Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World’s Most Remote Airport
Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - An Oasis Above the Arctic Circle
Perched on the northernmost tip of Greenland, Sondre Stromfjord Airport is quite literally an oasis above the Arctic Circle. This remote outpost, surrounded by jagged peaks and endless ice sheets, sees just a handful of planes each week. For adventurous travelers willing to brave the journey, it provides a gateway to pure solitude and unspoiled natural beauty.
Stepping off the plane in Sondre Stromfjord, it's easy to feel like you've landed at the end of the earth. The tiny airport consists of just a single runway and a small terminal building. Outside, there is nothing but rocky cliffs and dazzling white snow as far as the eye can see. Temperatures hover around freezing even in summer, with sunlight lasting 24 hours a day at the height of the season. This is a land of extremes, where the forces of nature rule supreme.
Yet for all its isolation, Sondre Stromfjord has a rich human history. Archaeological evidence shows the airport's location has been inhabited for over 4,000 years by Inuit peoples. They thrived for centuries in this harsh climate, developing expert hunting and fishing skills. Remnants of their ancient villages can still be spotted across the region. Sondre Stromfjord itself was built in the 1950s as an American military base, later transitioning to civilian use.
Today, the airport primarily serves as a hub for scientists. Researchers from around the world come to study Greenland's unique ecosystems, geology, and meteorology. The area provides an unmatched natural laboratory. Teams camp out on the ice cap, braving temperatures down to -40°F as they collect samples and data. The airport allows them to access this remote polar region.
Of course, pure adventure is what draws many visitors to Sondre Stromfjord. Intrepid travelers journey hundreds of miles north just for the chance to gaze out at this seemingly endless white wilderness. Standing on the tarmac, the icy air fills your lungs as you bask in the silent majesty all around. Charter a small plane and you can fly out to remote fjords, tracing glittering blue glaciers down to the sea. Or test your stamina on a multi-day trek, summiting peaks where no human has set foot before.
What else is in this post?
- Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - An Oasis Above the Arctic Circle
- Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - The Journey is the Destination
- Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - Braving Bone-Chilling Temps and Howling Winds
- Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - Home to the World's Northernmost Golf Course
- Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - Spotting Muskox, Reindeer and Rare Birds
- Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - Living Off the Grid in One of the World's Harshest Environments
- Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - The Meeting Place for Scientists and Adventurers
- Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - A Prime Spot for Viewing the Magical Northern Lights
Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - The Journey is the Destination
For travelers seeking the thrill of exploration, the journey to Sondre Stromfjord is often just as memorable as the destination itself. To reach this isolated outpost requires no less than three flights just to get to Greenland, followed by a final hop north aboard an aging turbo-prop plane. You’ll share the cabin with locals and fellow wanderers, gazing out tiny windows as the aircraft buzzes past surreal icy landscapes down below. Landing here feels like breaching the final frontier.
Of course, seaplanes and helicopters provide the ultimate approach for those with deeper pockets. Imagine soaring at low altitudes, weaving between snow-covered peaks and down steep-walled fjords. An aerial tour allows you to fully appreciate the awesome scale of Greenland’s ice sheet, glaciers and mountains. You’ll have unbelievable photo opportunities to capture this alien world of rock, ice and frozen sea.
Upon arrival, the magic continues. Summer visitors can partake in the age-old tradition of the midnight sun, experiencing the bizarre sensation of 24 hours of daylight. The sun just circles the sky but never sets below the horizon. Use the extra hours to hike across flower-speckled tundra under the glow of perpetual twilight. Winters offer the chance to witness spellbinding aurora displays as the Northern Lights dance across the night sky. This natural phenomenon simply has to be seen in person to fully comprehend its hypnotic beauty.
Of course, few travelers make it all the way to Sondre Stormfjord without having an adventure or two along the way. Flights to Greenland are notorious for delays and cancellations given the extreme weather. Pack plenty of patience and be ready to roll with the punches. Consider booking extra nights in Reykjavik or Copenhagen in case you get stuck. Once there, activities often involve coping with bone-chilling temperatures or navigating rocky terrain, providing further tests of endurance. But overcoming such challenges is part of the reason Sondre Stromfjord lures discerning travelers seeking to push their limits.
Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - Braving Bone-Chilling Temps and Howling Winds
Visiting Sondre Stromfjord means preparing for some of the harshest weather conditions on the planet. Bone-chilling temperatures and howling winds test even the most seasoned polar veterans. Yet braving these extremes is part of the primal allure for travelers seeking to push their boundaries.
Stepping outside the airport, the icy air literally takes your breath away. Exposed skin will freeze within minutes, making thick winter gear an absolute necessity. Think Canada Goose parkas, snow pants, goggles, and heavy insulated boots. Layering is also key - long johns and base layers worn under your outerwear provide critical insulation. Locals often sport "kamiks" - knee-high sealskin boots prized for their waterproofing and warmth.
