We arrived at Tasiilaq after a minor adventure which started with missing a boat from the Kulusuk Airport. Fortunately we were able to call from the airport and they sent another boat to get us. We camped in Tasiilaq for a day.
We purchased some alcohol stove fuel from the campground office. What they have there is called “Borup” (see borup.info). The particular kind said “93% Ethanol” but smelled of Acetone. I don’t think you can get any other alcohol stove fuel in East Greenland.
This fuel seemed to work extremely bad with our Vargo Triad titanium stove. The stove primes pretty fast, but when it gets hot, the fuel starts to burn really fast with huge yellow flames. After 1-2 minutes of burning like that, the stove runs out of fuel. Most of the heat misses the pot and is essentially wasted. I found that it would take about three fills of the stove to boil a single Trangia 500ml pot of water.
We adjusted our fuel planning accordingly. Luckily, there was a 12 person expedition camping right next to us, and they had a lot of extra fuel. We got some 4L of this “Borup” stuff from them in a 5L canister. While this almost assured us that we will have enough fuel, it wiped out any and all weight advantages that Vargo Triad might have had over any other stove. The folks in that expedition claimed that the fuel worked pretty well with their Trangia stoves (which we left at home).
After two days of experimenting, we managed to get this fuel to burn properly. Four things have to be done:
- Do not fill the stove completely. 8-10 caps from the Borup bottle (there is only one kind there I think, the blue one) is the maximum.
- Put a coin in the middle, then pour another cap on top of that for priming. Quite a few people used this trick, but in our case it seemed to be the only way the stove would work. Keep in mind that Danish coins are not suitable – they are either to big, or have a hole in the middle!
- Make sure the stove is completely flat. Otherwise, the huge yellow flames will show up on the lower side of the stove.
- Not sure if this one was essential, but I was either sinking the stove legs deep into the ground, or putting it on the stone with the legs folded. So the stove was always sitting quite low.
When we observed all four of these rules, the stove seemed to work fine. It was too late to dump the extra fuel though – we ended up carrying it all the way…
We started the hike around 9am. Besides a few drops of rain in the morning, the weather was great. The sky was overcast all day.
We walked out of the town through the Flower Valley, and continued past a few lakes towards Lake 168. As soon as we walked out of the town, the flies appeared in huge amounts. They did not bite, but they are very annoying, entering your eyes, nose, ears and mouth. Mosquito nets came in handy – see picture. Mosquitoes were actually very few.
After passing along the lake 168 (from the south), we camped on the far west side of it.
In the morning the fog came in from the east, and passed a few meters above our tent. By the time we were ready to go, it dissipated completely.
We started to climb towards the pass leading in the direction of Sermilik fjord. The terrain is a mix of scree, boulders and moss/tundra. The route is relatively easy. Descending on the other side is more difficult with heavy packs, and there were a few snow patches. We slided down one of them.
After passing along a few lakes, the view of Sermilik fjord, with huge icebergs, appeared. At the same point we saw two huts (see pictures). We turned right, into the system of canyons as described in the book.
As we walked, the sky was slowly clearing, but it was still cloudy.
The canyons in that area are mostly passable; however, the walls are pretty steep – so usually you can only walk along the canyon and cannot climb in or out. The canyons themselves are fairly steep as well. We found it impossible to keep to the route described in the book – especially that we were walking it backwards. So we did our own navigation, and after a few hours of climbing up and down the canyons we found the river we needed to cross.
The river flows from Mittivakkat glacier into the Sermilik fjord. There are some scientific instruments along the opposite bank, and you may (as we did) meet people from the nearby Sermilik Station taking measurements.
We spent about 40 minutes scouting for a place to cross. A piece of pipe is found on the shore, and is used to measure the depth. While we were busy deciding on the best place to cross, the tide started to flood the estuary, and soon made the river much deeper than it initially was. The person from the station told us from the other side of the river that it’s to better wait for the low tide, and we took his advice.
