Packing & Planning For The Arctic Circle Trail

Packing for Arctic Circle Trail

Packing for the Arctic Circle Trail

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Preparing to hike Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail? Here are some useful tips for packing and planning your trek based on my Greenland adventure in August 2015.

When I first began planning to hike Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail, it was difficult to find useful details online. There were a few blog posts about the trek, but they were written in German or Danish.

So this is my attempt to remedy that situation and make the hike more accessible to English speakers who are interested in exploring this beautiful and lesser-known area of the world on foot.

Located about 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the typical route stretches 102 miles (165km) from Kangerlussuaq International Airport to the fishing village of Sisimiut on the West coast.

It’s possible to lengthen the trip to 124 miles by starting from Greenland’s ice cap for those who are up for the challenge.

Recommended Experience Level

While most of Greenland is covered with ice, the Arctic Circle Trail is ice-free during the summer. Passing through low valleys covered by many lakes, it’s a relatively easy walk with regards to elevation.

The difficulty comes with packing all your own food and supplies to last at least 10 days. Plus a complete lack of civilization nearby in the event of an unexpected emergency.

Arctic Circle Trail hikers must have experience surviving alone in the wilderness, understanding their own limits, reading weather patterns, and the ability to navigate unfamiliar terrain using a map and compass.

At the hike’s midpoint, you can be 5 days and 50 miles away from any type of civilization. You’re on your own out there. It’s not a trek for beginners, but you don’t need to be a serious mountaineer either.

Hiking in Greenland

Hiking in Greenland

How Long Does It Take?

Depending on fitness levels and the specific route chosen, the traditional 102 mile long Arctic Circle Trail from Kangerlussuaq Airport to Sisimiut can take anywhere between 7-10 days to complete.

To start from the ice cap like I did, plan for an additional 2-3 days.

It’s important to note that Greenland is a wild and unpredictable place. If you think you can hike the trail in 10 days, make sure to include 2-3 extra buffer days for delays due to weather, injury, exhaustion, or canceled flights.

Seasons & Weather

While hiking the Arctic Circle Trail is possible in the winter, it’s far more difficult & technical. The primary hiking season is from June to September when the trail is free of snow.

Greenland has a mosquito problem. Swarms can be downright maddening from June until mid August when the first frost finally kills them off. I started hiking August 12th and had to break out my mosquito head net a few times.

The trail is extremely muddy & boggy in June after the snow melts with river crossings becoming deeper and more dangerous. In September, the risk of snow storms is higher as winter begins.

In August, the air temperature fluctuated between 60’s (F) in the day to 30’s (F) at night, with one afternoon of snow flurries.

Over the 10 days I was on the trail, I experienced steady rain for 3 of them.

Kangerlussuaq Airport

Kangerlussuaq Airport

Flying To Greenland

Flying to Greenland is the most expensive part of this epic trekking adventure. Air Greenland offers regular flights to Kangerlussuaq from Reykjavik, Iceland and Copenhagen, Denmark. So you’ll need to get yourself to one of these cities first.

I flew to Greenland from Copenhagen for $1032 USD round trip. Now if you’re hiking the Arctic Circle Trail from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut, you’ll also need to get yourself back to Kangerlussuaq in order to leave the country.

The one-way flight from Sisimiut to Kangerlussuaq costs about $200 USD.

If you need help searching for international flights to Iceland or Denmark, make sure to read my popular post about How To Find Cheap Flights.

Accommodation Options

Accommodation in Greenland before and after the hike is expensive. A single room in Kangerlussuaq or Sisimiut will set you back about $100 – $200 USD. A hostel dormitory bed costs between $30 – $40 USD.

However both towns also have campgrounds available with bathrooms.

Kangerlussuaq Accommodation

Kangerlussuaq Youth Hostel
Old Camp Hostel
Polar Lodge (where I stayed)
Hotel Kangerlussuaq

Sisimiut Accommodation

Sisimiut Youth Hostel
Seaman’s House
Hotel Sisimiut (where I stayed)

Trail Hut

Inside a Trail Hut (Sleeps 6!)

Trail Huts & Camping

Spread along the route are a series of 9 basic wooden huts with bunks that are free for hikers to use. Packing a tent is highly recommended though, as some huts only sleep 4 and could possibly be full when you arrive.

Bad weather may also prevent you from reaching one of the huts in time, so having a backup plan for shelter is very important for your safety in Greenland’s vast wilderness.

Due to personal preference, I spent most nights wild camping. However I did sleep in 2 of the trail huts during my hike, and took an afternoon nap in a third. If you’re hiking from hut to hut each day, the full journey (from Kangerlussuaq airport, not the ice cap) will take 10 days.

How Many Hikers?

