UP NORTH ! on a Grand Adventure with Two Great Guys
I hope you enjoy this Greenland travel log. It's silly, and was originally sent by email just to close pals.
The Principals: Mark Hegg (58) with 30+ light-aircraft Atlantic crossings in his logbook. All alone. Delivering aircraft. Now works as Captain of a United 767 with hundreds more Atlantic crossings, but “up there” doesn’t count like the low level light aircraft crossings do.
Fred Scott (68) when younger, a hunter of wild beasts in the Great White North, the Canadian Yukon and British Columbia. Has flown his personal aircraft “up north” above the Circle a half dozen times, mostly solo pilot.
Security Team: Nelson Hegg (12). Also our chief photographer, seen here
The Plan: Fly “STUDLY” (“Whatever you ask, Boss. Throw it on my back.”) Fred’s King Air 90 Blackhawk from Virginia to to Sisimuit, Greenland to walk the 120 mile “Sisimiut to Kangerluusaaq Trail”.
Potential sightings: summer flowers (23 hours of daylight, remember?), Arctic Char, Musk Oxen, Caribou, Sea Eagles, Gyrfalcons, Whales, etc..
At the end of July, Fred landed at Boston Logan right behind Mark’s 767. It was raining cats, dogs, beans, and bratwurst in Boston so we met up and got right out of there. Nelson, seen here in the copilot seat, was assigned the title “Chief of Security”. That worked well because the same big pocket knife I had when I walked off the ramp went back on it with me, right through the TSA (“Thousands Standing Around” it means) magnet doors, etc. Good man, that Nelson (more on “security” later).
Early on, I asked him if he’d like a cookie, and he said “I’m good”. Teasing, I asked if that meant “No, thanks” and it expanded from there into “I’m good?” “You good?” Silly stuff, but fun on a trip.
Being (aspiring to become?) sophisticated gentlemen, we naturally thought we should begin our Grand Gallop across Greenland with a cultural event, so we stopped by the BOSSOV BALLET in Waterville, Maine. This Ballet is run by a Marine Colonel, who admires the skill of our Andre Bossov--a Russian master of the Vaganova technique. Fred (“Sarge”) helps. The Bossov Leadership team
include mostly flag officers who were Naval Academy classmates or contemporaries of Col Wyly, one US Senator (D-VA) who served with him in Vietnam and I told them that they needed a Sergeant. (Added 2015: We all proudly nurtured that ballet and our talented and committed students for decades and turned it over in 2014 to the Maine Central Institute where our Natalya Nikolaevna Getman continues to teach.)
The fact the the vast majority of dancers in GISELLE are young, beautiful, and female was totally irrelevant. Mark was weeping at the end of the first act, when Giselle dies in sorrow, betrayed. Fred was only wiping his eyes, I promise.
“Security’s” jaw was hanging open. Many of the dancers are his age. It was a really lovely ballet, beautifully danced by our summer students. We bought a hundred flowers and went backstage (rank does have a few privileges) to present a bloom or two to each dancer, starting with the tinyest ones. “Security” was shy at first, his Norwegian-quiet father even more so, but we made sure that the littlest dancers got flowers first.
Next Morning. Saturday Aug 1. Waterville to Goose Bay, Labrador. That’s in Canada, folks. Canada would be just north of the US and if you haven’t ever been to northern Canada, you are really missing something wonderful. Goose is an easy run in the King Air; then a quick turn, our flight plan filed Goose to Kangerluusaag (which used to be Sondrestromfjord).
Two hours into the 3.5 hour flight, midway across the Davis Straits, we get a relay call from American Airlines Flight 91, up high. “Go ahead” we say from our King Air, N126WA.
AA91: “N126WA, You boys sitting down?”
AA91: “Gander [the Air Traffic Control Center] asked us to tell you that Greenland is closed today”
Now, please understand that Mark and I have each been flying for well over 40 years, and we looked at each other with eyes wide open: “What in hell is that supposed to mean?” We have never heard the like and we are ~300 miles from the nearest airport, over the cold sea. All but one of our early-landing alternate airports were in Greenland, too, off to our right front.
