Dispatches from Base Camp Greenland: #2 — Meet the Staff

Wendy Redal September 21, 2015 0

Wendy Redal, Nat Hab’s editorial director, recently returned from Base Camp Greenland where she and a group of 12 guests enjoyed a thrilling adventure during the camp’s inaugural season. Read her firsthand reports from the field here at Good Nature Travel.

Base Camp Greenland, staff, East Greenland, Greenland Ecolodge

Some of the intrepid Base Camp staff with Greenland Expedition Leaders Melissa Scott and Eric Rock. Left to Right: Julius Nielsen, Jason Luoma, Shane Katsuno, Melissa & Eric, Hoskuldur Jonsson

It takes a special kind of individual to answer the “call of the wild” when it means working in one of the most remote places on Earth, without access to phone reception or Internet, in an unpredictable setting where no one has ever done their jobs before. “Special” pretty much defines the staff of Base Camp Greenland, who just wrapped up an inaugural season doing all of the above.

Base Camp Greenland provides not just shelter but creature comforts that belie its profoundly wild setting—made possible by the camp’s outstanding crew. So let us introduce you to five individuals who are integral to the success of Base Camp Greenland—genuine pioneers in the hospitality and adventure travel industry, in one of the most remote tourism destinations on the planet.

JASON LUOMA, Camp Manager
If the term “jack of all trades” (and master of many) ever applied, Jason is that guy. From overseeing the construction of Base Camp Greenland in four feet of unseasonable snow to keeping its every facet—from fuel supplies to hot showers to boat motors—up and running, Jason is central to Base Camp’s operations. Though he calls temperate Sudbury, Ontario home, Jason knows what it’s like to spend extended time in Arctic climes. He’s worked in tourism since he was 15, spending 15 years with Great White Bear Tours in Churchill, Manitoba, where he helped build the Polar Rover vehicles that Nat Hab uses for its fall polar bear trips. He also manages the Tundra Lodge, the mobile hotel placed each fall in prime polar bear habitat.

Base Camp Greenland, staff, East Greenland, Greenland Ecolodge

Jason Luoma, camp manager and resident Mr. Fix-It, in the shop at Base Camp Greenland

While those experiences helped prepare him to oversee the launch of Base Camp Greenland, there were still plenty of challenges to tackle, which was the appeal for Jason when Nat Hab first approached him to be manager. Getting equipment and supplies to camp amid shifting ice conditions and unpredictable transport is a regular hurdle, as is dealing with U.S. standard-to-metric conversions, which caused more complications than Jason expected—most of the materials for Base Camp were purchased in the U.S. and shipped to Greenland, while new equipment, replacement parts, etc., are typically sourced from Denmark, making compatibility difficult. The most gratifying part of this first season for Jason? “Seeing the completed project.” From initial sketches to shiploads of cargo to reality: Base Camp Greenland came into being with savvy Jason bringing it to life.

SHANE KATSUNO, Chef
Like Jason, Shane is originally from Ontario and a veteran of the Tundra Lodge, where he spent last season as head chef. He’s recreated that position at Base Camp Greenland, whipping up impressive dishes like roast chicken with sage and thyme, creamy butternut squash soup and fancy desserts like caramelized bananas on a high-quality commercial range inside a vinyl expedition-style kitchen tent. Shane’s career has spanned various hotels and restaurants across Canada, including a post as a cook at the famous Banff Springs Hotel and multiple seasons as chef for Canadian Mountain Holidays’ heli-skiing operation in the B.C. Bugaboos. Shane was drawn to Greenland for “a chance to do something different,” and because it was a good seasonal complement to his other jobs.

Base Camp Greenland, staff, East Greenland, Greenland Ecolodge

Shane Katsuno, Base Camp Greenland’s chef extraordinaire

Shane has appreciated—and risen to—the challenge of creating memorable meals from limited resources. He unexpectedly spent the season cooking solely out of pans, after the “amazing oven” in the high-end range shipped to Base Camp shorted out due to electrical problems during set-up. There’s also the “obvious produce struggle,” says Shane, noting that working at Base Camp is at times “like working on the moon.” He’s managed to craft fresh salads nonetheless and gets very creative with hardy root vegetables. A highlight for Shane has been the Arctic char run, with multiple opportunities to incorporate this mild pink fish, a member of the salmon family, into the camp menu—pan-seared as an entree, smoked for hors d’oeuvres, and minced into char-salad sandwiches for a picnic while hiking. Shane lives in Canmore, Alberta, where he and his girlfriend just welcomed their first child.

