Grand Marais adventurer returns to Greenland, behind dog teams 'Pulling for the Planet'
Lonnie Dupre is filming the impact of climate change on the Polar Inuit people he met in Greenland 20 years ago.
DULUTH — Lonnie Dupre says he knew at a young age that he is different from other people when it comes to being in cold places like Greenland, where he is right now.
He loves it.
Growing up on a small vegetable farm near Centerville, Minnesota, just north of the Twin Cities, Dupre said he dreaded the summers, not just for the field work but for the warm temperatures. Mind you, this was Minnesota, not Florida.
“I just didn’t do well. I got terrible heat rash. I broke out in hives. I didn’t like the heat at all. ... It’s still why I never go south of Duluth," Dupre said with a chuckle.
But he loved winters growing up in Minnesota in the 1960s and 1970s, back when Minnesota winters were colder and longer.
“When the lakes froze up and snow covered the ground, I could skate and ski and sled. That’s what I loved best. There was more room to explore," said Dupre, now 60 and still loving cold climates.
It’s why, when he got out of school, he left Minnesota for Alaska, where he worked as a commercial salmon fisherman on Bristol Bay.
“Growing up in Minnesota, I thought I lived up north. Then I realized there was another 2,500 miles of north of there to explore, and there were people up there to meet," Dupre said.
It’s also why Dupre eventually settled on the North Shore of Lake Superior for his permanent home, or, more accurately, his permanent base camp between expeditions.
“I love that big air conditioner called Lake Superior," said Dupre, who lives in the woods outside Grand Marais with his partner, Canadian Pascale Marceau, when she isn’t off exploring on her own.
Part of the recipe is the mental toughness that Dupre masters, of course. But he says he’s also well-suited physically to not just withstand the cold, but thrive in it.
“I’m rather short and stout, compact. I have a more efficient body than someone who is tall and skinny," said the 5-foot-6-inch Dupre, who also has French-Canadian voyageur heritage in his blood. “And I am blessed with really, really good circulation.”
That’s what Dupre believes has enabled him to thrive in places like the top of Mount Denali in January, the North Pole and across the Arctic in Canada.
Already in Greenland
Dupre will get plenty of what he loves most — cold and snow and ice and sled dogs — over the next four months. He left Minnesota on Jan. 16 bound for Copenhagen and landed in Greenland on Tuesday. He flew on Wednesday to Qaanaaq in far-northwestern Greenland, his base camp for several months.
He will spend the rest of winter and spring retracing some of his Greenland expedition from 2001, when he and Australian John Hoelscher circumnavigated the entire nation, by dogsled and by kayak.
Dupre won’t come home until late May.
His group on this expedition includes a filmmaker and a sound technician from Germany and two experts in Inuit culture from Denmark who also speak the Inuit language.
“We’re going to have two dog teams. I’m going to get them from some of the Inuit hunters, probably 22 dogs in all," Dupre said in a phone interview just days before leaving Minnesota.
He’s back in Greenland to see what's changed over the past 20 years. And he’s already worried about what he's been told he’ll find. Climate change is rapidly changing the lives of the polar Inuit people who he has come to love and respect in his northern travels.
“Climate change is not something they are expecting to see happen in the future. It’s already happening to them, changing their lives," Dupre said.
That includes fewer months of safe sea ice cover, which has dramatically reduced the amount of time people can travel between villages.
"The terrain on land is too mountainous for travel. So they depend on the sea ice to get from one village to another. … They’ve already gone from eight or nine months of safe ice to maybe four or five months. That’s a huge change for their culture, for the people," Dupre said.
Dupre’s expedition will base-camp in Qaanaaq and travel by dog team to three other small Inuit villages, including Siorapaluk, the northernmost permanent village on Earth.
His goal is to produce a documentary film, tentatively called "Pulling for the Planet" — worthy of Netflix, PBS, the BBC or another outlet that will allow the whole world to see how the culture of the Inuit is changing. But, he won’t focus on the obvious melting of sea ice and glacial ice. Instead, he’s focusing on the people who depend on ice to survive, many of the same people he met on his trek 20 years ago.
“I don’t want this to be just another downer movie about climate change. … I want it to be a story about people and how their lives are affected," Dupre said.
