After being accosted by beautiful baby huskies, I finally made it to the starting point of the hiking trails around the Ilulissat Icefjord. The Ilulissat icefjord is located on the west coast of Greenland and is approximately 250km north of the Arctic Circle. The icefjord is a result of the calving of the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, which is one of the most productive, fastest and most active glaciers in the world. When this glacier calves, huge chunks of ice fall into the ocean and the astoundingly beautiful Ilulissat Icefjord is the result. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most awe-inspiring spots in all of Greenland.
There are three main hiking trails around the icefjord of varying lengths and difficulties. The yellow route is 2.7km long and takes approximately 1.5-2 hours to complete. This is a beautiful trail, and is great for those who want to get great views of the icefjord but who aren’t fit enough to undertake a full days hike. The red route is 1km long and is the least exciting trail by far. This trail is short, direct and will get you to the icefjord, but there won’t be much to see along the way. The blue route is approximately 7km long and takes about four hours for someone with average fitness levels to complete. The blue route was by far my favourite route. This trail will give you stunning views, gorgeous rocks to scramble on; and on a clear day, the sunsets from this route have to be seen to be believed.
The beginning of the trail is a long boardwalk and is very easy to traverse. However, if this boardwalk gets even slightly covered in ice (which is pretty commonplace in Greenland) it can become extremely slippery, so take care and make sure you are wearing good hiking boots with strong grip on the soles.
After just a few minutes of walking along this boardwalk I turned around a corner and got my first glimpse of the magic that lay ahead of me.
With every step I took, more and more ice became visible. Huge icebergs as tall as high rises and as wide as football fields rising up from the sea; the word majestic doesn’t even come close to explaining the magnificence of the icefjords beauty.
I soon came across this sign.
Now, I am not usually one for following rules, but this sign has advice that should definitely be followed. These icebergs are constantly calving and breaking up; and they are so enormous that when calving occurs, huge tsunami-esque waves form and anyone too close could find themselves in serious trouble.
Eventually the boardwalk ends and the trail becomes much more like real hiking. Extremely rocky and uneven terrain, one must scramble across huge boulders and deep mud patches. It is, however, at this point on the trail that the fun really begins.
There are several tour companies in town that offer guided hikes, but I recommend giving these a miss. All of the hiking trails are incredibly well marked and easy to follow; so going it alone will save you money, guarantee some solitude and allow you to go at your own pace. However, it would be easy to slip and injure yourself on the trails, so if you are hiking on your own, make sure your hotel is aware of your plans and know to raise alert if you were to not arrive back within a reasonable timeframe.
When I say that some of these icebergs are enormous, I mean it. It is hard to truly gauge the sheer size of these behemoth bergs from photographs, but this is one of the few of my photographs which comes close.
Though whilst hiking I was unable to see any actual calving occur, I could definitely hear it. The icefjord is alive and full of activity. Huge cracks sounding like calm gunshots ring out as clearly as if they were happening right in front of you, despite the fact that the calving is happening many kilometres away. The echoes ring out and reverberate to all those lucky enough to be in the bay.
This next photograph is one of my favourite from the day. It is 100% unedited, yet almost doesn’t look real. The cloud streaks in the sky were a rare treat and made it borderline impossible to take a bad picture.
I could’ve stayed at the icefjord for the entire day, but as the clouds rolled in and the sun started to disappear from the sky it was time to head back to town for something extra special and spectacular (to be revealed when the next post goes live).
On the walk back I came across the Zion Church. Like most churches in Greenland, this one is only opened for special services and thus I was able to see inside. But it is pretty gorgeous from outside, and one of the more unusual churches I have ever seen.
T H E L O W D O W N
Getting to Ilulissat: Air Iceland has direct flights from Reykjavik twice weekly in the summer months
Ilulissat Hikes: Entry to the Ilulissat Icefjord is free and free hiking trail maps are available from the World of Greenland office
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-40mm lens and 52mm HOYA polarising filter
Remember: Hiking boots, 2L of water, adequate food and a fully charged camera