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Danish Prince Gives Greenland Royal Exposure

A four-month, 2,200-mile dog-sled trip by Frederik and 5 others is closely followed via Internet, TV in a project to teach students about the Arctic territory.

March 03, 2000|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COPENHAGEN — The age of aristocratic adventures and royal derring-do largely died out with whalebone corsets and dueling pistols, but Danes are getting a glimpse of a modern prince taking on Mother Nature through a four-month expedition to Greenland beamed home over the Internet and television.

This dog-sled expedition by the Danish Greenland Patrol is drawing unusually keen interest because one of the six hardy souls grappling with the geographic severity is a national heartthrob and local hero, Crown Prince Frederik.

The 31-year-old heir to the Danish throne has long had a penchant for far-flung travel and physical challenge, having served in the army, navy and Danish version of the Seabees. The Harvard graduate will get his pilot's license and will train with the air force after the Greenland expedition, Sirius 2000, concludes in June, said Soeren Haslund-Christensen, lord chamberlain at Christianborg Castle.

"He's a very serious young man, and I think it's good experience for a young crown prince to see the world from other viewpoints rather than running around as a playboy," said Haslund-Christensen, an erstwhile adventurer who took Frederik along on a 1986 trek through Mongolia and Central Asia.

Danish newspapers have carried dozens of reports about the expedition since the crown prince, a photographer and four veteran dog-sled drivers took off from the northern settlement of Qaanaaq on Feb. 11, as soon as the sun began peeking over the horizon again after three months of winter darkness.

But the real window on the expedition has been its Web site, http://www.expedition.tv2.dk. The site carries daily updates that include diary entries, weather reports of temperatures averaging 40 degrees below zero, photographs, video clips and maps showing territory covered so far on the 2,200-mile trek and the route ahead to the expected finish line in Daneborg.

"There's been enormous interest, especially among schoolchildren who are following the expedition as part of their studies," said Freddy Neumann, whose public relations agency is handling media inquiries about the trip that unites TV2 and the Ministry of Education in a project to teach young Danes about Greenland.

The world's largest island, Greenland is bigger than Mexico and 50 times the size of Denmark. It has been under Danish rule for most of the last two centuries and became an integral part of the realm under this nation's 1953 constitution. The island's indigenous people have enjoyed home rule in all but foreign and military affairs since 1979.

But most Danes know little about Greenland other than its population--a mere 56,000 residents--and the fact that most of the island is encased in ice year-round. Scholars and scientists at the Arctic Institute and the Danish Polar Council here say they are thrilled that Frederik's participation is putting the territory, its indigenous people and the Greenland Patrol--which is marking its 50th anniversary with the event--on the global map.

"The TV programs and the Web site and all these connections to schools make it educational as well as functional," Leif Vanggaard, a retired navy captain and surgeon with 30 years' experience treating Arctic injuries, said of the expedition. "The Sirius patrol is well known and has always been quite prestigious, but a little extra [public relations] from the royal family can only be a good thing."

Danish military dog-sled teams--made up of two soldiers, 12 to 15 dogs and a handmade sledge--have covered the same route at least twice each year since 1951 to establish sovereignty over the territory, parts of which Norwegian whalers and fishermen laid claim to as recently as the early 1900s.

Sirius 2000 is distinctive not only for its royal imprimatur but for its size, with three teams instead of the usual one, and state-of-the-art global positioning equipment that will help in the event that any search-and-rescue operation is needed.

"The risks are the same as they always have been," Vanggaard said. "Except for the radio and communications, they're still traveling in the same way [North Pole explorer Robert E.] Peary would."

Like any mother, reigning Queen Margrethe II is concerned about the safety of the expedition, the organizers concede. But Haslund-Christensen insists that the queen is 100% behind her eldest son's latest venture, even if he will be missing her 60th birthday April 16--an event to be celebrated lavishly by the rest of Denmark's 5 million people.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

An Arctic Adventure

Danish Crown Prince Frederik, 31, is on a four-month, 2,200-mile expedition in Greenland. His team, left Qaanaaq on Feb. 11 and will finish in Daneborg.

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