Can You Guess our “Alaska Alternative” for True Adventurers?

Wendy Redal February 8, 2011 0

One of things I love most about my vocation as travel writer and trip planner is being able to go places vicariously in my head while I work. That was the case recently as I helped arrange an itinerary for friends who want to go to Alaska. I spent nine summers as a tour director in Alaska and the Yukon during the 1980s and ‘90s, and I know the spell that the Far North casts on those who encounter its grand-scale wilderness. Yet I had to work hard to set up a trip that skirted ports overrun with cruise ship passengers (sometimes up to 10,000 per day) and avoided highways packed with RVs and tour buses.

A "4-ship day" in the tiny port of Skagway, Alaska. Photo: Jeff Tupper

A “4-ship day” in the tiny port of Skagway, Alaska. Photo: Jeff Tupper

It seems crazy to worry about crowds in the “Last Frontier,” doesn’t it? But fact is, more than a million people visited Alaska last year, most between May and September! Don’t get me wrong, Alaska can still offer a superlative wilderness experience – but you have to work a lot harder now to find it than you did 25 years ago when almost any travel within the state was still considered ‘adventure travel.’ In most cases, a bush plane or small boat can still provide passage to genuine wilderness, sans people, T-shirt shops, diesel fumes and noise.

But what if you’re an explorer looking for the ‘next Alaska’? You’re yearning for a destination that holds the mystique Alaska did 60 or 70 years ago, a place that elicits raised eyebrows or impressed exclamations about your spirit and fortitude when you tell your friends where you’re off to next. Where would you go?

There are enticing alternatives to behemoth cruise ships when it comes to exploring the Arctic wilderness. Any guesses as to where these paddlers are? Keep reading... Photo: Michael Gebicki/Lonely Planet

Greenland, paddling among icebergs at at Red Island, Scoresby Sund, east coast Greenland. 2005

We have a suggestion.

Imagine a northern wonderland of glaciers, fjords, icebergs, knife-edged peaks, emerald tundra and wildflowers. Picture a land where musk ox, narwhal, walrus, whales, seals, reindeer, wolves and Arctic fox far outnumber people. Mull a scene in which the only sounds you hear are the drip of water off your kayak paddle, or the scree of sea birds nesting on vertical cliffs above a cove below.

Kayaking the east coast of ____?? Photo: Seth Dent

Kayaking the east coast of ____?? Photo: Seth Dent

Yes, you’re in the Arctic – but it’s much milder here in summer than you might guess. In fact, it’s as dry as a desert in many places, yet the ice cap that dominates this massive island is edged by a verdant perimeter of fertile land. And in high summer, the temperatures at the head of the southern fjords that cut deeply inland can reach the upper 60s F.

But the presence of the ice is perhaps the most captivating element of this powerful landscape. The massive ice sheet — 14 times the size of England and more than 2 miles deep at its thickest point — that caps much of the island is more than 100,000 years old at its leading edge. Here, glaciers spawn giant bergs that bob along the bays and channels navigated in silence by kayak. There’s so much ice here that if the entire sheet were to melt at once, the earth’s oceans would rise 20-23 feet.

Icebergs in Sermilik Fjord

Icebergs in Sermilik Fjord

The scope and scale of this wilderness is too monumental to describe adequately. Yet it is not a land without a human presence. The Inuit people have lived here for 5,000 years, living off marine mammals, fish, game, birds and berries. They were the creators of the kayak – originally a sleek skin boat – that we use to navigate around their homeland today. They are strong and creative people, with rich traditions in art and music as well as traditional hunting.

Inuit children. Photo: Health Canada

Inuit children. Photo: Health Canada

Do you know where we are yet? Did you guess Greenland?

Are you ready to go??

Explorers’ Corner has an intoxicating set of Greenland summer journeys to slake your thirst for high adventure. Kayak the Arctic Riviera, Greenland’s almost uninhabited east coast, where the natural grandeur of the world’s largest national park will redefine ‘epic’ scenery. Hike the pristine Tassilaq area along the Arctic Circle on our unique boat-supported trek. Or, if you’ve got what it takes, really push the adventure envelope and join our exploratory kayaking expedition to Greenland’s Forbidden Coast, a brand-new paddling destination unveiled by melting ice in the High Arctic. And stay tuned for the debut of our latest addition to the Greenland adventure slate, our new Thule Explorer kayaking trip to Northwest Greenland, which will debut in a week or so. (Check back on our website.)

Dog sledding in Northwest Greenland

Dog sledding in Northwest Greenland

Can’t stand to wait? Want to experience Greenland in the “off season”? (It’s all relative!) How about signing on for the adventure of a lifetime, a cliched term I don’t use lightly: Dogsledding the Ultima Thule. Rated one of the Top 25 Greatest Adventures by National Geographic Adventure magazine, this trip across a frozen land by the most authentic of means is a window into the unique, nearly bygone way of life of the Polar Inuit, one of the world’s last truly traditional peoples. It happens in late March and early April this year.

What other destinations would you recommend to fellow explorers that are truly ‘beyond ordinary’? I’d like to start expanding my own list. Thanks for joining the conversation!

Yours in Discovery,

Wendy

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