and we decided to go earlier.  I flew from Nuuk to Kangerlussuaq, then on to Copenhagen where I spent the night.  The next day I flew to Amsterdam and from there left on an unbearably long flight (12 hrs) to Guayaquil, Ecuador.

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Wendy y Ricardo

I got in before sunset, walked to a Holiday Inn nearby and after changing into cooler clothing, I set out for the supermercado to see what was on the menu.  It didn’t look much different than an American grocery, the prices were even in USD.  The headed to the produce section and admired the variety of avocados and mangos.  For dinner I had two local dishes from a restaurant, a potato soup with cheese and avocado on top and fried mashed plantain cakes with cheese and guacamole on top.  Yumm.  My dad arrived at 1030pm.

The next day we flew Avianca airlines out to Baltra in the Galapagos.  Baltra was a military base established in WWII to protect the Panama Canal after Pearl Harbor was attacked.  Nothing ever happened, except that the American destroyed a lot of the native plants and animals and left a lot of infrastructure that is now crumbling concrete.  I guess they allowed residents of the Galapagos islands to come and disassemble wooden houses and take it back to their settlements, which was helpful to the hardy, isolated settlers.

We met up with 11 other people and our guide to the Galapagos, Fabian.  Our first adventure was a short ferry ride from Baltra to Santa Cruz Island.  The ferry was a large wooden boat with a passenger limit of 40, and was powered by a 15 HP outboard engine.  A bit sketchy but what do you expect for $1.00?  We then loaded into a bus and headed up and over the island. Our first stop was lunch in a restaurant at a farm where there were lots of giant tortoises.  In case you don’t remember, tortoises live on land and turtles live in the water.  Not that a tortoise won’t go to the water and a turtle definitely comes on land to lay eggs as you will see later.  In addition to tortoises eating grass, we saw finches, mockingbirds, an whimbrel and white cheeked pintail ducks.   Not a bad start.

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After a quick happy hour of buy one get one free margaritas, we loaded on the yacht that would be our home for the next 7 days.  The Reina Silvia is a comfortable, clean boat that appeared to rock a little more than all of the boats around it.  Thus, we had several guests among us that were quite seasick for the first two days.  I typically get seasick, and wore SeaBands, which press on a spot on your wrist to reduce nausea and seem to work.  I also took a Bonine tab at night to make sure I didn’t get sick and slept well.  Definitely worked and I was very comfortable the whole time.  The Reina Silvia has a crew of 7 (2 cooks, 2 boatmen that drive the dinghies, a captain, a bartender and a mechanic), plus a guide.  All the guys were very pleasant and extremely helpful.  Our rooms were cleaned twice a days and the food was exceptional.  The basis for a great vacation on the water

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View of a fake sailboat, from our very nice yacht
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Beautiful but fast sunsets every evening

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Our first port of call was on Floreana Island, then we headed to Isabella, Fernandina and around to Santiago and then North Seymour Island and back to Baltra.  Every day could include hiking, snorkeling, dinghy tours or kayaking on one day.  We sailed, ate, napped, ate again and slept to the hum of the engines and rocking of the boat.  The water temperatures were a bit cold for snorkeling in the south half of our itinerary and much warmer on the north end.  I would recommend a wet suit, as sometimes I was shivering quite hard when I got out.  But a warm shower and large lunch and dinner replenished my energy.  Hiking was usually very warm but only about an hour long.  All visitation is highly regulated in the Galapagos, and activities are prescribed by the National Park.  I realized this when I asked why we were not snorkeling or kayaking in the very beautiful Elizabeth Bay on Isabela island, and found out only dinghy rides are permitted in this area.  I don’t know of a reason to disagree with this management, as we got to see a lot and also got to see how humans have changed the environment, although more from settling on the islands and bringing in non-native species of plants and animals and clearing the land and eliminating native species.  Most of the on-land tourist activities are in areas that already had some form of impact or were resilient, like lava flows.

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Laura with a Galapagos Flycatcher. So many friendly people and so much friendly wildlife in the Galapagos!
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Hot and lavaed
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Hikiing crew minus two who went to see penguins by boat instead

The Galapagos is typically divided into into western and eastern itineraries, with overlap in the middle.  We did a western itinerary.  It was great.  I would definitely like to go back and do the eastern islands some day, or even redo the western.  I don’t think you can make a bad choice. My favorite place on this trip was Vincente Roca Point on the north end of Isabela Island and the whole north coast.  Snorkeling near and frigate birds on North Seymour island were also exceptional.  I could have skipped Floreana, which is really human impacted, but it is also the site of the silliest drama in the Islands which makes for some fun stories and speculation.

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Our guide for the week, Fabian. At Post Office on Floreana.
Rock carving made by settlers in the 1930’s, confused some archaeologists..

Here are some photos to tell the rest of the story…..

Starting with some birds….