Only 300 people hike the trail every year, so while you may run into other hikers, it’s possible to go days without seeing a fellow human depending on which month you decide to attempt the trek.

I met about 10 hikers on the Arctic Circle Trail over 10 days. Most were German or Danish, and one other American. Many people hike this route for the solitude, so walking together and chatting for a few miles before breaking off on your own again was the standard routine.

Breakfast in Greenland

Tasty Trekking Breakfast

Food & Water

The traditional Arctic Circle Trail route takes 7-10 days for most people to complete. So hikers need to pack at least 10 days worth of food to be safe. That’s a lot of food!

At 1-2 pounds (16-24 ounces) of food per day, that’s about 10-20 pounds of food on your back. To keep it as light as possible, I recommend buying dehydrated backpacker meals and bringing them with you to Greenland.

While there is a supermarket in both Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut, they don’t stock dehydrated meals. They do have ingredients for trail mix — but to be safe I’d also prepare your own trail mix before you arrive. It will be cheaper and you’ll have more options.

Water on the other hand is pretty easy to take care of, as there are countless freshwater lakes, ponds, and streams along the Arctic Circle Trail. So with careful planning you can get by with just a single Nalgene bottle. No filter is required either! Of course there is always a risk of water contamination, but it’s pretty low out here. Most hikers don’t use one.

My Greenland Trekking Diet

  • Muesli/oatmeal with wild berries & brown sugar for breakfast
  • Trail mix plus wild mushrooms/berries for lunch & snacks
  • Canned fish sandwich and dried fish jerky for dinner
  • Chocolate & Greenlandic Schnapps for dessert

(I brought dehydrated meals, but couldn’t use them due to a problem explained below)

Camping in Greenland

Wild Camping in Greenland

Packing List

Mosquito Head Net
Long Underwear
Hiking Pants
Hiking Shorts
Hiking Shirts (2)
Wool Socks (3)
Fleece Top
Ballcap & Sunglasses
Sunscreen & Lip Balm
Mosquito Repellent
Winter Hat & Gloves
River/Camp Sandals
Paper Maps & Compass
iPhone 6 & Camera Gear

Maps & GPS

You’ll want to buy a series of 3 paper topographical maps that cover the entire length of the Arctic Circle Trail. While you can generally buy these at the Polar Lodge in Kangerlussuaq, it’s better to get them in advance because in Greenland, things run out of stock easily.

You can try to pre-order the Arctic Circle Trail maps from Greenland Tourism. The trail is marked with occasional rock cairns along the way, but there are a few places where you can still lose the trail, and in bad weather, the cairns aren’t always super visible.

In addition to the paper maps, I also packed my iPhone 6 with a LifeProof FRĒ Power Case running Gaia GPS and pre-dowloaded maps. There is no cell-service on the trail, but you can still use your phone as a GPS device.

What Would I Do Different?

After hiking the Arctic Circle Trail in August 2015, there are a few things I’d do differently if I decide to return. Hopefully you’ll learn from my mistakes!

My 40 degree (F) sleeping bag was a bit too cold for wild camping, and I was forced to sleep in my clothing and use a space blanket for a few chilly nights. I’d probably want something closer to 0 or 10 degrees.

I packed a great lightweight and efficient Jetboil stove that became useless when I couldn’t buy fuel canisters for it in Kangerlussuaq. The whole town ran out of the type I needed.

Shipping butane/propane to Greenland is difficult, because it’s not allowed on airplanes. Canisters must arrive by boat. Because of this, I’d recommend a multi-fuel backpacking stove instead. It allows you to boil water with a few different types of fuel.

Sure, I made due with cold food for 10 days anyway, but strong hot coffee and warm dinners have a wonderful way of re-energizing you on long-distance hikes. They were missed.

Guidebook & More Details

If you’re planning to hike the Arctic Circle Trail I highly recommend picking up the book Trekking In Greenland by Paddy Dillon.

It goes into far more detail than I can cover in a blog post, and it’s what I used to plan my own adventure. Good luck, and have fun! ★

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Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail: PART 4

Arctic Circle Trail Hiking

Sisimiut, Greenland

Carefully trying to pick my way across a marsh, I sink into a deep pocket of mud up to my shins. This wet terrain is a regular hazard on the Arctic Circle Trail.

DAY 9: Innajuattoq to Nerumaq

Hiking Distance 18 km (11 miles) | 7 hours

The Greenlandic morning is dark & wet with heavy fog at 8am when I begin packing my gear for the next leg of the Arctic Circle Trail. Luckily most of the day will be hiking downhill out of the mountains.

Stuffing dry kindling from my failed fire attempt under a rock for the next hiker to use, I gradually make my way into a valley lined with small lakes and cotton grass blowing in the wind.

Eventually the fog clears and I spot reindeer grazing in the hills beside me. Then another arctic hare. There are so many wild animals roaming Greenland!

