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From Greenland to the North Pole

On the sea-ice walking in the steps of Ole et Adam

During the dry run cruise of Le Commandant Charcot to the North Pole, two Greenlandic men, Ole Eliassen and Adam Eskildsen, accompanied the onboard expedition team. The intention was to help the guides learn about the Arctic region through indigenous knowledge. Ole and Adam opened the doors to the sea-ice kingdom.

From Kullorsuaq to Le Commandant Charcot

Ole Eliassen and Adam Eskildsen live in Greenland, in Kullorsuaq village. Kullorsuaq means « the famous thumb », referencing the shape of a nearby mountain peak. Kullorsuaq is located in northwest Greenland, near Upernavik, inside the Melville Bay. About 400 inhabitants live there. Most of them still use fishing and hunting to feed their families, getting around the coastal ice via dogsled for most of the year. Isolated from other villages, one can reach Kullorsuaq only by boat or by plane when conditions are suitable. The village is thus one of the most traditional in the country. It’s population is very young on average, and lots of children play amongst the colourful houses and sea-ice.

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Live from Greenland

Who could have predicted that Ole and Adam would have been travelling so far from Kullorsuaq aboard Le Commandant Charcot? The North Pole is an unimaginable adventure for Greenlandic people. The Inuit acknowledge the fact that ice is its master there, that this area is a wild and inhospitable, a remote desert totally empty of any life. Reaching the northernmost point on the planet is a symbolic fulfilment in the life of a man, almost an initiatory trip. Even if reaching the North Pole was not an end, leaving their families has been an ordeal. Adam and Ole took this chance to see where the wind would take them and to make new discoveries. To stay in touch with their village, the two men keep their smartphones logged into Facebook, sharing their adventures in real time.

Some experts of sea-ice

Sea-ice is a dangerous territory. For beginners, it is almost impossible to recognize thick and safe ice from porous and fragile ice. Greenlandic people developed this knowledge like a sixth sense. They built tools to help them, like the tuut—long sticks to which they add a solid metallic blade that hits the ice and checks its hardness. The tuut enables to one to determine fragile areas and to mark out a safe perimeter in which to walk. On the field, conditions are changing constantly and one must always be on the lookout for surprises. Vigilance and humility are paramount, emphasise Adam and Ole.

“It is when you start to feel secure on sea-ice that you start to be in danger.”

(Adam and Ole)

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90° N: An emotional milestone

On the morning of the 6th of September, Ole and Adam have waited as others, holding their breath, look at the GPS coordinates on the screen in the bridge. When the captain let out a victory cry when reaching 90°N and officers hugged each other, they felt the strength of this moment as well. With some tears in their eyes, Ole and Adam shared embraces and celebrations with their new friends, conscious of the fact that this trip was making polar history. No need to speak the same language to share the joy of such highlight.

Between tradition and modernity

Onboard Le Commandant Charcot Adam and Ole attend meetings and participate in the safety drill at the North Pole. They spend the whole night outside, watching for bears and exploring some distant ridges of the sea-ice. In the evening, they are delighted to use the ship’s heated swimming pool to learn how to swim. After a few weeks, they feel like one of the team. They learn a few French words and teach some Greenlandic ones in return. Their kindness and availability enhanced this trip with an unexpected human dimension. True friendships were developed. When departure time came, emotions again ran high. Some marine and Greenlandic songs are sung and, as a symbolic gesture, Ole offered its bear-made gloves to the French captain.

Passing along an oral heritage

The sharing of Ole and Adam’s knowledge, like teaching specific skills to mark safe perimeters, was a unique experience for Le Commandant Charcot expedition team. Passing along this information can only be accomplished orally and in the field.

Photos credits : © Ian Dawson / © Nicolas Dubreuil / © Studio PONANT

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