“PUR! PUR!” SHOUTS INUIT MIKA. “Pur, Jackie, Pur!” His husky is named after film-star Jackie Chan, and it knows exactly what its leader wants: “Pur” is a modified form of “pull”, which is exactly what the dog has to do now.
His paws sink deep into the snow, and the thin rope becomes taut. It’s mid-April and the sun is already quite warm. Small puddles have formed everywhere.
It seems hardly possible that the 12 huskies can pull sledges loaded with dog-handlers, two guests and equipment over the next hill, but they manage it. They can pull a load corresponding to their own bodyweight of about 25kg, and for several hours.
The sled glides almost silently through the still-frozen fjord into the mountains, which are still covered with ice and snow, though with brown patches here and there. “The dogs are the true heroes of the Arctic,” says Sven Gust of Northern Explorers.
The German, now based north of Trondheim in Norway, has been organising diving expeditions to Arctic waters for many years. “Huskies were the most important production animals in Greenland in past centuries,” he says.
“In winter they were the only transport option, and brought the Inuit to the ice edge or to hunt in outlying fjords.”
Recently the dogs have started to be replaced by snowmobiles which, unlike dogs, don’t need to be fed when not in use. “Most Inuit are very poor and cannot afford much,” explains Gust.
“A snowmobile can stand in the corner, and costs no money in the summer.”
Luckily, however, there are still enough huskies and dog-handlers who rely on them in Tasiilaq, the capital of East Greenland, which has some 2000 inhabitants.
“Especially when the ice gets thin, the dog-sledges still have an advantage over the heavier snowmobiles,” says Gust.
The traditional mode of transport is popular with tourists, too. “Next to the diving, we want to offer this unique experience to our guests.”
The week-long expedition includes a three-day tour that takes us into a nearby fjord. “With the dogs we need about five or six hours to get there.”
Most of the equipment is transported by snowmobile, so the dogs don’t need to pull the heavy dive-gear.
When the dogs start to pull the sledge it’s an odd feeling, because you have yet to work out how to hold on, or where to put your feet. But by the time the sledges are sliding silently over the frozen fjord, all the guests have stopped worrying and are just grinning. Only on steep climbs or over wet snow do we have to jump off the sledge and run alongside to make it a little easier for the dogs.
“Running in deep snow is more strenuous than I thought,” says the German Thomas from Heidelberg. “You respect the dogs all the more when you can jump onto the sledge again.”
The amateur triathlete, who hardly ever complains about effort, loves travelling to the Arctic. “The combination of diving and adventure with dog-sledges was especially appealing on this expedition,” he tells me.
During the dog-sledging tour, we stay in a place that sums up the adventurous character of this trip, a lonely cottage on the edge of Semalik Fjord.
There may be no running water, but there’s still plenty of snow on the roof for thawing. The only power is from the generator, but the stove heats the cabin quickly for when we get back from the long dog-sledge ride. It’s from here that the daily dive-trips begin.

THE SPECIAL ATTRACTIONS under water are the icebergs, frozen in the fjord and broken off last summer in a nearby glacier, which is fed by the huge Greenland ice-cap. But first, an appropriate entry-point has to be found. “How and where we can go diving can’t be predicted," says Gust.
Anyone who has visited the Arctic will know what he means by that. The weather can change at any time, and the ice conditions always have to be monitored closely.
If the ice is too thin, the huskies can’t drive up to the edge, so the hole needs to be hacked into the thicker part of the ice in the fjord. “Big cracks in the ice can occur quickly in the springtime, and divers could also get into the water in one of those cracks,” Gust explains while looking at the fjord through his binoculars. “But it’s important always to have a look at the surrounding situation to avoid getting into danger.”
Once in the icy water, there are important safety rules to observe. In water temperatures of -2°C we have to avoid using the regulator until we’re below the surface to avoid freezing, and on the dive the recommendation is to switch every five minutes between the two main regulators, which are of course on independent first stages.
Soon after descending beneath the snow-covered ice darkness surrounds us, but then our eyes adjust and we can see a new, surreal world.
In places the snowpack is less dense, and allows a little light to illuminate the underwater landscape. Small icebergs reveal previously unsuspected elements below the surface, sometimes sharp-edged, almost crescent-shaped – then again round and smooth like concatenated bowls. It would be hard to tire of discovering these whimsical shapes and structures, especially as they shine in a variety of hues.
These range from white-grey to a deep blue that occurs only in the most compressed ice, as on the Greenland ice-sheet. The ice is set against water colours ranging from dark green to a deep black in the depths of the fjord, and you feel as if you have been transported deep inside a mountain cave.
Because of the low visibility, caused by the increasing amount of meltwater and the darkness, we can explore only small sections. Secured by a line from the exit hole, it would be risky to venture too far. “We have never had a diving accident, but safety comes first,” says Gust.

