2018-07-01 / ReBooted

Deep Freeze

Jill Gleeson

If adventure were a country, it would be Greenland. Comprising the most isolated, unforgiving landscape, it’s home to just 57,000-some people. They reside on the world’s only permanent ice sheet outside of Antarctica, in the least densely populated territory on the planet. Just the act of getting to Greenland is a thrill. The cabbie who dropped me off at Iceland’s Keflavik airport, where I was catching a bright red propeller plane to Nuuk Airport, described pilots flying into the city as having to “find a hole in the weather and dive down to the runway.” He also said the runway was dirt, which was untrue, though as one of three adults on a plane carrying 30-plus Greenlandic teens I encountered enough excitement even without a dirt runway.

If flying above the endlessly alabaster expanse of Greenland was stirring and unnerving in equal measure, submerging myself within it was a pure shot of adrenaline straight to my soul. The country is so untrammeled — I think it probably makes Antarctica look like Penn Station at rush hour — if you drive 10 minutes from the center of Nuuk, the capital “city,” you’re pretty much in the outback. It’s just you, your guide, the wind, the cold and the frozen earth. For safety’s sake you need to have a guide when hiking in Greenland; I  teamed with Marc Carreras, proprietor of Nuuk Adventure. Marc escorted me to the base of Little Malene, slid some mountaineering snowshoes on my boots and up we climbed.

At a snail’s pace.

Because while my body was once in the kind of shape that would carry me up to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, I hadn’t seen my trainer, Steve — for that matter, hadn’t set foot in Victory Sports and Fitness — since I failed to summit Aconcagua in February. I needed some time after that defeat to gather myself, to figure out if my mountaineering days were over. I’d been a sloth, and an indolent one at that, for more than two months. And it had wreaked havoc on my body.

Not that the trail we took up Little Malene was easy. It was an extremely steep ascent, with no sections of gentle graduation. In only minutes I was out of breath and having difficulty maintaining any kind of decent stride. My poles were no longer in sync with my footsteps, which were anything but graceful. I was lurching around like the Bride of Frankenstein, out of control, losing energy and gaining frustration. More than anything I was angry at myself. I was better than this. At least, I had been.

But just as it had on Kilimanjaro, my Irish stubbornness saw me through — that and Marc’s pit stop for hot chocolate and energy bars. By the time we made it up 1,115 feet to the summit of the wee mountain I felt that sense of overwhelming joy and accomplishment I experience after every successful ascent, no matter the length of it. The view from the top of Little Malene was unlike anything I’d ever seen. From where we stood we couldn’t see the lights of Nuuk. We couldn’t see people, or animals, or buildings, or anything other than the snow-packed, boulder-studded ground, the slate gray sky and the sea, ebony and heaving.

It was the most beautiful and alien environment I’d ever encountered. It was terrifying in the way it made you feel very small and very alone, but also oddly comforting for the same reason. I remember thinking, “Thank God there are still places like this left on Earth. Thank God we haven’t paved over them all.”

Despite the desolation, or perhaps because of it, I decided to release some of my brother’s ashes on the summit. I had some in my coat pocket, a remnant from my trip to Aconcagua. I stood for a while, thinking about Gunnar, about how much I loved him and how tickled he must be to be here with me, at the top of the world. With a sigh I let the ashes slide through my fingers into the frigid air, grateful for the trek I’d made, grateful for Greenland. •SCM

For more information about Greenland, visit

Jill Gleeson is on the biggest adventure of her life. Follow her journey on her blog at and via her column at

Return to top