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Greenland Video Clips

Traveling through a changing world

A day of dog sledging

Here's how you can do it A serious tour that includes an overnight with a team


Holly and Salas under way

Here's Holly and Salas, the hunter-driver on his sledge just a few kilometers from the fjord at Tasilaq. This trail is used by hunters to get to the Sarpaq area around 30 km.due north of the town of Tasilaq.

We had arranged for a two day sledging trip but a one day delay in leaving Iceland had us settling for a single day trip. We had scrubbed an attempt to get to Greenland in February when the wind closed the airport at Kulusuk, and also blew the sheet of sea ice free and out into the sea. The winds driven by a combination of offshore lows and the cold air descending off the galciers at times reach hurricane velocities. They are known locally as "piterfak".

The weather during our stay was sometimes a disorienting freezing fog that at times obscured the texture of the snow to the point that drift edges and footprints were not discernible.

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Arrival

On our trip we met with three groups of hunters returning from the hunting grounds with seals. The first two meeting were impromptu, two men, two sleds, a few minutes to rest the dogs. No one we saw during that day, including Salas, our driver, spoke more than 2 or 3 words of English. We shared the word "water/immelt" and a few others with Salas. We crossed two very flat areas a few kilometers long and managed to convey our question of whether they were lakes.

Our lunch rendez-vous seemed to have been pre-arranged. Salas looked at his watch several times before the others arrived (not a common Inuit habit). We wondered if the meeting had been set up via cell phone.

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Readying to go on

Aligning the front end

We learned at Tasilaq's museum that the local tradition was to build short sleds (6 or 8 feet long) and that their runners were solid, not open work struts. The sleds in the northwest were long so they could bridge leads of open water between ice floes common to that area. The open work runners allow the sledges to turn easier without plowing a lot of snow. Availability of milled lumber from Europe has probably been a big factor, the driftwood used in old times was scant on this coast.

Holly managed to ask about the sledge and felt that Salas said that his father had built his. He brushed off snow that got on it and would rearrange things shipshape any time he took anything off or on. His relationship with the dogs also impressed us. During our lunch break the lead dog came over to him for some attention. A little rubbing, stroking and whisker pulling. Some little crossing of a line by the dog evoked the reprimand of a slap you'd give a child's hand reaching for an extra cooky. The balance in these man/dog relationships is probably pretty alien to Americans.

The sleds we saw were all mortised and tenoned for their structural members. They were lashed together with flat nylon and had a wondeful flexibility - mostly Ash. The use of plastic for lashing, harnesses and ropes is a great relief for the Inuit since the use of seal and walrus skins in the past meant constant surveillance of the team of hungry dogs.

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Heading back to Tasilaq

The town of Tasilaq has seen a lot of Polar Bear traffic this year. Possibilbly as a result of the sea ice having been blown out. A bear was shot in town the morning we went out. A mother and two cubs had to be shot when they broke into someone's food locker a few days earlier.

Tasilaq is the jumping off point for people crossing the ice cap of Greenland and has a number of outfitters who outfit them, and others who go out for extended treks. We met a party at our hotel who had been out for two weeks on skis with pull sleds. They weren't allowed to go out without carrying a rifle for bears.

Kulusuk, as near as it is, has very little problem with bears. The few times I wondered out to the end of the island away from town and hotel I never quite relaxed, anyway.

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Kid

On the trip back to Tasilaq we could see some individualities in our party. One sled was carrying only the driver. He was a bit of a hot dog, taller than most and while he seemed to show his dogs some respect he didn't spend time untangling his traces. He started away first, kneeling on the front of the sled and one of the boys hopped onto the sledge behind him. The kid played at driving the sledge a bit, smiled and waved to us after finding his courage, and when two snowmobiles from the Commune Tasilaq caught up and eased past us both boys ran over to them and hopped on. Off they went.

On walking around Kulusuk we saw some ATVs and snowmobiles, probably more than we expected, and noticed the dog din in the background seemed less than it was a few years ago.

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Uphill
The lead dog shows his stuff here. The dogs here look a bit as if they are in a tandem hitch, with the dogs in a line and paired side by side. Greenlanders pretty much use a fan hitch, however. The traces are different lengths so when the dogs pull hard and therefore get pretty much in a straight line with the sledge they each have their own space. Without obstacles like trees the dogs rarely have to be steered around anything and when they do need a bit of steering a whip crack gets them to move one way or the other.

Running down hill it's fun to see the traces go slack and the dogs running free without a load. One wonders if they realize that the Juggernaut of a sledge could crush them.

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Sled ahead
Here's a glimpse of slack traces on a slight downhill.

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Following sled

A certain informality. The dogs sort of set their own pace and position.

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Here's how you can go dog sledging!

The Fire engine/Utility vehicle for Kulusuk

We offer a 6 day tour that includes a two day dog sled outing Here's how you can do it

Go To Still Picture Page for Kulusuk - Ammassalik

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