Just as books are dedicated to someone by the author, I am dedicating this website to Itukusuk Kristiansen, an Inuit and Greenlander. He was the son of Qavigarssuaq ("Big Eider Duck") who was a great hunter and guide to the Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen in the early part of this century.
Itukusuk was my guide and dog sled driver on a trip up Wolstenholme Fjord to the glacier in the spring of 1968. He was gracious, attentive to my needs, and had a great sense of humor. That was a trip I will never forget. Not only was it a beautiful scenic trip, but also I experienced a profound awareness as I was riding on his sled during the trip up the fjord.
I was wearing my state-of-the-art arctic clothing and was feeling pretty smug about how well I was feeling in the sub-zero weather. All of a sudden I realized that my life depended on Itukusuk. Without him to bring me back, I could easily die out there alone. I didn't have any of the keen wisdom and knowledge for survival needed to last even a day, let alone a lifetime as he had. I have always looked back to that moment with the greatest admiration for how well he lived his life with good spirits and great skill in such an extreme environment.
As we approached to about half a mile from the glacier face, the level fjord ice became buckled and broken. That is as far as we could go because of the pressure ridges caused by the glacier pushing into the fjord ice.
While the dogs rested on the ice in the sun, Itukusuk immediately started digging a small hole in the ice with his large knife. This pit was made to hold the Primus kerosene stove and a pot. The ice from the hole was cleverly cut to set on the sides of the pit to shield the stove and pot from the wind. It was easy to see by his efficiency and speed that he had done this countless times on the trail.
After the pit was completed, he went to a small iceberg and brought back a chunk of crystal clear glacier ice.
Using his large knife, he chipped the ice into the trail-worn pan to melt and heat on the Primus stove.
In a few minutes, Itukusuk served us hot coffee made from thousand-year-old glacier ice! I fondly remember that hot coffee that Itukusuk served there in the sun in Wolstenholme Fjord as the most memorable drink I ever had.
Incidentally, glacier ice has air bubbles trapped from the snow that has been compressed under terrific pressure. The pressure has been measured up to thirty atmospheres. As the ice melts, the bubbles often burst with explosive force. For special occasion parties on the base, we would go out to an iceberg and get ice with lots of air bubbles in it. This exploding ice made exciting drinks at the parties!
Itukusuk showed us how he hunted using this blind that slid on soft, noiseless runners lined with fur. It was necessary to have a lot of patience, a steady hand, and a keen eye to make a kill from long ways away.
After we drank our coffee and had a little rest, we took more pictures. Itukusuk laughed easily and enjoyed clowning around with us, as we are doing here.
When it was time to depart, Itukusuk roused the dogs with his whip and some hollering, and soon we headed back to the base. Like most young guys everywhere, he liked to show off with his driving. He had a big laugh as he raced the dogs full speed over a snow bank and off a ledge, shouting and cracking his whip as we were airborne for a moment. I was hanging on with all my strength and laughing with Itukusuk. It was a great and exciting moment that two men could share, even though they did not speak each other's language.
So it is with great pleasure and fond memories that I dedicate this website to Itukusuk Kristiansen. He touched my life only briefly but enriched it forever. I have the greatest admiration and respect for him.
(UPDATE: This report received over the Internet May 2, 1998 by me from Poul Alex Jensen, Manager of Culture & Education in Qaanaaq Kommunia (Municipality of Qaanaaq, Greenland)
Itukusuk died in spring 1991. He was returning to Moriusaq from Dundas Village (near Thule Air Base). The weather was clear and his excellent dogs knew the well-traveled trail over the frozen smooth sea ice back home without his guidance. It appears Itukusuk fell asleep on the sled and let the dogs run toward home. But something went very wrong as he slept. Perhaps it was a fox on the ice, or a bear, or the smell of seal in the water. No one knows for sure what happened.
Two days later a search party found him and all his dogs drown in the icy water at the edge of the sea ice where the sled and everything had gone over the edge. Rescuers said that his dogs were all tangled up in the lines, and Itukusuk appeared to be still sleeping peacefully on his sled.
I still have the miniature sled he is holding in this picture. Thanks, Itukusuk!
© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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