IN THIS REMOTE WILDERNESS security is all the more important because the nearest hyperbaric chamber is in Reykjavik, a two-hour flight away in Iceland. Diving in the fjord may require a little courage and a love of adventure, but the reward for being able to enter Semalik Fjord in your logbook is a raft of unforgettable impressions.
Sven Gust has saved the best experience for the end of the trip, however – the icebergs on the Atlantic coast.
Again, the logistical effort needed to reach the dive-sites is considerable. Our kit has to be taken by car from our accommodation to the harbour, loaded onto a sledge and pulled by human muscle-power to the ice-edge – suddenly everyone wants the huskies back!
Eventually everything is stowed aboard a small day-boat, which makes and breaks its way through the ice floes in the fjord with a seemingly relaxed Inuit captain at the wheel.
“That is amazing!” shouts Ian from the USA. He has been filming the ride with his action camera and is looking back from the bow, grinning to the other passengers. “I can’t wait for the dive!”
The icebergs have broken off from the northern glaciers and drive south along the coast, but they can’t all be dived.
“The iceberg must be as stable as possible, without overhanging edges or larger cracks, otherwise a piece could suddenly break off,” warns Gust.
This risk can never be entirely ruled out, but the organiser’s experience makes him good at assessing the potential danger, and he unerringly chooses the correct ice giants for us to dive.
In April underwater visibility on the coast is very good – 20-30m is not uncommon, and up to 60m is possible, according to Gust. So a good bit of that 90% of the iceberg that lies under water can be seen from the surface.

THE WATER IS NO WARMER here, but the icy underwater spectacle makes the icy temperature easier to forget.
The giant structures shimmer a greenish blue in the strong sunlight and reveal unexpected forms, the equivalent of a reef with its canyons, coves and small plateaus.
In some places sharp edges like oversized axe-blades rise from the ice.
In others the ice is traversed by fine vein-like cracks. Almost everywhere we see a transparent layer of ice, no more than a few centimetres thick, over a solid white core that looks like snow.
A safety line is no longer necessary because the boat, which follows the divers between the ice-floes, is always visible to the divers. The good visibility occurs because there is less meltwater on the coast, and the algal bloom won’t occur until some weeks after our visit.
“I visited Greenland in the summer with much less visibility, but now I’ve been able to check off the experience in spectacular conditions,” says Thomas.
“In summer the whales are the highlight, but in spring the focus shifts to the icebergs.”
The farewell isn’t such a wrench, because it involves a helicopter flight over the sea ice. “It’s only possible to reach the airport with a helicopter. The ice is still too thick for the boats at this time of the year,” explains the smiling Sven Gust, sitting in the bright red chopper as the turbines start roaring.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Fly to Kulusuk in eastern Greenland via Iceland.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Northern Explorers can make the arrangements, www.northern-explorers.com
WHEN TO GO: August and September are preferred months for iceberg diving.
PRICES: Northern Explorers organises one-week iceberg diving expeditions for 3150 euros pp. This includes airport transfer by boat or helicopter (if available), half-board apartment accommodation (two sharing), all boat and land excursions and activities and unlimited diving on all diving days (subject to conditions – expect two dives per average boat day). Return flights from the UK cost from around £1000.
VISITOR INFORMATION: www.greenland.com