Our plan to explore a changing landscape
Our next exciting travel adventure will begin in July, which is not far away now as the time passes-by these days. Julia, myself, and our friends Cindy and Donald plan to spend a month exploring both Greenland and Iceland.
All four of us have traveled the edges of Iceland on previous trips, but this time we plan to explore the hinterlands of this newly formed and most progressive country. But, before we sightsee the environs of Iceland we hope to, fly to, and then sail around the edges of Greenland’s remote and distant east coast. Our furthest destination on this once in a lifetime trip will be the crinkly shores of Scoresbysund.
Julia and I sailed within 10 miles of the coast of Greenland a while back. But, we could not land on its frozen shores as the year we were there icebergs shrouded its coastline. This time we hope to make landfall.
We will sail the frozen Atlantic Ocean on the very yar ship the Donna Wood. The latest addition to the North Sailing fleet she is a beautiful two mast, oak ship built in 1918. Representing Danish shipbuilding tradition at its very best Donna Wood was originally built as a lighthouse ship, but in 1990 she underwent massive restoration and was equipped with rigging and sails. She is a roomy ship with a deck saloon seating 24. Her ample space below deck comfortably accommodates 12 people in 7 cabins each equipped with washbasins and closets. Her hallway features spacious shared shower facilities and toilets.
Here is our itinerary:
July 14 San Francisco to Seattle
The only direct flight to Iceland from the west coast of the USA is from Seattle, so Julia and I will spend the morning in Tecoma and then take the direct flight to Reykjavík.
July 15 Leave Seattle for Iceland
July 16 Arrive Reykjavík, Iceland
July 17 Tour Reykjavík
Reykjavík is believed to be the location of the first permanent settlement in Iceland. According to Ingolfur Arnarson (one of the first permanent Norse settlers of Iceland) it was established in AD 874. Until the 19th century, there was no urban development in the city location. The modern city was founded in 1786 as an official trading town and grew steadily over the next decades, as it transformed into a regional and later national center of commerce, population, and governmental activities. It is among the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world.
July 18 Tour Reykjavík
We hope to indulge in one of the many spas in this lovely city.
July 19 Leave Reykjavík
Iceland for Greenland flight time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
July 19 Day 1 (Wednesday)
Constable Point in Greenland
We’ll depart Keflavik Airport Iceland for a flight to Constable Point in Greenland, a small airfield on the west side of Hurry Inlet. Each of us can check in only 20 kg of baggage and bring an additional 8 kg onto the small Dash 8 aircraft.
How will we get from the airport to the boat? After collecting our luggage upon arrival in Greenland a pickup truck will transport us to the harbor (approx. 3 minutes’ ride) where the crew hands over our warm and “floatable” overalls for the tour, marked with our name. Upon boarding the vessel, we’ll be shown to our cabin. The actual transport to the schooner is done by zodiac.
Dash 8 aircraft
We’ll embark the Schooner and get an introduction and a safety briefing by the crew and then sail towards the village of Ittoqqortoormiit where the evening is spent with locals in perhaps the most isolated village of the world.
Ittoqqortoormiit was founded in 1925 by people from Ammassalik island. It is the most northerly settlement on the east coast of Greenland. The 450 inhabitants make their living mostly by subsistence hunting seals, Narwhale, Muskoxen, and Polar Bear. The quaint little houses dot the rocky slopes of south Liverpool Land with magnificent views of Kap Brewster and the Volquart Boons Coast to the south.
How difficult is the Greenland sailing tour going to be? I am told the tour is not challenging unless we really want it to be. We will be able to do some easy to moderately difficult hikes always accompanied with a professional guide. No specific preparations or skills are required for the trip itself, but a good spirit and love for nature and adventure is a must as this is not a luxury cruse!
Sleeping bags and towels are not needed in our baggage, the crew provide warm bedding and covers as well as blankets and a set of towels. Our accommodation is in traditional, but new and clean bunks. Space on board is limited so we must be mindful of our luggage.
Their full onboard service includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am told that they have put a lot of care into planning our meals, I hope this is true. Occasionally, they also serve a light snack during the day, and snacks are also available upon request. Soft drinks and water are available at any time and alcoholic beverages are also for sale on board.
