Polar Routen e.V.
International Association for Hiking
and Conservation of Nature in Greenland
Amitsorsuaq, seen from the canoe center
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We about us
We About Us
How The Project Began
The association behind this website has a longer history. In the summer of 2006 I went to Greenland for the first time and walked on the "Arctic Circle Trail" from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut. Since then I have run the route 15 times, 11 times from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut and four times from Sisimiut to Kangerlussuaq. So I have developed already a special relationship to "my trail".
Arctic Circle Trail – Polar-Route
Apropos speaking of "my/our trail": In public, it is usually called the "Arctic Circle Trail". But if you are looking for it on the "Hiking Map of West Greenland" (on a scale of 1: 100,000, which everyone should have with the three leaves "Kangerlussuaq", "Pingu" and "Sisimiut", who wants to hike the route), then you find there the name "Polar Route", which the Greenlanders have apparently given this trail when it was - as my information about 1990 - marked as a long-distance trail in West Greenland. Apparently, some said that this name would not be so "trendy" and named it therefore following a North American tradition of naming long-distance trails "Arctic Circle Trail" (abbreviated "ACT"). As I am informed, this name was not introduced by US-Americans, but by a German guide book. When I was looking for an authentic name, I asked Greenlanders, how they call the trail in their language. But I did not receive any definite answers. "Polar Route" is a name that can be understood in almost all languages; and that's why I decided to use this name for the trail as well as for the association, until the Greenlanders coin a name in their own language. By doing this I also mentioned that the trail was not created to make a hiking trail just parallel to a certain latitude (66° 39" N or the Arctic Circle), but it traverses one of the oldest migratory areas of nomadic Inuit, which still exists today in Greenland and has not changed its face since the time, when 4500 years ago the first human being set foot on it. Even today, there are hundreds of discovered and undiscovered archaeological sites in the region. Please leave them untouched, if you find some on the hike!
Where human traces still parallel the animals’
The background image of this website shows footprints of humans and of reindeer on the polar route. If one sees traces of game in continental Europe on a hiking trail, then the traces of humans and animals intersect. Here in Greenland, they are still parallel – unchanged since 4500 years. And that's the way it should stay!
This was - literally as well as metaphorically - the idea of activating civic engagement with the founding of a sponsorship association, which should contribute to maintaining this unique trail even with an increasing number of tourists in Greenland in general and of hikers on the polar Route in particular.
Not Just Footprints
An American slogan calling for the preservation of nature is: "Leave no traces but your footprints!" Unfortunately, there are more traces now on the Polar Routethan footprints - from hikers all over the world as from native hunters. It hurts when you see on the hike, as the way is marked by carelessly discarded toilet paper (perhaps still moisture paper with a plastic base that survives years in nature), or how large areas are burned by negligence in dealing with fire.
There have been many conversations and often heated discussions with the hikers on the way. In particular reminds me of a long discussion with Sabine S.,
a veterinarian from Austria
, when I came to the hut Ikkattooq very late at night. She greeted me with the question: "Are you Frieder?"
She also remembers me in her report. But of course, I did not have a chainsaw with me, as she falsely claimed, see link, seek for "Frieder"
. She said she had been on many similar footpaths in Alaska, Canada or Iceland, but there would be a better way to tackle pollution issues. "A trail management must be organized here," was her demand. I would like also to mention discussions with the former mayor Hermann Berthelsen and the vice-municipality director Laust Løgstrup. Walking on the Polar Route gives you plenty of time to think about such and similar discussions. And when I had to treat a foot injury (ligament strain, I slipped on a wet way) in 2011 in the hospital in Sisimiut (outpatient) and 10 days stuck in the youth hostel, the reflection was more concrete.
Maintaining the Trail by a Commerical Solution?
In principle, there are two different approaches to trail management, and of course, both have something to do with financing, which is a problem not to be underestimated in a country like Greenland with a large area of more than 2 million km² and only 56,000 inhabitants. One approach is a commercial solution (or at least a promise to find one). I do not want to vilify this approach in general, but in this case, it's a way of going astray. A commercial solution to this route would lead to artificially increase the number of hikers for profit maximization. And that would, one way or another, lead to the destruction of the trail under the conditions of the Arctic environment.