Nerumaq hut is not far away, and I stop to take a short nap due to lack of sleep the night before. Today will be a long day on the trail and I’ll need all the energy I can get.

Moving quite fast now, at this pace I should finish by tomorrow evening. My backpack is exponentially lighter having eaten most of the food I began with.

Arctic Circle Trail Landscape

Arctic Circle Trail Trees

Willow Tree Forest

The Arctic Circle Trail threads through a patch of dwarf willow trees, the tallest are only about 6 feet high. It’s the largest forest I’ve seen since arriving in Greenland last week. Trees don’t grow well in the arctic tundra.

More and more rivers snake their way down from the mountains across my path, some with small waterfalls. Most are easily crossed by rock-hopping.

The trail becomes wet & swampy again. The weather worsens.

In fact now it’s raining. I still haven’t found the next hut. Fog moves in and the sky darkens. While I’d love a dry place to sleep tonight, it looks like I’ll have to pitch camp in the rain.

I curl into my sleeping bag and snack on dried fish — washing it down with the last of my potent Greenlandic schnapps in an attempt to stay warm.

Arctic Circle Trail Hike

Arctic Circle Trail Cabin

Arctic Circle Trail Sled

DAY 10: Kangerluarsuk Tulleq to Sisimiut

Hiking Distance 22 km (14 miles) | 8 hours

The next morning I prepare for what will hopefully be the final day of trekking. Right away my feet are sucked deep into bog mud, up to my shins. Not a good way to start!

Climbing a hill I soon discover the Tulleq hut I’d been searching for the night before. Ahhhhh! Only 10 more minutes and I would have enjoyed a solid roof over my head.

The trail rises back into the mountains through a high rocky valley, with views of snow covered peaks on either side. I find the remains of dog sledding equipment scattered about.

Hiking through boulder fields alongside a small river, crossing it a few times before coming to a wide open valley called Nasaasaaq. Jagged mountains can been seen in the distance.

Nasaasaaq Arctic Circle Trail

Arctic Circle Trail Musk Ox

Musk Ox Surprise

Trekking down into this beautiful valley, I spy something large, shaggy, and brown moving across the trail. It’s a musk ox!

The musk ox is Greenland’s largest land mammal weighing up to 400 kilos (880 lbs). These huge shaggy creatures are related to goats, but look more like buffalo to me.

I watched a group of them from a distance earlier that week, but this bull was only 50 yards away — blocking the path ahead. The Greenlandic name for them, Umimmak, means “the long-bearded one”.

Musk oxen are an important source of meat and wool for native Greenlanders. You have to be careful not to get too close or they can charge.

Eventually this one smelled me & ran up a mountain. I don’t blame it.

After passing an out-of-place ski lift, I round a corner to find the Arctic Ocean. Perched on the edge is the colorful fishing town of Sisimiut.

Sisimiut Sled Dogs

Sisimiut Greenland

Fishing Boats

Fishing Town Of Sisimiut

Success! I made it! I hike into town past hundreds of barking sled dogs feeling on top of the world. My feet ache. My body is exhausted. Yet I can’t stop smiling.

Trekking for 10 days across the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland’s wilderness was a rewarding adventure travel experience.

I’d lived off the land eating berries & mushrooms, saw all kinds of cool wildlife, camped under the stars, and spent time alone with my thoughts surrounded by nature. It was my personal version of into the wild.

To celebrate the end of my long journey I checked into a fancy hotel, boots still caked in mud. Jumping into a hot shower for 20 minutes with a cold beer. Followed by a delicious musk ox steak dinner with Greenlandic coffee.

Damn it felt good to be back in civilization!

The next 4 days were spent walking around Sisimiut, hanging out with other hikers & a group of theater actors from Norway & Denmark. We danced to Greenlandic hip hop & learned about Inuit culture.

Hiking the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland and reconnecting with nature in the wilderness has been the highlight of my travel year so far. ★

Watch Video: Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail

(Click to watch Hiking the Arctic Circle Trail – Greenland on YouTube)

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Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail: PART 3

Arctic Circle Trail Hut

Ikkattooq Hut on the Arctic Circle Trail

Pingu, Greenland

I remove my clothing and waterproof my gear in preparation for the deepest and most dangerous river crossing of the hike. It’s time to get wet!

DAY 7: Ikkattooq to Eqalugaarniarfik (and beyond)

Hiking Distance 19 km (12 miles) | 8 hours

Before we get to the river, let me first tell you about an interesting Danish couple I met at the Ikkattooq cabin. We chatted for a few hours before night fell, hiding out from the storm overhead.

Fleming & Ellen have hiked the Arctic Circle Trail 6 times now.

