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mcrtchly: Track 3107 in area near Greenland, Vestgrønland ()
The Erik the Red Land's Trek
Length: 67.0km, Creator time taken: 128h25m, Ascent: 2143m, Descent: 2106m
Places:Start at Lon -45.5136, Lat 61.1496, end at Lon -46.0403, Lat 60.91 39km SW from Start Logged as completed by 1
Watch the video of this trek on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fSwxha_wvg
Think of Greenland and you inevitably conjure up visions of a frigid landscape of vast expanses of snow, ice, glaciers and icebergs. But this is only part of the story, for the fjords of the south west of the country in particular are largely ice free all year round, the valleys lush with forests of dwarf birch and willow and in the brief Arctic summer, farming is possible in many areas.
According to medieval and Icelandic saga sources Greenland was ‘discovered’ by Erik Thorvaldsson (known as Erik the Red) in 982 and he founded the first Norse settlement in Greenland in 985 (although Inuit people had settled in Greenland from about 2,500 BC). Erik had been outlawed from Iceland for committing a murder and sailed to Greenland in his exile. He first landed on the east coast then rounded Cape Farewell and visited the fjords of the southwest coast where he found extensive areas which were free of ice. It is not known if Erik named his new found land as Greenland based upon the vegetated hills of the southwest or as a cruel hoax to tempt settlers from Iceland. The Norse established a number of settlements in Greenland and survived for 400 years until they mysteriously disappeared (probably died out) sometime after 1480. European settlements were only re-established by the Danes in the early C18th. Erik the Red settled at Brattahlíð at the eastern end of the Narsaq peninsula (known as Erik the Red’s Land in his honour) close to the present day village of Qassiarsuk. Here archaeologists have excavated several Norse buildings and in 2000, to mark the millenium of Norse settlement, reconstructions of Thjodhild's church, the first ever to be built in the New World, and a longhouse were opened to the public. At the same time, a statue of Leif Erikson (Erik the Red’s son) who is said to have discovered North America (Vinland), was erected.
The traverse of the whole peninsula is known as the Erik the Red's Trek and is shown on the 1:100,000 scale map of the area and on a recently produced App for smartphones (although the app only provides GPS co-ordinates of scenic highlights and the map only shows the approximate line of the route and doesn’t fully or accurately depict the topography, hence the value of this GPS track). Navigating in poor weather would be a challenge to say the least. The trek starts at Qassiarsuk in the east near the site of Brattahlíð and ends at the fishing port of Narsaq in the west; we got a short boat transfer from our base in Narsarsuaq across the fjord to Qassiarsuk. In most places the route is not signposted and there are few if any way markers. In some places there are alternative ways to go but we followed the generally recognised main route. The trek is said to take 4 to 5 days (we took 6 days as we were fliming and wished to visit an old mine) which might sound a lot for a trek of less than 70km, but the terrain is very rugged with numerous undulations, steep slopes, bog, boulders, scree, river crossings and worst of all, dwarf trees, to negotiate. The only accommodation en-route is an emergency hut, so you have no option but to camp which means carrying camping gear coupled with 5-6 days food supply, which makes for heavy packs. We carried dried food with us and rehydrated these with water from snow melt and glaciers in mountain streams which is so pure it required no filtration or sterilising. The presence of abundant dead wood in most places allowed us to heat water using a lightweight wood burning stove, saving precious liquid fuel for the high mountain areas.
The trek crosses a wide variety of terrain, starting with the sheep farming areas near Qassiarsuk and Silisat before climbing 600m onto a plateau area of bogs and numerous lakes. The flora is very varied with a wide variety of flowering Arctic plants, as well as edible ones such as bilberry, crowberry, angelica, harebell, juniper and various mushrooms. We spotted several species of bird including white tailed eagles, ptarmigans, meadow pipits and lapwing buntings. This part of the peninsula is underlain by sandstones and basalt rocks about 1.3 billion years old and there are fabulous views to the south across the Tunulliarfik Fjord and its many icebergs. Mid way through the trek is a descent to 400m and the emergency hut (a pretty crude and poorly maintained shack) followed by a gradual re-ascent to the high point of 800m at a col. One of our favourite camp sites was just below the col by the side of a partly frozen lake. After the col, still deep with snow, the route enters a high mountainous area almost devoid of vegetation. This contains the Ilimaussaq igneous complex – a series of rare intrusive igneous rocks - which once formed the cores of volcanoes resulting from continental rifting (much like the present day Eastern African Rift). Such deep cores of volcanoes are rarely seen in the world and the Ilimaussaq complex is the best example. For a geologist it contains many exciting and unusual rock types and minerals but it is also of great economic interest as in some areas it contains Uranium ores and several Rare Earth Elements, valuable minerals in the electronics industry; at present China is the main source. At Kvanefjeld near the western margin of the Ilimaussaq complex, an exploratory mine was dug in the late-1970’s early-1980’s but abandoned when Denmark decided against utilising nuclear power. Greenland had a zero tolerance policy for some 25 years, but this has recently been overturned and there are plans to re-open Kvanefjeld which has drawn considerable opposition on health and environmental grounds. The mine entrance is currently sealed but we visited the stocks of Uranium ore close by and fossicked for minerals. One we were delighted to find was the semi-precious, very rare, pink coloured Tugtupite, found only here in quantities and locally used to make jewellery. The final part of the trek, after the mine, is along a stony track through more sheep farming land before reaching the coast at Narsaq Bay. The bay has trapped many large icebergs which present fantastic photo opportunities. Smaller icebergs stranded on the beach at low tide can be visited up close. After 6 days in which we enjoyed fine weather and had not encountered any other trekkers or people outside the sheep farming communities, we finally reached the sleepy fishing port of Narsaq in the late afternoon and managed to get a room in one of the few hotels. A hot shower, ice cold beer and ‘real’ food was very much appreciated! From here we got a boat transfer back up the fjord to our base in Narsarsuaq. There are several other recognised long distance treks in Greenland, most famously the Arctic Circle Trek, but the Erik the Red Trek is probably one of the best, offering varied and panoramic scenery, fascinating history and geology and is conveniently close to the international airport at Narsarsuaq. But some words of warning: Greenland is incredibly expensive, accommodation and food is mediocre in most places, the terrain is brutally rugged and the biting insects are horrendous!
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Note: ALL information such as Ascent, Length and Creator time taken etc should be regarded as approximate. The creator's comments are opinions and may not be accurate or still correct.
Your time to complete will depend on your speed plus break time and your mode of transport. For walkers: Naismith's rule, a rough and often inaccurate estimate, suggests a time of 16h 58m + time stopped for breaks
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