Table of Contents
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Dr. Lucien Ockovsky
The First Official ISDI Gathering
Nunavut Quest 2001 Diary
The Song of the Glacier
An Arctic "Fish Story"
Defining ISD Purity
Distemper in the North
Brucellosis in Arctic Marine Mammals: A threat to team dogs?
Poem: But, I must be dreaming, that's years ago...
Book Review: the latest Coppinger book
Janice Howls: Who Belongs in the ISDI?
Page from a Behaviour Notebook: Inuit Dog Stereotypes
Frankly Speaking: Zombies
Coming into camp. Lee Narraway photo
Nunavut Quest 2001 Diary
by Peter Krizan
This was the third running of the Nunavut Quest. The previous races took place in 1999 from Arctic Bay to Iglulik and in 2000 from Pond Inlet to Arctic Bay. The terrain for the 2001 race was relatively flat, and this was the longest race to date. The most attractive aspect of the Nunavut Quest is that it promotes traditional travel. Racers have to use Canadian Inuit Dogs, have to use a fourteen-foot qamutik with thirty "napu" (cross-pieces). Everyone has to carry a two-burner Coleman stove, a snow knife, a snow saw, a harpoon, and a rifle. The dogs run in a fan hitch configuration, and all the harnesses, pituk and traces have to be hand made. Most drivers still use sealskin anu. Each driver has to have with him a snow machine driver to carry all the dog food and other supplies from one daily camp to the next. Each day, dog drivers race to a pre-determined point where they pitch tents, feed their dogs and repair the qamutiit to be ready for the next day. The daily distances between camps varies.
Mine was a spontaneous decision to enter the 2001 Nunavut Quest. Having just completed a 350-kilometer round trip to Kimmirut, formerly called Lake Harbour, with my friend Ken MacRury, I felt pretty confident that my dogs could complete the 700-kilometer race from Hall Beach to Arctic Bay. I had only two weeks to get organized for an event scheduled to begin on April 16 and end in Arctic Bay around the 26th, give or take a few days depending on the weather. To start with, I was one dog short of the minimum eight-dog requirement. Keith Irving lent me two of his dogs, so I was able to start with nine. Jim Noble, Sr. and Jr. went to work building the necessary qamutik.
On April 14, we loaded the dogs onto a First Air plane destined for Hall Beach. The dogs were agitated, and I could smell them as soon as I boarded the plane. To everyone's dismay the dogs expelled all their liquids in various forms, providing for an intensely smelly flight. In Hall Beach I was met by, among other people, Norman Kipsigak, my snow machine driver. Without much discussion, we loaded the dog boxes and my gear onto a twenty-four-foot qamutik and set off to chain the dogs out on the sea ice. I was billeted with Laimiki's family for two days before the start of the race. While in Hall Beach, I'd planned to talk to anyone who had been on the trail to Arctic Bay to find out the conditions, the landmarks and the possibility of polar bear encounters. My dogs had not seen polar bears, and I was not sure how the dogs would react if they were to come upon their tracks or a bear itself. The community put on a feast in our honor, consisting of such country foods as frozen char, muktuk, and caribou. After eating, we drew our jersey numbers. Of the sixteen teams registered, I was the only non-Inuk competitor. The next day, I fed my dogs, organized dog food for the trip and sorted out my gear.
The following is my race diary:
April 16. Day 1
I woke at 0600 hours anxious to go. I stepped outside with my cup of coffee into a sort of hazy morning with lots of ice crystals in the air. It was well below minus 24 degrees C. Looking out onto the sea ice, I spotted a polar bear heading for the dog teams and I watched to see if it was really going to approach the dogs. It soon became apparent that the bear was headed directly for one of the three groups of dogs, among them my team. Very soon I saw a whole gang of snow machines speeding across the sea ice, directly for the bear. It didn't take long for the men to chase the bear to the flow edge located only a couple of kilometers from town. Soon after that, my qamutik was towed to the dog yard and the team and I got ready to go. The race began with a mass start. I was very surprised how well my dogs adapted to the situation and actually lined up next to all the other teams. With a count down from a megaphone we were off on the first leg of the journey, seventy-five kilometers to Iglulik. The first part of the trail was slow going. Because of deep snow on the rough ice and not knowing the trail, we wove back and fourth a little. Within a few hours I was among a group of three teams. We took turns passing each other, once in a while chatting as we traveled side by side. After crossing the only overland section, there were several trails to choose from. By then the two other teams had pulled slightly ahead so I decided to try a shorter route, which turned out to be a bad idea. We were the last team to arrive in Iglulik, with some very tired dogs. I was met on the beach by Norman and Natalino Piugattuk, two of the participants. Nat invited me to stay with his family. It turned out that most racers had not purchased sufficient supplies back in Hall Beach, so we had to stay an extra day in Iglulik. I was glad as my dogs could use the rest. Nat and I talked and he gave me some good advice. We went out in the evening with his dogs and he showed me how to untangle traces without stopping. He had decided to withdraw from the race and suggested that I use his qamutik fitted with ice runners. I hadn't seen ice runners before as most of the qamutiit in south Baffin have plastic runners. I was apprehensive since ice runners require a lot of maintenance and careful driving around rocks and dog droppings. Nevertheless, I accepted his offer and arranged for my qamutik to be shipped out.