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Brown Pelican
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Franklin Gull
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Striated Heron
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Galapagos Penguin
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Great Blue Heron
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Flightless Cormorants, drying wings to swim again?
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Blue Footed Booby (Favorite!)
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Blue Footed Booby
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Galapagos Flycatcher
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Galapagos Hawk
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Lava Gull
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Elliot’s Storm Petrels, dancing on the water

Participants in the Iguana catogory include:

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Iguana and sea lion

The story of mangroves:

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Seed pod waiting to disperse
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Mangroves establshing
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Established. Huge!

Lava landscapes:

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DSCN3683Nazca Booby on the rock above

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Nursing sea lion pup


Frigate finale…..
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Video of Frigate bird feeding a chick:

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And, as always, the best part about coming home….Greenland Dog Blog dogs!!!

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Ups and downs in Nuuk

October was a crazy month for me.  It started out super unbelievably awesome as I celebrated my one year anniversary of moving to Greenland by flying to Iceland to meet three friends from Alaska!

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These aren’t just any friends.  Laura and Sean are friends from when I was at Michigan Tech (Go Huskies!) and ended up being my neighbors in Eagle River Alaska.  How cool is that?  I met Gus at the Eagle River Nature Center near my house, and so when I think about walking or skiing in the woods with the dogs, I think of Gus.  These people have many other great qualities, including playing cribbage and skiing, fatbiking and skating, but we’ll leave it at AWESOME.

So we got to Iceland and had the shittiest weather you could imagine the first day.  Zero visibility, high wind, sideways rain and cold.  It felt like Greenland!  But we had a good time anyway and drove pretty much across the entire south end of the island to get to a very cool farm guesthouse near a glacier.  There was a cool dog there that would live in peace with the sheep until we came out of our cabin, then she would bark and chase them away to defend us.  Or perhaps protect the sheep from us (=Gus)?

A lot of the pictures were taken by Laura 🙂

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Big Waves!!

 

 

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First stop. No need to walk behind the waterfall to get wet. This one had enough water to make it to the ground…
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A waterup, not a waterfall. This was common in the high wind!


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We saw many beautiful places and even hiked in the middle of the night to some hot springs I had visited before, thinking we would have a soak under the northern lights.  Wellllllll, they were hardly warm springs that night, perhaps because so much rain was adding cold water to the hot river?   I have no idea.  I didn’t make any points for this adventure, but at least the northern lights were awesome and nobody got hurt walking around in the dark up the valley.

After a few days, we all flew to Greenland along with the super shitty weather 🙂  Actually, we had a few good days at first and were able to sail out to Kapisillit, a little settlement deep in the fjord east of Nuuk.   The boat was awesome 🙂

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They say the weather is always better in Kapisillit, and it was.  We set up camp in a giant tent with a portable heater and hiked to town and also out to see the ice fjord.  Unfortunately all the ice had blown out into the main fjord system, so we saw more of it while boating (bad) then when we were overlooking (would have been good).  We saw 4 caribou also, although they may have been feral reindeer brought over from Europe.  The landscape was definitely post-fall in appearance:  a very dull dry brown just begging for snow.

12112159_10153012473747142_1971956688094166878_nThe Kanuti Marie in Kapisillit. Before she pulled her mooring in the high tide and floated to the middle of the bay overnight. Yikes!

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Camping in a heated tent =hygge

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We headed back to Nuuk to pick up two more dogs (we just had Innoko) and to go to a cabin for a few nights.  But the boating was white knuckles, with clear ice chunks hiding in waves.  Lots of ice bergs.  And we couldn’t anchor near my house so we had to go around to the harbor.  When we got to the house and looked out on the amount of ice that was along the shore where we would go to the cabin, coupled with already being burned out from the 4 hrs of sailing, well, we decided to stay at the house and maybe just go sailing another day.

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The boys try to move the icebergs out of the way

The weather went to hell after that and it was good we stayed put.  After a day, I think we all settled into the idea that we were going to hang out in the house for the week more or less, and enjoy each others company.  And Gus and Sean would try every beer in Greenland and play a lot of cribbage.   The dogs were so psyched to have so many people around, as was I.

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We ate, drank and played cribbage 🙂
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Rugbrøds lagkage


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A nice day for a tour around and over Lille Malene

 

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Sean, always fashion-forward in the backcountry. Gus, a close second!

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It was sad to see them go.  When they did finally go, it was a day later since their plane was cancelled due to bad weather.

On my way home from the airport, I saw my two favorite malamutes walking t, so I stopped to say hi. Kaiyuh in particular gave me the best malamute welcome and helped to cheer me up.

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Kaiyuh ❤
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Buser, a lovely mellow fellow

The sailing season ended and I had the boat lifted out of the water and set onto its stand not too far from my house.  My friend Henrik helped me get her tucked under a giant tarp and Yamatek came and did the winterization.  This was all a lot of work and actually quite stressful, and I can see why people are happy when they sell their boats 🙂

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Winter arrives, last day of sailing
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Stowaways
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My friend Henrik helped wrap up the Kanuti Marie. Toolik did not help, but he sure is cute.

As I returned to work, I had a big deadline to finish up a proposal.  So of course my computer crashed on a Saturday morning and I had to switch to my super old one to keep going.  My data was recovered on Monday, so all is good.

