“There is no more dramatic way to witness climate change and to experience traditional Greenland” than by dogsled, said Bob Payne in Condé Nast Traveler. Most visitors opt to take a cruise to the country’s main attraction: Sermeq Kujalleq, better known as the Jakobshavn Glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, “whose prodigious and increasing output of melting ice has made it a symbol of global warming.” I, on the other hand, was up for something a bit more challenging—which turned out to entail camping on ice in minus 40 degrees and having to put up with the smell of dog on everything. For my adventure across the “white, treeless landscape” of the “world’s largest island,” my life lay in the hands—er, paws—of my guides: 20 Greenlandic dogs lead by Johannes Mathaeussen, a professional hunter and ice fisherman.
Clad in “Planet Jupiter–weight” boots, sealskin pants, and a parka, I “look and smell like a stuffed animal.” But this garb’s the only way to stay warm in a country almost entirely covered by an ice sheet that is, on average, 1.6 miles deep. Most of Greenland is “pure white wilderness—without towns, without villages, without trees, and, we hope, without signs of melting.” Yet that massive ice sheet—and the sea ice it creates—is disappearing at a rapid rate. In Greenland, “climate change isn’t a theory but an observable fact.” To fully explore the depth of global crisis, I circumnavigate a frozen fjord before heading south to Sermeq Kujalleq.
My journey began 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle, on the outskirts of Ilulissat, “its scattering of boxy houses painted green, yellow, red, or blue against the bright white of ice.” Over the next four days, we moved “slowly in a state of dream-like contemplation.” One towering iceberg stood mightily, like a “medieval castle” over the frozen kingdom. Finally we came upon a “commanding view” of Sermeq Kujalleq that truly amazed. From camp, “the pink and blue glacier” gleamed like a “miles-long madness of convoluted ice—giant blocks and shards twisted in every imaginable shape.” With this vision of natural splendor before me, I tried to take in the tragic beauty of a land and “life that may literally be melting away.”