Cold Heaven

Remoteness, on the Rocks

Aug 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Blue velvet: a moonlit iceberg in Greeland.

Thule District
WHERE THE HELL? 2,000 miles north of Greenland's capital, Nuuk. WHAT IN THE WORLD? Greenland's Thule District is one of the last pockets of isolation where local haute couture—polar bear­fur pants and caribou­hide jackets—is still dictated by the region's available wild game. If you can manage to get to its capital seat at Qaanaaq (an official invitation is required to land at its air base), your only potential recreational competition for the surrounding 10,000 square miles of treeless landscape, 3,000-foot-high gouged fjords, and sharp limestone cliffs are the town's 650 Inuit residents and their trusty sled dogs. Once you're there, navigate a kayak around icebergs, accompanied by narwhals and beluga whales; observe a lonely skyline of tidewater glaciers, ice cones, and black rock spires illuminated by 24-hour daylight; feast on the blueberries that thrive on the thawed-out strips of walrus-fertilized land; and doze on serene granite beaches where resort lounge chairs have yet to appear. ACCESS: True isolation ain't cheap—charter a Twin Otter plane on your own from Canada's Resolute Bay and it will set you back about $10,500. On a tighter budget? Book a trip through Canadian outfitters Whitney & Smith, which runs 15-day guided kayak trips ($4,000; 403-678-3052; starting from Resolute. RISKS: Charging walrus and polar bears. ESSENTIAL: A waterproof rifle to defend yourself against such charges. South Georgia Island

WHERE THE HELL? 1,000 miles southeast of Tierra del Fuego. WHAT IN THE WORLD? Stoic Norwegian ship captain Thoralf SØrlle burst into tears at the sight of frostbitten, sea salt­ crusted Ernest Shackleton staggering into South Georgia Island's Stromness whaling station in May 1916, after his and his crew's epic 17-month journey of survival. These days, you can retrace Shackleton's trip across South Georgia, with only slightly less hardship. Schlepping 60 pounds on skis and snowshoes, you'll cross the island's largely barren landscape of glaciers, tundra, and 9,000-foot peaks in some of the toughest trekking conditions on earth. The payoff? Your friends may have read Endurance, but you'll actually endure: Taking on the island's consistently stormy weather, you'll gain a much purer appreciation for Shackleton's exploits—cocktail-party bragging fodder for years to come. ACCESS: Geographic Expeditions runs the island's only commercially guided trip, in November 2002 ($11,000; 800-777-8183; RISKS: Pausing for a few minutes en route can ensure hypothermia and frostbite. ESSENTIAL: Bombproof raingear.