N126WA: “American 91, is Gander saying that there is a disabled aircraft on a runway? Or that our destination airport is closed?”
AA91: “Negative. Greenland, the country, is closed today and tomorrow. Some big national holiday. All Greenland airports are closed. But they’d be happy to open one for you for $2,000 USD”
Mark was talking on the Comm; I was flying the plane. By then, I had heard enough and was already in the turn to Iqaluit (Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island, Canada). We had a lot of fuel left, but there really aren’t a lot of places to go, so we though we’d sort this little matter out on the ground. Plan B. We had a nice reunion with pals from Air Nunavut who I had met the previous summer.
The last we heard from AA91 was roaring laughter from the other crew members in the background of the American cockpit as they headed on to O'Hare and we said goodbye and thanks.
Every pilot keeps alternate plans on file or in his mind. Plan B should have been our first clue.
So, it’s Saturday, and “Greenland is closed today”. By the next day, we would all laugh in two seconds if one of us said that. (I saw a Candid Camera revival segment a year or so ago: “Texas Is Closed Today” filmed on the Arkansas/TX rural border. I can still be reduced to giggles by recalling the reactions the actors got from the local drivers).
How do we turn Plan B into a positive? Simple: new plan. Plan C: We head for a place I know, an Inuit village, Pangnirtung, Baffin Island, which is a 3000 ft long (same length my Bundoran runway) gravel runway in a steep-walled fjord. On the way in, we got lucky as the winds were calm, so we got down low in and between the steep crags.
Mark is a serious and highly skilled mountain climber, and while he had flown over this area, he did not know it from down low like I do. It was quite amazing to see a grown man’s eyes wide open “Look at THAT wall!” “I want to climb that one.” “...and this one!” (Not with this Irishman, he won’t). Great fun. He and Nelson got wonderful pictures of the 1,000 ft tall rock faces that appeal to people who like to sleep hanging from a rope on them.
Then we flew down the Pangnirtung canyon, which crosses the island NW to SE through the Auyuituq National Park. (There are some terrific pictures, posted on Google Earth). This one is by our security team.
After landing at Pang, I called an Inuit friend with a boat. I had met Joavee Alivaktuk last year when I was there. We joined him as he went to pick up some week-long hikers at the end of the fjord about 20 miles up from town. Nice boat ride, but we had a better view from the aircraft, earlier. Here’s Joavee’s older Inuit pal (no English, deaf as a post) happily conversing with our security team (no Inuit). Smiles still work, worldwide.
And like last year, the rooms were dear (at $CN225 per bunk) at the small and only hotel (~20 rooms), so we considered pitching our tents. (Plan D. Watch for a pattern here), because last year the beds were $CN100 less.
“We have a monopoly” they say to my face. (No kidding, Sherlock Holmes. )
“Got ya’ back, White Man?” I ask back....Both sides grinning broadly. These are the greatest people, up north.
Then he offered to drive us to the campsite...and he did. So I got up early from my tent to get my laptop out of the plane and walk across the runway 200 ft to the hotel (internet wireless there) while Mark and our security team (We had a safe night. Thanks, Nelson.) broke our camp and I filed flight plans for Greenland.
Sisimuit is Greenland’s second largest town, POP 6,000. Runway length is 2600 ft, with scheduled airline service and full instrument approaches. These people know how to use aircraft. They have to; there AIN’T NO ROADS in Greenland. It’s dogsleds and skidoos in the winter time, boats, Dash Sevens, and helo-ops in the summer.
For the aviators: We three are so spoiled. This roomy and comfortable Blackhawk King Air can leave Pang’s 3000 ft gravel strip at full gross and toot across the Davis Straits at 270 knots and then land easily at a 2600 runway in Greenland. Piece of cake. What other aircraft in its category can do that? Any? I can think of one or two, but I have no idea where you’d find a mechanic to work on them, while the King Air and its Pratts are well known worldwide.
