GreenlandHikingPlanning & Preparation

Arctic Circle Trail solo hike planning and preparation

By August 23, 2018 December 28th, 2019 No Comments

Although I try to live my life in such a way that I do not need holidays to escape … well, sometimes I just need holidays to escape. What I really liked about my summer 2018 holiday planning is that I first had taken a week to fully disconnect from the world, both mentally and physically, by solo hiking the Iceland Laugavegur trail before spending time with my family in Hof van Saksen in The Netherlands.

So for 2019, I was looking for a similar structure: disconnect with a hike before heading off with the family. In my search, I considered Tour de Mont Blanc, West Highland Way (both serious options), Annapurna Circuit in Nepal (serious option, but that would stretch my summer holidays for too long) and almost settled for the Kungsleden trail (but the 440 kilometers were a bit of a stretch in such a short period of time), before settling on an Arctic Circle Trail solo hike in Greenland.

I eventually had to abandon my first attempt in June 2019 because of a viral infection and opted for the safer option of spending time on the Nakahechi and Kohechi parts of the Kumano Kodo in Japan, the pilgrimage route through the Wakayama prefecture mountains, finishing in Koyasan. For August 2020, I decided to try again.

Before we start: Arctic Circle Trail

Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail is often listed as one of the best long-distance hikes in the world. The trail stretches up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the edge of the ice cap to the fishing town of Sisimiut on the West coast. While 85% of Greenland is covered in ice, there’s a narrow strip along the coastline that’s actually green! And red. And purple. And yellow.

Step 1: settle on the idea for my Arctic Circle Trail solo hike.

The Arctic Circle Hike is a 160-kilometer hike in total with the terrain being mostly flat (only 3000-meter ascent/descent over the full course of the trail), which is not too much, but the main challenges are in other areas.

  • How to get there. Greenland is really not the easiest place to get to. The easiest is to get to Copenhagen and then fly to Kangerlussuaq with Air Greenland. And then -on the end of the trail- fly back to Kangerlussuaq from Sisimiut.
  • How to be self-sufficient. Only 55.000 people leave in Greenland, scattered over the 2.166 million km². The only places to (re)supply are either at the start (Kangerlussuaq) or end (Sisimiut) of the trail. That means bringing all my food and gear with me along the trail. The only thing I really really want to try is to prepare fresh trout from one of the rivers … but that won’t last me 160 kilometers.
  • How to deal with hyper-expensive internet: quickly overlooked, but got the tip from Greek travelers Nestoras Kechagias and Athanasia Lykoudi (who made an amazing video of their Greenland visit), that internet is outside normal European mobile data bundles and has to be bought separately. They paid 25 euros. Per day.
  • How to plan for the worst. Safety first. Always (see my separate post on safety while hiking). As only 300-2000 people per year hike the trail, chances are you won’t be seeing other humans for several days (which is pretty much one of the reasons to do the trail). So that means making sure I prepare for emergencies (my Personal Locator Beacon, Garmin InReach Mini), cold (extra blankets), rain, getting lost (extra food, good GPS, etc). I also got the tip to submit your hiking route to a tourist office in the area in question. They’ll then know where you are if it becomes necessary to conduct a search for you. Tell them where you’re staying, where you’re going and when you expect to return. Also, see my separate post on the weather on the Arctic Circle Trail.
  • What to do next to hiking. I’m currently looking into things to do next to my hike. Visiting glaciers looked obvious, but as traveling within Greenland is either difficult, slow or expensive, for a long while, I wasn’t sure what my real options were. I quickly ruled out Nuuk (too busy) and settled on Ilulissat and started working from there (see my extensive day planning for that).

Step 2: validate my Arctic Circle Trail solo hike plans.

[to be added later, probably somewhere this year]

Some sources that helped me a lot:

Step 3: settle on a date for the Arctic Circle Trail solo hike.

As we already locked in our summer holiday at Hof van Saksen in 2019 (the kids loved it), I had quite the specific time frame: somewhere end of June 2019, so I finally settled on June 17-28th for 2019.

In 2020, I had different planning challenges. 2020 is the year of tying up open ends. I decided to do my second attempt at the Jordan Trail in April (my bedouin friend Faris told me that’s the best time of the year to do so), which made it rather difficult to fit in a June 2020 Arctic Circle Trail attempt. So I decided to hike the trail at the end of the season (also avoiding the mosquitos). Eventually, I fitted in a week-long hike of the Camino de Santiago in June, before our family holidays in Hof van Saksen. So, I settled for August 16th-August 29th.

Step 4: create a rough day planning for my Arctic Circle Trail solo hike.

I created a separate post for my 2019 planning and updated it slightly for my August 2020 attempt.

Fallback options

Especially since my experience at the Iceland Laugavegur trail and it’s fast-changing weather, I promised myself to make a back-up planning. Some precautions I took:

  • Rather than flying to Kangerlussuaq, start hiking there and then catching a flight back from Sisimiut, I decided to travel to Sisimiut first and then start hiking to Kangerlussuaq as the end point. It will reduce my number of travel days and the chance there are problems with getting back in time (as I won’t be dependent on the weather in Sisimiut being perfect at the end of the trail).
  • If I won’t make it in time to Kangerlussuaq and still want to go to Ilullisat, I could skip Russel Glacier.
  • As a extra safe option – I booked a flight to Ilullisat after arriving in Kangerlussuaq. If the trail really give me trouble, I could even skip Ilullisat and stay in Kangerlussuaq, giving me an extra 3 days (I sooo hope that won’t be the case, as I will be missing out on an expensive stay and some expensive tours).
  • In 2019, I had planned for a 5/6-day thru-hike. For 2020, I took an extra 2 days, just in case. My Jordan Trail solo hike planning had proven just too ambitious – learning from that, I took some extra time to be ready for whatever Mother Nature would be throwing my way. 

Step 6: creating a packing list for the Arctic Circle Trail solo hike.

I have created a first packing list for my Arctic Circle Trail solo hike in a separate post.

I used both the VisitGreenland site and David Flanagan’s packing list for his August 2018 thru-hike as inspiration.

Budget

[to be added later, probably somewhere this year]
  • Transportation
    • Flight Brussels > Copenhagen €190,-
    • Flight multi-city Copenhagen > Sisimiut via Kangerlussuaq and Kangerlussuaq to Copenhagen 5,620 DKK (approximately €750,-)
  • Accommodation
    • 3 nights in Copenhagen (paid them with IHG points)
    • 1 night in Polar Lodge in Kangerlussuaq 795DKK (approximately €120,-), just to make sure I can dry my tent when things go wrong.
    • A night at Ilimanaq lodge (covered this in the extras)
  • Food
    •  
  • Other
  • Extras
    • Ok, I figured as this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime visit and tours were filling up soon (I didn’t have the nerves to gamble on a last minute spot when arriving at Ilullisat)
      • Stay and dinner at Ilimanaq lodge approx. €540,-
      • Night kayak at Ilullisat approx. €180,-

Total cost estimate: €1220 (excl. extras)

Polle

Polle

Hi, my name is Polle de Maagt. Omakases is my regularly updated notebook about travel - from my weekly business travels to my hikes and runs and from travel annoyances to ways to hack them. Read more

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