Add to the boat and computer stress:  Denali got an infection in his anal glands and licked open a wound back there.  Ugh.  It has taken 3 rounds of sutures to get him properly closed up and all the while there was a threat that he would not heal and would have to be put down.  Craziness.  His pre-existing skin condition and bad knees added to the problem which is why it got to the critical point at all.  But each time he went back with popped sutures, there was enough healing (and therefore hope) that our  veterinarian was willing to try again.  He is all closed up with no sutures left at the moment, but he has some fluid build up under the skin that needs to go the heck away.  Fingers crossed.   I hope within a week we can ditch the plastic neck cone, aka Cone of Mass Destruction.  It is barely hanging on with duct tape.

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Day 1, just a small crack where he hit the door frame
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Day 3: Masking tape and packaging tape repairs
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Day 5:  The last of the duct tape
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The other dogs HATE him with the cone on.

Toolik also addded to the ups and downs by having a back injury and eating some rope that I got to pull out his back end.  To check out his back, the veterinarian arranged for him to have xrays at the hospital (for people) as our clinic does not have an xray machine.  So we took him to the loading dock and they rolled out the machine there, and we sedated him and laid him on a pallet.  Found no major injury in his vertebrae, nothing in his stomach (I was hoping my missing cell phone was in there, no such luck) and he had 3 microchips.  I knew about 2.  He looked pretty good inside out!

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Toolik gets an xray. Unable to find his brain but he does have a super big heart!
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Cutie-patootie

Through all this, Innoko is just patient and happy to run in the snow when he gets the chance.  He is the perfect example of a non-pure bred dog being 1 billion times more healthy than my purebred, though poorly bred, samoyed and siberian husky.  He loves the cold weather and probably the fact that there isn’t enough snow yet to ski so he gets to run loose and doesn’t have to pull me on my skis.

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Waiting for more snow, evading Denali and the cone

Well, I think that is enough about October.  November is here now with a windchill of -5F today.  Brrr.

I started November out with a trip to Sisimiut, the 2nd largest town in Greenland (pop. 6,000).  I really like Sisimiut, the people are nice and it has cute colorful houses tucked into the hills.  You can ski, or dog sled, out of town, as it has better access to the surrounding landscape than Nuuk.  It has better snow because it has less wind.  It also has cute fuzzy horses!

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Speaker phone holder in the Qeqqeta Municipality conference room in Sisimiut.

I am super psyched because I am going to Colorado at the end of the month for Thanksgiving and my dad’s 80th birthday!  I’ll get outside on Black Friday (#REI) but I will also indulge in some shopping while I am there.  And then….a few days in Alaska!!!!!

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Happy Fall, y’all!

Life has been busy in September.  I have been out camping or staying in huts nearly every weekend.  I bought a motorboat, an Uttern 68C, so that I can get further into the fjord (and further out of Nuuk).  I went out hunting with a friend and cried when he shot two ptarmigan, so I am glad we didn’t see any caribou.

Innoko is the lucky dog that gets to do it all.  Denali got to go to the hut on the hunting trip and hang out in a cozy cabin with his treat toys.  Toolik has fallen in love with my neighbor’s family, which includes three children that he seems to love hanging out with and walking down the street with.

Yellow dot is hunting cabin, lines are the packrafting loop, green star is peak of Store Malene, and Red dot is Kang Ski Center huts:

September 2015

Pictures from our adventures….

First stop was the top of Store Malene, the largest peak behind Nuuk.  The view out inspired me to spend the next few weeks out in the fjord, and luckily, we had sunny weather every weekend.Sermitsiaq from Ukkusissat 0815

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My next adventure was a great packrafting trip in the fjord and camping overnight before Innoko and I looped back.  Super fall colors, northern lights and this trip inspired me to look harder for a motor boat!  Innoko was amazing, running along the coast on the way out and figuring out it was easier to run on the trail on the way back.  Rigtig smart hund!

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I had a fanstastic Birthday week-and-a half.  Started with buying a boat.  Next was the trip out to my friend’s hunting cabin, had friends over for dinner Monday, went out to dinner at Katuaq and saw Everest 3D with more friends, then a nice dog walk on our regular trail then out to the Kang Ski Center.  Forty-five isn’t so bad!

The Kanuti Marie!

The Kanuti Marie!

I forgot to put my memory card in my camera and I lost my phone before the hunting trip, so I can’t share gorgeous photos of the tundra across from Nuuk at Nordlandet.  We hiked and canoed about 20 km the first day and 30 km the next day.

Another highlight was this past weekend going out to the Kang Ski Center huts, just outside of Nuuk in Kobbefjord.  I had been there in winter, and it was just as wonderful with fall colors on the tundra and snow coming down the mountains.  We were 7 people and 7 dogs.  We caught fresh cod just nearby and cooked that up in the new ovens that were just installed.  The dogs loved two days of no leashes and none of them got sick in my boat.  A success!  Although I must remember not to walk around the mountain again, it was a lot of boulders and slippery rock.  Way more fun on skis.

