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Adventure Guide: Exploring Greenland's Ice Cap
Text by Paul Bennett

Featuring the only permanent ice cap in the Northern Hemisphere and a rugged, desolate coast that makes Alaska look like the Jersey Shore, Greenland is a wilderness unlike any on Earth. Iceberg-filled fjords make for breathtaking sea kayaking trips, and traditional dog-sledging tours offer a chance to travel back in time several centuries. In the middle of it all is the ice cap—a mile-thick cake of solid H20 dating to the last ice age and skiable from coast-to-coast.

Satellite Tour:
Complete Meltdown

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This former Cold War U.S. Air Force base is Greenland's point of entry. But don't pass through without taking a look around: The ice cap is just a 16-mile mountain biking trip away. Kangerlussuaq Tourism rents bikes ($17 a day; Kim Peterson of Arctic Caving Adventure ( has gotten as close to the dangerous "moulins" (ice tunnels) along the edge of the ice cap as anyone. The best time for her customized trips to view them is in late summer (September), after the melting stops but before the heavy snows hit. Greenland Travel organizes a 21-day seasonal hike from Kangerlussuaq to the coast on the hundred-mile (161-kilometer) Sisimiut Trail ($1,700;
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004, the Jakobshavn Icefjord, near the fishing village of Ilulissat, is considered one of the most beautiful places in all of Greenland—with 37 miles (60 kilometers) of icebergs, some as large as Manhattan. Greenland Tours' Elke Meissner, based in Ilulissat, arranges boat trips to the fjord ($69; and hotel rooms in town ($60). Travelers with a few more Danish kroner (about a thousand dollars' worth) can hop a helicopter with Air Greenland ( out to the ice cap and the ablation zone, where the ice begins breaking apart and falling into the fjord.
Cap Crossings
To cross the ice from coast-to-coast on skis, you'll need at least a month's vacation time and a love of empty spaces. New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants runs a yearly expedition in May ($11,750 for a 34-day trip; Do-it-yourselfers must have their expeditions approved by the Danish Polar Center (, which tracks groups. The best routes run east to west, from Tasiilaq to Kangerlussuaq. Air Alpha ( runs helicopters from both ends to get expeditions beyond the crevasse-riddled edge.
There are limitless opportunities for multiday kayaking trips, beginning from Aasiaat at the mouth of Disko Bay. The Aasiaat Tourist Service has a shed full of equipment near the waterfront and can arrange local guides ($1,000 for three days; Or hook up with champion kayaker Mikael Jacobsen, who is intimately familiar with the area, speaks fluent English, and organizes custom trips in his own hand-built Greenlandic kayaks (
Increased snowfall has opened the jagged peaks of Maniitsoq Island, off the southwest coast, to heli-skiing. (Bill Gates is rumored to have skied here.)Greenland Heli Skiing runs weeklong trips from the town of Kangaamiut ($11,409;
Dog Sledging
Few activities are more authentic to Greenland than lashing some dogs to a rickety sledge and bounding across the sea ice. Qaanaaq (or Thule, as most people know it), one of the northernmost towns in Greenland, is the ideal starting spot. Contact the Qaanaaq Tourist Office Thule (
Getting There
Air Greenland ( will start direct service to Kangerlussuaq from Baltimore/Washington International in April 2007. Until then, travelers from the U.S. can route through Copenhagen, which Air Greenland serves every day ($450).

Read feature article "Greenland When It's Hot" >>

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Our November 2006 issue features the best new adventure travel trips; an exclusive look inside Iran; a Greenland global warming report; backcountry spas; digital cameras; travel Web sites; weekend getaways; and more.

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