Looking for ice

(by Anders)

Over the last couple of weeks the ice in the sound around Qaanaaq and Siorapuluk has been breaking up, and therefore cutting off the route to Siorapaluk via dogsled. We have been advised by almost all the hunters that the best way on to the icecap, for collecting our depot in Etah, is the glaciers around Siorapaluk. But since the ice is gone, we have been looking into finding new route to Etah and one of our options was to follow the coast around to the east and up the Bowdion Fjord where in the spring it is sometimes possible to walk to and up onto the icecap. Just because you are able to walk up it, doesn't necessarily mean that you can go there by dogsled. So we decided to go have a look at the area and see if we could find a way up on the ice and at the same time give our dogs a good training run.

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We took off Monday morning with our sleds loaded with gear and food for a potential ten day trip, and with one of the more windy days up here in this otherwise weather-stable area and with temperatures down to -31 C, we were keen to get going. But as we have learned over the last several weeks of training, our dogs are less cooperative for the first 30 minutes of the first day on our trips and training days – too much energy! And this Monday morning was no different, we had to walk in front of the dogs to help them a bit with directions. But this day we were really struggling to get the dogs going by themselves and at the speed we know they can do with heavy loads, so we spent a lot of the time shouting 'hak' (to go forward).

As every day is with 21 sled dogs something is bound to happen, and this day that something was going to involve the always 'lovely' Thor and me. In a big fight between the two teams which I tried to stop, since I was the person closest to them, Thor mistook my calf for one of the other dogs and bit and shook his head as he likes to do to every dog he can get close to.

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After a good six hours and around 24 km later (a lot slower than we usually hope for), and in the beginning of the fjord we found two wooden small huts used by hunters where we settled in for the night, even managing to coax the wood burner into life.

Tuesday after a wonderful night in a hut, and a beautiful sunrise we were treated with -33 C and almost no wind and a lot of low sun. So we put the dogs back in the front of the sled after repacking them, and sat off to the bottom of the fjords to see whether it could be possible to go over the moraine and up on to the icecap.

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After 15km or so we reached the head of the fjord and had a good look at the moraine to see if we could find a way up. But we had no luck to find a good route for dogsleds (which can't be driven on rock) and therefore we had to turn around and send Alex off on skis for the dogs to follow, and to exercise him a bit, to go back to the hut for another night before heading back to Qaanaaq. For the entirety of Tuesday the dogs were running well and we didn't have to shout commands as much and we had more time to enjoy this beautiful place we are.

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Wednesday yet another wonderful morning with -33 C, sun and very little wind. After Tuesday's minor letdown of no route on to the ice we were preparing to go home to Qaanaaq. I was going to ski in front for the dogs to follow. After half an hour Alex on the first sled caught up with me and since the dogs were running very well I stepped to the side and let him pass. After another 5 minutes James also caught up with me, but I had to ask him to stop and wait a bit so I could get far in front before he would start again. But the dogs were so well running this day that Alex was long gone and James was always right on my tail. I therefore got of my skis and jumped on to James' sled and we zoomed back to Qaanaaq in half the time we used on the way out. It was an amazing day to be dog sledding and we could enjoy the dogs working their way back to Qaanaaq.