I had 5 dogs and 3 people in my boat for the trip out to the Kang Ski Center huts.  It was hard to get a good picture of the dog-filled stern with my friend Petrine serving as the bed for a few dogs.

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Petrine with Mala and others

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Sampson and Innoko, so handsome!
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All 5+1

 

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The huts are about 3km from the fjord. Not bad walking, and dogs had a blast!  Sampson, Mikki, Juli and Mala are Tom and Petrine’s dogs and they are loveable and playful.

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click to enlarge, spectacular!
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This is the glacier we skied on in the winter. I wrote about it in an earlier posting. To the right is where I experienced my fake avalanche sensation. Much better light conditions today.

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Jesper and Kunngi, before the going got ruff
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Looping, with Mira, Jesper, Kunngi and Innoko
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Rocks, rocks and more rocks, with some snow and ice.
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Buena vista!
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Innoko was probably the only one that didn’t care when we went up the mountain too early and had to go all the way back down to get around some rocky cliffs.

Winter stopped in for a short visit Sunday morning….

Hygge huts!

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Valla is super soft and adapts to whoever he is hanging out with, the perfect dog.


Kanuti Marie— some pics of the boat’s namesake, that my friend Rick sent me for my birthday.  These were from a trip to Wiseman in Winter 2013.  Loved that girl.

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Here is a photo by a neighbor of the Northern lights and eclipse moon from 27 September.   My house is on the left, and I am sleeping inside and missing this incredibleness. Wow.  Click to see moon better:

Photo of Northern Lights and Blood Moon Eclipse over my pink house, by Vagn Hansen and posted on Greenland Today Facebook page.
Photo of Northern Lights and Blood Moon Eclipse over my pink house, by Vagn Hansen and posted on Greenland Today Facebook page.

Can’t wait now for October when my first visitors from Alaska come!!!






 

 

Crossing the Nuussuaq Peninsula

On July 29, I flew from Nuuk to Ilulissat.  I spent the night there, then caught a morning flight on a Dash 8 plane to Qaarsut, then a helicopter to Uummannaq then another to Niaqornat.  This was the start of a 3-day hiking trip and 2 weeks of fieldwork on Greenland’s Nuussuaq Peninsula.

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Link to Google map of waypoints

Lifeline of the trip.
Trusty topo, the lifeline of a trip. And a work of art.
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View of mountains on the Nuussuaq Peninsula en route to Qaarsut  Ja, tak!

Five photos of Uummannaq and the lovely view from town…

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Not just the tip of the Iceberg in ocean between Uummannaq and Niaqornat.

Niaqornat is a village of about 50 people in a spectacular location.  If you have the time, check out the film Village at the end of the World, which is a few years old but an interesting overview of life in Arctic Greenland for the Greenlandic Inuit in modern times.  Being a small village in a small world, one of the stars of the film, Ilannguaq, ended up being my main guide to the town and surrounding environment…

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First glimpse of Niaqornat from the Air Greenland Helicopter

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Lovely little Niaqornat

I stayed in a house that my employer, the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, owns.  It is used as a field station for different research projects, but mostly whale research I believe.  Ilannguaq manages it for the institute, and so he met me at the airport, showed me to the house and then invited me to join him and his girlfriend’s brother as they headed out to hunt tuttu (caribou) the next day.

I spent the first afternoon feeding a dog next door that had one fat little puppy and going for a hike.  The momma dog was pacing around and squeezing the puppy in her mouth until it cried, so I tried to intervene as the crying had me very anxious.  I gave the mom some water and some leftover food and that seemed to help her relax.

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Puupy is snuggled against her belly

I hiked up behind the village, almost following the 4 km of blue pipe that lead to a lake that was the water source for the village.   I continued from there to the large river nearby, scouting out the route I planned to take and making sure I could cross the river.  It was doable.  It is a beautiful place.

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Landscape along coast near Niaqornat
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A little greater change in topography than the topo suggests, but easy firm walking. I saw a peregrine falcon here.
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Mouth of the river I would need to cross if I were not catching a boat ride to the other side.
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Upriver, definitely crossable with a packraft.
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Heading back to Niaqornat. Hygge!


The next day I hung out around the beach, sitting with different residents that came to enjoy the sun and hum a tune.  I don’t speak any greenlandic, so we did some pointing at whales and smiling at different people.  I hiked up to the cemetary.  Wow, what a place to lie for eternity.

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Around 4pm a large cruise ship with mostly danish passengers pulled in.  I watched the reaction of humpback whales that had been feeding in the bay all day to the arrival of the boat.  At first they moved away, but by the time the passengers were loading into the large zodiacs, the whales were right behind them.  It was good to see.  I met a family that was partly from the US and many people with a love for the Arctic and Arctic travel.  The few people that weren’t out hunting or visiting relatives in other towns welcomed the turists with traditional costume, handcrafted items, a short tour and a song.  I guess it was about 7pm by the time the boat had left and the two hunters were ready to go.

Check back for the video tomorrow….

