All before us is ice. Stretching out for miles there’s nothing but a vast barrier of white. A frozen sea, more than 30 stories tall, as menacing as it is beautiful.
The engine falls silent and the boat comes to a standstill. Its passengers do likewise, freezing in awe at the colossus in front of them – the great calving glacier, Eqi.
You see it first, the ice falling, then comes the sound of ancient thunder breaking the stunned silence. The noise announces that the glacier has just gotten a little smaller as a mini tsunami rolls toward the boat, swaying it from side to side.
Eqi is an appropriate name – it means edge. Being here is like hovering over the precipice of the planet. It feels like the place where the world ends.
The glacier is reached via a three-hour boat ride north through the Ataa Strait from Ilulissat, Greenland’s third-largest town on the west coast of the country. In winter, temperatures drop to -20°C (-4°F), freezing the sea, making this journey only safely accessible from June to September.
Twenty minutes after we set sail on a bright orange fishing vessel fit for around 60 people, phones suddenly go quiet as they lose signal. There’s no Wi-Fi either – there’s hardly any in Greenland’s towns, never mind out on its waters.
The best thing to do is relax, drink coffee and enjoy the scenery as you sail past icebergs and the small settlement of Oqaatsut.
Giant frozen canyons
However, if you want to see truly spectacular icebergs, there’s another boat ride well worth taking to the town of Ilimanaq, located 15 kilometers south from Ilulissat – again only accessible by boat in the summer – a route that passes through the enormous grounded icebergs of the Kangia ice fjord.
The journey to Ilimanaq is incredible. Brilliantly white, the icebergs sparkle in the sun, towering out of the water like displaced mountains that’ve been dropped into the ocean.
Pods of whales and colonies of seal can be spotted there often. It’s always a spectacle, but traversing the passage can be eventful as well.
Immense icebergs in Greenland
On our first voyage through the Kangia fjord, one of the icebergs calved just as we were about to travel past, creating huge waves that surged toward our tiny boat and its six passengers.
The captain killed the engine before turning the boat to meet the waves side on and ride it out, stopping us from crashing into one of the huge canyons of ice surrounding us.
Early mornings can also be treacherous. A thick gray fog can engulf the coast making it almost impossible to see a few feet ahead.
As we made our way it was eerily quiet and still, the only sound coming from ice constantly cracking against the underside of the boat.
Bobbing along slowly through the water with no visibility was like a scene from a horror movie. An unseen leviathan of the deep concealed by the blanket of dense fog, waiting to chew the small vessel to matchsticks and devour its crew.
Luckily, on our journey to Eqi, we had a bigger boat.
Breaking the ice
About two hours into the journey to Eqi glacier, our boat sways noticeably. Not from a calving iceberg or large wave but due to a huge waterfall cascading down from the cliffs. Everyone on board, cameras in hand, scrambles to one side of the boat to get a picture.
We arrive at the glacier about half an hour later. The water changes from clear blue to monochrome slush, and then to floating ice. The boat’s steel hull smashes through like an icebreaker exploring the Northwest Passage.
Reminiscent of the Wall from “Game of Thrones,” the glacier is magnificent. And despite calving every few minutes, each fresh ice breakaway is as mesmerizing and hypnotic as the one before.
We get to marvel at this for a couple of hours, then our boat heads for a camp at Port Victor, two kilometers from the glacier.
Named after the European explorer Paul-Émile Victor, who used this area as his base camp more than 100 years ago, Port Victor retains an explorer atmosphere to this day. Anyone expecting a luxury vacation here at the edge of the world is in for a rude awakening.
Port Victor is completely detached from the modern world. In fact, we arrive just after employees of Glacier Lodge Eqi finish painting a sign in the restaurant that reads: “Sorry there is no Wi-Fi. Talk to each other and enjoy the view.”
Getting to this sign is a test in itself.
We docked and were ordered to get off the boat and head as quickly as possible to the safety zone – about 100 meters up wooden stairs – before hiking up the steep rock to the lodge’s huts and restaurant.
This is because tsunamis created by the falling ice can come without warning. Despite being more than two kilometers from the glacier, the waves it creates take only two to three minutes to hit the shoreline, arriving with such force they clear whatever’s in their path.
There’s even a beach here called “suicide beach.” As members of the staff tell us, you’re free to go on it but at your own risk. If a wave comes, there’s no time to get off.
There are two types of accommodation at Glacier Lodge Eqi: basic and comfort.
Basic means basic – no water, no electricity and no toilet. It’s a simple wooden hut with a bed. While there are clean sheets, guests must be prepared to make their own bed.
Comfort cabins, on the other hand, have it all. A huge room with a (made) bed, sofa, animal furs adorning the place, an en-suite bathroom, running water, electricity and a balcony.
Both have amazing views of the glacier, which never fails to remind us of its presence through the giant claps of thunder that sporadically roll through the air like bombs going off in the distance.
Chef Nicolai Koch-Christensen, the great-grandson of one of Paul-Émile Victor’s local guides, prepares the food at the lodge. His great-grandfather’s picture proudly hangs on the wall of his restaurant.
Koch-Christensen had no idea about his family’s history at Port Victor until he took the job.
“I think it’s a bit weird,” he said. “It made me think, is it a coincidence or is it the meaning of life that you come back to where your family have been?”
Those same pictures also show the effect of climate change on the glacier with Koch-Christensen estimating the glacier has shrunk by several kilometers since his great-grandfather was here.
This is a place to see while you still can.
It’s not only the view that is special; dining here is completely unique as well.
During the summer, Koch-Christensen loves to grill for guests in view of the ice fjords and finishes each meal by telling a Greenlandic legend.
Make sure to enjoy the tale with a mug of Greenlandic coffee. The tasty drink includes shots of whiskey, Kahlúa and Grand Marnier to offer warmth during the cold polar nights. It’s like an Irish coffee on steroids.
The camp also provides fantastic hiking routes to the glacier and the surrounding area – although there are so many mosquitoes that purchasing a net from the camp shop is advised.
It’s definitely worth battling through, as not only are the hikes remarkable, this land is so remote that if you step off the trails, you may be the first person ever to set foot there.
This is such an adventurous trip, a whole two days detached from the modern world.
As the boat approaches Ilulissat on our return, it’s a weird sensation as phones buzz to life again.
Conversations stop, cameras are put down and everyone stares at the glowing screen in their hand.
Detached from the natural world.
How to get there: Air Greenland and Air Iceland Connect both offer direct flights to Greenland from Reykjavik, Iceland and Copenhagen, Denmark. Fly into Ilulissat.
Eqi: Eqi Glacier excursions and accommodation can be booked through World of Greenland.
Ilimanaq: Ilimanaq excursions and accommodation can also be booked through World of Greenland.