A traverse of the massively glaciated Schweizerland Alps: ski the frozen fjords & huge glaciers of East Greenland
An extraordinary expedition involving sled hauling by ski, boat travel, remote huts, camping & tiny Inuit villages
Highest standards of guiding in Greenland: IFMGA mountain guides backed up with many years of experience
Suitable for: nordic/cross country or light alpine touring skis
Suitable as a stepping stone to bigger polar expeditions
East Greenland encompasses one of the greatest arctic wildernesses on earth: millions of square kilometres of glaciers, ice cap, mountains and sea ice. On this expedition, we will undertake a sledge-hauling expedition deep into this area, focussing on a brilliant wilderness journey. Travelling by ski each day and setting camp each evening, we’ll cross the sea ice of the fjords before making a traverse of the Schweizerland Alps, a huge range lying on the edge of the ice cap. Following the vast glaciers that run through the mountains, this route will provide rare access to areas extremely seldom-visited. To reach the start point of the expedition, we’ll travel by boat from our home village of Kulusuk.
175 km through some of the wildest terrain on earth. We’ll start on skis from Kulusuk, then take a short journey north by motor boat, from where we’ll continue by ski and sledge via huge glaciers to the heart of the Schweizerland Alps, before returning on the sea ice of the fjords.
Sea-ice conditions depending, we’ll ski north for a day and a half to reach the boat which takes us north to another small fishing village further up the fjord. This is where the open water ends, and our journey continues again on skis.
Continuing on, the circular route ascends from the sea ice, traverses glaciers, cols, frozen lakes and deep valleys before leading back to the frozen fjords. To complete the expedition, we’ll ski back through the beautiful fjordlands to reach the tiny Inuit village of Kulusuk. We’ll likely aim to cover 15 km a day and take 1 – 2 rest days; bad weather or deep snow may dictate longer days.
Camping & Huts
We will be using 2 – 3 person mountain tents that are extremely strong and stable in adverse weather and may also make use of a number of huts – one situated high in the Schweizerland Alps and several located in the fjords to the north of Kulusuk.
Each team member will tow a sledge. Unlike carrying a similar weight in a rucksack, it’s surprisingly easy to haul equipment for several weeks. If the snow is soft, we’ll take turn to break trail, making progress for the rest of the team much easier.
You can either use Pirhuk’s nordic skis or bring along your own. We recommend either nordic ‘fjell’ skis – with kicker and full skins – or light alpine touring skis with comfortable boots suitable for low temperatures.
Guiding and Safety
Pirhuk sets by far the highest standards in professional arctic mountain guiding in both qualifications and experience. As in the Alps, we strongly believe that only the IFMGA international mountain guides’ qualification is appropriate in this environment. Unlike the Alps, Greenland currently does not enforce any minimum guiding standard in mountains as serious as anywhere on earth, effectively meaning that anyone can claim to be ‘guide’. IFMGA Mountain Guides hold the highest, and only, internationally recognised certification in avalanche assessment, ski and mountain guiding. We combine this expertise with many years of experience in managing the unique risks Greenland presents.
Bears, Sea Ice & Storms
To ski in Greenland, polar bears, changeable sea ice and arctic storms must be understood and managed – it’s not enough to grab a gun and ski out from the airport. We set the standards in managing these risks through training, management plans and a huge body of experience that has grown through guiding here season-after-season. We pride ourselves on providing the most professional guiding in Greenland.
East Greenland is an extremely wild frontier region, covering a huge area with little infrastructure. Sea ice and snow conditions can change on a daily basis so flexibility in the plan is essential; below is an outline plan – please be aware that this may change.
Fly Reykjavik to Kulusuk, East Greenland. Whilst baggage is taken by snowmobile, we walk to village. Afternoon spent organizing equipment and exploring village. Overnight in hut (simple sleeping bag accommodation in typical Greenlandic hut).