They have a simple, but hot shower on board, which is available most of the time. Yikes! Water supply can be limited; therefore, they ask us to adapt. The staircases to living quarters have steep inclines, but with good railings. Parts of the ship have a very low ceiling so we must be mindful of our heads.
We should also be aware, that transfer between land and our ship is performed by zodiac (there are no harbors in the whole of the Scoresbysund area), so no gangways.
What will we bring on the Greenland tour?
‣ Small flashlight.
‣ Sun-protection and bug repellent.
‣ Warm clothes, scarf, mittens, hat, and warm thermal underwear.
‣ Light wool sweater or fleece (2nd layer).
‣ Warm Jacket – Wool or fleece (3rd layer).
‣ Shell Jacket or/and Rain jacket with hood, Waterproof and breathable material.
‣ Hiking Boots – The boots should be of leather (or leather and synthetic) with high cut to give sufficient ankle support. Preferably the sole should be soft but robust.
‣ Rubber Boots.
‣ Water container.
‣ Camera equipment, spare batteries, memory card and/or films.
‣ Toothbrush, earplugs and other personal belongings.
‣ It is advisable that what you wear is either waterproof or easy to dry.
‣ No umbrella is needed!
Due to shortage of water supply, they ask us to avoid cleaning our clothes on board. I’m told if anything gets wet during the trip, the engine room is very warm and can be used as a perfect drying place. Hum, how ripe we will become.
Power (220V) for charging our batteries is available during sailing, when the motor is running. They ask us to not charge batteries during the night, when anchored. Standard Icelandic plugs are available (two pins EU size).
The area we are cruising is very remote. Cell phone and internet access will not be available. However, cell phones work at the airport in Constable Point and in Ittoqqortoormiit, the village where we spend the two last nights. In an emergency, we can make a phone call with one of the ship’s satellite phones or send e-mail, SMS or FAX via Inmarsat, (the ship’s satellite communications system).
They expect temperatures between 2 and 12 degree Celsius (36 to 54 Fahrenheit). This time of the year the area is also known for having very little rain. It can be windy, but on clear days and no wind the sun can be very strong. Also, due to the long lasting high pressure over Greenland, the weather is usually very still.
Will we use the sails most of the time? No! Due to still winds, narrow fjords, and many icebergs they’ll use the engine most of the time when traveling in the fjord system. They will however take up sails when possible and at least one time during the trip we should have the opportunity to experience proper sailing, without the engine. I’m told the crew will gladly and proudly educate us about the Donna Wood as a sailing ship. We are more than welcome to assist at any point with whatever duties need to be done, but it is not mandatory at all. Well, that’s what they tell us now.
The big question of course is: will we get seasick? Until we sail, there’s no way to tell. The sea in Scoresbysund fjord is very calm and we are not likely to get seasick there. However, if you tend to suffer from this illness, like I do, it is best to take sea sickness precautions. If you haven’t been to sea before, it is better to be safe than sorry and take preventative measures. The motion sickness patch is probably the most popular these days. It is placed behind the ear four hours before boarding and changed if necessary every 72 hours. This is quite an effective way to prevent seasickness, but can cause symptoms like a dry mouth and blurry vision. Better to be thirsty than sick, though!
July 20 Day 2 (Thursday)
We’ll sail west in the mighty fjord of Scoresby Sound. We’ll pass between whole palaces of icebergs that gently drift under the influence of the currents in the Arctic waters. These massive ice structures fell from parent glaciers that originate in the interior of this frozen world.
We’ll anchor at Hekla Havn, on Denmark fjord, which is the site of an old Inuit settlement and wintering camp of the first scientific expedition to Scoresby Sound over a hundred years-ago. We’ll spend a short evening walking and exploring Hekla Havn, and the surrounding area.
July 21 Day 3 (Friday)
We’ll sail west through the narrow Fohnfjord with the majestic basalt mountains of Gaseland on the port side and 2,000 meters high sheer granite cliffs of Milne Land on the Starboard side. After being up close to the peculiar looking Red Island and even landfall at the red sandstone shore the tour continues to the north through Radefjord, which is often filled with both larger icebergs and ice crust from icebergs that are breaking up. We will arrive in Harefjord in the late afternoon where anchors are set for two nights.
