By Guest Blogger Ben Haggar
Expedition Guide, mountain-biker and seasoned polar enthusiast Ben Haggar shares his excitement about mountain biking in South Greenland, one of the numerous adventure options available on Quark Expeditions’ “Greenland Adventure: Explore by Land, Sea and Air” voyage. Ben has mountain biked on six continents and holds a Senior Polar Guide rating from the Polar Tourism Guides Association and joins Quark Expeditions this season as a mountain bike guide.
Photo: Ben Haggar
Q: Can you tell us about your first mountain biking experience in Greenland?
Ben: My first time mountain biking in Greenland—after years of pursuing this sport in many parts of the world—was in July 2017. I couldn't believe how excited I was to actually ride my mountain bike in such an exotic destination. My excitement continued to grow as I pedaled past colorful houses and howling huskies. Civilization soon faded from view and, despite only being a few kilometres from town, I felt like I was truly in the middle of nowhere. The familiar movement of riding my bike on singletrack trails starkly contrasted with this new landscape of glacier-polished rock slabs and rolling tundra hills covered in dwarf birch and willow which were backed by imposing, craggy mountain peaks. I knew right away that this was an adventure I would never forget.
Q: How does the terrain in Greenland differ from other places you’ve mountain biked?
Ben: The mountain biking terrain in Greenland is dominated by rock. With a shallow soil structure, rounded rock gardens are barely covered, sometimes creating a wild and technically-demanding experience on the trails. Large slabs of granite carved into smooth, wave-like features extend for hundreds of metres and it feels like you're riding a roller coaster. Where the moisture collects in the valley bottoms, the vegetation becomes thick, and finding the trail is a challenging game. But climb in elevation only 100 metres or so and the small trees and bushes frame the trail into a flawless line of singletrack perfection.
Photo: Ben Haggar
Q: What kind of scenery typically falls within your range of vision while seated on your mountain bike?
Ben: While exploring Greenland on two wheels, you find yourself really looking at and analyzing the trail ahead for potentially difficult sections. This allows you to connect with the landscape with a more macro detailed focus. You study each rock and brushy section as you fly past, eyeing each obstacle with caution while admiring the subtle beauty of these foreign species.
It's not a constant adrenaline rush though.There is ample time to sit atop a ridge crest gazing out at the mass of rolling hills, deep blue fjords punctuated by floating chunks of ice, and the occasional reindeer, arctic hare or ptarmigan. The landscape is the star of the show in Southern Greenland—with large glaciers cascading from the icecap through steep mountain valleys terminating in the sea or in raging emerald rivers.
Photo: Ben Haggar
Q. Acknowledging that nature, wildlife and weather can impact an itinerary on a polar expedition, can you describe the kind of route planned for the “Greenland Adventure: Explore by Land, Sea and Air” itinerary?
Ben: On our South Greenland adventure, we plan to centre our mountain biking program around the striking Tasermiut Fjord and the islands between the communities of Qaqortoq and Narsarsuaq. Outings will be dictated by weather, but after getting dropped off by helicopter and fitted out with your mountain bike, we plan to ride anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, taking time of course to enjoy the remote backcountry ambience and admire our spectacular surroundings.
Q: What's been your most memorable mountain biking experience in Greenland?
Ben: Certain memories will be imprinted in my memory bank forever. A few that instantly come to mind: biking along the incredible iceberg-choked Ilulissat Icefjord; riding along perfect strips of singletrack on high alpine plateaus dotted with lakes and mountains, and rivers that stretched as far as the eye could see. I recall one fantastic descent when I was accompanied by three large bucks who ran right alongside as I made my way down a mountainside. Ask anyone who has mountain biked in Greenland and they’ll typically tell you about the remoteness, how they felt they were on a true adventure. Experiencing this outdoor activity in a place where very few—if any—mountain bikers have gone before evokes a sense of trail-blazing and, almost without fail, ignites that palpable sense of exploration.
Photo: Ben Haggar
Q: What words of inspiration would you share with outdoor enthusiasts keen on mountain biking in Greenland?
Ben: There is nothing more pleasurable than combining your passions with an extremely unique experience. Mountain biking in remote Greenland checks all of these boxes yet goes so far beyond. Not only do you tap into that feeling of remoteness, but mountain biking in South Greenland is also layered with a sense of vulnerability, of feeling insignificant amidst all that awesome wilderness. There’s the excitement, the endorphin rush, that feeling of being explosively alive. Together, these create a one-of-a-kind experience that’s yours forever.