Maintaining the Way by a Regulatory Solution?
Another approach, which I would like to call the law-and-order method, is based on regulatory measures. Such models were also reported by Sabine from Iceland, Canada and Alaska. First a protected area is declared. Access restrictions are issued, often literally with a barrier at each end of the path with rangers monitoring compliance with protection regulations, penalties for irregularities and, if necessary, the number of walkers is reduced to an acceptable number. And finally, a fee may be charged to finance all of this, at least in part. This may work in many areas, e.g. on Kungsleden in Sweden, where the population is used to civic discipline of this kind. For the polar route in Greenland but I think that is not a realistic solution.
How to tell locals in Greenland that if they want to use or cross the Polar route they would have to seek permission. The police can not now prevent the illegal use of "ATVs" (= short for "All Terrain Vehicle", off-road vehicles, also called "Quad"). And as far as funding through fees is concerned, a reasonable fee would not be remotely enough to finance even the salaries of the Rangers they're supposed to raise.
Maintaining the trail by the hikers themselves!
So during my forced stay in Sisimiut in the summer of 2011, I came up with the idea of a third approach, namely the preservation of the footpath or at least the support of its maintaining by civic engagement of the hikers themselves. Since I had time in Sisimiut, I also discussed the plans with the Vice Municipal Director Laus Løgstrup. He thought the plans were quite good.
Then I asked myself, how to find people at home in Berlin who are enthusiastic about this idea, for example, as the sponsor of such activities to found a sponsoring association. That's not possible, I said to myself, you can only start such an initiative here if you're doing your tour between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut. So in the youth hostel I drafted the text of the statute for a sponsorship association on the computer that stood there for the internet access. I replaced the specific Danish vovels such as ø, Ø, æ or Æ by "replace" with ö, Ö, ä and Ä, saved the text on a stick and then had it printed in the public library. So with the statute in the backpack I went back to Kangerlussuaq, when my ankle was o.k. again.
Founding the Sponsoring Association
But in the middle of August not many hikers were on the way, which I could have motivated to a "foundation meeting in a hut". In the hut Innajuattoq II (the beautiful hut at the bottom of the lake) Parma A. from Sisimiut, who was on a hike from Kangerlussuaq, arrived late on the evening of August 12, 2011, when the weather had become uncomfortable. When I told her about the idea she completely agreed with it and said: "Let's do it!". On the way to Kangerlussuaq, a few more hikers have joined the project and signed the statute, so that we got the required number of seven founding members. And in Berlin, I then registered the association at the court in the register of associations and applied to the tax office for the provisional certificate of charitable status. Then the association "Polar Routes e.V. Association for Hiking and Nature Conservation in Greenland" was founded legally, but only that. On my next trip to Greenland, I had to manage the organizational part, which goes beyond the legal steps.
Above all, we needed a starting point in Kangerlussuaq, where enough hikers are to meet, because most make the hike from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut. Back then Erik Lomholt-Bek had founded a second youth hostel in Kangerlussuaq in addition to his youth hostel in Sisimiut. I suggested to him that I would continue my founding efforts next year, continuing as a volunteer in Kangerlussuaq Youth Hostel, which was managed by his friend Henrik A. And he agreed to it. But that did not happen in the following year. After my return, I noticed some symptoms and the doctor's diagnosis was: cancer. There followed seven operations. And between hospital stays, I now had to wear a catheter for nine months ... But I survived.
For a while, a Greenland trip was out of the question. But in May 2014, I received the diagnosis that no more cancer cells had been found. So I decided at short notice to fly back to Greenland, where I now lived for three months as a volunteer in the youth hostel Kangerlussuaq.
At the age of 70, I was a retiree, and as a result I was able to afford a three-month stay in Greenland just as well as others could afford a three-week stay. So I was three months as a volunteer in the youth hostel. That was certainly very important, and I learned a lot during that time; but anyway, I realized that the project could not start like this.
