Trekking in Greenland
The Arctic Circle Trail
By Paddy Dillon
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An essential guidebook for hiking the Arctic Circle Trail. At just over 100 miles long, and taking 7 to 10 days to complete, the Arctic Circle Trail crosses the largest ice-free patch of West Greenland. This splendid backpacking route, lying 25-30 miles north of the Arctic Circle runs from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut - both with airport access.
Seasonsa summer walk, ideally from mid-June to mid-September, when the tundra is bursting with life; during the long winter, snow and ice, short days and bitter cold are the norm
Centresstart at Kangerlussuaq and finish at Sisimiut - vast empty landscapes inbetween
Difficultynot particularly difficult, mostly gently graded, but with a few short, steep, rocky slopes but very remote; trekkers must be completely self-sufficient but basic huts are available at good intervals
Must Seetrips to the ice cap; visiting an arctic desert; climbing Sugar Loaf; Kangerlussuaq; Tarajornitsut saline lakes; paddling the lake of Amitsorsuaq; beach at Kangerluatsiarsuaq; views from Iluliumanersuup Portornga; the valley below Nerumaq; the valley of Qerrortusup Majoriaa; Kællingehætten; Sisimiut
The Arctic Circle Trail is unusual in that it is mostly along a trodden path from start to finish, equipped with basic huts at regular intervals and ‘wild’ tent pitches wherever you can find a suitable space on the ground.
Anyone taking advantage of all the huts will spend nine days on the trail. The distance can be extended to run all the way from the ice cap to Sisimiut.
The Arctic Circle Trail is very remote, with few other hikers on the trail, so it is not recommended for a first-time hiker, but it suitable for anyone who has previous experience of being self-sufficient for several days on a trail.
Trekking in Greenland offers all the information experienced hikers will need to walk this waymarked route.
- includes an optional extension to the ice cap and ascent of two nearby summits
- illustrated with detailed HARVEY map extracts and colour photography
- with town plans of Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq
The ice cap
Plants and flowers
Travelling to Greenland
When to go
Health and safety
Food, drink and fuel
Trekking in Greenland
What to take
Waymarking and access
Using this guide
THE ARCTIC CIRCLE TRAIL
Preamble – Ascent of Sugar Loaf
Optional Extension – Ice Cap to Kangerlussuaq
Day 1 Kangerlussuaq to Hundesø
Day 2 Hundesø to Katiffik
Day 3 Katiffik to Canoe Centre
Day 4 Canoe Centre to Ikkattooq
Day 5 Ikkattooq to Eqalugaarniarfik
Day 6 Eqalugaarniarfik to Innajuattoq
Day 7 Innajuattoq to Nerumaq
Day 8 Nerumaq to Kangerluarsuk Tulleq
Day 9 Kangerluarsuk Tulleq to Sisimiut
Post-amble – Ascent of Kællingehætten
APPENDIX A Route summary table
APPENDIX B Language notes and glossary
APPENDIX C Useful contacts
Three ‘Hiking Maps’ at a scale of 1:100,000 cover the Arctic Circle Trail, published by Greenland Tourism, with cartography by the Scottish company Harvey Map Services. The contour interval is 25m (82ft), which is enough to hide several significant ups and downs. The maps are waterproof, and the reverse is printed with additional useful information. Despite the limitations of scale the maps are excellent, and they are used as the basis for the maps in this guidebook; the route has been highlighted and extra route information added to correspond with the trail description in this guide.
Note the huge magnetic declination in this region before attempting to navigate with a map and compass. Read and understand the notes printed on the maps. Note the provision of blue grid lines indicating the direction of the magnetic north pole. Take sample bearings as early as possible to ensure you understand the system and are confident with its operation – before you find yourself in mist!
Purchase the required map sheets, ‘Kangerlussuaq’, ‘Pingu’ and ‘Sisimiut’, in advance of travel, though they are on sale in Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut. The maps are available from Harvey Map Services, 12–22 Main Street, Doune, FK16 6BJ, tel 01786 841202, www.harveymaps.co.uk; Stanfords, 12–14 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LP, tel 020 7836 1321, www.stanfords.co.uk; The Map Shop, 15 High Street, Upton upon Severn, Worcestershire, WR8 0HJ, tel 01684 593146, www.themapshop.co.uk; and Cordee, 11 Jacknell Road, Dodwells Bridge Industrial Estate, Hinckley, LE10 3BS, tel 01455 611185, www.cordee.co.uk.
