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James Strawhorn Walked for Nandom

Introduction

In October 2010 I was given the sensational opportunity of volunteering in Ghana with the FREED UK Ghana Charity. FREED UK is a charity that supports the deprived community of Nandom in the Upper West region of Ghana. The group strives to support the provision of healthcare and education, in partnership with FREED in Ghana. They believe that healthcare and education should be accessible to everyone including the very poor and disadvantaged. All the projects aim to give sustained commitment to help this community of Ghana.

Boys from Nandom. The trip was such an amazing and rewarding experience for me especially working at Ko School, located close to the town of Nandom. I had the extremely important task of coaching the football crazed children of Ko village. To have an opportunity to contribute in some small way to the lives and the happiness of the children, made it so worthwhile. I was made to feel so welcome and just by making the effort to help the people in Ko and Nandom I was making a difference. I was so humbled by my experiences there and I know I am capable of doing so much more to help.

I therefore embarked on the challenge of trekking across South East Greenland’s tough terrain in order to raise much needed funds for the charity’s projects for 2011 which include;

1. The new bore hole we saw finished for the Ko community during our visit last October could also provide water to the local Ko School. Further funds need to be raised to purchase solar panels which would provide energy for a pump to be installed in order to send water along a pipe to Ko school approximately 1 mile away. This will allow all the children at the school to have access to vital fresh and clean drinking water.

2. In addition to this as the bore hole has strong pressure we are looking to construct an irrigation system for the 400 acres of farmland in the area.

The Greenland Trek

 Falling within the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenland is the world’s largest Island with an approximate area of 2.2 million sq km with only 410,000 sq km not covered by ice. With a population of 56,615 (estimated 2011) it is one of the least densely populated countries in the world.

I joined a team of 12 including our guide which was made up of 3 Aussies, 1 Canadian, 1 Russian, 4 Dutch and 3 Brits. Dave Grant of Pirhuk Greenland Expeditions, a specialist arctic guide was tasked with leading us through the challenging wilderness of Greenland.

Kulusuk villageWe arrived at Kulusuk Airport in South East Greenland on 13th August 2011. The airport itself is nothing more than a gravel landing strip with a small airport building. Despite Kulusuk being such a small place, the airport is located there because it was the site of an American early warning station from the cold war era, now abandoned but still has the airstrip that was built to service the station. The journey began with a 1 hour hike from the airport to the island village of Kulusuk. The walk took us across the Arctic Tundra, covered in Arctic flowers and glacier buttercups and over dirt track roads with dramatic mountain peaks as a backdrop, before we finally descended into the village.

Kulusuk is the gateway to East Greenland and the small settlement is a great introduction to the way of life within the Ammassalik region. The village has a population in the order of 300 people, which makes the settlement the 2nd largest in the region after the Kummuit settlement. Kulusuk remains relatively immune to western influence as the villagers follow a more traditional way of life. Traditional hunting and fishing is still an important source of income for many of the families. The village lies Kulusuk village.on a rocky island between high peak mountains and extensive fjords and is almost always choked with icebergs and surrounded by a glittering Arctic Ocean.

Photographs left are of the village of Kulusuk taken by fellow trekker Robert Sprachman http://www.sprachman.com/

I found it fascinating exploring the village with its brightly coloured timber built homes, basic amenities, convenience store, community centre, school and church building. Husky teams are still a vital part of the daily routine, used both as a means of transport and for hunting expeditions. However, in the summer months the Husky dogs are all tethered up outside the huts fully resting until the snow returns once more to the region.

Husky dogs.The Journey began the next day from Kulusuk village harbour where we met the boats that would take us northwards through the fjords to the start of the trek. The fjord at this time was particularly choked with icebergs which required careful manoeuvring, weaving in and out between the ice. We passed countless rocky islands and towering mountain peaks. A seal was spotted on route which led to our Inuit friends changing course and actually tracking and hunting the seal which was a little A husky dog in the field.unexpected. Fortunately for the seal, it escaped and we were soon back on our way. My boat had to take a slight detour whilst the other 2 boats headed directly for the area of the start of the trek. We had to deposit a food depot at the halfway point of the trek which meant we only had to carry enough food to last 7 days. The food was hidden under rocks (to prevent the pesky arctic fox from getting to our food before we did) and marked on the GPS so we could identify its exact location and actually find it when we arrived at the site in 7 days time. Then back on the boat to meet the rest of the team at our starting point, The Tasillaq Fjord.On the boat.