They’re both 70 years old. And if that wasn’t enough to impress you, they’ve also trekked completely across Greenland over its vast ice cap! An astonishing feat that takes a month to accomplish pulling sleds full of food & gear.

These two have hiked to Everest Base Camp, climbed Mont Blanc (Europe’s highest mountain), and are frankly some bad-ass senior citizen adventurers. Plus, they didn’t even get into trekking until they were in their 40’s.

It’s never too late to try something new & challenging.

Fleming & Ellen

Meet Fleming & Ellen from Denmark

Cold Morning

A Cold Early Morning Start

Greenland’s Mosquitos

The next morning we part ways and I start to climb over a steep ridge in crisp 38 degree mountain air. From there the trail winds down into a huge valley. Descending to the river below is when the first mosquitos begin to attack.

Greenland has a big mosquito problem.

They breed in the many lakes & ponds scattered across the landscape, feeding on the reindeer population. But mosquitos are hatching earlier and earlier each year — which many scientists attribute to global warming.

When hiking the Arctic Circle Trail in June or July, these epic swarms are out in force. Wearing a mosquito headnet is essential for keeping your sanity.

By mid August most of them die off due to colder night temperatures. I still encountered small swarms over bogs & marshy areas of the trail. These little insects are a huge pain in the ass!

Arctic Circle Trail Bones

More Reindeer Bones

Arctic Circle Trail River Crossing

Let’s Get Wet!

Naked River Crossing

The valley surrounds Ole’s Lakseelv, the widest & deepest river on the Arctic Circle Trail. The local name for it is Itinneq. There are two ways to cross.

You can get wet and ford right through, or take a longer detour to a wooden bridge that was built nearby. In the early spring or after a lot of rain the river level can be high, up to your chest.

However in mid August, knee or thigh-high is more common.

I was determined to ford right through. But because it had rained the night before, I wasn’t sure how deep the river would be.

To be safe, I stripped down to my birthday suit and waterproofed my pack by lining it with heavy duty garbage bags. The source of all this water is Greenland’s ice cap, so you can imagine how cold it is!

Slowly & carefully I maneuver my way across the river using trekking poles for support. The icy water reached the top of my thighs at its deepest point. Safely on the opposite bank I dry off, repack, and continue into the valley.

Eqalugaarniarfik Cabin

Can You Spot the Cabin?

Cotton Grass

Patches of Cotton Grass

Wild Greenland

Into the Wild

Reconnecting With Nature

The trail rises up into the rocky mountains again towards Eqalugaarniarfik Hut after the river. I encounter my 6th reindeer along the way and stop for a while to watch her graze.

There’s nothing like a boots off, socks off, lay-in-the-grass break every 1-2 hours to keep you fresh and rested on a long distance trek. It’s been about a week since I’ve had to respond to email, write blog posts, edit photos, or stay active on social media — and I don’t miss it.

While I love my job working as a professional blogger, being online all the time takes its toll. This journey into Greenland’s wilderness on my own with no distractions feels like a proper vacation.

I pass Eqalugaarniarfik Hut and hike uphill on an old snowmobile track lined with white-tipped cotton grass blowing in the wind. Turning to watch the little red building shrink in the distance.

Arctic Circle Trail Lakes

Lakes Around Every Corner

Crow Berries

Arctic Crow Berries

Camping in the Arctic

Camping in the Mountains

DAY 8: Eqalugaarniarfik to Innajuattoq (and beyond)

Hiking Distance 19 km (12 miles) | 7 hours

It gets windy but I manage to find a decent camping spot sheltered by hills on all sides. Pitching my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II tent beside a small pond as a pair of snow-white arctic hares watch me from rocks nearby.

Mosquitos wake me the next morning. I’m packed up and on the trail by 9am after munching on wild berries & mushrooms as a light breakfast.

The path continues over a mountainous region dotted with lakes. Patches of permanent snow can be seen on the peaks. Looking at the landscape, you get a sense of how massive glaciers carved this valley long ago.

At the first of the two Innajuattoq huts I stop to take an afternoon nap surrounded by the rugged Taseeqqap Saqqaa mountain range. Walking down to the 2nd, larger hut I discover my Danish friends Fleming & Ellen who’d passed me as I slept.

They show me where to cross the river ahead as it drains from a lake. I hike on while they choose to end their day early at the cabin.

Arctic Circle Trail Cabin

Innajuattoq Cabin

Arctic Circle Trail River

Another River Crossing

Arctic Circle Trail Cairn

Red Painted Cairn Marks the Route

The Reindeer Family

Suddenly I see two reindeer 50 yards to my left. Then three more, including a baby. It’s a whole family! I carefully take off my bright orange backpack, pull out my camera, and crawl on my stomach commando style up a hill to try and capture photos before they spot me.

This is the closest they’ve been, and I get great shots.