In Greenland, there is no youth hostel organization as in Germany or Denmark. And there exists also no organization that corresponds to the Alpine Associations in Germany, Austria or Switzerland or other regional hiking and nature conservation associations or associations in other countries as for instande the Norwegian Tourist Association DNT (= Den Norske Turistforening) with its 300,000 members. Therefore, hiking trails such as the Polar Route and the huts on them are either maintained by the municipality or not at all, but not by an organization of the wanderers themselves. And youth hostels like the two of Erik can only be maintained as gainful businesses if they are to last. In contrast, other goals are necessarily subordinate. So you can not turn the hostel into a starting point for an initiative to preserve the Polar Route, however important it is for hikers to have such a hostel in Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut.
Most hikers on the Polar Route start their tour in Kangerlussuaq. At the beginning, they are set to live 14 days in the wild. Therefore, I soon realized that for them the campsite in Kangerlussuaq was the first address as a starting point. When they arrive in Sisimiut, they go to the youth hostel, where after 14 days in the wild, they once again sleep in a bed, take a warm shower, do their laundry or cook something in the hiker's kitchen. This offers you in Sisimiut Eriks Vandrehjem in better quality and at a cheaper price than any other facilities. Of course you can also start well in Kangerlussuaq in Vandrehjem; but for many the campsite is quite enough.
The Campsite in Kangerlussuaq
The campsite in Kangerlussuaq was just closed in 2014. For years it had been left to the Polar Lodge or its owner (so far as I know free of charge or for a nominal fee) by the airport. In 2014, this owner was called "World of Greenland / Arctic Circle" (WOGAC), as the English name suggests, a Danish travel company that (except the airport hotel and Vandrehjem) in Kangerlussuaq has pretty much everything related to tourism: the Polar Lodge, the Old Camp, the Rowing Club, the Museum, the Tourist Information, and not least the many buses and trucks that drive incoming tourists to Russell Glacier and Inland Ice (Point 660). In Ilulissat the ownership is similar. Meanwhile, "World of Greenland / Arctic Circle" has become "Albatros Arctic Circle". And in 2014, WOGAC came to the conclusion that the campsite is not profitable enough. And so it just was closed, and a lock was put on the door of the blue house. Of course you could still camp there like everywhere in Greenland, but the water was turned off, the toilet (in the blue house) closed and the use of the shower in the Polar Lodge prohibited.
That's when I came up with the idea that the association Polar-Routen e.V. could reopen the campsite and use it as a starting point for the planned project on the hiking trail. After some investigation, I found out that the ground of the campsite (all land is common property in Greenland) was under the control of the central government in Nuuk, which had entrusted the administration to the airport in Kangerlussuaq. So on September 1, 2014, I applied for an area allocation of the campsite at the airport along with a purchase request for the Blue House there. It is not surprising that there was no answer three weeks later, when I travelled home. However, when I returned to Greenland 10 months later and asked Rita, the then head of the airport, what had happened to the application, she replied that she had nothing to do with it.
Greenland is a country with a small population (56,000), a large area (2,166,000 km²) and a considerable bureaucracy. On the way between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut I have always found my way effortlessly, but in the bureaucratic labyrinth I would have lost my way now, if not Laust Løgstrup, the vice-community director, had come to my aid. His call to the Ministry of the Interior resulted in a solution within five days. The ground of the campsite was transferred to the municipality for administration, and Laust called me in September 2015, shortly before my return trip, and told me to pick up the key at the airport. Although Lars, who manages the technology there, could not find it anymore, he hit the padlock with a big hammer. With wise foresight, I had previously bought a new padlock in Sisimiut. I now had the factual access to the house at the campsite, but the legal status still had to be clarified. That took a little over a year; In September 2016, immediately after my return from Greenland, the association received a lease. Tenant is the association within the purpose of its statute and against a symbolic annual rent of 1 Danish crown, but on the condition that the campsite may be managed only by unpaid staff, and besides that with the condition that the association informs the guests at the campsite and the hikers on the Polar Route about the intentions of the municipality and returns their feedback to the municipality.