We loaded in a boat and got dropped off on the far side of the river, where there is better walking and no need to cross major rivers.  It was nice to have someone that knows the landscape lead the way.  The landscape was interesting.  Thick soils from eroded sedimentary deposits that are capped by basalt in some places.  The Greenlandic government hopes there are oil deposits in this region.  You can read more about the area and the oil here.  We didn’t see any wildlife, and fortunately we were far enough north it did not get dark even on the last day of July.  We set up camp and when I looked at my watch it when I climbed into my sleeping bag, it was 2:30am.  We had walked about 15 km or 9 mi.  It was a good start!

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Hiking at 8:30pm
Camp site near the river with dwarf fireweed blooming.
Camp site near the river with dwarf fireweed blooming.

The next morning, Ilannguaq and his hunting partner packed up camp and headed for the higher mountains to find tuttu.  The caribou are mostly near the snowfields and glaciers in the summer, where they stay cool and escape insects.  In Greenland, there are both native caribou that appear to have migrated west from North America as well as feral domestic reindeer from Europe, which are only managed in Southern Greenland and everywhere else they were placed, now live without herding.

What a caribou would have looked like if I had seen one. I did not see any.
What a caribou would have looked like if I had seen one. I did not see any.

I headed my own way, which was further south over the low divide and towards the other side of the peninsula.  It was a gorgeous day and I looked for tuttu, but did not see any or even any sign that they had been around recently.  A few birds and geese were the only animals I saw, and even the plant diversity and productivity was quite low.  Nevertheless, it was an interesting landscape with some cool geology.

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The no-Road ahead.
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Almost imperceptible divide.
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Not a dramatic photo, but this bending gravel outwash was my indicator to go left, so it had great meaning to me 🙂

 

I got to a large canyon, that looked big on my satellite map, but when I got to it, it was even more dramatic than I expected.  Fortunately the area above the canyon was as gentle as it appeared, and was easy to cross.

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A more signficant divide, a geologic one, changing a gentle river into a deep canyon.
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Erosion resistent intrusion, creates waterfall
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Below the waterfall, dont want to go down there and up the other side. Nej, tak.
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Upstream looks good. I could have walked across it but had time to inflate my packraft to keep my feet dry. Only it was so shallow I got stuck and nearly got my feet wet anyway.
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The erosion resitant rock along an adjacent mountain. Neato.

 

I made my second camp by a small pond along an ephemeral river, and fortunately a good breeze kept the bugs away. I think I walked about 17 km this day and another 5 km in the evening exploring the area around my camp.

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Where are all the animals? A big empty landscape but for my shadow
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Camp 2.

 

The third day, Sunday, I hiked up a wide gentle river bed towards an overlook of the really big river I would need to cross at the end of the day.  The walking was easy and the scenery beautiful.  It had been a cold and dry summer in the area, and so there was not a lot of water to  have to walk through but also not a lot to drink.  I took a nice long lunch break when I had a view out over the landscape to the river crossing, to Vaigt straight and over to Disko Island.  So beautiful!

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The knob on the other side of the river is my landmark for hiking all day

The hiking to the river went just as well as all the other hiking, with no tussocks or marshy tundra. I aimed for some sand dunes along side the river that seemed to be above the muddy river plain and hopefully offered a dry, firm place to launch my boat.  It took a lot longer to get there than I expected, but I think it was about 4pm when I had inflated my packraft, took a selfie and floated into the current.

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I only had to go a very short distance, I think I was on the water 20 min, but having the packraft was essential.  The river was deep and moving quickly.  I love floating in my packraft on an Arctic river, or almost any river for that matter, it is such a nice way to see the landscape and feels so amazing to be in the current.  Above where I put in is about 70 km of floatable river, I believe.  The satellite images suggest there is some whitewater as the river constricts and maybe some rock ledges across the river too.  I will float it someday, but not by myself.  It looks like the most amazing trip, so I hope some of you will come next year!

Trip ideas
Trip ideas

So after my short float, I hiked aacross a gravel plain to an area where there was an exploratory oil well drilled in the 1990s.  You couldn’t see exactly where it was, but there was definitely garbage and barrels remaining from human activity.  I found a nice bit of tundra near the only running water and set up camp.  I set my alarm for 530am, as my colleagues were supposed to be arriving by boat from Ilulissat to start fieldwork the next day.  When the alarm went off, I peeked out of my tent and could see them starting to disembark from the boat.  I quickly got dressed and hussled over to help them.  They brought a ton of shit in large aluminum cases!  So they made a camp much closer to the beach and I moved over there.  It was nice to see everyone and we were all excited about the work ahead.

More about that soon….

Some parting shots of sled dogs of Uummannaq and Niaqornat…

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The dogs are mostly white, it is not just my bias towards white dogs. Maybe for camouflage when hunting seals on the sea ice? Also cooler in summer than black. I will ask.

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DSCN2526Former Sled Dog.  The End.  Ha Ha.

Eider surveys

Common Eiders are one of four species of eiders, the others are King Eiders, Spectacled and Steller’s Eiders.   Photos from better photographers than me, used without permission!