After the boat drop off, we organised ourselves, strapped up our backpacks (mine weighing approximately 20 kilos at this point) and began our hike. The first part of the trek began from Tasillaq Fjord to Ningerti. The first few days of the trek had us moving up a beautiful green valley made up of tundra and strewn with boulders and moraines with towering ridges on each side. The large boulders are particularly difficult to cross and making full use of our trekking poles we were able to stabilise ourselves on the rocks and slowly make our way through the moraine. It was important to take our time and not to rush these obstacles as a miss footing could very easily lead to injury. We Artic tundra terrain of Greenland with the mountains and snow covered peaks n the background.had a wide river crossing at the end of the first day which gave us a first experience just how cold the water really was. The river took approx 1 minute to ford. As it was knee deep we crossed in our sandals and my feet where actually numb due to the intense cold of the water. But once dried off, socks and boots back on they were nice and toasty.

Widely spaced cairns mark the route as there are no signposts to keep you on the right track. But good navigators need not fear stepping forth into the wilderness of Greenland as long as you have confidence in your map reading ability. Every day would provide new challenges and experiences and the views were truly stunning. Breathtaking doesn’t even come close to describing the area.

Walking across the artic tundra.Wildlife is sparse across the trail, but will often tolerate a close approach. Well, probably not the Polar Bears, which by the way I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting. Polar bears tend to follow the ice and snow so in summer they are generally found in the North East region of Greenland. On a number of occasions our camp site was raided by a cunning Arctic Fox at night generally after the remnants of my hot chocolate! Or to steal a flip flop or 2.

River crossings varied in difficulty Trecking with backpacks over the terrain.with many rivers running deep, swift and very cold which could easily knock you off your feet with the force of the current. Whilst other rivers were barely knee deep so we could use the stepping stone technique to cross. We always took care and with careful navigation, we were able to locate the safest crossing point. We had a tough trail climb to contend with at the centre of the valley. It was particularly hard terrain on your legs and it was at this point I really noticed the weight of my backpack. One step at a time using the trekking poles to give me a boost up the cliff, and watching my footing all the way, I made it to the top of the ridge with a spectacular view over the upper reaches of the Sermilik Fjord.

James posing for the camera.Fast flowing streams over the rocks.

 

 

 

Crossing the river.Getting wet crossing the river.View of the upper reaches of the Sermilik Fjord.The Greenland icecap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next stage begins along the shores of the Sermilik Fjord. The scale of Sermilik Fjord is breathtaking, at least 15km wide and surrounded by glaciers and mountains. Just beyond the western shore, we could view the Greenland Icecap and due to a great number of glaciers flowing into the fjord the waters are full of icebergs. Heading southeast along the coast was in my opinion the most challenging part of the trek over headlands and inlets and there is one point where about 50m of fjord was forded below a glacier. We had rocky ridges to climb which became quite tricky close to the edge of the Fjord. The most difficult part was the scree ridges which were particularly unstable and the scariest part for me. A few close calls and minor scrapes later we made it to our designated camp site. However, at the site where we assumed we would be pitching up at, the freshwater stream had dried up which meant a further 1 hour hike to another suitable location. In situations like this you have no choice but to continue as fresh water is essential, so despite everyone being exhausted by this point we pressed on regardless.

Contending with the tough terrain. More trecking on tough terrain.

 

 

 

 

 

The team take care coming down the ridge.The next stage had us heading back inland to the halfway point to collect the food for our second week. We had to negotiate slightly easier terrain made up of marshland (squelchy bog holes) and tundra with a few steep hills to ascend and a further river to cross. During this day we waded over muddy wetland bogs that sink 5 inches with every step. Our feet were drenched and with every stop along this point we had to endure more mosquito bites. And this was the easy bit!