April 18. Day 2
We left Iglulik at about 10:00 A.M. with almost the entire town watching the start. Since my team had arrived last we were the last to start. Teams departed at one minute intervals. Next camp was the other Iqaluit ("the fishing place") at the base of Bell Bay - not the capital of Nunavut! The day passed quite quickly. The dogs seemed in good shape and I concluded that the ice runners glided better than my plastics. We arrived second last in camp. Having felt lousy on the first day I feel better about Day 2. Although the dogs are tired at the end of the day, they appear alert and eager to eat walrus meat. They drink plenty of baited water. One more team has dropped out.
April 19. Day 3
I am learning how to care for my runners. It takes a great deal of effort to avoid hard ice chunks and rocks. It's inevitable that I run over dog poop but I do my best to push the qamutik to the side every time a dog defecates. Some of the tracks ahead of us are stained brown so I know that others are also facing the same challenges. I saw several dogs loose on the trail. Some are in very poor shape and I know that they are not going to make it back to camp. I tried to pick up one of the dogs but it was too nippy to hold on to. Later that day I carried another dog for about five kilometers before it too decided that it didn't like sitting on my sled. I watched them disappear behind us. In camp, two more drivers have dropped out because their dogs are in poor shape. Some dogs are put down. My dogs are doing OK. I can't seem to get them running as do some of the other drivers, but they plug away at a maximum of 12 km/hr and most of the time at 9 -10 km/hr. Not worried about our standings, as I'm happy to be out on the trail, hopeful that my dogs will make the distance. We have camped out on land just inland from the sea ice.
April 20. Day 4
The dogs are still kind of heavy footed but toward the end of the day they picked up their pace and kept their tails up. They sprinted into camp and devoured all the food in their path. Their appetite is good and they readily drink their water.
I've got the routine down. First the dogs get fed while Norman waits with water baited with scraps of arctic char. Next, I unpack the sled and throw the sleeping bag into the tent. Then I tend to the qamutik. I am getting better at taking care of the runners. I turn over the qamutik and scrape the runners. Once the chips are smoothed, I mix urine and clean lukewarm water in a small bucket and spread the pee/water mixture on the runners evenly with a piece of caribou hide. At first the water runs down the runners and the runners look like a cake with a bad glaze. After much practice, I've got the technique down and the runners are usually as smooth as a freshly cleaned ice rink. While watching several people redo their ice layers completely, I've learnt to fix larger cracks. We normally chew on walrus and char as we work away.
April 21. Day 5
We headed out with a great start and soon passed a couple of teams. At about twenty-five kilometers, the dogs were really doing well. They seemed focused and kept up an even trot. As we headed toward land we spotted a cabin. As we drew closer I saw all kinds of garbage and debris scattered to one side of the cabin. There was little I could do to control the dogs then. They smelled "food" and off we went toward the garbage. On our way we hit a half buried fuel barrel. I cringed when I heard the ice being scraped off my right runner. I got the dogs back on the trail but felt the runner drag, and all the traces were tight. I decided to stop, rolled over the qamutik and inspected the damage. The better part of the length of one runner had to be re-done. So, I spent nearly two hours melting snow and patching the runner. We watched as the other two teams passed us by. The dogs were content to rest. I was more than a little frustrated. For the first time I was feeling competitive, knowing that we were ahead of where we are expected to be. I was angry at my inability to keep the dogs on trail and away from the cabin. After the runner was functional again, we continued and my frustration vanished as the dogs got back into an even trot. I enjoyed the more undulating scenery. I checked my GPS once in a while to know the distance covered. At sixty-five kilometers I noticed the dogs were growing tired. On the sled I started to melt water to coat the runners as I sensed some resistance. I stopped to let the dogs rest while I worked on the runner. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten the scraper and all I has was a snow knife to smooth out the sections, hardly adequate to get a smooth gloss on the runner. I decided that I was not going to push the dogs. Wed take our time. We have three more days to go. At the seventy-five-kilometer mark I started to wonder where was the camp. With each turn of the trail I expected to see tents and skidoos. The dogs were running slowly and I could tell that they didn't smell a camp. We rested again for three minutes. The dogs didn't want to continue and I couldn't get them to stand. They huddled together and went on strike. I decided to run ahead and call them. No response. I ran so far that I could hardly make out individual dogs. Again, I called to them. Nothing. I came back to the sled and spoke to Orca and Nanuq. Nanuq stood but as soon as I moved ahead and called to him he lay down again. I was frustrated and angry for entering the race. I felt I misjudged the dogs' condition and felt guilty. We had to go on, so I decided to give them a long enough rest and then try to make it to camp. I'd decide what to do in the morning. Eventually, only Mojo, Nanuq, and Orca stood. I pushed the sled so that it nearly collided with the other dogs. With that, they all got up and with a bit of coaxing they walked onto the trail. It took me a lot more coaxing and pushing to get them into a steady walk. Five kilometers farther on they quit again. This time I didn't let them rest as I didn't want them to stiffen up. Grabbing a couple of dogs by their harnesses I pulled them along the trail. A couple of whacks on the behind got the message across and we were on the move. I talked to the dogs continuously and praised them for their effort. At eighty-seven kilometers I was still dismayed. Where the hell is camp? Finally, at ninety-three kilometers the dogs picked up the pace and we sprinted into camp. I am surprised how well the dogs ran the last fifteen kilometers. After the strike and some rest they ran at 12 km/hr most of the time. I am very proud of the dogs and eager to see what the morning brings.
It's Sunday and the drivers have decided not to travel. I'm happy because my dogs need the rest. I spent the day checking over the dogs’ paws, cutting hair from between their toes and trimming claws. I hydrated them every four hours and fed them in two feedings. Surprisingly, they look very good.
April 23. Day 6
The day started sunny but windy. One of the camp elders said it would be stormy today. We are further behind than anticipated. The snow conditions are still pretty good with some deep snow in sections. The wind later picked up and the visibility dropped. I was traveling in a group of five teams. We took turns in the lead, once in a while getting slightly tangled when the dogs crossed traces. The wind kept picking up and it was getting difficult to look ahead. The drivers traveled with faces to the side, letting the dogs take care of the rest. The tracks from previous sleds were non-existent. The two teams that were ahead of me were barely visible and their traces were picked up only by my lead dog, Orca. It is under such conditions that I can see the competitiveness in Orca and some of the other dogs. Often as we get close to another team they are eager to pass, sometimes doing so like old veterans and other times trying to visit the other driver or the dogs and forcing me to slow down. No glitches though. We made it to camp in eleventh place, and I was very pleased with the dogs.
April 24. Day 7
Another long day but the dogs were steady. The scenery is spectacular, with high hills to the north-east and flat sea ice. Again, we finished eleventh, just a few minutes behind number ten.
April 29. Day 8
As this was the last day of the race, we did a massed start. The dogs were flying and we were soon in third place. I realized that they couldn't keep up the pace but let them get the excitement out of their system. Three kilometers on and we were down to seventh place and slowed to our normal 9-10 km/hr pace. The weather turned hazy with lots of ice crystals in the air. As we neared Arctic Bay, there were numerous snow machine trails. As we approached the flags marking the finish line, I urged the dogs to pick up the pace, and we finished at a sprint in eleventh place. We took our time getting to the waterfront area where we saw hundreds of people on the sea ice awaiting our arrival. A crowd of people surrounded my qamutik, hoisting it and me over their heads. I felt somewhat embarrassed and yet I felt I wanted to hoist each dog. They'd made it! I am both very happy and sad now that the trip is over. After the dogs were fed and tied out, I went to Joanasie Akumalik’s house where I spent the next week waiting for good weather for the trip home. [end of race journal]
Why did I do it? Simply to be with the dogs on a long journey. To be in a place where nothing else matters except absorbing the impression of the land and bonding with my nine dogs. At times, I felt the competitive urge despite the frustration when things were not working out as I thought they should. In the end, I was and am incredibly proud of and indebted to my dogs. We became a coordinated unit, and the distance brought us closer together. We covered the 700 kilometers without any major injuries or mishaps. I achieved my personal goal to run the race and get the dogs home again.
The Nunavut Quest is a unique experience, unlike any other event I've taken part in. The fact that fifteen of the sixteen drivers were Inuit certainly made the race special, and I now know things that I did not know before thanks to the people I met along the way. I have a great respect for many of the dog team drivers who are likely known only to the people of Nunavut.
Results of the Nunavut Quest 2001