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Hiking the Arctic Circle Trail - Part 1 - The Ice Cap

Updated: Feb 27, 2021

I had read so many blog posts of this amazing Arctic Circle Trail (ACT), I was worried it just would not live up to the hype. Oh how I was so wrong, it was everything I read and so much more. I hope you can see from the simple image above how beautiful this place is. Amazing scenery, stunning silence and a beautiful rugged mountainous terrain to die for, but the hike almost ended without success due to a huge bushfire on the trail threatening to stop my hike. I would soon find out this would become a very special place in my heart.

Getting to Greenland from the UK is not straightforward, I had to fly to Copenhagen and then from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq, but as you will hopefully see, all the effort to make this trail happen is so worth it. For details and logistics on the trail, see a previous blog post on Planning Your Trip.

So I landed at Kangerlussuaq, an ex-military airport, but I didn't have much time to spare. My hike was to be split into 2 parts, first I was going to walk from the ice cap edge back to Kangerlussuaq, rest the night in the hotel and then walk on to Sisimut. My first step was to rent my locker in the airport, change into hiking clothes, pack my rucksack and catch my truck to the ice cap.

If you don't want to walk to the extended Ice Cap, Albatros Arctic Circle does a great trip there, you just have to remember to tell them when you book it that you only need a one-way trip and you will be walking back. You still pay the same price. On the way there the guide will give you the history of the 40km road that leads north from Kangerlussuaq to the edge of the ice cap. Part of the road already existed, but it was extended by Volkswagen to allow them to do ice testing for their cars. However, the project failed and now the dirt track from Kangerlussuaq to the ice cap edge is left for tourists to use.

On the way there you will see the wreckage of a crashed T-33 plane from 1968, which crashed in a whiteout coming into the airport. The pilot did survive apparently.

After a very bumpy hour or two, after sharing the truck mainly with cruise ship passengers, you will reach your destination, the edge of the ice cap. At the edge of the ice cap is a tall terminal moraine of gravel and dirt pushed up by the moving glacier. Once over this, the full expanse of the ice cap can be seen. For myself, it was a bit of an anti-climax and I was to experience better views on the walk back.

It is almost impossible to understand the scale and the expanse from the photo below, but this is the start of the ice sheet that covers 80% of Greenland, almost 1.7 million square kilometers.

After spending an hour or so here, we all turned around, I said goodbye to a brief friend I made on the truck on the way there, they walked back to the track and I stayed to admire the view for a bit longer.

It was only once everyone had left that I got my first sense of the chills here. It was eery, nobody probably for many miles but the wind was gusting and I needed to get started. I put my rucksack on and started the 40km walk back to the airport. I had planned to use 3 days and 2 nights to get back. Day 1 was almost over it was 5 pm and I needed to walk a few miles to get to a possible camp spot for the first night.

On the way to my first camp spot, the wind died down and I stopped to pause and contemplate where I was. I realised how remote and quiet it was. I have encountered silence before in the wilderness, but this seemed different, more absolute than anywhere else, just complete and utter total silence.

I pushed on along the dirt track, walking on and off the road depending upon the terrain, and reached a possible spot for a first camp. Everything looked great, so I pitched the tent and got started on those normal evening activities, getting water, cooking food, and finally a good old cup of tea. I sat and enjoyed my tea looking at the edge of the glacier. Polar bears are very rare on the edge of the ice cap here, but they are always a possibility, so best to keep an eye out. One starving bear had to be unfortunately shot a few miles from this spot earlier in the same year of this trip due to obvious dangers.

Day 2: Get to Russel Glacier

I woke up to a glorious sunrise, had some oatmeal, made a brew, and just enjoyed what was in front of me. Photos just simply do not do the scene justice, you just have to be there.

After cooking some breakfast and tea, I packed up and headed back to the trail. The next day's walk was a mixture of dirt track and trail and the scenery didn't disappoint, everywhere you look, it was stunning. I stopped for a quick snack for lunch at the side of a lake by the glacier.

The view ahead, the glacier in the distance was going to be my next night's camp. I was unaware that it was going to be the most epic and most beautiful I have encountered in my lifetime. After lunch, I climbed the next hill, turned a bend and came down into the glacier edge with these stunning views.

I had found my camp spot for night two. Again alone, nobody here, I had the place to myself. I don't normally post as many photos in my blog posts, but I just can't resist it for this spot. This photo is taken at 4 am. I set my alarm, ran out in just my underwear (yes it was cold), took the photo below and then got back in my tent. The glacier whistled, cracked and banged all night long, with the odd splash of water as a part fell off into the river.

It was difficult to leave this spot the following morning, but I had to get back to the airport. I had only covered 15km so far, so I had 25km to walk today so I needed to get going soon but took some time to fly the drone and get some footage of the glacier.

If you want a full 10 bit 4K hi-res view then head over to the copy on Vimeo.

Day 3: Back to the airport

Time to leave and start the 25km hike back to the airport, for a real bed, a shower and some hot food. The walk back started just after leaving the edge of the glacier with my first wildlife encounter, a few arctic hares grazing.

Then a quick traverse over a mountain, down a very kindly place ladder for hikers and into a large dry lake bed.

There were only a couple of noticeable things on the way back, an isolated hut, a small area where they used to dump ammunition and explosives in the war and of course the wonderful sugarloaf mountain. I didn't have time to go up it, so had to pass by, but here I met a couple I was to meet several times on the trail, Trevor and Errin.

After another 8km, I eventually turned a corner and saw the airport in the distance. Kangerlussuaq doesn't have much, but the sight of an overpriced hotel and a shower is still appealing.

This was just the first part, 40km of one of the most epic trails I have completed, time to rest, I needed to be up early to start the second part, 176km of hiking to Sisimiut.


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Jan 21, 2022

Hi! Do you know if there is a similar shuttle to Russel Glacier, if we choose not to start at the ice-cap? Also - if we were to start at the ice cap... is the trail to Russell well known? Your camp spot at the glacier is amazing and would be thrilled to find that spot. Thanks.

Jan 21, 2022
Replying to

Russell Glacier is on the way to the Ice Cap, just over half way. So you can get the tour to the ice cap and just ask to be let out half way. The tour doesn't go right past Russel Glacier, so you would need to use a map to get out and you have to go over a hill and down a valley to get to it. The route to Russell Glacier is on this map

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