We waited for about 6 hours (till about 11pm), entertaining ourselves with pants mending, an early dinner, taking pictures of the sunset and a walk upstream along the river, to its waterfall section, in the hope that the water there might be clearer (it was a bit cloudy, but tasted OK). As soon as the tide retreated a little, we crossed the river. The point of crossing was just about where the stream splits into three. The water was just freezing – as the scientists told us the next day, the temperature was 1.4C.
After crossing the river, we proceeded to the Sermilik station. It was already about midnight (but still a lot of light), and we just camped nearby so that we don’t need to wake up anybody.
We spent some time in the morning taking pictures of the Sermilik fjord. The view was very spectacular, and the fjord was full of icebergs. After that, we proceeded to the traverse past the station.
The slopes at the traverse are very steep, with loose rocks and scree. Fortunately, there was a path leading across the slope, which made this extremely difficult section extremely easy. After the scree has ended, we were back traversing the already familiar tundra/rock slope. For most part it was always possible to find an easy route across the slope.
The sky was almost clear, and it even felt hot in the sun.
While searching for the route, we gained too much altitude, and found ourselves in a rocky couloir, needing to descend to the very bottom.
After the descend we entered a long canyon turning right and leading away from the fjord. The canyon turned steeper as we continued up; a few snow patches appeared. Close to the top, we had to scramble through the loose rock.
At the top of the canyon, we found a beautiful lake, enclosed by mountains. The water was crystal clear, and you could see to a great depth. We saw some fish there. On the shores, there were a lot of purple flowers called niviarsiaq in Greenlandic (it’s the national flower of Greenland). The lake is easily passed on the left side, close to the water. However, it was fairly dry, and water level may have been lower than where it normally is.
Behind the lake we entered yet another steep canyon with loose rock. At the top of the canyon we found another lake with clear water. After passing the second lake, we turned right as suggested by the route description. The route took us across some shallow canyons and along another lake with clear water, up another canyon.
The canyon ended very abruptly with a small ledge and an almost vertical drop into the next valley. Both the GPS and the map suggested that we should carry on forward and down… From the ledge we could have a clear view of the valley that we should have turned to. The valley is a rocky one, and has two large glacial lakes with muddy water. However, towards the north it connects to another valley, which we could also see, which looked much more hospitable.
After a break, we found a detour into the valley. We also decided to deviate from the book path, and pass the first lake on the left. The rocky slopes seemed more shallow there, and we could spot a place to cross the short stream that connects the two lakes. Again, with different water levels this may or may not be possible.
Going along the second lake (on the right side), we reached the “green” valley, where we camped. There are a few spots which are dry and elevated above the swampy ground.
This was the hardest day of the trip, with 12 hours of hiking.
In the morning we were able to cross the river without fording, even though the spot was marked on the map as a ford. Continued towards the tongue of the Mittivakkat glacier, to take the “no-ice” detour. The detour started by climbing the moraine to get to the tongue. We were surprised to find a large patch of purple flowers – niviarsiaqs – in the middle of a rocky moraine, where nothing else seems to grow. The flower patch was very spectacular and we spent some time taking pictures of it.
Crossing of the first river was relatively easy, with water level a little bit more than knee deep. Needless to say, the water is just about as cold as water can be without freezing. After the river crossing, some more of the moraine must be climbed. That part of climb is pretty steep with quite a bit of loose rock. There is a great spot for a break close to the top, with a little bit of wind to keep the flies away, and great view of the glacier tongue.
At the top there is a small lake. Turning to the right to take the detour, we descend on the other side of the moraine, and have another glacial river to cross. This one has a stronger current, and is a little bit deeper (see picture). In addition, walking between the rocks in the water is tricky. Also, there are less options to choose from, as it turns into a waterfall just a few hundred meters downstream, and that’s something you don’t want to be too close to. We managed across, getting a bit wetter than last time.