The return trip Back to Sermilik Fjord was a full day hike covering approx 16k to reach the coast. With our backpacks full once again, a week’s worth of food & further group kit to assist fellow trekkers, the long 8 hour hike was seriously tough going. The weather also didn’t help, it was poor with a low lying mist and light rain all day and by the end of the day each of us were so relieved to pitch up the tents and get changed into dry clothes. It was a particularly early night for me that night!

The journey from Ilivnera to Sapulik had me continuing along the shores of Sermilik Fjord. Along the way I passed a site of an old settlement; all vacant aside from a hunter’s hut. We had to The squelchy bog!deal with a few trickier river crossings at this point which proved to be the most difficult due to the depth and strong current. We ensured that our backpacks were unhitched so it is just resting on our shoulders only because you don’t want your pack dragging you down if you get caught in an uncontrollable strong current. We slowly but, steadily entered the water using our trekking poles James balancing on a rock.to feel for the depth and for bracing us against the current. Despite all this a few of us still lost our balance and fell in that day.

Whenever it was a particularly still night we could actually hear a distant roar echoing up the valley. James on the trail.This was the sound of millions of tonnes of ice grinding together amongst the ocean currents at the opening to the fjord. On occasions we could even hear the sudden release and breaking away of a mass of ice from the glacier in the distance. After a moment of reflection it really became clear just how much climate change is affecting the icecaps. It is quite astonishing to see just how far the glacier has retreated in only The edge of the glacier.the last 15 years.

Following the shore of the Sermilik Fjord the rocky terrain was fairly tricky and slow going. We took our time as the last thing we wanted to do was accidently take an unexpected dive into the icy cold Fjord. Some of the rocks were quite slippery especially where there was any moss growth. We then headed south and inland and reaching the peak of a hill, we had a wonderful view across a beautiful valley.

Camping out on the edge of the glacier.

We had two nights camped close to Amitsivartiva Fjord which gave us the opportunity to explore the area with light packs. We managed to climb a mountain 785 metres above sea level and the views were truly remarkable. On the first night we even had the real pleasure of watching the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), natures own theatre unfold with a most spectacular light show. This was such a magical and mystical moment for me. It is truly one of nature’s natural wonders.

Tricky rocky outlay along the edge of the Sermilik Fjord.Continuing on to the Amitsivartiva Fjord, we trekked though a wide valley and alongside a large lake. Amitsivartiva Fjord is a remarkable feature, only a couple of hundred metres wide; it stretches for several kilometres inland through the mountains. The views down this narrow waterway to the peaks beyond are stunning.

 

To Tiniteqilaaq. Picking a route southwards from camp, we ascend a ridge that sweeps southwest towards the small village of Tiniteqilaaq. This particular day was very hard going with many steep

The Northern lights over a fjord in Greenland.mountain ascents and descents to contend with. The light rain in the afternoon slowed progress considerably as we had to watch our footing clambering up the slippery rocky ridges. We even had a few ice/snow crossings to make as we traversed across the high ridge. We had spectacular views in all directions up and down fjords and across countless mountains and glaciers. Tiniteqilaaq is a small hunters’ settlement that has a few amenities and we View of the camp sight Amitsivartiva Fjord.camped on the edge of the village.

Boat rendezvous and return to Kulusuk. We broke camp for the last time and packed all of the equipment, ready to meet the boat at Tiniteqilaaq nearby. This is where my trekking adventure comes to an end.

I hope this brief account of my 75 mile journey gives you all some small insight into the wonders of Greenland. It is an amazing country with Aview of Tiniteqilaaq in the mist.< stunning scenery, full of culture and much to experience. For me the trek was made that much more worthwhile because of the overwhelming support I received in raising funds for the Ghana Charity FREED (UK). On that note I would like to thank every one of you who has kindly donated to the charity. So far I have managed to raise £1,616 which is such a great effort by everyone.  Your support means so much to me but, even more to FREED (UK) and the people of Ghana. I am in your debt, thank you so much.

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Justgiving site http://www.justgiving.com/james-strawhorn-greenlandtrek

Contact me; email:james.strawhorn@nps.co.uk