July 22 Day 4 (Saturday)
The whole day will be spent ashore in Harefjord scouting for muskoxen, snow hares, grouse, geese and other wildlife, which normally graze on the south facing slopes. We’ll experience between 6 and 7 hours of easy to moderate hiking with a lunch break at the top of a ridge with a breath-taking view over Harefjord where the glacier tongues descend into the sea. Those who prefer less exercise can stroll at the coast or stay on board enjoying the view. In the evening the crew will make a bonfire and prepare BBQ on the rocky beach.
July 23 Day 5 (Sunday)
The sailing continues eastwards through awesome fjords. This is one of the most spectacular parts of the trip. Terrific mountain peaks and granite walls tower 200 meters up from the sea. It’s as if the Cerro Torre (one of the majestic mountains of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in South America) or the Fitzroy River Gorge (in Queensland, Australia) had been moved to the Arctic. These fjords are true feasts for the eyes. Usually the sea breeze in the fjords during the middle of the day allows sails to be set. We’ll hopefully get a close look at some of the most amazing cliffs and a glacier front. This day will end by setting anchor in Jyttes Havn Bjorneoe in the late afternoon.
July 24 Day 6 (Monday)
The day is spent hiking in and around Jytteshavn in Bear Islands as this is possibly one of the nicest and most picturesque anchorages in Scoresby Sound. There are two options of a longer or shorter hike in the Bear Islands, or on the northernmost tip of Milneland, a short zodiac ride away. Jytteshavn is the place to try your skills at ocean swimming at longitude 71° north! Surprisingly, temperatures can be as warm as 13°C (55°F) in the summertime. Burr! In the evening, they’ll offer us a nice meal on board and then a cozy bonfire on the beach with storytelling of Viking sagas, I hope.
July 25 Day 7 (Tuesday)
Sailing the Tyhe channel between the Bear Islands and Milne land with a breathtaking view of the spectacular archipelago there. As we sail into the last evening and night of the trip it is likely that we’ll be experiencing sights of the largest and the most fascinating icebergs of the journey. This provides a fantastic opportunity for photographs of the majestic and impressive icebergs that are often found in this area. When we wake up the next morning we’ll be anchored at the airstrip in Constable Point.
July 26 Day 8 (Wednesday)
The last morning, we will enjoy a good breakfast together, write in the diary on board and share contact information with each other. Then we will disembark the schooner for the last time and board the aircraft in Constable Point and fly back to Keflavik Airport in Iceland.
July 27 Reykjavík, Iceland
If all this was not enough our next plan is to begin an exploration of the hinterland of Iceland. We’ll most likely spend the night in Reykjavík before heading inland.
There are two main overland routes linking the north and south of Iceland. The western route over Kjolur is passable by ordinary vehicles in summer. This route skirts, Langjokull glacier on the way to Hveravellir geothermal field before emerging by the Ring Road in the north. We’ll be taking this route as we head northward.
As we head south again we’ll take the eastern route from Akureyri, near Lake Myvatn, threading our way between glaciers, and rough tracks as well as unbridged rivers. This route can only be negotiated by 4WD vehicles, lucky we’ll have one. This route is rough, but it’s the more direct central route. It’ll take us through the black sands of Sprengisandur before we end up back in southern Iceland.
July 28 Gullfoss
Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. As the wide Hvitá River rushes southward, at about a half a mile above the Gullfoss falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down into a wide curved three-step staircase. There it then abruptly plunges in two stages (36 feet and 69 feet) into a deep crevice. The crevice is about 66 feet wide and 1.6 miles in length.
The average amount of water running down the waterfall is 4,900 cubic feet per second in the summer and 2,800 cubic feet per second in the winter. The highest flow ever measured there was, an unbelievable, 71,000 cubic feet per second!
July 29 Gullfoss to Kerlingarfjoll
After these amazing waterfalls, we’ll head on to Kerlingarfjoll. It is a 4,846-foot-tall mountain range in the Highlands of Iceland. The range is part of a large tuya volcano system of some 39 square miles. A tuya is a type of distinctive, flat-topped, steep-sided volcano formed when lava erupts through a thick glacier or ice sheet. The volcanic origin of these mountains is evidenced by the numerous hot springs and rivulets in the area as well as red volcanic rhyolite-stone, which the mountains are composed of. Minerals that have emerged from the hot springs also color the ground yellow, red, and green.
