Braving the Perilous Terrain of Greenland's Stunning Tasermiut Fjord

Yohani Kamarudin
Yohani Kamarudin
Scribol Staff
Travel, July 03, 2012
  • Aappilattup Avanna Fjord under a stunning pink sky

    Special thanks to Vladimir Donkov for granting permission to use his stunning images in this article.

    It is wild, beautiful, ancient and awe-inspiring – and we strongly suggest that you never go there. Unless, that is, you are fully prepared for somewhere as perilous as it is stunning. With its steep granite cliffs, crystal-clear rivers, icebergs and majestic glacial vistas, South Greenland’s Tasermiut Fjord looks like a landscape straight out of a fantasy movie. But, as photographer Vladimir Donkov will tell you, exploring it is definitely no fairytale.

    “I spent two months trekking in the fjord,” says Donkov of the trip during which he took these incredible photographs, “and it was the hardest of all my trips to the Arctic.” Donkov advises maximum caution for anyone wanting to visit this area. “It’s extremely different from any national park in the USA, Europe or Asia,” he warns.

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  • The ethereal beauty of the aurora borealis over Tasermiut Fjord

    As much as he loved trekking in Tasermiut Fjord, Donkov says it’s definitely not for everyone. “There are no trails, the winds are unpredictable, and most of all – the big rivers are extremely hard to cross and there are no bridges,” he explains. “Recently even two locals died while trying to cross a river there.” Consider yourself cautioned!

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  • Crystal clear waters near Mount Ketil

    Donkov himself encountered many challenges while taking these photographs, including an Arctic hurricane, crossing treacherous rivers, an injured knee, and hordes of mosquitoes – to name just a few. Fortunately, the breathtaking images he returned with were worth it, at least in our view.

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  • Mount Ketil: The photographer braved many hazards for this breathtaking shot.

    The photographer himself trained for two years before attempting this solo expedition. And even then, when an Inuit boat dropped him off at the beginning of his trek, as he says, “I was still aware that I might never return alive from here.” Not a particularly comforting thought with which to start a journey. Thankfully, Donkov made it back safely; unlike the boat, which sank on its way back to shore – but without, we’re happy to add, anybody getting hurt.

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  • Still unnamed peaks and a lake

    Located near the town of Nanortalik, Tasermiut Fjord is famous for its 4,000-foot-tall granite cliffs. These cliffs and mountains attract rock climbers and mountaineers alike, but they are not for the inexperienced. They have been compared to the most challenging routes in the Alps, and should not be attempted lightly or without serious preparation.

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  • Majestic (and hard to get to) Mount Ketil

    Vladimir Donkov describes photographing one of these mountains – the 6,570-foot Mount Ketil – as the toughest job he’s ever undertaken. “Sixteen days of work and, during that time, it nearly took my life a couple of times,” he recalls. He wasn’t kidding, either! The shot, which we’ve included here, required over a month of trekking, waiting through days of rain, crossing a swamp, almost drowning in a deadly river, and two cases of hypothermia. And there was more to come.

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  • The cemetery at Tasiusaq Village: Space has been left for future occupants.

    After successfully crossing the glacial river (after a week and four attempts), Donkov hiked up over a stone avalanche to the ridge he’d been aiming for – “where a photographer had never set foot before,” he says. But his challenges were not over yet.

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  • Mount Ulamertorsuaq

    For five days, Donkov waited for the cloudy conditions he wanted for his shot. On the sixth day, he ran out of food but decided to keep waiting. Then, on the seventh day, he was finally able to get the picture he’d hoped for. “Being patient is a good thing after all,” he says. And seeing the final photograph, we can only agree.

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  • The aurora borealis over Ulamertosuaq

    Tasermiut Fjord may have difficult terrain, but that didn’t stop the area being made into a settlement by Norse Vikings, reputedly led by Eric the Red, in the 10th century. Their ruins can still be found there. The Inuit, on the other hand, came to this part of Greenland last, having migrated the opposite way from the north, and they still live in the region today.

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  • A stately iceberg in Tasermiut Fjord

    As you can imagine, life in this place is harsh. Donkov photographed a cemetery in the village of Tasiusaq (also included in this article) that starkly illustrates this fact.

    “In case you have never heard of Tasiusaq, do not feel uncomfortable. The village hasn’t even existed on the map for 70 years,” the photographer says. “In the winter of 1856, hunting was extremely poor. The desperate trials of the inhabitants to go along the 35 kilometers [of] cracked ice in order to get to the closest village ended up unsuccessful. All the villagers died of hunger and bitter cold, one by one before the ice was even able to melt.”

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  • Tasiusaq Village

    Today, 83 people live in Tasiusaq – now accessible through a helicopter landing pad. The students in the village travel by boat across the Tasermiut Fjord for an hour and a half to get to their school in Nanortalik. If it’s not locked in ice or hit by violent storms, that is.

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  • The spectacular Tasermiut Fjord

    Seals (the ringed, hooded and harp varieties) are among the more common animals to be seen around Tasermiut Fjord. Minke whales are often found up near the fjord’s sea opening, too. There are also many varieties of sea birds – and occasional visits from humpback whales, orcas and even polar bears! In fact, Nanortalik can be translated as ‘Place where the Polar Bears Go’.

    Sadly, over-hunting and fishing has reduced the wildlife population in the area, and both seals and salmon populations have suffered as a result. It is said that the number of cod has halved in the last decade. These days, there are few professional fishermen left in the village of Tasiusaq, and, unfortunately, this is not the area’s only environmental problem.

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  • The aurora borealis, seen between two mountain peaks

    Like the rest of the Arctic region, the Tasermiut Fjord and its glaciers are feeling the effects of global warming. The Sermitsiaq glacier has been retreating throughout the 20th century and is now 2 km away from the fjord into which it once ran. The mighty Sermeq glacier is also retreating and one day may not even touch the waters of Tasermiut.

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  • Mountain peaks during a storm

    Other signs that the climate is changing around Tasermiut include the increasing number of ice chunks breaking off the Sermeq Glacier, and the growth of vegetation where once there was only ice and snow. Scientists believe that Greenland’s ice sheet has reached a critical threshold and may lose its ability to grow. This is very bad news for the Inuit of the island, who have adapted their lifestyles over hundreds of years to living in a cold Arctic climate.

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  • Ulamertorsuaq and the Tulip Ridge

    For the time being, Tasermiut Fjord remains a pristine Arctic environment, touched by very few human beings. One of those lucky few is, of course, photographer Vladimir Donkov, to whom we extend our thanks for sharing these rare and beautiful images with us.

    If you would like to see more of Donkov’s wonderful work around the Arctic region (and we recommend that you do!) it can be found at his website. You can also follow his Twitter account, @Verticalshot, Facebook page, and G+ account.

    Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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