Winter above the Arctic Circle
Following winter solstice, the return of the sun is a cherished sight in Ilulissat.
Situated 350km (217 miles) north of the Arctic Circle in the West of Greenland, at the edge of the north’s largest ice cap, is Ilulissat. Winter visitors to this beautiful town and its surrounding wilderness areas will be dazzled by the frozen ice fjord oasis known as Disko Bay.
Throughout the winter months, towering icebergs from the nearby Sermeq Kujalleq outlet glacier become locked in the winter sea ice, slowly releasing into the ice fjord as the sun returns in late January. By this time, a boat trip into the pockets of open water allow you to get up close to the icebergs, giving you a true sense of their immense size.
No matter how many times you take a boat trip out in Disko Bay, there'll always be something new to photograph. The ever-changing weather around the glacier creates dynamic lighting conditions over the ice; it’s simply a dream for photographers.
To gain an even deeper experience of winter in the Arctic, you can choose to head towards the inland ice. Traversing the frozen lakes and rocky valleys by dogsled or snowmobile, you’ll arrive at a lookout point at the tail-end of the ice fjord, where you’ll get the opportunity to witness just how frozen a landscape can be.
The backcountry landscape is stark and wide open, and the feeling of remoteness is amplified when sitting on the sled with your musher and a team of Greenland dogs, working in cohesion with the snowy terrain. The sense of community can really be seen out there, with the local fishermen always greeting each other in passing. It’s such an interesting way of life, and working in these often extreme conditions shows their incredible strength and resilience to the cold.
To complete your winter experience in Greenland, there’s nothing that can bring you closer to your surroundings than immersing yourself in the wonders of Igloo Lodge, situated along the fishermen’s route just outside of Ilulissat. Here, you have the opportunity to spend a night sleeping inside an igloo.
After a nice day of activities, your experience will begin in a wooden cabin situated nearby the igloos, where your hosts will prepare a traditional dinner, giving you a chance to warm up before heading off to sleep. You may even get a glance of the aurora borealis after your meal, with the clear and dark skies in all directions completely free of light pollution. It will then be time to rug up and begin your night in the elements. There's enough space inside for two people, and rectangular ice bricks create a solid structure above you. Your warmth and comfort inside will come from a thick reindeer hide placed beneath a winter sleeping bag, as well as from a few small candles, which strangely enough can actually warm up the room by several degrees.
Feeling the cold, crisp air above the polar circle will bring a special energy to your time in the north; there's a sense of purity there that's hard to find anywhere else. These experiences, from seeing towering icebergs to traversing the backcountry on a dogsled, will make for an unforgettable trip to the Arctic.
Icelandair operates flights between Iceland and Ilulissat, Greenland.
This article first appeared in My North, the in-flight magazine for Icelandair's sister airline, Air Iceland Connect (now part of Icelandair).
Photos and text by Benjamin Hardman