July 30 Kerlingarfjoll and Hveravellir area
Nested between the two big glaciers: Langjokull and Hofsjokull. Hveravellir Nature Reserve is one of the last great wilderness areas of Europe. Extending up to the foothills of Langjokull glacier Hveravellir is a geothermal hotspot with smoking fumaroles and bubbling water holes. The surroundings are spectacular. Fenced in by glaciers mountains craters and lava fields wherever you look, the scenery is breathtaking.
Hveravellir is one of Iceland’s most popular oasis in the highlands whether your driving, hiking, or riding an Icelandic-horse. The area offers various hiking trails through the marvels of the lava field or nearby spectacular mountain slope. And for those in need of recharging and relaxing just a simple chill in the nature pool followed by a cup of hot chocolate and a slice of cake in the Internet cafe might be just the thing.
July 31 Hveravellir to Akureyri
It’s a long way to Akureyri, it’s a long way from home. It’s a long way to Akureyri, and the sweetest girl I know. Well not really, as the sweetest girl I know will be with me on this journey. Julia an I have visited this lovely little remote town in the northern part of Iceland before, and I never thought we’d revisit it. But, if all goes to plan we certainly will get a second visit.
Aug 1 Akureyri to Myvatn
Myvatn is a shallow eutrophic lake situated in an area of active volcanism in the north of Iceland, not far from Krafla volcano. A eutrophic body of water, commonly a lake or pond, has high biological productivity. The lake and its surrounding wetlands have an exceptionally rich population of water birds, especially ducks. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2,300 years ago, and the surrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and rootless vents (pseudo craters). The river Laxa is known for its rich fishing for brown trout and Atlantic salmon.
Aug 2 Dettifoss
Dettifoss is a waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, and is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. The water comes from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier, whose sediment-rich runoff colors the water a greyish white. The water of the wide Jökulsá á Fjöllum river falls for more than 144 feet, causing a massive, crashing spray.
Aug 3 Húsavík
We’ll take a break from the volcanism and visit Húsavík. It is a quaint town in Norðurþing municipality on the north coast of Iceland on the shores of Skjálfandi bay with 2,182 inhabitants. The most famous landmark of the town is the wooden church Húsavíkurkirkja, built in 1907.
Aug 4 Hverfjall
Hverfjall is a tephra cone or tuff ring volcano in northern Iceland, to the east of Mývatn. It erupted in 2,500 BP in the southern part of the Krafla fissure swarm. The crater is approximately 1 km in diameter.
Aug 5 Krafla
Krafla is a caldera of about 10-kms in diameter with a 90-km long fissure-zone, in the north of Iceland in the Mývatn region. Its highest peak reaches up to 818 meters and it is 2-kms in depth. There have been 29 reported eruptions in recorded history.
While in the Myvatn expanse we’ll also take in the Hverir Geothermal Area.
Aug 6 Myvatn to Hella South
While on our way to, and in, Hella South we’ll visit:
Dimmuborgir, it is a large area of unusually shaped lava fields east of Mývatn in Iceland. The Dimmuborgir area is composed of various volcanic caves and rock formations, reminiscent of an ancient collapsed citadel (hence the name). The dramatic structures are one of Iceland’s most popular natural tourist attractions.
Sprengisandur, it is a highland plateau in Iceland, defined roughly as the area between the Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull glaciers.
Aug 9 Landmannalaugar
Landmannalaugar is a magnificent place in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Highlands of Iceland. It is at the edge of Laugahraun lava field, which was formed in an eruption around the year 1477. It is known for its natural geothermal hot springs and surrounding landscape.
Aug 10 Solheimajokull Glacier
The glacier snout Solheimajokull is the southwestern outlet of the Myrdalsjokull icecap and we plan to hike on it. The glacier is about 8 km long and 1-2 km wide. The River Jokulsa forms the glacier, which is sometimes called “The Stinking River” because of its emission of sulfuric acid from sub-glacial high temperature areas.
The glacier advanced about 900 meters during the last few centuries, but retreated greatly from 1930 to 1964 due to human induced climate change. Lagoons developed in the side valleys and one of them emptied quite suddenly. The floods lasted a few days and created danger for visitors.
Aug 11 Reykjavík to Home
Back to Reykjavík to get ready for our long flight home.
Boy, what a trip this will be. But, will I ever learn how to pronounce all of these complicated Nordic names?