Saturday, September 23, 2017


Earlier this month I flew from Anchorage to Keflavik, Iceland and then on to Nuuk, Greenland.

I'd never been to either country but always wanted to go, of course. Many of you readers have likely been to both on much longer, gnarlier, or more in-depth or important trips, so please be patient with my rather shallow visits to each.

Greenland has always been too far for me, dollar-wise, and Iceland never seemed wild enough to warrant recreational/travel trips. But for like $800 I could get to Iceland and back from ANC. Greenland cost a bit more, maybe another $1000 from Keflavik.

I went there for the 7th annual Polar and Arctic Microbe Conference. There were about 50 people at the conference and from all over the world. Many Euros and UK-folk, a few Americans, even some Asians and a colorful character named Craig from New Zealand.

Ganey was presenting his recently completed masters thesis. We re-worked it and wrote a new paper we had published this week on line. It got some press that I keep telling Ganey about. He says maybe I should just get a Twitter account.

Maybe I should, but probably I won't, but I have been  psyched to have the recognition for our work.

Why? Well, first Ganey did a great job hiking up and down to the Harding Icefield and skiing in with APU ski-team members like every couple weeks a few summers back to manipulate snow algae and measure melt. He solved all kinds of problems and collected all kinds of data and used R and GIS and GPS and spectrometers and microscopes and satellite data to produce a super-neat, comprehensive project.

And second, the idea is about how red-snow algae melt snow and I have had the idea for many years, and always got pushback-smirks from earth scientists about the idea--which is common worldwide I learned at the conference from other biologists with the same idea.

So getting it published in Nature Geoscience gives the idea some credibility and maybe gives me some future traction in getting funding to continue doing glacier ecology with APU students, something I have been doing for about fifteen years now, including ice-worms and bacteria as well as red-snow algae.

So this Greenland conference was good excuse to go to Greenland and I brought my packraft, too, of course. Tom Diegle says I should write a book with the title "My Carry-on is a Packraft."

I overnighted in Iceland and rented a car for two days and drove around to see the Geyser Basin and the nearest super cool gigantic waterfall.

It felt like Europe--both the birds and the plants are European, even though Greenland is closer than Europe--plopped down on a big ole' Aleutian Island or like a Scandanavian version of New Zealand set in the North Atlantic instead of South Pacific. There were neat looking sheep and little horses and cows and the animals always hunkered together like they must in mid winter, staying warm, surviving gales.

At first I wasn't too thrilled about the place, but taking the car back to the airport I drove along the south coast and thought, "wow, what a cool place."

I want to go back with Peggy and hike tundra and float glacier rivers without bears, especially after about messing my pants in June when a burly grizz charged within thirty feet of me before turning when I threw a boulder at it to stop it.

The people in Iceland spoke English and had real Alaskan-like independence. There are more people in Anchorage than the whole country, but it was WAAYYY to expensive for me. I bought food to take to Greenland, thinking Greenland would be like the bush and Iceland like Anchorage, but no. I think food prices were actuall cheaper in Greenland's Nuuk.

The flight to Nuuk was three hours long in a little two engine Dash-8. I wanted at least four engines, since we were crossing hours of ocean and ice.

I'd intended to go farther north from Nuuk to do a little trip by Kangersuluuaq from the Greenland Ice Sheet to the ocean, but found out it'd cost me $1,000 more! So I balked.

Besides Nuuk and it surroundings were simply amazing.

Nuuk is the biggest city in Greenland. It has like half (so about 17,000 people) of countries 35,000 people. It sits on a wee craggy peninsula at the tip of a 100-mile peninsula in a deep complex of fiords on the west coast of Greenland.

It's about the same latitude as Fairbanks and Nome. It feels like Nome climate with Arrigetch Peaks on growth hormones set in Glacier Bay, if you'll indulge me in some mixed geographic Alaskana metaphors.

You can walk from one end of the road system to the other in like an hour. It has a wonderful sheltered port that's the central hub for shipping and ferries that go up and down the southern half of Greenland's west coast, from Disko Bay south really.

I only visited Nuuk and loved it's colorful houses and even the big appartment buildings. Lonely Planet online pans the place, but I was utterly fascinated. Utterly!

