The Unrelenting Marvel of Winter in Greenland
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because a trip like this just might change your life.
By Julie Albin
I strapped my crampons tightly to my boots while admiring the blue ice all around me. There was a tranquil silence, one disturbed by nothing but the faint whistle of transient wind. Still awestruck by the previous night’s viewing of the aurora borealis, I inhaled the crisp air. It was wintertime in Greenland, and throughout the past 10 days, adventure had filled every waking hour.
During winter, Air Greenland operates flights from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Kangerlussuaq Airport twice a week for about $1,000 round-trip. Because most towns are inaccessible by vehicle, unless you’re aboard a vessel, you’ll have to fly to those too, which can range anywhere from $100 to $500 each way. What’s great about winter, though, is that you’ll find flights to Copenhagen at their lowest rates of the year. Spend an extra day in the Danish capital this time of year and you’ll quickly see why — it’s a snowy ghost town. That mermaid statue is pretty cool, though.
This place will yank you from your comfort zone and toss you straight into the elements.
My journey began in Ilulissat, located 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle on Greenland’s west coast. Travelers are drawn to this village because of the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which spits hundreds of icebergs into Disko Bay. I booked a boat tour through Ilulissat Tourist Nature, and as we cut through the sea’s icy top layer, I was immediately mesmerized by the colossal walls of ice towering over us. At dawn (noon) the next day, an Inuit guide and his sled dogs brought us into the eastern hills and up steep inclines of frozen terrain. After reaching the highest point, the dogs rested while we sipped coffee from our thermoses and gazed at the sun setting over the Jakobshavn Glacier.
Then I flew back to Kangerlussuaq, a former U.S. military base, where I stayed at the Polar Lodge. During morning ice-fishing, I caught two Greenland cod, but being a mile out on the fjord, I felt slightly unnerved any time I heard or even felt the ice moving beneath me. The following day I joined a group to Greenland’s ice sheet, which felt like what I imagine hiking on the planet Krypton to be. On my final night, I watched neon green and magenta illuminate the sky like a supernatural harp being plucked in erratic sequences. Producing a sound similar to a propane torch, the northern lights reached down so close to Earth that I almost believed I could touch them.
But dazzling phenomena aside, there’s no way to sugarcoat it: Winter in Greenland is cold, isolating and dark for most of the day. That’s why tourism peaks at 13,500 during summer, but dives off the iceberg during winter, dropping to 3,000. This place will yank you from your comfort zone and toss you straight into the elements. And it’s pricey — in total, it cost me about $6,000 for 10 days.
In the end, though, who can put a price on experiencing something that will change your life? With Greenland placing at No. 9 on Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2016,” it seems I’m not alone in that sentiment. And hey, that ice is melting, so reach out and touch it while you can.
- Julie Albin, OZY Author Contact Julie Albin