Written by Myrtle Simpson, mountain climber, polar explorer, RSGS Mungo Park Medallist

Iqaluit... Frobisher to me. I had last been here 35 years ago, en route to set off on our Scottish North Pole expedition! This time we are heading for West Greenland. The children I clung on to then were mine. This time round it's three grandchildren, and the father is my grown son.

The air is the same! A pink flush of willowherb beyond the runway. There is a difference, though: I spy a baby peeking out from an amiut hood made of white cotton, not scruffy fur as I remembered. The dust has not changed. It swirls up as our truck clatters through scrappy shacks and a mess of old cars and fridges. The beautiful new Government buildings stand apart, well above the squalor that still reigns around the street below.

We fly out at midnight, a magnificent view as we follow the spine of Baffin. Glaciers and high tops, then over the sea towards Greenland. Four hours, five hours drone on. Then Upernavik rises to meet us, a brown rocky mass, houses perched on the fringe. The top of the island was blow off to create an air strip! Our little plane judders to a halt. We are there! A tall rangy Dane, Bo, comes to meet us as we clamber stiffly out. The low tones of the Inuit language are about us. A quiet, happy people, and I am thrilled to be among them again. Greenlanders, not Inuit, as they proudly insist. Masses of children giggle around us. This settlement is thriving, the population bursting with life and vitality.

Three bagged canoes, camping gear for four adults and three kids, and three weeks' food fill up the back of Bo’s truck. We clatter down the zigzag to the hostel to unpack. The lone ‘helper’ is a girl from the Ukraine! The world is shrinking fast; no wonder that there is a feeling that there is nothing left to explore. But we know better! To the north lies hundreds of miles of unvisited islands, sea inlets and virgin camp sites. Untravelled land and an empty sea.

Bo has organised two local boats to take us 30 miles north. They eventually swoosh up. Made locally, with EU funds, they are mortgaged to the fishermen who live off the halibut that lurk well down in the cold waters about here. We load up off the rocks. Suddenly we are off. The boats surge out of the bay. An icy wind freezes to the marrow - the locals only travel at high speed! We huddle together for warmth. But the Greenlander at the helm relishes it as the waves wash over the little craft. We zoom up a rocky coast for three hours. Into an inlet, and a silent heaven. The boats surge off and we are alone. Tents pitched and the Primus on, we settle into my idea of the perfect family adventure.

We wake to the crump of an iceberg collapse. Flat calm. Sun up. Bergy bits captured by the boys to melt water for tea round a driftwood fire; a breeze to waft the mozzies away… Now to erect the canoes. Our Tyne weighs 65lbs, just able to go in a normal plane as ‘luggage’. Invented in the 1930s, the accepted best model was the Tyne Sports 2-Seater, as used to cross the Atlantic and by the Royal Marines to win the great Devizes to Westminster Race on numerous occasions, once by my brother. The seven bulkheads are held by a levered ladder arrangement. This slips into the skin, held taught by levers. We have replaced the original oiled material several times by lighter nylon PVC as used for lorry tarpaulins; very tough, easy to mend in the field. We have also lengthened it to 18ft and cut entrances to the bulkhead space for access and easy loading. It sits low in the water and so feels safe and stolid. Our son looked at it witheringly, but we were ready several hours before the two Feathercraft were recognisable. Their crews were still stowing while we were launched and off into the green Greenlandic waters.

Vast bergs were grounded nearby, and little auks pottered about at the edge of the ice. Guillemots flashed their red legs in the sun. There were signs of surge, with ice lying high up on the rocks, crystals sparkling in the low light. This would be the major hazard. Not as a result of rolling bergs so much as calving off from the ice front itself — the edge of the Greenland ice sheet. Terns buzzed us as we paddled towards the narrows separating us from the main fjord. A taste of the US as Tracy handed out walnuts; fat, plump, fresh and delicious, I have never met any as nice. Plenty of trail food is vital if travelling with kids!

The Feathercraft look sleek, neat and professional as they pass us, the three children slotted in. A surprise is that we, in our 70s, are as fast, the Tyne answering to easy paddling in the calm sea. Wary of the katabatic wind off the icecap, we were glad when the bleak steep slabs gave way to lower cliffs. No camp sites, but greenery ahead. We turn due North. Bruce erects his sail. Photogenic but not very large. I remember owning one once and racing down the Sound of Mull at breakneck speed, completely out of control. No time to be frightened as I desperately hauled on the rope to try to take it down. Never again! One cannot paddle and sail. It has to be one or the other.

Calm, still, tranquil, the low mank seemed to protect us. Large teenage guillemot chicks bellowed for food as their dumpy parents busied about in the easy swell. One mile crossing in 15 minutes. We stop at a tide-exposed reef. Fraser, 13, is ever active like the guillemots, gentle Elliott absorbs the environment silently, while Adair, the Gibraltar monkey, is off up the slabs. Our companions are never still. Age+ = energy-. That’s what we have lost. Canoeing, though, is the answer to ageing knees.

I look ahead hopefully for a camp site. Binos are an asset when low in the water. An island comes up. A circle of stones denotes an Inuit house ring. The boys find graves and are delighted with a skull. There are sea urchins galore. The kids wander about among the bartsia and lousewort as we pitch the tent on a mini alp above the slabs. Distance covered is irrelevant, as what matters is that we are too far north for serious mozzies!

Look out for part two of this story, when danger approaches...