Text and photos: Jacques Marais
Jacques Marais Media
Travel into a world of absolute snow and ice just south of the Arctic Circle, one of the few remaining tourism frontiers on Planet Earth. Traditional dogsledding, the sole form of transport for many Inuit hunters here, is fast gaining favour as an adrenaline activity, and growing numbers of adventure tourists head here for a Polar fix.
Dog Day Afternoon - impressions from Ammassalik Island - by Jacques Marais
The striking surrounds and fierce climate of East Greenland undeniably positions this region as one of the world’s truly unique adventure destinations. Exploring it by dogsled rate as a once in a lifetime adventure, and Ammassalik Island in particular is not too be missed. I have yet to match the sense of awe I felt the first time I stood atop the Mittivakkat Glacier and gazed across at the imposing loom of the inland ice cap.
From this vantage point alongside the rugged, twin peaks atop the glacier, you command an unobstructed view across the Sermilik Fjord, a deep-water channel separating Ammassalik from mainland Greenland. Icebergs the size of sapphire cathedrals float here, while in winter the pack ice shimmers a thousand shades of pale. Look west and you’ll see the topography rearing up in all its glory, with range upon range tumbling towards the Denmark Strait.
To the east, our sled tracks railroad for ever, dipping down the 4km glacier descent before slip-sliding away along a narrow gorge and onto the ice edge at Ukilverajik. It’s been a huge slog to get here, with the dogs having to forge a track through two weeks worth of fresh snow. And us humans had to work too, snow-poling through the thigh-deep powder and pushing up the seemingly endless ascent, but now we’re truly on top of the world
The good news is, from here on it’s downhill all the way. A steep, powder run swoops along the southern flank of the glacier, culminating in a gut-thumping descent onto the frozen lakes below. These sledding trails are part of the Sermilikvejen, the ancient routes which have been used by Inuit hunters for untold generations.
Dines is riding stanchion and I take up position on the front of the sled as we dip down, picking up speed despite the braking chains fitted to the runners. The dogs are going full-tilt, tails up and ears back, digging deep to stay in front of the sled. I glance back and see Dines bearing down on the stanchions, his face contorted with the effort of trying to force the brake spikes down into the hard snow.
I try to dig my heels into the snow on either side of the sled, but quickly realise all this will do is rip every tendon in my knees. Instead, I decide to concentrate on keeping the dogs from under the runners as we juggernaut down the slope in a spray of snow. Parssudio, one of the younger bitches, goes down first, but I manage to grab her by the harness and toboggan her along next to the sled.
A second dog goes down, and for a moment I fear we’re going to crush it under the hurtling sled, but she pops out in our wake, unhurt. And then, just when it seems as if all hell is about to break loose, we bottom out onto Lake 168 and lurch to a standstill.