Most of the people I saw as I walked the streets in, by turns, windy drizzle or crisp blue sunshine, were Greenlandic People. They don't call themselves Inuit or Innupiaq. They said they were Greenlandic People and even the high school kids I met spoke Greenlandic, Danish, and English. They were beautiful people and I loved the feel of northern Alaska in a European urban-like environment. Easily the neatest place I went in the last 18 months of my extended sabbatical.

Ganey and I ate at a Thai restaurant where you could have whale sushi made from narwhal. I bougth musk-ox sausage I took on my "Kanger-roo Tour".

No, that's no typo (I know how to spell kangaroo -- the coolest animal I saw this sabbatical -- maybe the second after the Peruvian jaguar on the banks of Madre de Dios River -- was a tree kangaroo sliding down a tree-fern bole like a fireman on alarm at the station).

"Kanger" is Greenlandic for fjord and paddling a packraft with the winds and tides then hiking over the intervening passes between fjords in Greenland--fjord hopping--is a kanger-roo tour.

There are two hut to hut peninsula walks that I know of. One on Nuuk's peninsula from Nuuk to Kapisillit and the other between Kangersuluuaq and Sisimiut (which you can get to by ferry from Nuuk). Boats go to Kapisillit on thursday.

I only had 4 days left before the conference after spending 3 writing a paper in a wonderful hostel. I found an outdoor store in Nuuk that sold topo maps at my favorite scale (1:250,000) and fuel although I had an alcohol stove and just bought the Danish/Greenland version of Heet.

I hiked across town, over a mountain, and stayed in a couple huts, even camped out with a white Arctic fox visiting my mid in the full moon night. Paddled up one fiord with a tail wind on an incoming tide and out another with a down-fjord wind on an outgoing tide.

Saw an Ivory gull in the fjord with icebergs and a white gyrfalcon soaring above Nuuk. Watched a peregrine chase a huge white-tailed eagle and followed eiders who dove under the water en mass. The eagle was huge, bigger than bald or golden eagles with deep wings and a short broad tail.

Ravens were everywhere. A group of eight young ones followed me along in my boat. I watched one carrying a sea urchin in its bill, then drop it to break and eat it, solving the mystery of how all the sea urchin shells had got up on the tundra.

Like Iceland, there're no grizzly bears, or bears of any kind deep in the fjords of the south. I think the polar bears are out on the ocean coast, near ice mostly, hunting seals. The reindeer are smaller than our caribou and rarer, small herds, and sparse.

Greenland in September felt a bit emptier than Alaska's arctic with its blueberries, growing on acidic granite derived soil, not as sweet.

But I am saving my money to go back. And I am hoping that Alpacka puts together a pointy-bowed, long and skinny, zipper boat with a whitewater deck -- maybe even call it the "Kanger-roo"?

So I can go back and paddle into the wind and surf like a Greenlandic Person in a skin boat qayak.


  1. I'm ready to pre-order your ''kanger-roo'' long and skinny alpacka raft in vectran.I hope that will be soon!
    Jean-Francois Jobin

    1. Great! I bet there are more of us out there, especially if the boat can be light.

  2. Wow. An old-fashioned Dial-style TR, wth pictures even?!

    What's old is new again. And good.

    1. yea, it takes a bit to get me motivated to write those, and fewer seem willing to read them. Gear and gear failure is more informative and pertinent.

      But it was neat to be in Greenland and especially at the Conference with Ganey.

  3. Roman you live the life I have dreamed of. I've read about you over the years, since back some time ago when I stumbled across your Packrafting book at the library.

    As a kid I was enthralled with African wildlife TV shows such as Nature, and Wild Kingdom. As I got a little older I dreamed of being a documentary film maker myself. I always wanted to be an adventurer, exploring wild lands as you've done, boldly taking on new and challenging adventures, feeling as comfortable in nature as in my own living room.

    But it just never happened. The reasons why aren't too unusual, and therefore not too interesting either. At 48 now, my time for wild adventures is of course very short. But it is endlessly amazing to read your incredible stories. Packrafing in Greenland, sleeping under a full moon with a fox as company. Wow! Incredible. What a way to live life. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing stories.

    And if I may speak for a moment about your son, well, I can't even imagine. Peace be with you. He lived a grand life thanks to you.


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