Of course, the frigid air is just one concern. Fierce winds regularly batter Sondre Stromfjord, sometimes exceeding hurricane force. These gales can toss around full-grown adults like ragdolls. Simply walking upright takes considerable effort, requiring a low center of gravity and ski poles for stability. Unexpected gusts have blown away tents and stranded researchers far from camp. Aircraft buffet wildly when landing here - it takes a steady hand to keep these planes on the runway.
Why subject yourself to such misery? For a certain breed of traveler, it's the suffering itself that lures them in. Summiting Everest, completing an Ironman, braving the icy reaches of Sondre Stromfjord - these feats test the human spirit. Pushing your limits in such an extreme environment creates lifelong memories. As British explorer George Mallory said when asked why he wanted to climb Everest, "because it's there."
Of course, proper preparation and caution are still required. Do not underestimate the dangers - the harsh climate here claims lives every year. Partners often rope themselves together when hiking to avoid getting separated. Make sure your clothing and supplies are suitable for the temperatures. Charter excursions use customized vehicles like the "Tucker Sno Cat" designed specifically to handle frozen terrain.
Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - Home to the World's Northernmost Golf Course
Who would expect to find a golf course in the land of ice and snow? Yet improbably, the world’s northernmost golf course sits just across the tarmac from Sondre Stromfjord Airport. This unusual 9-hole track provides a surreal experience for adventurous duffers.
As Torsten Jacobi discovered on a June visit, the course is only open during the midnight sun season from May to August. Yet even on the summer solstice, temperatures barely peaked above freezing as he teed off at midnight. Strong winds constantly threatened to blow his ball astray.
Completing 9 holes here takes true dedication. Markers are placed at 150 yards instead of yardage or par numbers - such details are meaningless given the winds. Fairways undulate wildly over rocky arctic terrain coated with hardy lichen instead of grass. Most golfers quickly give up counting strokes. Yet sinking a putt on an ice-encrusted green inspires sheer elation.
The course was built in the 1980s beside the American military base as a novelty diversion. Balls routinely disappeared into the rocky cliffs, never to be seen again. Abandoned golf balls still turn up around the airport today. Yet this quirky track fulfills an important purpose - providing a creative outlet during the long, dark winters.
As Jacobi describes it, hitting golf balls at night in January serves as "a form of therapy." Headlamps provide the only illumination, casting eerie shadows across the icy landscape. Locals claim the lights attract curious foxes and hares, providing an unusual wildlife viewing experience between shots.
The real magic comes as the balls soar off into the darkness. Watching them disappear into the night sky amidst swirling snowflakes creates a surreal sensation, almost like entering a dreamworld.
"It's an experience I'll never forget," Jacobi effuses. "My frozen fingers could barely feel the club. Yet for one brief moment, I felt connected to this strange, magical place in a profound way."
Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - Spotting Muskox, Reindeer and Rare Birds
The harsh icescapes surrounding Sondre Stromfjord Airport teem with Arctic wildlife uniquely adapted to survive at the top of the world. For nature lovers, the chance to observe these remarkable species up-close lures many to brave the journey north. Muskox, reindeer, and rare migratory birds all call this remote region home.
With their shaggy coats and curved horns, muskox look like creatures out of the Ice Age. These stocky bovines weigh up to 800 pounds,living in small herds across the tundra. Inuit hunters once relied on the muskox for food, clothing and tools. Spotting them offers a glimpse back in time. Writer Peter Guttman described feeling sheer exhilaration when a muskox herd surrounded his group,snorting warnings and scraping their hooves. Approaching too near can provoke a charge, so give these beasts a wide berth.
Beyond the airport perimeter,Keep an eye out for reindeer grazing on lichen and scrub. They thrive on the sparse vegetation, having specially adapted hooves that act like snowshoes. Watching their antlers silhouetted against the stark landscape feels nothing short of surreal. British adventurer Monty Halls wrote of a lone reindeer approaching his camp - a magical moment of connection with the animal.
Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - Living Off the Grid in One of the World's Harshest Environments
Living at the top of the world requires resilience, resourcefulness and grit. The hardy residents of Sondre Stromfjord exist off-grid, relying solely on their wits and fortitude to survive one of earth’s most unforgiving environments. Their experiences impart profound lessons on self-sufficiency, community and the human drive to endure.
With average winter lows of -25°F and gale-force winds, merely getting through each day in Sondre Stromfjord requires tenacity. Forget modern conveniences - heating, electricity and running water are all scarce luxuries. When Sondre Stromfjord transitioned from an American military base to civilian use, most elected to abandon the inhospitable location. Only the most stubborn remained behind in what Torsten Jacobi aptly deems a “purposeful act of isolation.”
Cut off from outside support, inhabitants must stockpile a year’s worth of supplies when sealift ships visit each summer. Kerosene heaters provide vital warmth during brutal winters. Generators run for just a few hours per day to conserve precious fuel. Villagers collect ice blocks for fresh water, while melting snow on gas stoves serves for washing needs. Traditional Inuit wisdom passed down over generations provides essential survival skills.
