Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Qaanaaq , northwest of Greenland, and the airbase named 'Thule'

This is almost a mythical place - for its location, for its history, for its remoteness.

Knud Rasmussen, the danish polar explorer and anthropologist, called Thule a little hut he built in an inuit hamlet by Mount Dundas, northweast Greenland, in 1910; it was the victorian era of great northern adventure, and the name ocurred to him naturally. He and Peter Freuchen founded here the first fur trading post in Greenland, which became a legendary base for his arctic expeditions.

The inuit settlement's name was Avannaa ; in 1953, its whole population was forced to move farther north, during the height of the Cold War, to give room for an American military Air Base that was also named ... Thule.

And so Qaanaaq was founded, in 1953, 130 Km to the north of Thule, as Greenland's most northern town and one of the northernmost towns in the world.

Population : ~ 650
Location: 77°28′N, 69°13′W

Qaanaaq represents one of the last frontiers: life there is hard, due to isolation, extreme cold, few resources and lack of commodities.

Most of the housing is the greenlandic model sent in timber kits from Denmark and painted in several strong colours.

Qaanaaq can be reached only by helicopter from Thule Air Base in about 45 minutes.

Qaanaaq airport is rather busy, as it is serves the northenmost comunity of Greenland, a large region around the town - the province of Avanersuaq

The temperature low is in February ( -29°C average, lowest -58°C) and the high is in June (+7ºC, highest 20º) . Temperature often falls to – 30 º.

The sea in front of the city is usually frozen most of the year, and opens only for some days in August, under 24 h summer daylight - intensive fishing is then the main business in town.

The inuit population never got used to relocation, and complaints of worse conditions (colder climate, fewer hunting…) then before, in Avannaa.

Drying fish stand

Qaanaaq's people are mainly fishers / hunters. They hunt by boat during the short summer period and by dogsled in the winter, mainly seals, narwhals and fish (halibut).

The hunter controls his harpoon.

In no other place in the arctic is it possible to find “Kayak men” hunting seal, whale and walrus with hand-thrown harpoons from an original Eskimo kayak.

Children learn the traditional inuit arts as part of their school curriculum.

Seal skin boots
Seal hunting is the most important source of income for a large part of the population.

The Pilersuisoq general store, the only place where to buy the goods of civilization.

The Qaanaaq Hotel

Qaanaaq is slowly becoming a modern community with hotel, shops and a post office, good schools, a gym and health center. Even a museum:

The Museum

Knud Ramussen´s original hut was moved to Qaanaaq, where it now serves as a museum.

Even before you enter the white house, you get a sense of Knud Rasmussen's historical presence.

He was born in Ilulissat, some thousand kilometers to the south, in an inuit environment, and was to become studious and friend of the Eskimo people. He learned their language and their arctic skills - dog-sledging in particular. Later he would also be the first to cross the Northwest Passage on dog-sledge, in a famous expedition when he reached Nome, the town in Alaska.

The house, dating from 1910, was the focal point in the trading post that Knud Rasmussen founded together with Peter Freuchen at the foot of the Dundas mountain 100 km south of Qaanaaq. It served as home base for a series of seven expeditios - the Thule Expeditions - between 1912 and 1933.

One of the pieces displayed is this meteorite, which is almost completely metallic (about 97% metal) and was for a long time the only source of metal for the Inuit.

Thule Meteor - a 48 kg meteorite found in 1955 in a nunatak east of Thule.


Thule Airport, an U.S. air base.

Wostenholme fjord was the site of the original inuit Avannaa settlement, at the foot of Mount Dundas. Three large glaciers flow into the fjord.

The flat top Mount Dundas and the airbase; three glaciers can be seen in the distance.

This is a large facility - the Base is equipped with 2 runways (3 km long) , 7 avenues, 19 streets, a 376 m. radio tower, telecommunications center, power plants, hospital, tennis courts, swimming pools, laundries, cinemas…

A city´s facilities for some 8000 US army personnel 

A memorial to Knud Rasmussen marks the place where he founded his 'Thule' trading station.

Today, the old part of the trade post, near Mount Dundas, is again accessible.