The frozen sea ice became a well-traveled dog sled highway after the sun started peeking over the horizon for a few hours each day as spring approached. The ice was approximately 40 inches (100 cm) thick and strong enough to hold even our largest trucks. It was the smoothest and fastest way for the Greenlanders to travel up and down the coast, and they took advantage of the daylight hours. Several of us hired Inuit Greenlanders to take us out on trips to explore and take photographs. This is Itukusuk tying everything down for our trip to the big glacier.
In Greenland, the dogs do not run in a column - like in Alaska and Canada. In Greenland, they ran parallel on equal length seal skin lines. To keep the dogs from chewing them off, the dog's teeth were filed down.
The Husky dogs were strictly workers and not to be petted. They were not fed everyday. When they were fed, it was frozen meat chunks that they swallow whole. This made them feel full for a longer time as it thawed out in their stomach. One time I was going to lay down and take a picture of the dogs from a low angle. I was surprised that the Greenlander stood over me with his whip. He said the dogs might have attacked me because I looked like a seal.
As the dogs ran and pulled us along, they changed places periodically, and the lines became tangled. Every hour or so we had to stop so the driver could untangle the lines. That gave us a chance to stop, get off the sled, and move around a little to warm up. The dogs took a welcome break, too.
On the trail, if a storm would hit suddenly, the driver would turn the sled over and get under it. The dogs would curl up with their tail over their face and let the snow cover them for insulation from the strong sub-zero winds.
The dog teams were 8 to 15 Huskies that could pull a sled with a load of 1500 pounds (675 kg). I watched them run for hours with incredible endurance. It seemed like they didn't mind or object to their job too much. It was interesting to see how efficient they were at scooping up snow in their mouth for water while they ran.
Dogs and sleds have been used for 4000 years in the Arctic by the Inuits, and still are used today for hunting out on the sea ice. The dogs are not raised as pets, but there is a mutual respect between man and dog, for each must depend on the other for survival.
My attempt at driving the dogs felt like trying to drive a car without a steering wheel and with no breaks. I felt no control at all. The dogs understood only voice commands and the whip, neither of which I could use effectively. These 14 Huskies were well matched, beautiful, and strong. They belonged to our guide Itukusuk, who was the son of a great hunter and guide to the Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen. (More about them later.)
The sea ice was not only a good highway for the dog sleds but also for motor vehicles-if there was any place to drive to. Here I am on the ice road on North Star Bay, out about a mile from land. In the background are icebergs that never made it to the open sea before the bay froze last fall. Of course, the ice roads were not usable during the summer!
Is this sign really necessary?
"ICE ROAD TO DUNDAS OVER NORTH (STAR) BAY CLOSED IN SUMMER"
© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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