From Paris to Kullorsuaq

It should have been a visit, but it turned into a passionate relationship with Greenland for adventurer Nicolas. It was […]

It should have been a visit, but it turned into a passionate relationship with Greenland for adventurer Nicolas. It was a “love story” that almost had a fatal ending

Nicolas Dubreuil’s joint destiny with Greenland is far more solid than the thin ice that broke under his feet one cold day in Febru- ary in 2001, almost costing him his life.

He was the guide for a couple of tourists on the sea ice at Aappilattoq near Upernavik. They had gone out onto the sea ice in tem- peratures of minus 35 degrees Celsius and the ice should have been safe.

But it wasn’t.

Nicolas sensed that the ice was not safe after all and signalled to his two guests that they should turn back. The guests reached safety, but Nicolas did not and he went through the ice with his skis and equipment.

After fighting for a few minutes that seemed like an eternity, he managed to cut himself loose from the skis and pulk. The two guests tried to help, but Nicolas refused, afraid they would suffer the same fate. Fortunately, two Greenlandic fishermen, Gerth and Titus, had seen the accident and they rescued him, heaving him out of the water.

Life-changing experience

The story could have ended there for the French PhD student of computer science in his early thirties. A few minutes more in the water might have killed him. Nicolas had a good life in Paris and a promising career to look forward to, with his qualifications in complicated models of space and time. There was a demand for his type and it would be an obvious thing to become a professor or earn good money in the private sector. But the event on the ice had taken a hold on him and he could not settle to the safe, simple life in Paris.

– The next year I felt a need to return and thank my rescuers and learn from them survival techniques and how to get around on the ice. That led to a relentless passion and I longed to experience Greenland from the inside and to understand and learn everything about the people who had fascinated me for so long.

– Every trip provides an opportunity to expand my knowledge and get closer to the culture that took hold of me from the first moment I met it, he says with great conviction in his voice.

“Every trip provides an opportunity to expand my knowledge and get closer to the culture that took hold of me from the first moment I met it”
– Nicolas Dubreuil »

Greenlandic hunters to the North Pole

Nicolas was far from done with leading expeditions so he decided to buy a small house, which he still owns today, in Kullorsuaq, the northernmost village in the Upernavik district.

Today, he leads expeditions for the French exploration cruise company Ponant to dis- tant destinations; cold and warm places, the Antarctic and North Pole, Oceania and of course, his beloved Greenland.

– A couple of years ago, we sailed with the Le Commandant Charcot to the North Pole. It was the ship’s very first voyage so far north. Although the ship is built for these conditions and has the highest ice classification, it does not have a natural connection toany one place, he explains, while gesticulating lively with his hands:

– It naturally occurred to me to invite two hunters from Kullorsuaq to come along, Ole Eliassen and Adam Eskildsen. They could contribute invaluably to the expedition by simply being who they are and sharing their knowledge about life in the Arctic.

Nicolas’ movements during a calendar year are organised according the ship’s routes, so he is typically in Antarctica in December and January then in Greenland in February and March, outside the sailing season. In April he is in France, while in May he goes back to Kullorsuaq.

The summer months are taken up with voyages in the Arctic, while September and

October are spent in tropical to subtropical regions. There are few places he feels as much at home as in Greenland, so he has taken the trouble to learn the language.

– Learning the Greenlandic language was the key for me to understand the culture in depth and to integrate with the people of Kullorsuaq. Greenlandic provides an opportunity to create specific words, express finer nuances and detailed descriptions, giving an incredible semantic richness. However, it is also this complexity that makes it hard to learn.

The merciless beauty

Mastering the art of being on the sea ice is also a motivation for Nicolas, who is still learning from his Greenlandic friends, when he joins them on longer sled trips.

– I feel at home on a dog sled, on ice floes, at the North Pole, because it is there, that I find a deep harmony within my being. In this enormous landscape I feel an almost spiritual connection, a symbiosis with the natural world.

He pauses, before continuing:

– Raw and majestic nature offers me a motherly refuge, a sanctuary where I can find authentic simplicity, he explains.

And now the former researcher becomes profound, perhaps inspired by his historical role models, Paul-Emile Victor and Jean Malaurie, who also had a great love of Greenland:

– On the ice floes I am confronted with the merciless beauty of this extreme environment, a lesson in humility that reminds me of the fragility of human existence.

At home in Kullorsuaq

It is 30 years since he came to Greenland for the first time and after 20 years of experience in arranging expeditions, the Frenchman has created his own little expedition company, Sedna, the purpose of which is to promote

conservation of the Arctic environment, increase awareness about climate change and strengthen connections between the Inuit community and the rest of the world.

– Spending longer periods of time in Kullorsuaq has given me the opportunity to engage in research, conservation and environmental projects with the local community. It gives me an opportunity to make a concrete contribution to the conservation of this fragile ecosystem and to share my knowledge with the inhabitants.

Nicolas communicates with the world around him through e.g. Facebook and, where he posts many of the photos Suluk’s readers now can enjoy on these pages.

– I often feel overwhelmed by the vastnessof the motifs. These places, where nature rules with its indomitable power are where I find my true identity, my true reason for being.

Greenlandic culture and knowhow

To the man who lost his heart to Kullorsuaq, Greenland is a country that has the power to humbly remind one of one’s rightful place in the middle of nature.

– During my expeditions, I discovered many extraordinary women and men, the true jewels in this country. Greenlandic culture and knowhow are true lessons in humility and a source of inspiration for young people all over the world, where cultural diversity and harmony with nature are paramount.

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