At Sisimuit, two nice police officers warmly welcomed us to Greenland, stamped our passports and they immediately came to understand that they were not to mess with our security detail. Big grins all around; they are super guys, shown here:
Mark had been very carefully working on detailed plans for the walk for several months; he had bought in Boulder and shipped 50 pounds of dried food to Virginia and we laid it all out on the ramp at Sisimuit. All packs were cross checked, every ounce was considered (how many suture clamps should we carry?). The extra stuff went back in the wing lockers.
By the now, we had found a local Inuit who was highly intelligent, very helpful, and a very interesting guy. As a youngster, Hanseeraq Olsen (Danish father, Inuit mother) was an exchange student wrestler in Alliance, Nebraska! The policemen and Hans are briefing us, using the wing as a desk. Hans is a serious dogsled racer, owns a 40’ crabber with a hired crew (Catch: four metric tons of snow crab every two days) and has clearly done well. He gave us a few hours to get our stuff packed. Mark: 75#, Nelson: 40#, Me: 50# or so. The plan was for the old man to take about 40 pounds of food by boat around to the south fjord and skip the first two really steep days. Excuse: Just had a bit of surgery. Real reason: I wasn’t looking forward to hauling that kind of weight up a hill. Did that when I was a lot younger and didn’t much like it then, either.
We diddle around Sisimiut, a really lovely town. Hans shows us his sled dogs; some other owners’ dogs are vicious, Hans gets results with love, yet demanding respect (exactly like my horse teams in Virginia, very similar stuff, but the dogs know IDI and YEE and my horses know GEE and HAW) and he is clearly good at it. Nelson fell in love. Puppies everywhere.
Nelson has become expert on sled dog management, breeding, team selection, care, and feeding. I can see it coming: “Boulder Colorado Sled-Dogs and Security, Ltd.!” By then, I have realized that Nelson has a really good eye with a camera. He was getting well-composed and very interesting images, some of which are in this post.
In the morning, Nelson and Mark take off for the first 15 miles or so up over the hills to the next fjord north; they disappeared up the slot seen behind them (next picture, below), and then over and down... Alone, I poke around town, see the museum and walk the harbor and cliff-sides. Beautiful place. It was amusing to watch the youngsters with cars “cruising” ... About one mile one way, and one mile back. That’s about it for the roads in Sisimiut.
About 8PM with the Arctic sun high in the sky, my cellphone rings. It’s Mark calling from our portable SatPhone: “As beautiful as it is here.... ...this is the worst hike I have ever been on; we are wearing face nets for the bugs and we cannot see well enough not to stumble and falling down hard with heavy packs will get someone badly hurt before we are finished. When we take off the face nets, we eat bugs at every breath, even with teeth clinched. Bugs in ears, eyes, nose. Awful. Come get us in the morning.”
No problem, let’s make up a Plan E. But why wait until morning? I called Hans, and we took his boat about 20 miles out at 9 PM (losing my camera overboard, so that was it for my images) picking up our heroes at 10:30PM or so. We returned to town about 11:15 PM and the sun set a few minutes after that. But it never got dark.
Did I mention the flowers? 23 hours of daylight will grow some stunningly beautiful flowers, both domestic and wild.
Next day, we went searching (successfully!) by boat for humpback whales just out of town; we actually saw them rounding up small capelin fish and all coming up together at once to feed. My first on seeing that. Waaay cool. All these towns are located on old Inuit hunting grounds. They are well-placed where the migrating game and fish travel through. All of them; there is no other reason to make a town.
Next, we are off to Nuuk, (formerly Gothaab) the national capital (runway 3000ft long), a town with a magnificently beautiful fjord system feeding it, yet looking Soviet-bloc like where large “projects” have housed hundreds of families chock-a-block. The old town and harbor were interesting; the rest depressing. But the contrasts in Greenland! At a magnificent restaurant in Nuuk with really good food, we voted. “Plan F: Get out of Dodge? All in favor? AYE.”