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Steller’s Eider
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Spectacled Eider

Common and King Eiders are found in Greenland.  The Common Eider is reported to be the largest duck in the Northern Hemisphere.  Dats qwazy!  Male’s are showy and females are brown and as you will see, well camouflaged for protecting their nests.  Here are some fine pictures of Common Eiders stolen from the web:

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CommonEider-BillBunnEarlier this week I got to go out on a nesting survey on an island where Common Eiders typically nest.  We were not disappointed, and also found some gull eggs and chicks.  The female eiders were almost always on their nests until we approached, and then returned as we moved away.  The gulls were never on their nest and their chicks were often scattered up to 3 feet away from the nest.  There are no ground predators, and so they are way more relaxed than the gulls in Anchorage, for example.  We did see two Parasitic Jaegers (aka Arctic Skua) that likely had snacked on some of the chicks.

The rest is pictures….

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View from nesting location. Not a bad view for sitting on some eggs…
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Another scenic shot. Still snow, but not a lot.
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Eider down is needed to keep the eggs warm in Greenland and the Arctic in general.

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And now for the gulls….

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Two of the eggs were moving and peeping.

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Wait! Can’t have a dog blog without a dog picture!

I am sure the malamute would have helped with the survey, keeping track of the momma ducks while they foraged in the ocean and we counted their eggs.

Vandreture i Qooqqut / Translation: Get the heck out of Nuuk

Abundant sunshine has melted most of the snow now and Greenland is turning green.  Temperatures have been between 10-15C, or 50-60F, which feels HOT in the sun without the wind.  And, to put it in perspective, it is as much as 80F warmer than it was a few months ago.

So last weekend it was time to take advantage of sun, flat water and the opportunity to take a boat into the fjord.  I booked a tour with Tupilak Travel to Qooqqut on Friday after work and came back on their Sunday evening tour.  The cost was 700 kr round trip, or about $100 for the 1.25 hr boat ride from Nuuk.  It is a gorgeous ride along the peninsula that leads to Nuuk, then into an arm that ends at the small settlement of Qooqqut.

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View of my house while leaving Nuuk by boat
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My house in left of image.

Today, Qooqqut comprises a handful of summer houses and a restaurant, Qooqqut Nuan, and they have some huts to rent for guests that want to come for more than just a meal.  I rode their with a German man, an Italian family and a couple perhaps from Denmark.  The boat captain and his assistant provided no narrative or guidance, but they got the group there quickly and safely and it wasn’t hard to find the restuarant.  Best of all, they allowed Innoko to come on the boat!  Again, being the awesome dog he is, he just figured everything out dog style and relaxed on the back deck while we were sailing.   Note, sailing is motorboating and has nothing to do with sails.

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Qooqqut. Tiny but nice.

Once we arrived in Qooqqut around 6pm, I shouldered my backpack and Innoko and I headed for the forest. Yep, the forest.  Somebody has planted a number of homely species of conifers here and while some are quite tall, I think they appear a strong gust of wind away from losing their grip in shallow rocky soils.  Innoko lifted his leg on as many as he could, making up for 8 treeless months!  It was a good start to the trip.

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Looking back to start: shrubby
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Looking ahead: dry heath mostly for walking. Awesome!

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My general plan was to head up the valley to the north, and try to make a loop if I made it far enough the first evening to make that possible.  The walking was shrubby the first hour or so, then quite quickly transitioned to dry heath and excellent walking.

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I saw one bull caribou and three either sub-adult male or calf-less females, about 1 pair of lapland longspurs per half kilometer, and even found 6 eggs in a longspur nest and three in a purple sandpiper nest.  They were delicious!!  Kidding.

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Purple sandpiper nest.
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Lapland longspur nest
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Mine.

At 11pm and 15 km later, we had made it up the valley and over the pass to try to catch the midnight sunset.  I couldn’t see it directly, but the light on the rocks, tundra and fjord waters to the north were spectacular.  It cooled off and was just a really awesome evening to soak in the landscape and get a great nights rest.

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Taken about 1am. Seriously.

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The sun baked me out of the tent by 8am, and Innoko and I sat in the sun and light breeze, me enjoying coffee and him watching for wildlife.  He dozed off just before a snowshoe hare came in just next to us but upwind.  It looked, listened and sniffed then quickly hopped behind us, downwind, where it stood up, smelled us and disappeared like a rabbit in a magic hat.  About this time, say 15 seconds after I saw it, Innoko wakes to its smell reached us and he went immediately in search.  He came back disappointed.

Since I had made it 1/3 of the way around the loop I wanted to do and had two days to finish, I packed up camp and headed on.  I tried to stay high, keeping the elevation I had already achieved, but there was too much soft snow and rocks, so I dropped a bit.  Then I got to river marked on the map that came down from over 800 meters elevation, and it was raging but still very clearly snowy in the valley and peaks above.  I tried to cross the smooth rocky slope which had been polished by the water, but there was just enough algae and just enough water force that I couldn’t make it.  I dropped to nearly the coast and was able to cross.

