The Fan Hitch   Volume 17, Number 4, September 2015

          Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog                                    
In This Issue....

From the Editor: The Statistics of Sharing

Fan Mail

Contaminated Water! Yet Another
Long-standing Debacle in Iqaluit

Searching for the Shelters of Stone

How to Loose a Husky Team

A New Home for the BAS Husky Memorial Bronze Statue

Historical and Climatic Prerequisites of the
Appearance of the Population of Sled Dogs of the
Shoreline of the Chukotka Peninsula

The Sledge Patrol documentary update
Major Virus Issues in Canada’s North and
Canine Parvovirus Infects Inuit Dogs in
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, 1978

A Decade of Service: The Chinook Project’s
2015 Labrador Animal Wellness Clinic

Inuk’s release in North America!

Book Review: Games of Survival: Traditional
Inuit Games for
Elementary Students

IMHO: The Presumption of Good Faith

Index: Volume 17, The Fan Hitch

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

Defining the Inuit Dog

Talk to The Fan Hitch

The Fan Hitch home page

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Above Base T. Roger Owen driving the Huns up the glacier. Mike Warr photo

How to Lose a Husky Team

by Michael Warr

In my early twenties I enjoyed looking after and running two British Antarctic husky teams. Like most people working in the Antarctic I did not go far from my base. I was a meteorologist at Deception Island (1964) and Adelaide Island (1965). The huskies were a nice diversion in the long winter months before the relief ship arrived. Like others working down south the huskies occasionally got away from me, but only two times did the experience sear itself into my mind.

At the volcanic island of Deception off of the Antarctic Peninsula the huskies on the Jesters team were for breeding, used as sledging base spares or were retirees; definitely a motley crew. The team was base bound and there was little space to run. This made things hard for them, never mind the hardship of sledging on volcanic ash with an old sledge or a wheeled cart. Once the wheels fell off the cart the run was over.

On my second trip in charge of the Jesters I experienced my second all-husky brawl as the team took their frustrations out on each other. I waled away with my three inch rope thumper to stop too much dog damage. My hand slipped and Noodoo promptly bit it. The main victim, Podger, a young male who was being beaten up, slipped his harness and raced back to the safety of the base. I trudged back on the black volcanic ash feeling sorry for myself.

Podger. Mike Warr photo

I spent a throbbing Christmas Day trying to get in a festive mood. At Biscoe House the British hut there had been no success in freezing the wound on my index finger with ethylene dichloride. Years later I learned that it was carcinogenic. On Boxing Day, lacking enough medical assistance, four of us Fids (long-term name for British Antarctic personnel) walked the three miles across a glacier to the Chilean base. At Pedro Aguirre Cerda Rodolfo the Chilean Air Force male nurse quickly froze the finger and stitched me up. A three-day stay turned into ten days as a gale blew across the island. Eventually I walked back to our base sporting a two-inch wound. The scar I still have.

Sledging that winter on our five by eight mile volcanic caldera of an island was limited. It was colder and drier than normal so there was little snow. The only journey was retrieving our injured radio operator, Don (he had a severe knee sprain), from the Argentinean base Decepcion across the frozen sea ice of Port Foster.

The only other husky induced trauma for myself was having to put down Saki, a worn out (at least eight years of age) arthritic husky. We were very short of seal meat. Human rolled oats and tinned meat went straight through the dogs.

Four hundred miles further south along the Antarctic Peninsula, Adelaide Island base, on the north shore of Marguerite Bay was perched on a rocky promontory at the end of a piedmont glacier. The more wintery conditions looked more promising for dealing after huskies. And with the complete isolation of Base T once the relief ships had left, the huskies could be good listeners if I wanted to get anything off my chest.

The Huns had been a field team the year before. This year they were base bound. Adelaide Island was sixty miles long by ten to twenty wide, but base duties limited how much time one could be away from the wooden huts scattered around our rocky point. The dog runs were short.

Count was the Hun’s fickle and neurotic leader. Every dog ganged up on him. Podger, now with me at Adelaide and pushing one hundred pounds, was teamed up with Notus, a traumatized young white male. Notus had been mauled by older dogs as a pup. One ear was mangled. As our Doctor Tom said, my TLC made Notus into a regular puller. Less useful were Satchmo and his brother Dizzy. Dizzy would run with a straight trace but with very little pull on it. These two were placed directly in front of the engine of the team, brothers Nero and Caesar. Together they could move a half-ton loaded sledge on their own. They did not dominate the team but could trounce any other dogs in a fight. They rarely fought each other.

Nero (and Bev) . Mike Warr photo

I fed the Huns with chopped up frozen seal meat, weighed them twice a year, and ran them up the slow inclining glacier past the crashed red De Havilland single prop Otter. During the year I did have three real sledging trips where we camped up the island. But the most memorable husky incident was losing the Huns.

I had used a small all-white female, Bev, as my leader. (The females could be more obedient than the males.) But I decided to give Count a chance. I knew of the episode from the previous year when he had led the entire team up an iceberg and peered over the thirty-foot drop on the other side. This year the weather was too warm for sea ice runs around the base. We just headed up the glacier. There was the usual “begin the run” fight, which was quickly sorted out with a few judicial thumps. Count, however, felt like going home. He suddenly whipped around, flipped the upside-down sledge upright, and led the Huns back down the hill. I grasped for the trailing rope at the back of the sledge and missed. From my prone position in the snow I watched as the team headed straight downhill towards the forty-foot ice cliffs falling into the open sea.

Imagining the worst – the whole team plunging to their deaths – I headed back to the base. There was a volley of derisive comments from the other fids.  A rescue was organized. We skied north along the ice cliffs. The team was found in one piece. Count presumably had seen the base on his left and had veered towards it. The sledge flipped and the handlebars wedged themselves into a crevasse six feet from the edge of the cliff. The whole team stopped dead rather than being dead. We untangled the dogs and dragged them up to safety with the sledge bouncing along behind.

I got “back into the saddle” the next day with an uneventful run, complete with Count as the leader. I was the “alpha dog” but as many dog handlers had said, we never had complete command over the husky teams.

In 1994 the last remaining twelve British Antarctic huskies (some were Huns) were removed from the Antarctic. Even after having been in the Antarctic for fifty years they were considered an alien species. And for the last twenty years had been supplanted by machines. The years of isolation resulted in the transplanted dogs succumbing to viral infections. The huskies had left small paw prints on the Antarctic and a greater impression on those who had the joy of running them and occasional sorrow of losing them.

Some work and some... The Huns. Nero lying down, Dizzie and
Satchmo gazing, Floyd (a pup) at the back.     
Mike Warr photo

Michael Warr served as a meteorologist with the British Antarctic Survey from Dec 1963 to April 1966 at Deception then Adelaide Islands. Thirty-nine years later he returned to Antarctica for four tourist seasons, this time as a lecturer/historian on Antarctic cruise ships. Mike and his wife, Norma, live in British Columbia, Canada.

Ed: If you enjoy “How to Lose a Husky Team”, you will love Mike’s account of his early Antarctic experiences (including with British Antarctic Huskies) in his book South of Sixty (ISBN 9780973850406). Unabashed about revealing his innermost thoughts, Mike is a keen observer and meticulous chronicler of human and animal behaviour as well as Antarctic land and sea scapes. South of Sixty is humorous and bawdy, insightful and poignant, a most enjoyable read for anyone interested in polar adventures. Mike has also written a mystery novel, Murder in the Antarctic (ISBN 9781784072766). To purchase his books please visit Mike’s website.
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