Arctic Circle Trail Day 4: Musk “Rocks”, Wet Socks and Dancing Lights (Ikkattoq Hut to Innajuattoq Hut)

Arctic Circle Trail Day 4: Ikkattooq Hut to Innajuattoq Hut (red line on map)

“I think it’s a small herd of musk ox!” exclaims Ray looking across a lake at least a mile off in the distance. We haven’t seen a musk ox since the first day and we are eager to see more. “Hurry, maybe we can get there before they take off”, I say.

Musk ox blending in with rocks on the Arctic Circle Trail Day 1.

Soon we are practically running, slowed only by our packs and boggy wetlands which suck and tug at my feet each step. Today I am wearing my dry socks made by sealskinz and am glad to have them on. But for each step I run, I feel like someone is grabbing my foot and sticking it in water before I can pull away. I feel tired as we had little sleep last night and are pushing for 20 miles today. But there are potentially musk ox so I muster my energy.

Hiking through bogs near an unnamed lake below the Taseeqqap Saqqaa Mountain Range. The fall colors were glorious!

It is late afternoon as we hurriedly try and make our way around the lake. Today has been an amazing day that really started in the middle of the night. We, of course, are up in the aurora zone were the northern lights can be seen. Now on the last day of August, it is just starting to get dark enough to see them. It is one of the reasons we chose this time to hike the trail.

The north polar auroral zone is dynamic and can change shape and location depending on solar wind intensity but is generally centered around a few degrees off of magnetic north

The northern lights are dramatic displays of colored light that occur when when electrically charged particles from the sun’s solar winds enter the atmosphere and collide with gas particles. The charged particles in the solar winds are mostly deflected by the earth’s magnetic field. But the magnetic field is weakest at the poles and this is where the charged particles in the solar winds get pulled into the atmosphere and interact with gases, producing sheets of colors and light.

A predicted G2 geomagnetic storm for September 1, 2019. Note that NOAA includes potential impacts to power systems, satellites and radio propagation.
Greenland is a great spot for seeing northern lights

Everything lined up last night for good northern light watching: a geomagnetic storm, a clear night, a new moon which means no moonlight to distract from the northern lights, and we are far away from any city lights. I set the alarm on my garmin Felix 5S watch for 1am. It was so easy staying in the Ikkattooq hut and much warmer than the last 2 nights camping in a tent. My alarm goes off and we pulled ourselves out of bed and into the night, knowing we could crawl back into bed in a fairly warm hut.

Our first glimpse of the northern lights from the Ikkattoq hut.

And there it is: a green curtain of northern lights shimmering across the sky. I don’t know how to describe the northern lights. All the scientific descriptions of solar winds, k-indices, and particle collisions suddenly mean nothing as the emotions I feel take flight. The “Lights” start off as a straight curtain cutting the sky in half, glowing in colors of green and white. But the curtain then began to undulate and swirl around in a sky dance and the straight line turns into a spiral. Only it is in 3D; the spiral goes up into the heavens.

The northern lights appeared as draped curtains across the sky.

It appears alive and directly over our heads. The spiral curtain floats across the sky, curls up in a corner, then unravels into a straight line, and crosses back to the other side. The Inuits in eastern Greenland thought that the northern lights were the spirits of children who died at birth. Ray and I stand transfixed. Ray, I think, is changed from this experience. He begins taking pictures and spent much of this night and the next shivering in the darkness, not wanting to miss a minute of it. It’s a good thing we stayed in the hut or he may have never gotten warm. The spirit of the children stay with us.

Morning light from the Ikkattoq hut after a sleep-deprived night.

We get an early start after not much sleep and head up the ridge towards the big river crossing everyone talks about: the Itinneq river or Ole’s Lakseelv. The ridges are darker here, more of an amphibolite-type rock and covered with glacial erratics.

The sporadic rocks in the foreground of this picture are glacial erratics, transported by the glaciers and left behind as the glaciers melted and retreated.

In stark contrast to this dark landscape are the white arctic hares which are out running around. They seem to be most active in the morning and have a way of standing on their hind legs to get a running start down the steep hills. They are bigger and faster than the black-tailed jackrabbits we are used to in the southwest USA getting up to speeds of 40 mph vs 30 mph for the black-tailed jackrabbit. Now that’s a fast “bunny”!

Arctic hares on the horizon. They are fast, reaching 40 miles per hour.

We cross the hilly mountains and drop into a wide boggy flat valley. The big river crossing of the trip turns out to be uneventful. It is the end of August in a dry summer. If you pick the right line, you can get across the river without getting your knees wet.

Crossing the Itinneq River

We keep our dry socks on and take off our shoes to cross. Ray and I like to keep our packs light so we didn’t bring extra shoes. This approach works fine under these conditions. If it was earlier in the summer when the water is above your waist, I probably would have worn my dry socks and put on shoes to keep a good grip on the bottom. Maybe a second pair of shoes is worth it at that time.

Ray crossing Itinneq River

After the river crossing, we bog-walk for a while, pass the Eqalugaamiarfik Hut, and several mountain features that looked like mini Yosemite Half Domes. The weather was sunny and warm when we took a valley turn and headed toward a lake.

Mini “Half Domes”, only it is not Yosemite, it is in Greenland.

Now, after all that happened today, we get to see more musk ox. Or, so we think. As we get closer the musk ox aren’t moving. Ray zooms in through his camera.

Musk “rocks”. Thinking they were musk oxen, we ran for about a 1/2 mile through bogs before we figured out they were not moving and instead were musk rocks.

It is not the small herd of musk ox we have been looking for. It is musk “rocks”. This becomes our joke for the rest of the trip. In search of musk rocks. Perhaps this is fitting for two geologists.

After 20.3 miles we reach Innajuattoq Hut 1. This hut is small and can hold up to 3 people. There is another hut about 1/2 mile away that is larger and can accommodate 10 people in a dorm-type style cabin. We take the small hut which is well taken care of and cozy.

Innajuattoq Hut 1 with the Taseeqqap Saqqaa mountains in the distance

We decide to stay here 2 nights and plan a day hike for tomorrow. This hike is beyond all we have imagined.

Daily Data and Feature Map

August 31, 2019
20.3 miles today
75.4 miles total
2467 feet ascent
2466 feet descent
People seen on the trail: 6 new (4 Canadians and 2 Germans), Total: 28
Ikkattooq Hut to Innajuattoq Hut

Ikkattooq Hut to Innajuatoq Hut


  1. Those northern lights. Wow. I think I would be just mesmerized-and I do love your comment about understanding the science of it all and then to throw that out the window when you see it in person. We will time our next visit for just this show.

  2. It is clear from your travel tales that flying over Greenland’s ice sheet does not do the country Justice! And I am also fascinated by your musk rocks; clearly the oldest “lifeform” on Earth. I feel that I am as excited as you were when you discovered them!

    What are lovely blog. Thank you.

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