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Greelandic Slip-n-Slide.
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We gotta go all the way down there to cross? I am not as psyched as Innoko is.

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Looking at the map ahead, I saw at least one other potential steep river crossing nearly where I had hoped to be that evening, 2/3 of the way around my loop.  I would also have to go up to 800 meters, maybe higher to get through to another lake and come back.  Then I would have to cross the main river near Qooqqut to get to the boat, and it had also appeared quite slippery and high runoff.  After evaluating my map and options, I decided not to loop this weekend 😦  It wasn’t a bad prospect as everywhere I had been had been so beautiful and interesting, but still a bit anti-climatic to do an out-and-back.

We found ourselves back to nearly the same campsite, although either the bugs had just come out in force or this site had less of a breeze.  It was a long buggy night for Innoko and I fed my share of mosquitoes over my morning coffee.  We headed back the way we came, but in the heat of the day, we did not see the wildlife we had seen in the cooler evening on our way out.  Still, it was gorgeous, good walking and saw plenty of birds.  I was thinking it was a little disappointing not to have the higher diversity of wildlife you find in Alaska.  There is no hope of seeing a bear, a dall sheep, a wolverine or many other species.  But I instead had time to notice little things I would have overlooked if there had been charismatic megafauna (other than caribou), which included a lady bug, giant bees, spiders and of course giving the passerine birds a closer look.

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Dead fields of crowberry (Empetrum nigrum). This was happening in Alaska the last few years also, with the culprit being tiny white moths / tiny green caterpillars. I saw the moths especially during my evening hike and one caterpillar.

DSCN2329Innoko took off ahead of me, I guess to reach the forest first, so I hiked the last 45 minutes hoping he was in fact ahead of me.  Yeah, he always is (except at Caribou Creek, ok!!!!), but I still had some uncertainty.  He did come through the forest to great me when I got there.  We were both hot, a bit tired and hot.  Oh, and hot and thirsty.  The forest wasn’t dense enough for shade, so we sat on a ridge for a breeze for a while, then I headed to the restaurant and Innoko took a nap in the shade of a bush.

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Last chance to pee on a tree.

The food was good and the beer cold 🙂  I had the catch of the day which was cod, served with a nice curry sauce.  The portions were large and I was thankful to have a doggy bag to share with Innoko when I left.  He was thankful also.  We chilled and waited for the boat to leave at 8pm.

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On the boat ride back we saw two humpback whales.  The boat captain seemed to be trying to pick them up on his fish finder by putting the boat right on top of their location when they went down, which was a bit annoying to me.  But on the bright side, we were so close I got to see the bumps on the skin by its mouth.     A beautiful evening sail back into Nuuk, arriving at 10pm.  I found that taxis will take dogs in the back, so we got a ride home which was awesome.

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Innoko and Toolik had stayed home with my Russian friend from my Danish class 🙂  They seemed happy with their weekend and a new person to beg from.

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Mom said ‘Don’t go out again by yourself!’ You can see I wasn’t by myself and we are very very happy with our adventure. Love my mom anyway 😉

Chasing Ice, Loya style

My parents and sister came to Greenland this past week.  They flew from Denver to Reykjavik, Iceland and spent 2 days there.  They then flew on Air Iceland to Ilulissat, Greenland up near Disko Bay.  I flew up on Air Greenland from Nuuk.  It was the nicest day we I have experienced this ‘spring.’

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Our hotel, the Hvide Falk, picked us up at the airport and took us to the hotel.  While the actual hotel didn’t look that great from the outside, we had an apartment just below the hotel that was simple but clean and perfect for 4 people.

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Hotel Hvide Falk in Ilulissat Greenland
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Ilulissat

If you have seen video of the largest ever glacier calving recorded on film from the documentary Chasing Ice, you have seen the glacier just south of Ilulissat, Sermeq Kujalleq.  Here is the video of this event:

After unloading some very heavy luggage into the hotel, we headed out for a boat tour among the icebergs.  It was a sunny gorgeous day and Ice Cap Tours had a nice boat and good guide and captain.  We were amazed at the size of the icebergs.  While we were about 25 miles from the front of the glaciers, some of the bergs were so large you would think it was the glacier itself if we hadn’t sailed around them.

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That evening we had dinner at the restaurant Marmartut following recommendations from two friends.  It was very good.  We got in quite a bit of walking this day as we went between our destinations, so it was nice to retire to the apartment to watch the sun not set.  Karen asked ‘What time is the Midnight Sun at?’  LOL.   However, the question is ‘What time is the solar midnight?’  It was at about 1:23 am so we missed it by going to bed at 12:01 am 🙂

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Midnight sun in Ilulissat

All about Ilulissat weather and daylight

On Sunday June 7th, we had breakfast at the hotel as we watched icebergs and boats go by.  Then we had lunch.  Eating was a big theme of this trip it seems.  Karen and I then walked out to an overlook of the icefjord and the UNESCO World Heritage Site which also passed through an area that was an archaeological site for the Thule people that had winter sod huts from about 1000 BP.

