Hiking tour from the Eqi Glacier to the Greenland Ice Sheet on your own

Hiking Tour vom Eqi-Gletscher zum grönländischen Inlandeis auf eigene Faust
Hiking tour from the Eqi Glacier to the Greenland Ice Sheet on your own

Greenland, Eqi glacier and inland ice: As if spellbound, I look over the wide ice surface that rises up in front of us. I think of the many explorers and adventurers who were drawn to the ice sheet. To those who crossed it successfully and also to those who stayed here. A few more steps forward and I stand where great stories have been written. One of them is that of the French expeditions led by Paul-Émile Victor. Are you also infected by the polar virus and would you like to put your feet on the ice sheet? In my article I'll tell you where and how you can do a hiking tour on your own from the Eqi glacier to the Greenland ice sheet. You'll follow in the footsteps of polar explorer Paul-Émile Victor and discover a lot on your hike.

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The Polar Explorer Paul-Émile Victor

Paul-Émile Victor (1907-1995) was a famous French polar explorer and founder of the Expéditions Polaires Françaises (1947). After the Second World War, he resumed French polar expeditions. He also involved Germany in active polar research. In 1967, the German Society for Polar Research awarded him its highest award, the Karl Weyprecht Medal.

He organized his first expeditions to Greenland in 1934-1935. In 1936, he crossed the Greenland ice sheet with dog sleds from west to east. He then spent the winter with the Inuit on the east coast in Ammassalik. In 1939 he did ethnological studies in Lapland. During the war years he served first in the French Navy and then in the US Air Force. There he organized rescue operations for missing pilots in the Arctic regions.

Eqi-Gletscher Grönland
At the beginning of our hiking tour we have a great view of the Eqi Glacier, Greenland. Photo: Dr. Till Pasquay

From the Eqi Glacier (Eqip Sermia) Paul-Émile Victor led several expeditions on the inland ice between 1948 and 1953. From here the ice sheet is relatively easy to reach. In addition, there is a small natural harbour to land by boat. The way to the ice cap is relatively short and flat. Besides Paul-Émile Victor, other polar explorers started their expeditions from here and left their tracks, which we now follow.

The French Polar Expeditions 1948-1953

The French polar expeditions in the years 1948-1953 investigated the geophysical properties of the inland ice. They also carried out seismic measurements to determine the thickness of the ice and investigated the temperatures in the ice cap. The results were to provide information on the influence of the Greenland ice cap on the northern hemisphere.

The first expedition, in 1948, aimed to build a 10 kilometre long route from the bay to the ice sheet and a 200 metre long cable car. The cable car was to be used to transport equipment from the bottom station up to the edge of the ice cap. A total of 28 scientists and technicians were involved in this expedition.

Hiking Tour Eqi-Gletscher - auf den Pfaden der Polarforscher
In the footsteps of Paul-Émile Victor to the Greenland ice sheet. Photo: Dr. Till Pasquay

In 1949 a group of 35 men built the winter station "Station Centrale" in the middle of the ice cap. Equipment was transported there by airplane. From the "Station Centrale" in the years 1950 to 1953 extended expeditions were started on the ice cap in the direction of southeast and northwest.

The Expéditions Polaires Françaises was the first organisation to introduce new techniques from the Second World War to polar research. Among other things, motorised tracked vehicles, air transport, the use of parachutes and new materials. Nowadays they are widely used on expeditions. Long-distance journeys with tracked vehicles over the inland ice were carried out and fixed stations for observations were set up. This was accompanied by the development of innovative techniques for polar research, for example:

  • the use of tracked vehicles with integrated accommodation for long-distance journeys
  • the use of lightweight metal carriages for the transport of heavy equipment
  • air transport and dropping of supplies
  • Power generation by wind generators under extreme conditions

Traces of the expeditions can still be seen on the way to the ice sheet.

Über Stock und Stein führt unsere Hiking Tour vom Eqi-Gletscher zum Inlandeis
Our hiking tour leads over hill and dale from the Eqi glacier to the inland ice. Photo: Dr. Till Pasquay
Remains of a sleigh
Scrap heaps of old expeditions
Remains of the old cable car to the ice sheet

Our Hiking Tour on the Tracks of Paul-Émile Victor from the Eqi Glacier to the Ice Sheet

Getting there

Our mini expedition to the Greenlandic inland ice begins in Illulisat with a trip on the excursion boat. It takes us to Glacier Lodge Eqi. This is a small hut settlement built around the old hut of the French polar explorer Paul-Émile Victor. Already the 5 hour boat trip to the Eqi glacier is a special experience. The route leads along the coast to the north, past Bredebugt, the settlement Oqaatsut and the big fjord system Pakitsoq. We continue through the Ataa road, which is surrounded by steep mountains, bird cliffs and waterfalls. Whales and seals can often be seen on the trips.

Schiff zum Eqi-Gletscher, Grönland
Ship to Eqi Glacier, Greenland
Morning fog in Disko Bay, Greenland

Trekking boots, hiking poles, gloves and everything else you might need for your hike in Greenland can be found at Bergzeit.

