Below zero/Moments in the artic ice
Dusk lies over the arctic landscape of Scoresbysund, the largest and deepest fjord system in the world. It is the end of January and icy cold as the helicopter steers toward the landing pad at Ittoqqortoormiit, the northernmost community in East Greenland.
Ittoqqortoormiit is the trailhead for the adventure we are about to embark upon. It is not the small village, with scarcely 370 inhabitants, that is our destination, but the place where our journey into a vast and silent, isolated region begins – into the darkness – toward the northern lights.
We do not know what awaits us. Only one thing is certain: Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, Greenland’s Shaman, guides us on this inner, as well as outer journey, far from civilization.
For four days, relying upon the strength and endurance of one hundred and forty-five Greenlandic dogs, we make our way through the solitude. Fog banks and snowdrifts splice the sky together with the horizon forming a white curtain. From out of nowhere, sharp icebergs crop up and disappear again. We skate over frozen fjords; past jagged mountain ridges and fragmented remains of glaciers. What looks like a rock quarry from the distance, turns out to be a field of deep black ice.
Surrounded by the sounds of the Mushers and their dogs, the twelve sleds glide over the ice and snow. If only it would not be so frigid – the cold threatens to slowly spread itself from toe to fingertip.
Suddenly the fog thins and the morning sun tints the mountain peaks. We are speechless, revived by such breathtaking beauty. Unaware of the fact that the high point of our journey still lay ahead, we continue upon our way – downhill – returning to the damp cold of the low hanging clouds, into twilight – toward our last night’s lodging.
The moon shines in the sky by the time we reach the lonely wooden cabin. The dogs are tied up, the tents are assembled, and snow is set to boil for tea. One by one, headlamps switch on in the darkness. And then, what we’ve been longing for happens – the northern lights. Our ancestors, as the Kalaallit Eskimo call them, dance for us across the sky.
Awestruck, we feel even smaller than ever – a miniscule bit in the great immensity of it all. Happy and exhausted, we fall into a deep sleep.
The white curtain draws closed again. The last fifty kilometers lie before us. The dogs bark with excitement. They jump in the air, anxious to follow the sleds strung together like a pearl necklace, growing smaller and smaller in a distance.
Such vastness – nothing but infinite ice. Did something just move? Imaginary polar bears and other creatures pop up, yet they are not really there.
Slowly, it becomes dark and the temperature drops further. It is – 44˚ Celsius. A snowstorm draws near. The dogs are exhausted. Everything moves in slow motion. In the distance, the first lights appear. Ittoqqortoormiit. Like a mirage it lies before us, and yet it doesn’t appear to be drawing any closer. Two hours turn into an ice-cold eternity. For the last few kilometers, the locals accompany us on their snowmobiles. Families have been waiting hours for their fathers.
It is late in the evening when finally, we arrive – to ourselves – and a hot shower.