Into Greenland

A Johnny Collinson dispatch from a North Face/Sherpas trip to the place of polar bears


Story and photos by Johnny Collinson

Photo: Johnny Collinson

Photo: Johnny Collinson

Before my trip to Greenland with Rocky Mountain Sherpas and The North Face, the largest island was just a spot on the globe… a place you talked about as kids discussing where polar bears lived. Landing at Kulusuk International airport changed all that.

Right off the bat we were picked up by a dog sled team to haul our gear into the village—quite the intro to Arctic life. We easily and quickly explored Kulusuk, which consists of one grocery store, 500 citizens, and dozens of multi-colored houses. We stayed here for one night before bumping our eight-man crew further inland.

Three heli-trips landed us in a cirque of mini-golf lines: filmers Eric Crossland and Dave Mossop of the Sherpas; skiers Callum Pettit, Dana Flahr, Ingrid Backstrom and I; photographer Adam Clark; and mountain guide Geoff Osler. At 8 p.m. we watched the bird disappear into skies that never fully darkened, then geared up and headed up to the lines right above camp.

From there, we skied mini golf, chasing the last red rays of the sun into the flats near our campsite. This base camp was home for about a week as we ventured out into the deep wilderness, hunting everything from one-hit-wonders to long, steep couloirs winding down toothy mountains. Everything ran like clockwork, from the good vibes to awesome snow. We even had one down day to watch it snow a foot, refilling everything. The stoke was high, and everyone was sad when the day came that we had to fly back to Kulusuk.

Then the roasting period entered the trip. Bad weather set in and killed all hopes of getting out and logging more shots. Dreams of dogsledding in to never-skied lines were ground into the dirt. We got out one day in the last ten days of the trip, and we made hay while the sun shone. A long day of skiing lines directly into the ocean, then a night session out on the same ocean. Sailing around giant icebergs and searching for seals cleared our minds from long days of Pringles and card games. Day by day, we met more people in the village and learned more about the history of the place. We gobbled it all up, learning about the native Inuit tribes, hearing about how the Cold War affected this tiny town, and watching the daily routines of local life.

The final highlights to a perfect trip came in the last few days. A local drum-dancer gave us a traditional show and on the last night (after two canceled flights), we watched a hunter drag in the first polar bear kill of the season. The whole village, it seemed, was there to celebrate. After that, nobody seemed to care about the gringo tourists that buzzed out the next morning, leaving the vast island of Greenland behind, a place I hope to return for more of them turns.