Thursday, 16 September 2010

A serious patrol (I)

Mestersvig is the name of an abandoned zinc and lead mine in the barren Northeast of Greenland. It is far from being deserted, though: No less than two people stay here constantly, mainly to maintain the buildings, the machinery and above all the runway for the odd aircraft that might land here every now and then. But most of the time there is nobody around, so the two have to get along with each other, no matter what. In the roughest of conditions: They get several meters of snow in winter (that has to be cleared away in case of an aircraft arrival, which is only a four-days job...)and a summer that lasts for about six weeks. They have to deal with problems like caterpillars that broke through the ice and blizzards that strip houses of their roofs.


If I tell you that this is a mere chill-out for the other job, that sometimes people stay here because it's the climax of civilisation - would you believe it? No?

Well, then listen to the story of the Sirius Patrol. After Norway had lost the trial before the International Court in Le Hague and was forbidden to settle in Northeast Greenland, the winner Denmark was reminded to take better care of its territories. However, it took until WW2 until they installed a dogsledge patrol, consisting of six teams of two men each who covered the unimaginable area of 160.000 square kilometers, not counting the inland ice. Two men and a pack of dogs, tent, equipment and two years to spend in the highest and coldest areas of the Arctic. Surely one of the coldest, hardest jobs in the world.

We will talk more about it another time, this is just to explain why an abandoned mine in barren lands where musk ox carcasses are the only decoration seems like paradise to some.

We land at Nyhavn, which served as port for the former mine. Bjarki, our honorary team member (and former member of the Sirius Patrol!) introduces us to the two inhabitants, Torben and Thomas who are keen on seeing new faces. We walk among the houses, on the late-autumn tundra, across the glacial scree of the hills and catch a glimpse of Mestesvig station. Certainly a bizarre place to work atg

In the afternoon there is more to come. Ever been to the remote end of a long fjord in a distant valley system at the end of the world? That's Alpefjord for you. In the embrace of steep mountain walls, all beautifully deformed by old tectonic collisions, we set the Polar Cirkel boats out to take a ride around the Viking Glacier that comes down majestically from the valley. It is breathtaking, the narrow passage between glacier and fjord, finally leading to the other side, the "backyard" of the glacier. Only to be here is worth the whole trip.

Not everybody stays up until nighttime. Those who do see a cold, but starry, starry night.