In summer 2016, the house had to be repainted inside and outside. Just for what the color costs, I would have received a total renovation of the house in Berlin. When I asked at the airport (which is responsible for municipal water supply and waste disposal in Kangerlussuaq) to turn on the water supply to the campsite again, I experienced a surprise: the water pipe between two houses, from which the connection to the campsite was branching of, had been renewed; and the branch to the campsite had been removed. But I could certainly - on my own account - order a completely new water pipe. But that would cost about 30,000 DKK or 4,000 €. When I looked around the house, I found an old water tank with about 700 l capacity. On my question in the airport, if perhaps the connection of the water tank would be cheaper, I got the answer: "Of course, maybe the half of what a new pipe costs." Suspicious abouth this answer, I sit down with Teddy, a plumber in the city, in connection. He looked at the matter immediately and said: "No problem." He comes over after work. On my careful question what that would cost, he said briefly: "Six Tuborg!"
The next surprise came when the tank was first filled by the tank truck. The tank has an overflow pipe from which water escapes when the tank is full. Although far more than 700 l were filled in, there came no water out. Instead, it came out the bottom of the house. The water tank had burst once in winter and had a gap of about 1.5 cm width at the top. Luckily, only there, because when the water had run out of the house, the tank was still full. Unfortunately, the water did not come from the water pipe, because the drain from the tank was apparently blocked. But all attempts to eliminate the constipation failed. So I unscrewed the connection, which Teddy had mounted, and connected it with a hose for a camping shower and then put it through the gap in the tank. I then had to suck the water out of the hose with my mouth and quickly connect it to the water pipe. And now the first water came out of the pipe. A few days later, Erik came over and brought me a mattress from an old sofa bed, a treasure that can nowhere be bought in Kangerlussuaq. When I proudly showed Erik my water connection, he told me that the drain of the tank is not blocked, but is blocked by a valve. So I took six more Tuborg and asked Teddy to remove the valve. Since then, the water is running, but only when the tank is full.
And because many things for such a renovation are not available in Kangerlussuaq, I had to continue the work in the summer of 2017. With a plywood partition I have separated a small bedroom from my office. And there is now an open-air shower. Whoever previously heated water with the camping stove can even take a warm shower. There is also a photovoltaic system that supplies power to the computer or to charge the mobile phone. In addition to Erik's mattress, which I have converted into a sofa with four legs, there are now four tubular steel beds in the house, which I have taken from the dump, where everyone in Kangerlussuaq is looking for things they can not buy there. So if you come to the campsite in the rain or a storm, you can also sleep in a bed in the blue house - and even without extra charge.
According to the agreement (the rental contract) with the municipality, the standard price for one night is 60.00 DKK (that is 8.00 €) for one adult per night. Children under 16 pay nothing. Mass tourism does not (yet) exist in Greenland; therefore it is not feasible at a lower price.
Since I know the trail quite well (at least better than those who have written clever books about him), I can also anyone, who wants to hike it, advise in detail, which costs nothing and for which I like to take my time. Anyone, whether camping guest or not, is welcome in the Blue Malimmut Villa for a cup of tea, coffee or a cup of Qajaasaq (Greenlandic specialty, also known as "Labrador Tea" in Canada). So, just drop by if you're in Kangerlussuaq!
How should it continue?
As you can see on this website, there exists a plan in the community of Qeqqata to build a road for ATVs (Quods), partly using the route of the Polar Route, partly parallel to it. And it is euphemistically called "nature road".At the campsite and on the Polar Route, I did not meet a hiker who would has liked that. Therefore, in 2016/17, three hundred hikers - foreign tourists and locals alike - signed a memorandum (petition) and asked the community to reconsider and refrain from doing so - unfortunately without success. We did not even get an answer. So I interpreted the 300 signatures as a mandate to send a larger petition to the Government and Parliament of Greenland, to the Danish Government as a contracting party to UNESCO and to UNESCO. It is written in English as a UNESCO document and can be downloaded here as a PDF file. Finally, Greenland has declared the area, through which the Polar Route passes, as World Heritage; that means, the protection of this region is not only an internal affaire.
I would therefore ask you to support this petition and to point it out in public.
In addition, our association must now be filled with life. That's why I'm calling you to join him as a member.