Then the wind shifts and one of the males smells me (easy to do after a week with no shower) and sounds the alarm by grunting to the others who quickly run off in all directions.

Greenland’s arctic tundra is covered in flowers during the spring & summer. Purple, blue, red, pink, yellow. I’m not sure what the names are — my favorite is a little red one that looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book.

The trail passes through a forest at one point too! Well, what seems like a forest by Greenland’s standards. A grove of dwarf willow trees 6-7 feet high.

Flowers in Greenland

Dr. Seuss Flowers

Arctic Circle Trail Reindeer

Sneaking Up on Reindeer

Campfire Fail

Grey clouds move in and the wind picks up again. I scramble to locate a good campsite before dark, stumbling upon a flat tent pitch that’s unfortunately exposed to cold wind blowing up from the valley ahead.

Luckily loose rocks surround the area — perfect for building a makeshift wind-break in front of the tent. I attempt to light a fire using fluffy cotton grass & twigs I’d collected earlier, but the wind is too strong.

This is why I love emergency space blankets.

You never know when they’ll come in handy. I always pack a sturdy version for long hikes. Wrapping it around my sleeping bag helps trap heat and protect from the wind sneaking under the lightweight tarp tent.

It’s a long, cold night, but I manage to get some sleep dreaming of the huge, mouth-watering musk ox steak that I’ll devour when I finally reach Sisimiut.

I wake with drool on my face & thick fog hanging over the area. Onward! ★

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Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail: PART 2

Arctic Circle Trail

Hiking the Arctic Circle Trail

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

The adventure continues as I trek across West Greenland’s colorful tundra on a trail that winds between numerous glacial lakes. Bleached reindeer bones guide the way.

DAY 4: Hundesø to Katiffik

Hiking Distance 20 km (12.5 miles) | 8 hours

Arriving at Hundesø in the middle of the night, I decide to camp nearby rather than wake any potential hikers/hunters that may be sleeping inside.

This cabin isn’t exactly “offical” like others along the hike, but anyone is free to use it. Basically it’s just an old camper with room for 4 people, perched on a rocky hill overlooking the brackish Hundesø Lake.

Reindeer bones litter the area including piles of skulls, antlers, and hooves. Some of the bones still had flesh & fur attached. Fresh kills.

Hundesø lake is salty but completely safe to drink. A few crumbling fishing boats sit on the shore. Sleeping on its sandy beach made for a comfortable night. I woke to the bright orange glow of an incredible sunrise around 4:30am.

Once I’d captured the colors on my camera, I went back to sleep with the help of an eyemask. August in Greenland means there’s only 4 hours of darkness each night! Highly recommend one.

Hundesø Cabin Greenland

Hundesø Hunting Cabin

Arctic Circle Trail

Treeless Arctic Tundra

Crazed Rabbits & Wild Berries

Back on the trail for a few hours and my knee began to ache. This happens occasionally when I’m loaded down with a lot of gear on long-distance hikes.

It can get pretty bad, but I’ve learned how to deal with it by slowing down with long breaks every hour. It usually heals up by the next day.

On a remote adventure like this, you need to be extra careful.

I entertained myself by watching Arctic hares do this hilarious “seizure jump” thing they do. They’d be chilling one minute, then suddenly leaping & twisting into the air for no reason the next.

It looks ridiculous. Tweakers I tell ya!

Must be those wild arctic berries that make them crazy…

The temperature rose to a toasty 65 degrees (F) as the sun came out, and I found a nice mossy area to nap in. Rolling over only to snack on the tasty crack-berries the rabbits loved so much.

Landscapes morphed from wet boggy areas into rocky mountain trails. Occasionally the path would branch off in different directions, forcing you to guess. The most traveled route wasn’t always where the marked cairns were.

Due to my aching knee, it took 8 hours to finally reach the next cabin when it should’ve been about 5 hours at my normal pace.

I hobbled in to find three other hikers preparing dinner.

Peat Moss Greenland

Thick Yellow Peat Moss

Rabbit Arctic Circle Trail

Psycho Bunny Watching

DAY 5: Katiffik to Kangerluatsiarsuaq

Hiking Distance 25 km (15 miles) | 6 hours

The Katiffik hut is located on the eastern shore of Lake Amitsorsuaq, a long and narrow body of water that stretches about 14 miles. I run into my first hikers here. Lucas from Washington DC and two Germans — Hans & Hieko.

I shared the cabin with Lucas while the Germans camped in a tent outside. In the middle of the night we find ourselves with another roommate. Frieder is a 70 year old Danish guy who’s hiked the Arctic Circle Trail 11 times.

He’s brought us a fantastic surprise too. A canoe!

See, there are two ways to travel the next section of the trail. Walking beside the lake all day, or paddling across it in a beat-up canoe.

It’s pure luck if you find a canoe, rumor is there’s 10-14 scattered about. Most are bashed up good, like they’ve been dropped off a cliff. Holes patched with duct tape. Makeshift paddles carved from 2x4s.

Luckily Frieder was hiking in the opposite direction, West to East. He crossed the lake at night in what was easily the best canoe available.

Lucas & I teamed up to make use of this gift and give our feet a rest.

Shelter Arctic Circle Trail

Katiffik Shelter

Arctic Circle Trail Hikers

Hans, Lucas, and Hieko

Arctic Circle Trail Canoe

Traveling By Canoe

Crossing The Lake

Heavy duty garbage bags are one of my favorite pieces of gear to pack on a trek. You can use them as ground tarps, rain covers, drybags, etc. They weigh & cost almost nothing.

We lined the bottom of our leaky canoe with plastic, threw our packs in, and set out across the lake. One paddle was made of plastic, the other was a piece of treated wood wrapped in duck tape.

With no headwind, we made great time in the bright arctic sun.

Apparently there’s a lot of gold, diamonds, and rubies buried in Greenland. We paddled past rocky cliffs decorated by multi-colored layers of bedrock, wondering how many millions were hidden inside.

I noticed an ice halo around the sun, a cool atmospheric phenomenon caused by sunlight reflecting off of ice crystals suspended in the air.

Ice Halo Greenland

Ice Halo Phenomenon

Canoe Adventure Greenland

Rocking the Wooden Paddle

Amitsorsuaq Canoe Center

It only took about 4 1/2 hours by boat to reach the Canoe Center, the next cabin on the trail. This is the largest shelter with space for 16 people. It was built as part of a failed business, hence the random canoes out here.

Shortly after we arrived the Germans joined us. They’d walked along the lake but set out a few hours earlier. So traveling by canoe was much faster than walking.

I was feeling wonderful after giving my feet (and knee) a break.

Rather than stay at the Canoe Center I decided to push on solo further down the lake using a second canoe. But the wind had picked up and it wasn’t easy. My craft was repeatedly swept against the shore.

A pair of reindeer on the hills above the lake spotted me and ran off. However there was no way to pull out my camera due to the strong wind. By the time I reached the end of the lake, I was exhausted from the battle.

Walking for another few hours, I stop to make camp as the sun sets.

Amitsorsuaq Lake Greenland

Amitsorsuaq Lake

Camping Arctic Circle Trail

Wild Camping in Greenland

DAY 6: Kangerluatsiarsuaq to Ikkattooq

Hiking Distance 16 km (10 miles) | 6 hours

My camping spot is located in a valley just above Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq. Packing up the tent, I head down to the lake for a tasty breakfast of cold muesli mixed with water, brown sugar, and wild berries. Yum!

There are at least 3 varieties of arctic berries growing along the trail. Blueberries and black Crowberries, plus some red ones whose name I’m not aware of. All are edible.

My favorite, and the least common, are the red ones that taste like crispy sour apples. You can gather berries almost everywhere, and I always have a stash saved up for breakfast.

Splashing ice-cold lake water on my face I’m ready to start the day.

Loons laugh from the water as I follow the winding path next to the shore. A sharp screeching sound catches my attention. It’s a beautiful Peregrine falcon perched on a rock, warning me to stay away.

Arctic Circle Trail Breakfast

Healthy Trail Breakfast

Arctic Circle Trail Cairns

Rock Cairns with Antlers

Arctic Circle Trail Beach

Who’s Up For a Swim?

Reindeer Hunting

An hour or so into the hike, the trail meanders up & down a series of rocky hills. Around a corner I discover a pristine little beach on the edge of the lake.

If the sun was out, this would be the perfect spot to get a tan!

Past this lake the route gets very steep. While climbing up a rugged cliff I spot a few reindeer who haven’t noticed me yet. Most reindeer will run if they see you.

They key to a decent photo is staying hidden and stalking them like a hunter would. Crouching low, upwind, and taking cover behind some brush or large boulders. Then when the moment is right…

BAM!

What does one do alone to pass the time on a long distance hike?

Hunt down wild animals with a camera of course!

Reindeer Greenland

Hunting Reindeer with My Camera

Arctic Circle Trail

Summer Above the Arctic Circle

Hiking in Greenland

In the Middle of Nowhere

Into The Mountains

The trail climbs higher and higher until you’re walking on bare rock for most of the time. Darker clouds moved in and a light rain began to fall. I stop to put on my rain shell and see yet another arctic hare in the bushes.

So far I’ve seen 5 of them now, along with 5 reindeer too.

The rain suddenly picks up, becoming steady. Glancing at my map I can tell the Ikkattooq hut is not too far further ahead. I was planning to skip it and push on, but the crappy weather is giving me second thoughts.

