We are off to Greenland. What are we going to see? For now, nothing – a cloud layer hides the ocean. Give me a small plane so I can fly close to the water! After an hour and some, tears in the blanket reveal tantalizing glimpses of ocean and ice. We have gone through the wormhole and changed worlds…
Clouds scatter and we now know we are surrounded by water and icebergs in all directions. The Sun shines bright at the top of its long, mid-summer arc. Suddenly, a land tongue slides into view under the left nacelle. Kulusuk! Greenland! It looks as desolate as you might imagine the Great North. Craggy rocks and hills – and little else.
The runway! A sweet, unpaved, and sloping runway – the same kind of adventurous runway I first experienced in Telluride (before they tamed it in 2009 for the silly lumbering business jets. Even Neil Armstrong was pretty bummed about it) and which makes my heart go pitter-patter. This runway comes courtesy of the US military in the late 50s to build and manage a radar installation, the last link in a long chain of early warning stations going from Alaska to Greenland. Oh how I long to land on it and all of the other legendary airstrips!
We fly right by the settlement of Kulusuk (250ish people and many, many sled dogs) and we get established on final approach. As a passenger, I can’t even see the darn runway anymore. Grrr. Landing gear comes out and we touch down in a cloud of dust.
For an unpaved, uneven, mountain airport, the terminal is quite impressive. We enter on one side, and we come out the other, reborn into the Arctic world. In front of me, three polar signature icons: seas and icebergs, mountains and glaciers (Apusiaajik Glacier in the center of the photo below) – and, perhaps less cliché, human logistics infrastructure. I would have many opportunities to experience the quirky and sometimes disturbing interactions between arctic environment, local humans, and humans from far away.
In earlier centuries, exploration was often about meeting the other; about finding radically different world views which inevitably led the explorers to question their own. Greenland was about to challenge me that way in spades.