Base Camp Greenland, staff, East Greenland, Greenland Ecolodge

Beverley Howlett and Shane Katsuno keep guests happy with their prowess in the camp kitchen

BEVERLEY HOWLETT, Assistant Hotel Manager
Base Camp’s head housekeeper, kitchen coordinator and assistant chef, Beverley hails from the Ornkey Islands off the north coast of Scotland, though she’s rarely there. A certified vagabond, she has spent 14 years working on ships for Oceanwide Expeditions as a sous chef and hotel manager, catering to travelers exploring polar seas from one end of the planet to the other. She has also been part of the Tundra Lodge crew since 2009 and enjoys working as a team with Jason and Shane.

The allure of Greenland for Beverley is the rugged beauty and ultra-remote setting. “The scenery is just incredible,” she says. “It’s always changing—the light, the clouds, the weather.” She’s noticed that camp guests are like-minded when it comes to appreciating the wild nature and vast scale of the landscape. Beverley also likes meeting the locals (“local” being a relative term here—the nearest residents are a 20-minute Zodiac ride across the bay in the tiny village of Tinit), who come to camp periodically to sell fresh fish. She also spends time in Tinit each week when she takes the laundry over to the communal laundromat, making sure camp guests have clean sheets, comforters and towels when they arrive.

HOSKULDUR JONSSON, Kayaking Guide & Zodiac Driver
A native of Iceland who now lives in northern Norway with his Norwegian wife and four young children, “Hoski” is Base Camp’s topflight kayaking guide and one of its two Zodiac operators. Having quickly become bored with conventional university studies when he left Iceland for England at 19, Hoski discovered a degree in Advanced Tourism Management from Birmingham University College. It turned out to be a pathway to a dream career in outdoor adventure guiding. He returned to work as a sea kayaking guide with Ultima Thule Expeditions in Iceland and Greenland for the past nine years, before joining Nat Hab this summer at Base Camp.

Greenland is a place whose allure has retained a hold on him. What Hoski loves about Greenland is its unpredictability and vivid contrasts. He’s captivated by its “harsh, unforgiving nature, yet five minutes later it can be exactly the opposite—calm and beautiful.” He also admires the culture of the East Greenlanders, who have “a totally different way of living” from the modern western world, based on a respect for and adaptation to the elements while surviving on resources provided by the sea and land.

Base Camp Greenland, staff, East Greenland, Greenland Ecolodge

Hoskuldur “Hoski” Jonsson and East Greenlander Julius Nielsen are an indomitable team when it comes to guiding Base Camp guests through ice-laden waters by kayak and Zodiac.

JULIUS NIELSEN, Zodiac Driver & Local Knowledge Expert
Julius may have a Danish surname, but he’s East Greenlandic Inuit through and through—and the only member of the camp team who can claim to have spent his childhood in these very environs. His intimate familiarity with the Ammassalik region, its daunting mountains and ice-laden maze of fjords helps keep guests safe as well as enlightened during their visit.

Julius moved to the small village of Tinit across the bay from Base Camp when he was 4 years old, spending 10 years of his childhood there before heading off to the “big town” of Tasiilaq for high school at 14, plus a year abroad as a teen in Copenhagen to learn Danish. Eventually, he taught himself English by watching subtitled movies and using Google Translate. Though he trained as an electrician and worked in Greenland’s capital of Nuuk for four years, ultimately the city of 20,000 felt too crowded, with traffic and stress causing “the heart to beat too hard,” Julius recounts.

“That’s not our life,” he said, telling how he and his wife chose to return to Tasiilaq where they are happy to be raising their four children with family nearby. They are surrounded by the land where Julius can practice the subsistence lifestyle he so loves, running his dog team and hunting for seal and narwhal that still comprise dietary staples for most East Greenlandic people. His language fluency has earned him the opportunity to become a tourism entrepreneur on his native turf, starting with offering dog sled trips for winter visitors and most recently adding a summer stint with Nat Hab at Base Camp. His passion is sharing Greenland’s “incredible nature” with visitors, “and I hope they know a little bit of the culture, too,” says Julius—an inevitable outcome when you spend a day in a Zodiac with him as he weaves you through the icebergs while regaling you with stories.

Read more about Base Camp Greenland in our other Dispatches:
#1: Arriving at Camp

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