I finally arrive to a little red cabin (it looks like a garden shed) perched between two mountains on a broad platform of rock. Peering inside, it seems I won’t be the only one spending the night here.

Two others are tucked away into sleeping bags. They wake up from their nap & offer me hot tea as I prepare an oily canned fish sandwich for dinner.

My new Danish roommates have some incredible stories to share… ★

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Trekking The Arctic Circle Trail In Greenland

Arctic Circle Trail

Hiking the Arctic Circle Trail

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

Standing alone on Greenland’s barren ice cap in complete silence, you’re hit with the reality of how remote this place is. Smiling, I hike West as snow begins to fall.

Before visiting Greenland to hike the Arctic Circle Trail, I mistakenly assumed the country was a huge mass of snow & ice. However that’s not entirely true…

While 85% of Greenland is covered in ice, there’s a narrow strip along the coastline that’s actually green! And red. And purple. And yellow. In fact I would soon learn that Greenland can be pretty colorful.

It’s also the most sparsely populated country on the planet.

To give you an idea of just how sparse, Greenland has more landmass than Mexico, yet has a population of only 50,000 compared to Mexico’s 122 million. There’s a lot of untouched wilderness to explore here.

The small town of Kangerlussuaq (population 500) is home to Greenland’s largest international airport. I began my adventure here after a 4 hour flight from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Greenland Trek

Trekking in Greenland

The Arctic Circle Trail

Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail is often listed as one of the best long-distance hikes in the world. The trail stretches up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the edge of the ice cap to the fishing town of Sisimiut on the West coast.

Depending on fitness levels and the specific route chosen, it can take anywhere between 7-12 days to complete. Spread along the trail are a couple of basic wooden huts for bad weather, but packing a tent is recommended.

Only 300 people hike the trail every year, so while you may run into other hikers, it’s possible to go days without seeing a fellow human. The normal hiking season is from June to August. I was hiking mid August to avoid swarms of mosquitos that plague the area earlier in the summer.

Arctic Circle Trail hikers must be totally self sufficient too.

The only towns are located at the beginning and end of the trail, meaning you must pack all your own food & survival gear for the duration of the hike. Outside the towns there’s no cell phone reception either.

I was looking forward to this journey for many reasons — testing my survival skills alone in the middle of an arctic wilderness, and enjoying a much needed break from a world of hyper-connectivity.

Ice Cap Greenland

Greenland’s Massive Ice Cap

Point 660 Greenland

Leaving Point 660

DAY 1: Exploring The Ice Cap

Hiking Distance 12 km (7.5 miles) | 5 hours

I arrived in Greenland at night after our plane was delayed in Copenhagen. But it was still light out. Kangerlussuaq is located North of the Arctic Circle, and the August sun sets around 11pm.

Most hikers start the Arctic Circle Trail directly from Kangerlussuaq, hiring a taxi to the trailhead and walking West towards the coast. However I wanted to begin my hike 40 kilometers East on the edge of the ice cap.

So the next day I booked an afternoon tour with World Of Greenland, requesting they leave me at the ice cap and I’d walk back to town on my own.

A 4×4 bus drove us along a rough dirt road to “Point 660”, where we spent about an hour walking on the ice. There was no need for crampons or safety ropes here, as the nearby glaciers relieve the pressure that normally causes crevasses. The ice was grippy too, like a layer of crusty snow.

Glaciers are rivers of unstable ice that flow down from an ice cap. The ice cap itself doesn’t really move — it’s actually very solid and can be miles deep.

Mushrooms in Greenland

Tasty Wild Mushrooms!

Arctic Hare Greenland

Arctic Hare

First Signs Of Wildlife

The tour group eventually left me on my own. I decided to explore Greenland’s ice cap for another few hours. It was spectacular. Rivers of blue meltwater snaked down a landscape of ice that stretched out towards the horizon for as far as your eye could see.

While many people visit glaciers around the world, the opportunity to actually stand on an ice cap is pretty unique. There are very few places where it’s so easily accessible without the use of a helicopter.

Dark clouds suddenly rolled in, forcing me to leave the ice and begin hiking down the dirt road back towards Kangerlussuaq. Pretty soon it was snowing! Only 30 minutes earlier the sky was blue… this would be a reoccurring theme in Greenland. The weather changes fast.

I saw my first animal dart away into the rocks. It was an arctic hare, his bright white fur standing out in contrast to the greenish-yellow landscape. Further on, a reindeer bounded across the road.

This was the beginning of many wildlife sightings on the hike.

The next 5 hours were spent walking on the dirt road, built by Volkswagen many years ago to test their new cars in harsh winter driving conditions.

I finally reached Russell Glacier around 11pm and set up camp.