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Other best thing about Ilulissat:  sled dogs!  In Greenland, you can only have Greenlandic sled dogs above the Arctic Circle, and below the Arctic Circle (where I live) you can not have Greenlandic sled dogs but you can have other dogs.  Ilulissat is well above the Arctic Circle, and has a lot of working dogs on the outskirts of town.    Summer is a rough time for dogs, in my opinion.  The season of sledding on the snow and sea ice is over, and the dogs are just tied out until the snow falls again.  There is a bit of mud and snow now and they are shedding and dirty.  But at least there aren’t any mosquitoes.  Yet.  You don’t pet sled dogs unless they are cute little puppies coming up to you or the owner is there and says it is okay to approach them.  Once a puppy turns 5 months old it has to be tied up.  I saw a few loose pups and one came along for a walk with me.

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At 5pm, we boarded the Sarfaq Ittuk, a passenger ferry that travels the west coast of Greenland from Ilulissat down to Qarqortoq in southern Greenland and back all year.   We enjoyed a nice evening sailing through the ice one last time, then on to our first stop at the community of Aasiaat, then overnight to Sisimiut which is at about the Arctic Circle.  A short stop to unload and load passengers by motorboat in Kangaamiut. Then onto Maniitsoq, another community on an island.

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Sarfaq Ittuk
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Aasiaat
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Tourists at Colonial Building in Sisimiut, I think.
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Bethers and Karen
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Colonial Company Store Manager’s house in Sisimiut. Cute but mom doesn’t think she would live there anyway.
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Icebreaker mallards in Sisimiut
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Ship to boat transfer in Kangaamiut
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Kangaamiut, tucked back in a fjord
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Loyas chasing ice

We arrived in Nuuk at 730 am and the weather was gray, snowy and basically the same depressing shit as the whole month of May 🙂  But by the time we had disembarked the Sarfaq Ittuk, the sun came out and it was the start of a very nice, sunny week in Nuuk.  Yippee!!!

The dogs were very happy to see us.  Denali and Toolik had stayed with a dog sitter I had hired for the first time, and they seemed happy although she was gone and they had not been let out yet that morning.  I also found she ate three cartons of ice cream in 2.5 days, a new household record.  Innoko stayed with our friend Nette and her dog Stress, so Dad, Karen, Denali, Toolik and I walked over to get him.  All the dogs love to go to Stress’s house as he has caribou legs and other bonnes buried in the snow there.

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Happy Dogs and Dad

Mom started working on my house as soon as we walked in the door.  We did not see any whales swimming in the fjord this week.  That is because they all appear to be in my house now.  Kinda overwhaleming 😉

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On Thursday 11th June we took a boat tour into the Nuuk Icefjord.  The day started out with heavy fog, but by the time we got into the fjord it had burned off and was spectacular.  We went with Tupilak Tours/Greenland Boat Charter, a good trip.  We saw more ice!  Plus the first caribou I have seen in Greenland, a rock wall of nesting glaucous gulls with a few black-legged kittiwakes, groups of black guillemots, plus beautiful mountains.  We stopped at Qoornoq, a settlement that was closed in 1970’s but now is private vacation huts.  It was in a spectacular setting:  on a small island between large islands with towering mountains. A good time was had by all.

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Nuuk Icefjord.
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Highest mountain on Stør Island. I had AT skied on the other side of this during the winter, the first day of the Kisaq boat ski and sail trip I blogged about before. Nice to see it on a clear day. Super dejligt!
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Qoornoq. Also super dejligt 🙂
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Qoornoq.
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Qoornoq
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Short walk in Qoornoq.

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For not being very outdoorsy, everyone adapted quickly.  We walked, bussed, boated and taxied to do everything we wanted to.  By the end, everyone fit right into Nuuk.  Too bad they had to leave 😦

Bus Rider Beth.  No Lexus here.  Plus a 10 minute walk from my house.
Bus Rider Beth. No Lexus here. Plus a 10 minute walk from my house.

 

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Karen will be wearing this to the club next week….
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Preview of Eileen Fisher Winter 2015 line.

I was sad to see everyone go, although I think if we would have all had to stay together another day we might have killed each other 🙂  Unfortunately the coastal fog delayed their flight from Nuuk to Reykjavik on Air Greenland, so we had a stressful morning trying to reschedule their connecting flight to Denver on Icelandair.  They had to spend the night in Reykjavik and buy new tickets home 😦  Feeling kinda lonely, Innoko, Toolik and I went out to find some flowers that I hoped had begun to bloom on the bog cranberry (Vaccinium vitus idea), but they were still afraid to open.  The crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) is starting to turn green though.  Using the fishing skills Karen taught me while she was here, I caught a small cod and threw it back much to Toolik’s dismay.  Denali spent the day playing with the new Kong treat dispenser he got from mom, but slept alone and sad on the couch without Karen.

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Sun, shadows and the greening of Greenland.
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Abandoned again.

Looking forward to my next visitors, friends from Alaska, in October.:)

 

Moving to and living in Nuuk, Greenland