November 29, 2021
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Lonnie Dupre

Arctic Explorer

2001 Polartec Challenge Grant Recipient

This is the fourth post in a blog series dedicated to catching up with past recipients of the Polartec Challenge Grants. Read the series introduction post.

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For more than 30 years, famed Polar explorer Lonnie Dupre has been traveling to and advocating for some of the world’s most fragile environments. His passion for cold-weather exploration began when he was a boy growing up in rural Minnesota. “Summers were way too hot for me,” Dupre says. “I longed for winter when we didn't have to do farm work anymore and I could ski around the farm, and eventually on the frozen lakes and rivers.” The love for the cold and the new horizons that emerged after a deep freeze led to a curiosity for cold, remote environments. “I wanted to explore areas that hadn’t been explored in-depth. That meant doing projects that were geographical-first expeditions—things that haven't been done.”

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Circumnavigating Greenland

His wanderlust has led him on countless expeditions along the Arctic and polar region, and in 2001, Dupre and his teammate John Hoelscher completed the first and only non-motorized circumnavigation of Greenland via kayak (along the southern sections) and dog team (for the northern sections).

“At that time, there was very little known about Greenland and it was hard to research it from the US,” Dupre explains. “Early on, I actually took a trip to Greenland to get an idea of how the environment was different from other places in the Arctic. And then we launched our expedition and started traveling the west coast by kayak, traveling 1,250 miles on the first leg of our journey.”

Another crux of the expedition was breaking the island up into sections; there are only certain times of year that allow for safe passage when kayaking and other times for dog sledding, as well as periods when they had to stop traveling altogether. Dupre explains, “there’s total darkness in mid-winter so we couldn't travel by dog team. And then there were really dangerous periods of kayaking—due to fall storms and freezing ocean—when we couldn't be on the water.”

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In total, it took Hoelscher and Dupre five and a half years to organize and complete the 6,500-mile circumnavigation, with 22 months of that time spent en route completing the objective.

Coupled with time spent actually on the island, getting enough funding to make the trip happen was an expedition on its own. “We spent just under a half a million dollars going around Greenland. That was 20 years ago and that was a lot of money back then,” Dupre explains. “Caring for sled dogs over the years plus getting their kayaks and gear in Greenland all added up.” In addition, parts of Greenland are actually in a restricted zone so Dupre had to have sign-off from the Pentagon and Danish Military in order to even enter certain areas.

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Polartec Challenge Grant

“The Polartec Challenge Grant was a big part of those early days. We must have had 40 major sponsors for the trip, including Polartec and National Geographic,” Dupre explains. Dupre’s team also raised whatever money they could on their own. They sold t-shirts, had spaghetti dinners, chili feeds, you name it—anything to raise funding for the expedition.

“The reason why we took Polartec on our project was because Greenland's a very damp environment,” Dupre says. “When you're kayaking around the southern part you're paddling close to the ice so it’s freezing. Having fabrics that allow the heat from your body to pull that dampness away from your skin was a real lifesaver.”

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Present Day

Dupre and his team are returning to Greenland in 2022 to do a then-and-now comparison of the region and document how climate change and culture have evolved since their last visit. “Has it changed for the better? Has it changed for the worse? What adaptations have the polar Inuit people made in the face of a changing climate?” are the questions they hope to answer. Dupre is traveling with a film crew and his team is planning on spending January-August of next year exploring and shooting their documentary.

Learn more about Dupre and his upcoming project, Pulling for the Planet, at his website, www.lonniedupre.com.

Tagged as: Outdoor

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