Boat travel from Kulusuk itself is rarely possible due to the mass of sea ice which drifts down the east coast and chokes the fjords surrounding the village. We’ll pack sledges and spend the day hauling over the sea and a low glaciated pass, before dropping down into the valley on the far side, where we’ll establish camp. Today is an opportunity to refine systems and tweak equipment.
Continuing north we reach the ice edge and meet the boats which will take us north. Boating north through icy waters, we reach the remote settlement of Kuummiut. The boats leave us here. Pulling the sledges a short way out of the village, we’ll set up camp.
Travelling on smooth sea ice, the going is relatively easy as we work our way north-east. Crossing a frozen fjord and bay we gain the mainland and an easy angled valley. This section of ice is the last to freeze – we’ll take advice from the local hunters as to conditions. We’ll establish camp at the foot of a glacier.
Low-angled at this point, we’ll gain height and cross the glacier, dropping down again to cross a frozen lake. From here we ascend to a col which gives views out onto the first of the really huge inland glaciers. Tonight we may stay in the one and only mountain hut in this region. Built as a starting-out point for mountaineers, there’s a big stove and even beds!
Leave the hut behind, skiing north on a relatively flat glacier that leads to a vast glacial plateau, the meeting point of five massive glaciers. At this point, we’ll be surrounded by the spires of the Schweizerland range. Camp will be set up here.
Turning south we enter a cirque of peaks to make a crossing of a low col. The glaciers at this time of year are buried in a deep layer of winter snow, making problems with crevasses less likely. The IFMGA mountain guide leading the expedition will carefully assess conditions and use a rope to protect the team as necessary.
One day of glacier travel, mostly gently downhill, to gain the sea ice of the fjords again. Tonight we may stay in a simple hut.
Traverse the sea ice of a fjord southwards, getting closer to the ocean. We’ll likely start meeting icebergs at this point.
Following the fjord system south, we enter a bay of islands. This area is known for strong currents, affecting the quality of the ice. We’ll follow the safe routes we’ve come to know over the years, sometimes crossing islands, at other times closely following the coastline. Overnight camp on an island with views out to the ocean.
We will cross several sections of land today, involving travelling on frozen lakes and crossing low cols. We camp below a glacier tonight.
Gain height up a valley to reach a col and on to the glacier. A low-angle descent leads to the sea ice and the calving face of the glacier. All that remains is the last kilometres of skiing across the bay to Kulusuk, where showers and fresh food await! Overnight in Kulusuk.
A flight from Kulusuk back over the Denmark Strait to Iceland. Clear weather allows one last glimpse of the mountainous wilderness we’ve just spent the last weeks skiing.
Many thanks to Greenland veteran Adrien for producing these films! All 7 parts can be found on Adrien’s Vimeo page.
Past Trip Reports
Matt T, France
East Greenland Nordic Ski Expedition
I wanted to thank you all very much for two unforgettable weeks in Greenland. I have never seen such a beautiful, dramatic and pristine place and discovering it like we did was an amazing learning experience !
Christian is a very experienced and easy-going guide, I could not have hoped for a better one. Spending time with Rich also was really good, his positive attitude and kindness was very much appreciated and made the whole trip even better!
Geoff F, Australia
East Greenland Nordic Ski Expedition 2014
FLIGHTS : Awesome.
EQUIPMENT LIST: Follow it and you will be a happy camper.
MATT: You mate, clearly make a great practical contribution to the
people of Kulusuk and have done for years. You created a company
that enables us ordinary folk to engage with Greenland and
Mariano C, Argentina
East Greenland Nordic Ski Expedition
First I want to mention Dave, he is a very solid guide. 10/10 points! You guys do an excellent job.
Mirek C, Poland
East Greenland Nordic Ski Expedition
I just wanted to add that this was one of the best, most professionally organized expeditions/trips that I have attended, with just the right balance of everything. Thanks a lot Dave for letting us experience a real polar expedition and the feeling if things would go bad (weather, polar bears, etc) then we are under the care of a real professional.