So, the next morning it was Nuuk to Goose to Bangor to BWI to Shenandoah all in one easy day. 1915NM. But, just before we left Nuuk, some youngsters at the airport fence near where the King Air was parked asked me who Nelson was.
I said: “Rock star.”
They: “What’s his name?”
Me: “Sorry. Can’t tell you. Security. Hope you understand.” They were VERY impressed.
At BWI, after saying goodbye to Mark and our security team...all agreeing that it was a trip of a lifetime...I got back in the King Air all alone and found a sticky note on my control yoke:
“Fred, Thanks for everything. I’ll miss you. Nelson”. Well, I almost bawled. So we began with tears at the ballet and ended with tears at BWI. Nothing but hooting laughter and “I’m good.” “You good?” and great security for “the principals” in between. Great fun; a grand adventure. It was a real privilege for me to be in the company of two such fine men.
However, we did identify one strange creature. If you ever see this dude headed for the cockpit of a United 767, you might want to reconsider your booking and jump aboard with Captain Hegg. He goes fun places.
(Guess which picture I finally managed to get posted behind locked glass at UAL Crew Brief at KDEN? With irreverent labels, of course.) I got a plaintive phone call from a four-stripe captain a few days later:
"OK. How'd you do it?
"Sorry. Can't say. Security, you know."
Hans races his dogs 100 miles wearing this outfit, but it’s Minus 30C, then. Designed to keep a man alive in that bitter cold, the pants are Polar Bear skins, as are the parka trims, the parka is caribou hide, and the face of the hood is trimmed with Arctic Fox.
OH! I almost forgot. Greenland was never closed. They just “open” their airports from 9AM to 3PM local time, Mon-Sat. Outside of that? The off-hours landing fee is US$2,000. Ka-CHING!
I’m good, thanks. You good, too?
ADDENDUM, Summer 2015: They sure do grow up fast!!! Here's Nelson after winning his age division at the XTerra Triathalon in Vail. He even beat some atheletes in the Pro division and now qualifies as a finalist in the World Championships XTerra Triathalon in Maui this October.
Click here for some Canada and Greenland Travel videos (QuickTime movies):
Many of these images were taken from the aircraft.
be interested in a few tips about flying through Canada:
BUY YOUR CANADIAN CHARTS before you go. It is
nearly imposssible to purchase charts at Canadian
FBO's or flight schools.
Carry survival gear and know how to use it.
Take a Canadian Airport directory. The directory
has tons of important information, and excellent sketches
of even the smallest airports. Also see for Canadian airport info. On the way there, the may be useful.
Study carefully the for operational info. such as:
Before taxiiing anywhere, broadcast your intention
to do so on the appropriate Flight Service frequency.
At airports served by FSS you need to do this, yet
you do NOT need permission to takeoff, unless there
is a full-blown control tower operating.
Read the rules about operating in uncontrolled airspace. There is LOTS of it. See the Regulations.
If IFR in uncontrolled airspace, you may deviate heading
and altitude at will, yet you must be BACK AT your
assigned altitude when re-entering controlled airspace.
Generally, up north, monitor 126.7 all the time, and
occasionally give a position report and your intentions.
You may not get an answer, but someone may be listening.
Start making the MANDATORY calls when approaching
an airport: 20 or so miles out with your intended
runway, entering the circuit (traffic pattern), turning
base, and turning final. Around Canadian airports they have mandatory frequencies with
rules about how to use them.
For help, call: Transport Canada's Civil Aviation
Communications Centre (800) 305-2059.
See link to
Canadian Aeronautics Act, Canadian Aviation Regulations and related safety Standards
The regulations can also be located from the home page by following the link found
on the lower left side of the screen, under the "Fast
American Distribution of Canadian Publications:
Toll-Free(US only): (800) 543-8633
Clermont County Airport
Batavia, OH 45103
Tel: (513) 735-9100 Fax: (513) 735-9200