Table of Contents
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Ken MacRury, Part 2
Page from the Behaviour Notebook: Death and Transfiguration
The Qitdlarssuaq Chronicles, Part 4
ISDI letter to the Editor of Mushing Magazine
Inuit Dog Thesis International Sales
Update: Traveling Dog Exhibit
Product Review: The Original Zipper Rescue Kit®
Janice Howls: PETAphiles
IMHO: Means, Motive and Opportunity
Index to The Fan Hitch, Volume 5
Navigating This Site
|Here is the final of four excerpts
taken from The Book That Wasn't, a limited edition publication of
the very personal accounts of Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey and
British Antarctic Survey veterans describing what it was like to live and
work with dogs. The ISDI and The Fan Hitch gratefully acknowledge
the generosity of Kevin Walton for granting permission to select and reproduce
portions of The Book That Wasn't. Ed.
Vignettes from Another Time, Another Place
Notes by Kevin Walton
As working teams, BAS dogs achieved some remarkable journeys, judged by any standards except speed, for this has no part in scientifically based exploration. They were essentially "freighting dogs" working far from home; for them "light" loads were a luxury that they rarely enjoyed. They were able to take terrific punishment when short of rations, as they often were, when air drops failed or field depots were never recovered, as often happened where these were located on the plateau or shelf ice far from good landmarks. As teams they were probably unequalled for plain heavy hauling, day after day, in conditions that could vary from waterlogged snow lying on rotten sea ice to deep soft snow with dogs working chest deep; from crystalline hoar frost that gripped the sledges like desert sand to snow crust that was just unable to support a dog's weight; from zig-zagging among dangerous crevasses that involved frequent righting and restarting a capsized heavily loaded sledge to crossing rotten and dangerous sea ice when it was a case of "sink or swim", or both.
Journeys recorded in terms of miles covered against days in the field
improved continuously as air support and the quality of field rations improved,
but even in the early 70's when the writing was on the wall for the future
of the dogs, long journeys that averaged 15 miles in a day were very rare.
Stonington and many other occasions since
All sledgers will have their memories of dog sledging days in Antarctica. Days of drama, such as the rescue of an American in a crevasse in North-East Glacier by the 1947 FIDS at Stonington Island base; or arriving by dog-team at the Amundsen-Scott base at the Pole. Days of danger and fear - a sledge breaking through thin sea ice and floundering in the slushy ice; or dogs down a crevasse and you hope you can haul them up before they wriggle out of their harnesses and fall to their death. Days of discomfort such as on a late autumn depot-laying trip with heavy loads, short hours of daylight, the wind blowing drift snow into your face, and you are cold and tired and miserable.
But the days always remembered best are the days of delight, when everything seems perfect and you are exhilarated with joy, contentment and achievement.
It was such a day's sledging I recall with David Stratton. A couple of weeks beforehand we had been flown from the base in the Otter aircraft to the western end of the Shackleton Mountains. We had been sledging eastwards and that morning looking out of the tent we found a brilliant clear sky, an absolutely calm and crisp feel in the air although the sun was already warming the tent. The dogs stirred and gave us an early welcome and soon we had the tent down and the sledge loaded and lashed. Off we went up a long smooth gentle slope with low flat-topped hills on either side. It was an excellent surface for sledging on firm hard snow with no sastrugi and crevasse-free, and a lightly loaded sledge. The miles ticked by on the sledgewheel counter and we had almost made the rest of the pass by lunchtime. As we later approached the pass summit, the tops of the mountain peaks began to appear, and then a whole new range came into view. Peak after peak ahead stretching to the horizon and all uncharted and unvisited. Down we sledged in a glorious run to a bluff some miles away. We camped after a run of 27 miles. Not the longest distance achieved in one day by any means, but very satisfying.
