I had been planning a trip to Greenland since before the pandemic hit in 2020. A trip like this requires serious planning, especially with the depth of isolation we were going to face. As coronavirus raged on, dreams of vast white surroundings were put on the back burner indefinitely. We saw a clearing in the summer as things were improving, and decided to head off in September, though this seemed like it wasn't going to happen until the plane left London.
Arriving in Copenhagen felt like a dream come true - blue skies, the kindest people, and the first time stepping foot in another country in almost two years. We spent a few days here exploring the city with only one slight hiccup. Max received a false positive on a COVID test and ending up in a quarantine hotel for several hours, before he was allowed to leave with a negative test. He joined us at the airport and made the flight by the skin of his teeth.Everything seemed very normal as we flew into Kangerlussuaq on a commercial plane, except when we landed. Stepping off the plane, we entered the quietest town I have ever come across. The total population of the town is just 508, with almost all residents working at the airport or in tourism. We hopped straight on a much smaller plane to Nuuk, where we would be spending most of our time in Greenland, leaving the ghost town behind us under the clouds.
Things felt a lot more normal when we arrived at Nuuk. As Greenland’s largest settlement with a population of 19,000, there was a lot more buzz and excitement. It was also here that we met our first Greenlanders, who I believe to be some of the kindest and most interesting people that I have ever come across. Quiet, calm and welcoming, with a distinct disdain for the Danish, but that’s another story and not mine to tell. To no one's surprise, we quickly found ourselves in a pub sampling Greenland’s own brew, and enjoying Muskox burgers. The Muskox is a rather bizarre looking animal, somewhat like a hairier and uglier buffalo, with a strong flavour - some say like beef, others like a gamier lamb.
The next day we went exploring the surrounding areas. Greenland has some rather interesting gun laws - once you are 500m out of town there are zero shooting restrictions. On our walk through some beautiful snowy scenery this kept crossing my mind with every step I took. We found ourselves amongst some steep jagged rocks and decided to spend the afternoon rock climbing - what better way to see the sights of a seemingly abandoned country. The mix of rock, earth, snow and ice made the climbing difficult, but acted as a reminder of the remoteness of the land we were on. There are only 5 types of trees that grow in Greenland, and these are dispersed thinly across the southernmost parts of the land mass. For miles and miles, all we could see was barren wasteland. These provided some particularly moody images that I took with my Gearing tripod. The different feet options offered were really useful for providing stability, especially as the terrain underfoot changed so rapidly.
We decided to leave the mainland and head for the fjords, to spend some time fishing and exploring. The first day on the boat was spent sailing for 6 hours toGodthåbsfjord, the longest fjord on the western side of the island, entering 160km inland. This day was spent acclimatising to the cold outside, drinking gin and tonics chilled by chipping icebergs that we passed, and getting to know one another. By the time we reached the furthest point inland of the fjord, we were all a good few drinks down, the cold had passed us by and we were firm friends. On this night we saw the Northern Lights brighter than any on board had ever seen them before. For Max and I this was truly the most incredible sight to behold, one that really grounds you to the minuteness of humanity. We set up for some long exposure images of the northern lights - they were very bright and active, so I chose a 6 second shutter speed. Had they been fainter and slower, I would have chosen around 20 seconds. The images came out beautifully and are an amazing reminder of my nights in Greenland.
A truly Viking breakfast of bread, meat and cheese to start a frozen morning, and we were ready to spend the day fishing. Hopping off the boat to one of the most remote locations I have ever stepped foot into, I was once again daunted by the size of the nature around me and a feeling of insignificance and helplessness, a feeling I didn't shake until I returned back home. We spent the day fishing for Arctic Char, a hugely populous species in the waters around Greenland. Having captured a comfortable sized haul, we began to cook our fish on flat stones that we built fires underneath. This day truly felt like a huge step back into time. To end the day, we sailed more around the mountains of Greenland, taking in the country's raw beauty.
After a calm night's sleep on the boat, we awoke for a long hike through the mountainous terrain that Greenland had to offer. I took with me my Gearing trekking poles, and Max brought along my third leg as well as a spare to make up his own kit. Our trek led us to muskox, caribou and reindeer, as well as a plethora of birds, including Ptarmigan, a small partridge-like bird. It really was a winter wonderland seeing reindeer in the snow - a childhood Christmas dream. This concluded our final day in Greenland as we headed back to Denmark in the evening, after the most magical time away. Greenland was completely uncharted territory for most of us, and it has certainly left its mark on me in so many ways. The beauty of its untouched land, the kindest people so welcoming to explorers, but also the unwavering isolation and remoteness that I felt every day. There was constantly something new to encounter - frozen sea, glaciers, crumbling rock faces and some of the largest animals I have ever seen. The lack of fertility on the ground furthered the lingering feeling of unease - if trees cannot survive there then what on earth was I doing there!
Story by Nick Bailey, words by Posy Barker