Several ‘Saga Maps’ are available, with a selection of them covering the whole of Greenland at various scales, www.sagamaps.com. A series of 18 maps at a scale of 1:250,000 cover almost the whole western side of the country between the ice cap and the sea. Four more cover small parts of East Greenland. Sheet number 8, ‘Sisimiut Kangerlussuaq’, covers the area traversed by the Arctic Circle Trail. While it is a useful map in terms of offering an overview of the landscape on a single sheet, the map is not recommended for trekking, and the course of the Arctic Circle Trail is not shown.
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Fire on the trail
Late in August 2016 there was a fire in the middle of the Arctic Circle Trail, spreading from the Ikkatooq hut. There were rumours that one, possibly two huts has been burnt to the ground. This is not true. No huts were burnt. However, the tundra vegetation was destroyed over a very wide area and will take a long time to recover.
There is an ATM at the airport at Kangerlussuaq.
Page 45. A youth hostel is available at Kangerlussuaq, operated by Erik Lomholt-Brek, who also runs the youth hostel at Sisimiut. Henry, the warden at Kangerlussuaq, has walked the trail a number of times and is reported as being a good source for information about current conditions on the trail. Details at www.kangvandh.gl/en/. On the map on page 44, the new hostel is located at a crossroads between KISS and the Church.
Page 77. The Ikkattook hut was painted red on 12th August 2012, to match the other huts on the trail.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Alderson)
Page 82. Just to reinforce how to ford this river. Please note that if you follow the trail straight across the river, the water will be very deep. Please look upstream for a safer and shallower point to ford. It is also worth reading notes in hut visitor books before reaching the ford, to check the experience of the most recent trekkers.
Page 83. Just to reinforce how to use the bridge. Please note that it is very boggy on the way to the bridge, and the bridge is difficult to spot until close at hand. It may not turn out to be an 'easy' option. Again, hut visitor books will tell you whether recent trekkers thought it was worth using the bridge.
Page 84. Water was reported to be flowing in the river beyond the Eqalugaarniarfik hut in 2012, but this can only happen when the dam further upstream overflows.
Page 107. Erik, the warden at the Sisimiut youth hostel, has some useful free leaflets about local walks, for those who have a few days to spend around town at the end of the trail.
The 165km Arctic Circle Trail, the subject of this book, runs from Greenland’s Kangerlussuaq international airport to the west coast at Simisiut, a route usually travelled by air as there are no roads. About 300 people walk it per year. Part of the value of the book is its introduction, giving logistics for a country which is not easy to access and suggesting when to avoid the mosquitoes.
The walk follows small rivers and crosses a lake landscape reminiscent of Harris. On the third day it follows Amitsorsuaq, a 20km lake. On this there are some aluminium canoes with paddles and buoyancy aids. Some of the canoes are in poor shape and may not even float but they may be taken and used free of charge without needing permission as
long as somebody has come the other way and left one.
The walk is split into nine days between huts which are small and basic, in one case an extended caravan. The biggest and best is the Canoe Centre near the west end of Amitsorsuaq. The book describes it but does not tell us why it is there in this remote position, who runs it and what it does. The walk ends at Greenland’s second largest town, Sisimiut, with a population of 5,500. ‘It is worth enquiring about kayak competitions at the harbour, where experienced paddlers demonstrate their skills with impossibly thin and light craft.
Canoeist magazine, December 2010
Paddy Dillon’s pages include practical guidance on maps, and the extent to which local purchasing of fuel can be relied upon at the starting point, as well as background information.
If you hanker after unfrequented routes then the author’s enthusiasm for this wild area should start you planning.
Austrian Alpine Club newsletter, Spring 2011
'The guide offers all the information experienced backpackers will need to walk this waymarked route and is illustrated with detailed Harvey map extracts and colour photographs. It is a very comprehensive introduction to this classic wilderness walking route and the longest popular trail in Greenland.'
Strider, April 2011
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Paddy Dillon is a prolific outdoor writer with over 90 guidebooks to his name, and contributions to 40 other publications. He has written for a variety of outdoor magazines, as well as many booklets and brochures for tourism organisations. Paddy lives near the Lake District and has walked in every county in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales; writing about walks in every one of them. He enjoys simple day walks, challenging long-distance walks, and is a dedicated island-hopper. He has led guided walks and walked extensively in Europe, as well as in Nepal, Tibet, Korea, Africa and the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the United States. Paddy is also a member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild and President of the Backpackers Club.View Articles and Books by Paddy Dillon
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