Greenland Icecap Overview
Sprawling over nearly 80 percent of the island’s landmass, the Greenland Icecap is a massive sheet of ice. Covering 1.7 million square kilometres (660,000 square miles), it is the second largest ice sheet in the world, after the Antarctic ice sheet.
The Greenland Icecap sits in the centre of the island and is mostly surrounded by mountain ranges. The average elevation on the Icecap is 2,135 metres (7,005 feet) with several domes and mountain peaks poking up through the two-kilometre (1.2-mile) thick sheet.
While largely unexplored, the rapidly melting ice on Greenland has recently made the Icecap more accessible to mountaineers and trekkers looking for an unparalleled outdoor adventure.
Quick Facts about Greenland
- Scientists estimate that Greenland has been covered in ice for the past 18 million years, though the oldest ice samples taken from the current icecap for study were measured to be one million years old.
- The Greenland Icecap has two domes, one in the north and one in the south. If the northern dome were a mountain, it would be the fourth tallest on the island with an elevation of 3,290 metres (10,800 feet). The southern dome has an elevation of almost 3,000 metres (10,000 feet).
- The weight of the ice has depressed the surface of the island. If all the ice were to melt, Greenland would likely become a mountainous archipelago.
History of Greenland
The coastal areas of Greenland have been occupied by humans since 2500 BCE, but the interior of the island remained largely unexplored until the mid-twentieth century.
In fact, the beginnings of mountaineering and trekking in Greenland came about in the 1950s, after the Danish protectorate was opened up to foreign visitors.
Many of the first mountaineering ascents were done as part of expeditions to map the terrain and better understand the geology of the glacier.
Experience Required for Trekking and Climbing on the Greenland Icecap
Due to its remote location, guides highly recommend that all trekkers and mountaineers heading to Greenland have previous experience hiking on glaciers and with leave-no-trace backpacking.
While the vast majority of mountaineering is not very technically difficult, there are some peaks that will require previous ice and rock climbing experience.
Overall, expeditions to the Greenland Icecap are best saved for experienced climbers and trekkers who have taken self-rescue courses and have previous experience in alpine climates and terrains.
Away from the technical aspects, it is also important to be very physically fit as the climber or trekker will need to carry all their gear or haul it on a sled. This will include all necessary fresh water and food supplies for the trip.
Main Trekking and Climbing Routes on the Greenland Icecap
Overall, Greenland is roughly the size of Mexico and as a result, there are plenty of great places to hike and climb. Among the most popular is Northeast Greenland National Park.
The world’s largest national park sprawls over the entire north-eastern quarter of the country, making it larger than all but 27 countries on earth. Guides generally offer expeditions that last around a week and involve hiking and climbing various circuits throughout the national park.
Trekking on the southern portion of the Icecap is generally more accessible and affordable, however. From the capital or various other points in the south of the country, many guides offer single-day to week-long expeditions trekking to and over the glacier, all while camping out on and near the Icecap.
While not solely taking place on the Icecap, the 200-kilometre (120-mile) Arctic Circle trek is another popular option. This trek begins from Kangerlussuaq, on the edge of the Icecap, then heads out onto the Icecap for five days to one week, before returning back to the coast.