A return to Greenland.
The flight to Kangerlussuaq was an odd one. Sitting in an aisle seat of a middle four on the plane, I was next to two colleagues travelling on business. The guy, a middle-aged Dutch chap, polished off three bottles of wine on the flight. On the morning flight. The time difference between Denmark and Greenland meant he arrived in Kangerlussuaq at 0930, barely able to speak or walk, with wine stains down his shirt. Eavesdropping on his conversation with his colleague, they spoke endlessly for the four hours from Copenhagen yet said very little.
Some people are uncomfortable to be around when they’re drunk and he was just that. On the other side, once we started flying over the coast of East Greenland, there were people forcing their way over strangers to get close enough to a window for a photo. Manners are far less important than social media “likes”.
I only had a couple of nights in Kangerlussuaq. Having visited previously in the winter, I was interested to see the area and the ice cap in the summer. Being a desert, it’s quite different from other areas in Greenland that I’ve seen and the rolling hills make for some fantastic hiking. There is an abundance of sand carried downstream by the main river and even a sandstorm valley.
On my first night there, with dinner finished, I went out for a wander, heading along the road which leads to the ice cap and stopping at a picnic table a little outside of the town. It was a fantastic, still, quiet evening. No more flights were coming in, few people around, no cars.
The sun was due to set that night, albeit at around 1.30am, and it was already starting to disappear behind the hills. Despite the sun setting that evening, it never really got close to darkness and 24-hours of daylight makes for ample time wandering and hiking. So I did just that.
Heading up the hill which runs alongside part of the town, I started walking east, towards the ice cap. Walking around a couple of small lakes, chasing ‘peak’ after ‘peak’, eager to see the view from the next one, I ended up walking until after midnight, in blissful isolation.
The views from up high around Kangerlussuaq are wonderful. The ice cap sits on the horizon, that evening with a bit of a pink/orange glow under the near-setting sun. The rolling hills are almost endless, and the odd glacier can be seen from time-to-time.
The following day I was on a trip to the ice cap. In the winter on my last visit, it was stunning scenery. There was a dusting of snow and the ice cap was pristine white, the glaciers looked almost sculpted with the hints of glowing blue in certain parts.
In the summer, without the snow, the whole area looked very different. It seemed like the land was part of a quarry, with mounds of sand and rocks everywhere, and was far less picturesque. The ice cap, rather than being the clean white, was more grey – either due to sand/rubble or, perhaps, due to an algae which is appearing on parts of it and causing a bit of a heating feedback loop (I picked that up from the BBC Science Editor, whom I was sat next to and chatting with on the flight back to Copenhagen the following day).
The landscape had been this way on my last visit but the covering of snow meant it didn’t take on the ‘quarry’ look. It was very different, far more picturesque.
Kangerlussuaq still feels like a bit of an anomaly in Greenland. Its reason for existing in the first place, the fact that it still only exists due to the airport, it being a (relatively) major hub for business visitors and tourists into the country, the stories of the town and its surrounding area, it all makes for a really fascinating place. It’s particularly good for hiking and is so different from other towns and settlements in Greenland.
The future of Kangerlussuaq seems a little up in the air. Southern Greenland, Nuuk and Ilulissat are pushing for airport and runway improvements which would remove the need for connections in Kangerlussuaq. Without those connecting flights, the airport becomes far less busy and the town will suffer massively. On the other hand, I read mention of a road being built to connect Kangerlussuaq with its nearby neighbour and Greenland’s second-biggest town, Sisimiut. This would be the first road in Greenland connecting two towns/settlements. It would be a shame if Kangerlussuaq were to lost out to Greenland’s other towns but for a country looking to increase tourism, the writing may be on the wall.