Sitting on a ration box outside, tired but happy, I could look at all the mountains ahead, while waiting for the inside man to cook dinner. To cap the end of a memorable day, we went out after our meal to watch a total eclipse of the sun. The moon moved over the sun's disc and when the sun was totally covered, the sun's corona was visible for a few minutes. The dogs all raised their heads and started to bay in unison, with their haunting moan.
Many sledgers will have such Dog-Day memories of 10, 20, 30 and even
40 years ago. But it all seems like yesterday.
On one particular dream journey my team is made up from the best of the 50 dogs that were at Adelaide. Ten dogs in all, all male, all in their prime and in fine working condition. Somehow the dogs had become smaller, all now weighing 60 to 70 lbs and their build has become less compact, more angular. They look strong and deep in the chest but perhaps not quite so broad. They are evenly matched standing in five pairs, with coats shining and tails in the air. There is no tendency to fight and they are all unbelievably eager to be on their way.
It is not only the dogs that are different. There are many differences from how things were when I took over my sledging outfit. The gang line is made up of lightweight tubular polypropylene rope with lightweight aircraft cable threaded through it. In addition to tug lines, the dogs have short neck lines attached to their collars running form the main trace. The harnesses are made from nylon webbing which fit the dogs snugly and have non-absorbent padding material around the neck and breast-plate area. It's not a Nansen that the dogs are hitched to but a toboggan made from a sheet of high density plastic which forms the bed. On to each side of this are bolted two runners much the same in width as we had on the old Nansen but only curved up at the front end. They are shod with the same high density material as used for the bed. At the rear end the runners protrude about a foot providing a platform on which the driver can ride. The handlebars made from sturdy aluminum tube rising from the bed of the toboggan in a graceful hoop. Rather than a load of boxes the toboggan is fitted with a heavy weight nylon cloth bag which encloses the load with the ropes securing it on the outside in the traditional way. As the bed of the toboggan is only a few inches off the snow it is almost impossible to tip over. If the snow is soft the toboggan floats on the snow; if it is hard then only the runners that make contact with the ground.
There is not much difference in the camping equipment; the tent shape is the same but the inner material is considerably lighter, the paraffin Primus is still there and life inside the tent has hardly changed. The big difference is outside in the dog camp. Rather than just feeding the dogs with a block of "Nutty" they are enjoying a much improved diet providing all the calories they need to maintain their optimum weight and it is being fed as a gruel with lots of water. There is a stove that melts snow efficiently even in adverse weather. The extra weight of fuel and the extra effort needed to provide wet food is easily justified by the improved performance of the dog team. Just imagine what a difference being able to travel at 8 mph all day instead of 4 mph would make to life in the field with dog teams.
As I awake from this dream I am saddened by the realisation that now
this may have to remain a dream forever. Unless there is a real change
of heart by the bureaucrats no one will ever travel with dogs in Antarctica
and be able to try out these ideas. How sad!
Editor's note: After Rick Atkinson's two year tour of Antarctic duty in the late 70s, he moved to Alaska, becoming the first successful British competitor in the Iditarod, the Yukon Quest and the Coldfoot Classic. In 1986 he received the Leonard Seppala humanitarian treatment of dogs award. S.H.
* * *
Excerpts from the 1991 Madrid Protocol:
The …Parties to this Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, …
Have agreed as follows:…
CONSERVATION OF ANTARCTIC FAUNA AND FLORA
1. No species of animal or plant not native to the Antarctic Treaty area shall be introduced onto land or ice shelves, or into water in the Antarctic Treaty area except in accordance with a permit.
2. Dogs shall not be introduced onto land or ice shelves and dogs currently in those areas shall be removed by 1 April 1994."
Editor's note: At the October 2001 FIDS/BAS Stonington Island reunion held in Stonington, Connecticut, U.S.A., a representative of the National Science Foundation, when pressed for the environmental impact results of the dogs having been removed from the continent, refused to respond to the question, thereby convincing no one in attendance that the presence of the dogs had negatively impacted on the survival indigenous floral and faunal species [to a greater degree than the current presence of scientists and the tourist industry in Antarctica]. S.H.