Walking On Top of The Greenland Ice Sheet

After freezing my butt off at negative 39 degrees centigrade, a little increase in temperature was more than welcome. Granted, -29 is still bloody cold, but that 10-degree increase makes an absolutely massive difference.

On this particular day it was very cloudy, which has both pros and cons. On the pro side – heavy cloud cover acts as a sort of insulation, making the mercury hover at a slightly more tolerable level. On the con side – heavy clouds and minimal daylight make taking photographs of snow and ice incredibly difficult. However, I was excited, ready to explore and more than up to the challenge.

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

I had organised to take another trip with the wonderful World of Greenland Arctic Circle to the ice cap – otherwise known as the Greenland ice sheet. This half day trip promised some incredible views and the chance to actually walk on the ice cap. Now that is an experience one doesn’t get every day!

From Kangerlussuaq, the drive to the ice cap takes around 90 minutes plus a bit of extra time to make stops. The truck that is designed to handle such extreme terrain is enormous, and as a result, the heating doesn’t work all that efficiently. I was completely rugged up in about a million layers and I was still cold – and I hadn’t even gotten off the truck yet!

We made our first few stops at random places. Whenever we spotted reindeer we yelled out, the truck would stop and I would try and edge close enough to get some decent shots before the reindeer got inevitably spooked and ran away. Someone remind me to invest in a telephoto lens! Fun fact: apparently in the winter it is only female reindeer who keep their big antlers! Who knew that Rudolph was a girl!?

Spot the reindeer!
Spot the reindeer!

After stopping for at least twenty reindeer, our next stop was at the site of a plane that crashed during the second world war. The plane is still in pretty good condition, and there isn’t a speck of rust in sight!

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

As the story goes, there was one day where Kangerlussuaq had an unusually intense snowstorm, making it very dangerous for American military planes to land – however, these planes needed a place to stop before continuing onwards to Germany, so despite this poor weather, had to persevere and attempt to land. The military had numerous forms of communication to assist the planes in landing, and the first six planes successfully made it to the ground without incident. However, after the sixth plane had grounded, these communications devices went down and the final three planes were left to attempt landing without any assistance. All three planes ended up crashing, but miraculously, all three pilots were able to jump from the planes before making impact – and all three survived. Pretty amazing stuff.

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

Around this same area are signs warning people against straying from the marked road. Apparently when the Americans went to leave Greenland after the war, they couldn’t be bothered transporting all of their weapons back to the States, so there is a stretch of land littered with an unknown number of unexploded mines – not cool ‘Muricans.

Further onwards we made stops at the completely frozen over Long Lake (named for exactly why you’d think) and at a viewpoint of Russel Glacier. I had plans to visit the glacier the following day, so getting a little preview was pretty damn cool.

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

Eventually we came to the end of the road and it was time to walk over the moraine and onto the ice cap. The 15-minute walk over the moraine isn’t technically difficult, but certain patches of snow were seriously slippery, so I still managed to go arse up on more than one (or five) occasions.

On such a cloudy and snowy day, the visual impact of walking on the ice cap isn’t quite as strong as how I expect it would be during the summer months. The recent snow had fallen heavy over the ice, and as a result, you wouldn’t even know you were walking on the ice cap unless you kicked aside a patch of snow.

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

However, while the visual impact may not have been there, the emotional impact still certainly was. You know when people talk about how the ice caps are melting? I have actually walked on top of them! I have actually touched the very ice that despite being thousands of years old, seems destined to melt in the (uncomfortably) near future. It is pretty unbelievable.

kangerlussuaq-greenland-ice-cap

Where I walked, the ice is only around 70-80 metres thick, but apparently at the ice caps thickest point, this ice is around 3,200 metres thick – which is kinda incomprehensible. I mean, that is like three of Table Mountain! It honestly wrinkles my brain a little bit.

I was so moved by walking around on the ice cap that I am already planning my next trip to Greenland, this time during the summer months – and such a trip will definitely include returning to the Ice Cap.

THE  LOWDOWN 

Getting to Kangerlussuaq: Air Greenland flies directly from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq all year round, a one way flight will set you back approximately $500
Getting out of the Airport: Most accommodation is within walking distance, however the cheapest accommodation (Old Camp) is a fair hike – contact them to arrange a pick up if this is where you plan on staying
Polar Lodge: A no frills option that is kinda a blend of a hostel and hotel. It may be a little rundown, but it is kept well warmed and the beds are comfy. A single room will set you back $190/night
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens and M.Zuiko 7-14mm f2/8 lens
Ice Cap 660 Tour: Run by World of Greenland Arctic Circle, click here to learn more
Remember: Kangerlussuaq is further inland than many of the coastal towns in Greenland, and it gets bloody cold! Be prepared to rug up.

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

27 thoughts on “Walking On Top of The Greenland Ice Sheet

  1. There’s a book called “Frozen in Time” depicting the heroic rescue mission for the crews during the WWII in Greenland. I read it before my trip to Greenland and always wanted to see the airplanes left there. Location wise these may not be the ones you photographed but it is great to see a piece of history frozen in time. Bad for the military for not cleaning up after themselves.

  2. Awesome photos, it looks really spectacular, I’m very jealous! I do have to say though, it makes me a bit sad that you’ve talked about the ice caps melting, but you’re also talking about flying back there again to see the ice cap in summer. As travellers, emissions from flights are a huge part of our carbon footprint, and our personal contribution to melting those ice caps. What are your thoughts on the ethics of taking so many flights?

    1. Interesting thoughts Kristie! As far as carbon emissions go, I donate money every time I fly to a foundation that plants trees in an effort to neutralise my carbon footprint.

      1. That’s great, definitely worth doing! The numbers worry me a bit with carbon offsetting though. One company I looked at charges about $1 to offset 100kg of Co2, which is roughly what a mature tree absorbs in 50 years. Seems very cheap! Not to mention the fact a lot of carbon offsetting projects are things we need to be doing anyway. Do you have a good recommendation for an offsetting organisation? 🙂

  3. Great trip! I would like to get there too, before all the ice is gone 😉
    One fact about why there is no rust on the plane wreck (I also saw one WWII plane wreck, or what was left of in the dolomites, italy, last summer) , most parts of planes are made of aluminium cause of the weight ;).
    Greets Peter

  4. I would love to have this type of experience but boy do I hate the cold! I feel like at some point I should just suck it up and do it, because it will be worth it. Love your pictures, and your genuine smile really shows!

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