Eqi Glacier

We can already see the Eqi glacier from a distance. The glacier front extends over approx. 3.4 kilometres. The average height is about 200 metres, but only 30 to 80 metres above sea level.

The boat brings us close to the edge of the glacier. Here we can see and above all hear the calving of the glacier from close up for two hours: The air bubbles trapped in the ice are under pressure. As soon as a piece of ice breaks off, the air expands with a loud thunder-like noise. Waves follow the thunder. The larger the piece of ice dropped, the higher the waves. A "tsunami wave" was even so high and powerful that it washed away the wooden landing stage at Port Victor. After mooring the boat in Port Victor, we have to hurry. We have to get off the boat quickly and continue straight away to the designated safe area. This is marked with a sign and is about 3 to 4 meters above the waterline.

Size comparison: ship in front of the Eqi glacier, Greenland Photo: Dr. Till Pasquay
Calving Eqi Glacier, Greenland
Camp am Eqi-Gletscher
Glacier Lodge Eqi, in front right the old wooden hut of Paul-Émile Victor, Greenland

Way to the Ice Sheet

After a refreshment in the Cafe Victor we set off in the late afternoon towards the inland ice. A hike through breathtaking scenery, over windy mountain ridges, through valleys and past meltwater lakes. On the way we observe several white snow hares, an arctic fox and perfectly camouflaged ptarmigan with chicks.

Arctic Fox Photo: Dr. Till Pasquay
Snow Hare
Rock Ptarmigan
Küken vom Alpenschneehuhn
Chick from the Ptarmigan

The distance to the ice sheet is about 12 kilometres and 500 metres of altitude difference. The course is not difficult to walk and is easy to see in most places. About half way we find a great camp for the night, where we pitch our tents. Sheltered from the wind behind a rock and directly opposite a clear lake with best water. From here we start our day trip the next day with light luggage on the inland ice. Meanwhile the tents stay on the spot for the next night.

Camp während unserer Hiking Tour vom Eqi-Gletscher zum Inlandeis
Our camp for two nights during our Hiking Tour to the Ice Sheet

We follow the tracks of the expedition. After several decades they are still clearly visible. I realize how sensitive Arctic nature is and how much time it takes to regenerate. I try to leave as few new traces as possible and to stay on the already existing paths and paths.

In the footsteps of Paul-Émile Victor:
Map of the French Polar Expeditions 1948-1953 and our Hiking Tour from the Eqi Glacier to the Ice Sheet in Greenland

We finally reach a wide valley where the remains of the cable car valley station are located. Around the cable car there are other equipment of the expeditions of that time partly scattered, partly collected on a heap. There are remains of a metal sledge, a radiator and several petrol canisters. Behind the valley, a winding path leads steeply up over a windy mountain pass. Behind it, the glacier moraine begins. The path gets lost between the stones and we look for our own way through the slightly rising scree field. The closer we get to the ice sheet, the more noticeable the ice became. Cold wind blows towards us.

The Ice Cap

Behind the glacier moraine there is nothing but ice and snow for the next 1000 kilometres. I feel an awe for nature in me, as I have felt it several times in Greenland. After I have worked through the first overwhelming impression of the expanse, it goes a bit further up to the ice cap. There is a lot to discover here. Various shapes and structures in the ice, holes and cracks, crevices and faults, rivulets and small lakes with melt water.

Hiking Tour vom Eqi-Gletscher zum Inlandeis, hier die Gletschermoräne
Moraine in front of the ice sheet Photo: Dr. Till Pasquay

With an area of about 1.8 million square kilometres, the ice sheet is about five times as large as Germany and covers about 82% of Greenland. On average, the ice is about 1500 metres thick. At the highest points the thickness is up to 3000 metres.

The tour to the inland ice on the tracks of the old polar explorers belonged to one of my most impressive experiences in Greenland. If you prefer not to be alone, you can also do this hike as a guided tour with an overnight stay in a tent at Eqi Base Camp. Equipment (tent, sleeping bag, mat) will be provided. You will also have professional guides with satellite phones with you. Bookings can be made via World of Greenland, for example World of Greenland.

Hiking Tour zum Inlandeis
On the inland ice. Photo: Dr. Till Pasquay

Book Recommendations for Greenland

You want to know where the journey goes? Then I can recommend these books*.

You can order the books with a click on the pictures at Amazon. If you buy a product via an affiliate link, I get a small commission and you help me to keep filling Fernweh-Motive with interesting articles. The product will not be more expensive for you and you do me a huge favor.

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Recommendations for further Reading

Would you like to hear more stories about Greenland's inland ice cream? Then have a look at my article polar literature. Here I have put together my favourite books about the polar and subpolar world for you. Below you will find several book tips on crossing the inland ice.

Want to know more about travelling in Greenland? Then click here for my article about my Winter Trip to East Greenland. Oder lieber gleich zur Gallery?

polar literature

Grönland im Winter
Greenland in Winter


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