Camping in Greenland

Camping Next to Russell Glacier

Glacier in Greenland

The Wall of Ice

DAY 2: Road To Kangerlussuaq

Hiking Distance 25 km (15.5 miles) | 6 hours

CRACK! BOOM! SPLASH! This was the sound of ice breaking away from the 60 meter (180 foot) glacier beside me. The earth trembled as the ice slowly advanced.

Russell Glacier is a towering wall of white, blue, and black frozen water covered in jagged cracks. It moves about 25 meters every year, with sunlight and warm summer temperatures helping the ice “calve” into a glacial river.

Mountains of moraine flank the glacier’s sides, loose gravel that’s been bulldozed into huge piles over thousands of years by millions of tons of moving ice.

You feel very small standing next to it all.

The glacier is impressive, and I hung around for hours watching the spectacle of falling ice. Some chunks were as large as a school bus!

It’s important to keep your distance from the face of a glacier. Falling ice can easily crush you, pieces can be ejected out over the river, or large waves from the splash could knock you off your feet into the freezing water.

Desert in Greenland

Desert Landscape in Greenland

Arctic Fox in Greenland

Blue Arctic Fox

Arctic Deserts & Arctic Foxes

Reluctantly leaving the beautiful glacier I continued following the river. The landscape turned to sand, complete with wind-swept dunes along the banks. It’s an arctic desert called Sandflugtdalen.

In the distance, 3 shapes lumbered up the basin towards some mountains. These were musk ox, large buffalo-looking animals native to Greenland. They’re hunted for their tasty meat and warm fur by the local Inuit.

Too far away for a photo, but I’d get another chance.

Kangerlussuaq used to be an American air base before it was Greenland’s international airport. Next to the road you can find the remains of a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star that crashed along with 2 others during a blizzard in 1968. Apparently all pilots ejected safely.

I spied something black moving in the scrub brush ahead. Not sure what it could be, I pulled out my telephoto lens to get a closer look…

An arctic fox! What a nice surprise!

Arctic foxes can be super shy. They’re also pretty small — about the size of a large house cat. There are two varieties, white or “blue” like this one. I crept up as slowly and quietly as I could, but he saw me coming.

Like a flash, the fox darted out down the road. Somehow I managed to fire off a few shots with my camera as he passed.

Sugarloaf Arctic Circle Trail

View from Sugarloaf Mountain

Kangerlussuaq Airport

The Town of Kangerlussuaq

Spending The Night In Town

A few miles away from Kangerlussuaq there’s a prominent mountain near the road called Sugarloaf. Climbing it rewards you with incredible 360 degree views of the area — Greenland’s ice cap to the East, Kangerlussuaq to the West, and the glacial river called Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua below.

At the summit I found a cabin with a few wooden radio towers, part of the old US air base. The hike up looks easy, but it’s actually pretty steep.

Just past the mountain are signs warning you not to venture off the road due to possible unexploded ordinance. It seems when the Americans left, they blew up what was left of their ammunition here.

However years later some local school kids found a grenade.

While a ring of white posts marks the danger zone, the road itself is safe.

Arriving back into town after a long day, I decided to pay for a room at the Polar Lodge rather than camp out. I needed to recharge all my camera batteries and iPhone (for GPS), as well as repack.

I’d rented a locker at the airport to store most of my food during this first section of the hike. No reason to walk an extra 20 miles with it!

I also purchased some dried fish and peanut M&Ms at the local supermarket to supplement what I’d brought with me. In total, I’d have 9 days worth of food packed for the remainder of my Arctic Circle Trail hike.

Kellyville Greenland

Sondrestrom Upper Atmospheric Research Facility

Hundesø Greenland

Hundesø Hunting Camp

DAY 3: Road To Kellyville/Hundesø

Hiking Distance 20 km (12.5 miles) | 5 hours

When I first arrived in Kangerlussuaq I mistakenly purchased the wrong gas canister to fuel my backpacking stove. Now I was trying to track down a replacement with no success. The entire town was out.

A local guy offered to rent me his stove, which used a different type of gas. But I later learned it couldn’t be refilled at the airport until the “big” 747 airplane left. After wasting hours waiting for it to leave, I finally gave up.

So much for hot food & coffee! I’ll hike without a stove.

From Kangerlussuaq most hikers choose to hire a $50 taxi to the official trailhead 10 miles away. I stubbornly decided to walk the road, starting late in the afternoon.

There’s not much along this road. A tiny local shipping port, some huge diesel storage tanks, and a scientific research station called Kellyville (population 7). They study the Earth’s atmosphere & Northern Lights.

Past Kellyville, a rock cairn painted with a red semi-circle marks the official start of the Arctic Circle Trail. The end of civilization.

Greenland’s rugged wilderness stretched out before me. ★

Watch Video: Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail

(Click to watch Hiking the Arctic Circle Trail – Greenland on YouTube)

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