After the crossing, we got a great view of the valley we were about to descend into. We keep descending the rocky slope until completely in the valley. One of the streams there needs to be crossed, but we were able to do that without fording. Going up the valley, we start ascending a network of canyons again. We made a mistake here, and turned into the wrong canyon. We realized that fairly quickly when it started to turn away from where we needed to go, and turned back. It appeared that our route goes right up the very steep slope with loose rock and scree. We spent some time scouting around looking for an alternative way. Failing to find it, we started scrambling to the top, in what may have been the hardest part of the trip.
After reaching the top, we descended into a flat and narrow canyon, which was supposed to take us right to Lake 5.
The canyon goes along a stream and a few small lakes. In its narrowest parts, there were a few snow patches. We walked along those that seemed safe and wide. When they turned narrow, we moved to the rocky side of the canyon, and scrambled a bit above the snow. Looking back, we sometimes saw how justified this was, as the snow in these places has turned into a thin flat bridge, ready to collapse as soon as you step on it.
After the lakes, the canyon started to descend gently to Lake 5. The gentle descent becomes steeper as you go, ending at a fairly steep angle. We found a spot to camp at the lake shore.
We decided to rest for the day; but the weather was good, and towards noon we changed our mind and decided to do a simple day hike. We chose to go to the 636m peak about 5km away from the camp. The “climb” is actually a gentle walk, except for a few places in the canyon that leads up from Lake 5. The only thing to watch for is a few more of the snow patches which tend to melt and become thin bridges.
Finding the top of the mountain is not as trivial as it may seem, as it is very often hidden behind other small hills along the way. From the top, there is a fantastic view of Sermilik fjord and all the surrounding peaks and glaciers. We spent some time taking pictures in all directions and returned back to the camp. While we were doing that, the view of the fjord was getting even more dramatic, with a thick fog filling it and flowing further, into the mountains. Seeing this made us descend and get to the camp quite fast. However, the fog reached our camp only late at night and disappeared before the morning.
We decided to head back to Tasiilaq. We started heading south from Lake 5, passing Lake 4, 3 and 2 along the way. Reaching Qorlortoq, we camped there on the shore.
The hike was relatively simple and uneventful, just following the shore line. Just before Qorlortoq there is a pass to be climbed up and then down.
We passed Qorlortoq and started to make our way towards the bay. The route goes through another network of canyons, and again the trick is to turn into the right one. By mistake we took a shortcut by going into a wrong canyon. This turned out to be a pretty steep one. Also had to scramble around a firm snow patch which was too steep to attempt without some technical equipment.
The GPS started to behave funky there, showing our position with a big random mistake every few minutes. After a while, our track in that place looked like a hughe knot of lines and points. We had to delete that section and split the hike-out path into two, with a blank spot in between.
The town of Tasiilaq made a dramatic appearance, viewed from the top of the canyon.
After descending from the canyon, there are a couple of lakes that have to be passed. With one of the lakes, we probably have chosen a wrong side to pass, as the slopes were very steep.
We camped by a small lake, before reaching the sea.
We got a demonstration why this place is called “Tasiilaq” (which means “looks like a lake”). The next water we saw looked exactly like one of the lakes we passed along the way… that is, at first we were not concerned about the seaweed in the water and the shells on the shore. We started to think which side to pass it from. But it soon became apparent that there may not be much choice, as this was actually the sea. It really looks like a lake, since the strait that connects it with a bigger bay cannot be easily spotted from where we were.
As we got closer to the town, some paths appeared, and walking became easier. The easier path is a bit higher from the water, as there are sections of fairly flat ground. However, the price to pay is a lot of ups and downs, when you go from one hill to another. Going closer to the water is still harder, as you have to find your way through large rocks there, which is in fact not always possible.
The river crossing that is marked as fording on the map, is in fact easy, since somebody threw a few pieces of wood into the stream, making an improvised bridge.
After the river the paths turn into a wider trail which leads into the town. Our trip was over.