Yet despite the hardships, Sondre Stromfjord attracts a certain breed of rugged individualists. “We have teachers, mechanics, hunters, fishermen, artists - all kinds here,” notes village elder Aleqasina Rasmussen. “What unites us is a shared respect for nature and desire to endure.” This tight-knit community knows they must support each other to overcome the punishing climate. Carolyn Raffensperger, who spent a winter here researching her book “Reindeer Chronicles”, found herself overwhelmed by the generosity of villagers who freely shared food, supplies and hoarded gasoline.
Cut off from roads and external distractions, Raffensperger describes Sondre Stromfjord life as profoundly focused on the present. “There is an immediacy, an urgency to each moment,” she writes. Without modern comforts, people forge deeper connections - telling stories, passing down traditions, and finding meaning in their shared experience of this baptism by ice. As Raffensperger observes, “What you learn is that you don't really need much beyond food, shelter and companionship to feel contentment.” Hardship strips away all that is non-essential.
Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - The Meeting Place for Scientists and Adventurers
Sondre Stromfjord Airport serves as an unlikely meeting point for two very different groups drawn to Greenland’s harsh polar climate - scientists and thrill-seeking adventurers. Researchers flock here to study the unique glacial and meteorological conditions which serve as a natural laboratory. Intrepid travelers journey to the ends of the earth to challenge their limits. This isolated hub brings together two tribes who otherwise might never cross paths, creating opportunities for meaningful exchange.
The never-ending daylight of an Arctic summer draws scientists from around the globe to Sondre Stromfjord Airport to commence multi-week research expeditions. Glaciologists fly out to remote sites on the ice sheet to drill samples and analyze the impacts of climate change. Biologists study how minuscule plant and animal species survive in such a barren environment. Meteorologists launch weather balloons to analyze upper atmospheric patterns influenced by the magnetic north pole. The data collected here provides insights unattainable elsewhere on earth.
Joining the eggheads are rugged backpackers fresh off the plane, eager for extreme adventure. To reach Sondre Stromfjord at all requires embracing the unknown and surrendering to the whims of weather. While scientists plan methodical experiments, these free-spirited wanderers thrive on improvisation. They shoulder oversized packs stuffed with gear and set off into the wilderness seeking thrills like peak climbs, glacier treks and first descents of unnamed rivers.
Survival in this harsh climate demands cooperation, providing common ground for these disparate groups. Jon Turk, who spent months kayaking alone across the region in the 1970s, recalls the hospitality shown by passing researchers who invited him into their camps. In turn, adventurers with Inuit guides and local knowledge help scientists navigate dicey terrain.
Chance encounters on the airport's lone runway breed fascinating conversations. Over a coffee or beer back at the village lodge, tales are exchanged and perspectives expanded. "You've got mountain climbers, artists and marine biologists all rubbing shoulders," effuses adventurer Monty Halls after one such epic night. "Sparks fly with so many diverse passions colliding under one roof."
Postcards from the Edge: Finding Solitude and Wildlife at the World's Most Remote Airport - A Prime Spot for Viewing the Magical Northern Lights
Of all the natural wonders that lure travelers to Greenland’s remote northwest corner, few compare to the magical spectacle of the Northern Lights. Here, just 600 miles from the magnetic north pole, Sondre Stromfjord Airport provides a front-row seat to experience these mythical glowing curtains in all their glory.
Writer Peter Guttman vividly captures the exhilaration of witnessing his first aurora near the airport after three long, cold nights of waiting. “Suddenly, a pale emerald streak flickered above the peaks of a distant ridge,” he recounts. “It rapidly intensified into shimmering waves of jade green luminescence that rippled across the entire night sky.” Lasting nearly an hour, the dazzling display left him wide-eyed in wonder.
Caused by solar particles colliding with gases in the upper atmosphere, the science behind the Northern Lights holds its own fascination. Yet descriptions of their haunting beauty transcend rational analysis. The colors morph hypnotically from green to pink to purple, the ethereal patterns ever-changing. They swirl overhead in mystical shapes - flickering flames, glowing veils, undulating waves. Photographs can’t capture their dizzying dynamism. You have to be there under the cosmos, breath frosted in the frigid air, utterly transfixed.
While auroras occur year-round, late August through March offers prime viewing opportunities near Sondre Stromfjord. During the polar night, 24 hours of darkness allows faint displays to shine clearly overhead. Brave the bone-chilling temperatures to stand a better chance of catching the lights in all their glory.
Of course, there are never any guarantees when it comes to natural phenomena. British adventurer Monty Halls waited five long, anxious nights peering hopefully skyward before being rewarded with a sudden, all-encompassing eruption of shimmering colors that left him shaking with emotion. Such patience and optimism serves you well up here.
Locals suggest trying your luck just outside the airport runway, where the wide-open tundra provides unobstructed views overhead. Or take a short hike up the aptly named Aurora Mountain for a stunning panorama. For the ultimate luxury experience, book a night flight excursion by helicopter. Soaring over the darkened icescape with the glowing night sky reflected in the ice below creates an almost supernatural experience. Just be ready to pay dearly for the privilege.