I often write and present about sea kayaking on the East Coast of Greenland. Ragged mountains rise sharply from the ice laden sea, and struggle to contain the massive Greenlandic Ice sheet. The largest icebergs in the Northern Hemisphere are found in these waters, as well as some of the most diverse sea life.
The Sirmiligaq Fjord, meaning ‘Beautiful Ice Fjord’, is one of the most spectacular places I have ever witnessed. The shores are covered by hanging glaciers and Ice walls, dotted with overlapping layers of history. Padding through this isolated fjord, one experiences the feeling of true wilderness, and the raw power of nature.
My fiberglass kayak smoothly slices through the mirror calm water. I am quite comfortable in my Kokatat paddling gear, and can navigate easily with modern technology. Inuit hunters, the first kayakers here, were not only skilled paddlers, but had to be skilled in trades as well. Everything they used to paddle, keep warm, hunt and navigate was skillfully built using local and scarce resources.
The Tummiut people of the Eastern Greenlandic coast had a fascinating technology, found nowhere else in the world. Hunters carved tactile, 3 dimensional maps from pieces of drift wood. The remarkably accurate pocket sized maps had incredible detail; safe waters, fresh water sources, bays, cliffs, and so on. These maps could be read by the paddler without looking. By feeling the edge of the map, which was essentially a miniaturized replica of the coast, the paddler could navigate to hunting grounds or to neighboring settlements. This had huge advantages for hunters who were challenged with, among other things, long hours of darkness for many months of the year.
In 1885 Danish Explorer Gustav Holm led the first European exploration to the Ammassalik region of East Greenland. In the now abandoned settlement of Umivik, Holm traded for several of these wooden maps of the region. This was the first known European contact in this area. These maps are now the possession of the Greenlandic National Museum in Nuuk, and were thought to be the only known maps to this day.
I am sitting in a small Kulusuk home that is doubling as museum. Justine digs through a small box full of items that her Grandfather gave her. In this box are several amazing carvings, harpoon heads, several World War II artifacts and other collectables from this small settlement community that have been stored for years. After I asked her about the maps that I have heard of, her eyes lit up. She has one - a wooden map of the Fjord, passed down through her family lineage.
Greenland has long been in my heart, and now, a most unique part Greenland was in my hand.
Padding through this isolated fjord, one experiences the feeling of true wilderness, and the raw power of nature.