Alone in the Wilderness

An Adventure through South Greenland

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Björn Klaassen set off into the wilderness that is Greenland. Carrying a PI 2, his tent, sleeping bag, and everything else that one might need when on one’s own for a fortnight. His plan: to get from Aappilattoq to Ulamertorsuaq, just on foot and by paraglider – a discovery of personal limits that can hardly be countenanced.

The Bell 212 rotor blades whirled ever faster, the turbine engine exerting maximum power – the heavy Air Greenland helicopter lifted off. I wave to the two pilots and stand alone in Aappilattoq in South Greenland, not far from Cape Farvel: 90 inhabitants, a last outpost of civilisation. There are a few colourful houses, a church and a small fish factory surrounded by pointed mountains, bordered by the sea — impressive. I grab my rucksack and walk down the path from the heliport to the settlement. There I meet Timo. He will take me by boat to my starting point. From there, I will be completely on my own.

„I was extremely impressed by the icebergs from the air. The dimensions and colours are gigantic - literally very cool!“

Björn Klaassen

The adventure begins with a boat ride

In the boat Timo casually mentions that a polar bear has been sighted in the neighbouring fjord. “You got a knife with you?” I instinctively reach for the knife in my trouser pocket following this question. “If I scare a polar bear off with this penknife I’ll make the front page of every popular tabloid“, I think. Ten minutes later we dock. Timo still wishes me good luck, tells me that it is “pretty crazy” what I am doing here and races away. Now there is no turning back - there is only one direction available: Ulamertorsuaq.

„I have everything I need: paraglider, harness, tent, sleeping bag, stove and food – ideally optimised so that weight, reliability and durability are perfectly coordinated. Nevertheless, my backpack weighs at least 25 kg.“

Björn Klaassen

The sound of Timo’s motor dies away in the distance. All that remains is silence, a leaden sky, my rucksack and me. I follow the right hand side of the river and travel deeper into the valley until evening. The mood is melancholy – snow terraces reflect in the water. By the shore of a lake I find a flat space on a wonderful meadow. Perfect for passing the night in my little tent.

The next day my rucksack still weighs at least 25 Kilo and the countryside ahead looks difficult. A strenuous climb lies ahead. There’s the payoff in the evening: I discover my most spectacular campsite ever. I pitch my tent in a wide crevice high above the fjord, overgrown with soft crowberries – it all fits perfectly. The view is simply phenomenal.

The tent, my best friend

I wait up here for three whole days until, at last, the rain stops. I’m enjoying this interlude, completely above the fjord, far away from any civilisation, in the middle of a phenomenal world of cloud. Meanwhile I can look around for suitable takeoff places. 

At last, on day five of my journey, the wind is perfect: if only it weren't for the cloud that constantly builds up beneath me. No visibility – no takeoff – it's cold and wet. I wait and wait… After at least two hours it clears briefly, my chance. Time to get out of here! Take off and I’m leaving by air, heading west, cheering this unique place. I hardly lose height under the cloud and even hear those tentative beeps along the slope – the view over the fjord fantastic from this bird's eye view. The 20 minute flight to a landing uses 650 metres of altitude. Even so it is one of my most wonderful flights. The plan has worked. I touch down gently, into wind. It feels as if I have made my first 100 kilometre flight. Indescribable.

Luck on my side

Along the Itillersuaq valley is Tasiusaq. There’s a small village here, a good thing for me — I’ve almost run out of food. I am a little disillusioned with the range of goods on offer. There’s actually no dried version available. So my rucksack returns to its initial weight with strange food, like frozen, red-coloured Danish sausages. But here in Tasiusaq the flanks of the mountains are perfectly suited to the daily fjord wind. I can fly ‘YoYo style’ again and again — uphill, down to the beach and so on. At some point Ulamertorsuaq appears in the distance. I look at the summit in disbelief, because only a narrow strip of sun illuminates it. I pitch my tent in the last light. Almost immediately a sensational sky appears — Northern Lights everywhere. The green veils waft and dance above my head. I can hardly believe my luck. An unbelievable sense of fulfilment spreads within me. My goal Ulamertorsuaq is within reach.

„The 20 minute flight to a landing uses 650 metres of altitude. Even so it is one of my most wonderful flights. It feels as if I have made my first 100 kilometre flight.“

Björn Klaassen

Epilogue

I stayed a few more days at Ulamertorsuaq and flew from different mountain sides. In spite of the changeable weather I was still able to crank around and up in a couple of thermals; up to 3 m/sec towards the cloudbase. This solo trip was so intense, challenging and free that it is difficult to put it into words. Most of the time I walked, I would have liked to have flown more. Nevertheless, every single flight was sensational. I was on the road for a total of five weeks, first with kayak and paraglider, then later on the two-week tour described here with only the paraglider.

The Equipment

About Björn

Björn Klaassen

Björn Klaassen is a qualified Forestry Expert, woodlands manager and flying instructor, as well as a Deputy Managing Director for the DHV. As a sideline he gives lectures about his adventures in Greenland.