Boulder – Reykjavik; Reykjavik – Kulusuk. The adventure has started, but we are not on the glaciers yet. We stand on the Kulusuk dock at high tide. Tied to the dock pillars, down in the icy water, a pod of dead seals stays cool and preserved. In a land with 2000 varieties of lichen and moss but no plants more than an inch tall, protein is the foundation of everyone’s diet, humans and sled dogs alike.
Guilo arrives with his boat – the Inuit in Greenland no longer depend on kayaks and umiaks – and three of us jump aboard after transferring our heavy backpacks over. The other three will travel with Juustuus, Guilo’s son, on his larger and newer boat.
We take off to the North and into Ammasalik Fjord. The water is glassy smooth, and the surrounding mountains look at themselves in it. There was a time when the icecap reached the coast. As glaciers recede, the shore grows, rocky and bare. Some spots, however, look green and lush. They are choice spots, as it takes hundreds of years for Greenland’s thousands of lichens and moss varieties, and for dwarf willows, to grow. On these green oases, there is often a structure, a hut.
Before the age of worldwide logistics, Inuit could only eat what they could hunt – broadly speaking: seal, bearded seal, narwhal, polar bear, muskox, caribou, arctic fox, arctic hare, eider duck, auk and other birds. They lived in small groups, in small huts, far apart from each other, and moved on after a year or two looking for better hunting grounds or for a different diet or goods to trade. After a year or two airing, a hut was ready for reoccupation, and it was common for the nomadic Inuit to settle at an existing hut rather than to build a new one.
The coast is therefore adorned here and there with small dwellings. These days, they are rapidly turning into silent witnesses of a bygone era. You can still see Inuit families camping near one to enjoy true wilderness in the mild summer weather.
I really like the concept of a nomadic society and said so in a composition in 5th grade. The teacher did not approve and warned me that a roaming society was doomed to fail. Maybe she was right, but I like the concept nonetheless.
We turn into Tasiilaq Fjord, a very narrow fjord indeed, and approach our landing point. Unfortunately, we run aground in two feet of water and we wait for Juustuus’ boat to tow us out of trouble. I am sobered to learn that the terrain here can present simple and stark challenges that demand careful negotiation. We get further entangled and we have to play a game of Twister to free both the ropes and the boats. It is then that I notice our navigators are wearing Salomons – my go-to ultrarunning shoe. I would notice later that Salomon has the largest foot share in East Greenland – kudos to that brand manager!
Eventually, it all gets sorted out and the group jumps onto the rocky shore. It’s great to have landed, but I am impatient to get to the glaciers. Matt dons the bear rifle, clad in a bright orange case. Each one of us carries parts of the bear fence that protects us at night. We all carry flares in case we have to scare a bear away. Backpacks on, we are ready to go.