It’s that human touch that he hopes will impact people who see the movie and spur them to take action to solve the problem. And he said the sense of real adventure, traveling by dog sled in winter in such a dramatic, icy place as northwest Greenland, will help market the film.
“There’s a real demand right now for high-adventure films and I think this will fit right into that," Dupre said.
In his many travels across the Arctic, Dupre said the Inuit have been an inspiration to him on how to live sustainable, simple lives. That’s part of his life mission, his goal, and part of his "live simply" philosophy when he’s home in Minnesota. Dupre, a carpenter by trade who builds small log cabins when he’s home in Cook County, lives in a simple cabin and drives a simple car.
German filmmaker Josefin Kuschela will be handling the camera and producing the documentary when she gets home. While she’s made films in Alaska and other cold-climate locales, she’s never been to any place as cold or dark as Greenland in winter.
“I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never experienced polar night before. It’s going to be dark all the time when we first get there," Kuschela said in a Zoom interview last week. But, like Dupre, she loves the cold.
“I really like being in cold climates. I feel more energy. I don't like the heat," she said.
She hopes the film can bring Greenland to the rest of the world.
“I think that a film can bring people close to a part of the world that they would otherwise never visit. This can lead to an understanding and compassion for other cultures and far away regions, to an amazement about other ways of living and to a will to protect these regions that are otherwise out of sight," she noted. “It might give people new perspectives on their own lives. What is really important in life. What can we be happy about that we never think of?”
Kuschela said she's not sure how long the finished film will be, but, with four months to shoot and so many colorful characters to meet along the dog sled routes, she said it would take a year before anyone sees the final product. She said the first step will be to submit the documentary to film festivals and then hope people like it.
“We might have something completed by mid-2023," she said.
Years of planning
Dupre has been planning the Greenland revisit for years, this past summer sending more than 4,000 pounds of gear ahead as a supply cache for his expedition. The supplies arrived in Qaanaaq by ocean freighter months ago.
“About 2,000 pound of that is dog food,” Dupre noted. “But it’s also sleds and gear and supplies for us.”
Arctic expeditions are more expensive and elaborate than climbing a mountain with one or two people, he noted.
“It's a lot of air travel which is very expensive, especially as you go farther and farther north and get into smaller and smaller villages," he noted.
Durpe said he’s underwritten part of the expedition’s cost himself, but has help from several sponsors, including the Rolex Foundation, and his usual equipment suppliers like Two Harbors-based Granite Gear, Ely-based Wintergreen clothing, Primaloft insulation, Midwest Mountaineering and Hilleberg tents.
When Dupre visited the Inuit villages 20 years ago, there were no telephones, no airport, no internet and only a few black-and-white televisions.
“Now they’re all on Facebook," Dupre said, noting technology has found even the most northern, remote people on Earth. “They have an airport now. … Their lives are changing. Their culture is changing. … In a place where everything depends on ice, they are losing their ice. That’s the story we hope to tell.”
Second leg of expedition
At the end of Dupre’s Greenland trip, he’ll be sending off another expedition. Two Canadians — Dupre's partner, Pascale Marceau, and Scott Cooks — will join American filmmaker Jayme Dittmar as they ski along Canada’s Ellesmere Island.
They will go by Dupre’s dog sled teams out the the frozen Baffin Bay sea border between Greenland and Canada where they will ski west, backtracking the route of Inuit shaman Qitdlarsuaq, who migrated with his people from Baffin Island to Greenland in the 1860s.
Lonnie Dupre in cold places
- The first west-to-east, 3,000-mile winter crossing of Canada’s famed Northwest Passage by dog team.
- The first circumnavigation of Greenland, a 6,500-mile, all-non-motorized journey by kayak and dog team.
- He has pulled sleds, while on skis, from Canada to the North Pole, twice.
- The first solo ascent of Alaska’s Mount Denali (20,340 feet) during January.
- Alpine ascent of Kyajo Ri (20,295 feet) in Nepal.
- First ascent of Jeannette Peak (10,135 feet) in British Columbia.
- Solo ascent of Mount Quincy Adams (13,615 feet) in Alaska.
- First winter ascent of Mount Wood (15,912 feet) in the Yukon.
John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Dultuh News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .