The Fan Hitch Volume 2, Number 4, August 2000

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

From the Editor
Raising Sled Dogs
The Good, the Bad and the ‘Eskimo’ Dog
The Russian Connection
Honoured Symbol Under Fire
Iqaluit Team Owner Speaks Out
The Homecoming
Niels Pedersen, D.V.M:
Challenging Folk Remedies
Janice Howls:
Maintaining the ISD Roots
Book Review: 
Portrait of Antarctica
First Hand Account:
Exploration of Antarctica
Dog Ownership in Modern Society
Baking: Carnivore Brownies
Behaviour Notebook:
 Silent and Induced Heat
ISDI Summit Postponed
Memorable Inuit Dog Encounters

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

Talk to The Fan Hitch

The Fan Hitch home page

ISDI home page

Editor's/Publisher's Statement
              Editor: Sue Hamilton
              Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
The Fan Hitch Website and Publications of the Inuit Sled Dog– the quarterly Journal (retired in 2018) and PostScript – are dedicated to the aboriginal landrace traditional Inuit Sled Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. 

PostScript is published intermittently as material becomes available. Online access is free at:  PostScript welcomes your letters, stories, comments and The editorial staff reserves the right to edit submissions used for publication.

Contents of The Fan Hitch Website and its publications  are protected by international copyright laws. No photo, drawing or text may be reproduced in any form without written consent. Webmasters please note: written consent is necessary before linking this site to yours! Please forward requests to Sue Hamilton, 55 Town Line Rd., Harwinton, Connecticut  06791, USA or

                                                               Walton photo

The Exploration of Antarctica

by Kevin Walton

The story of land based Polar Exploration breaks down into two parts. Part one was the heroic age which covers the early expeditions of Borchrevink, Amundsen, Scott, Shackelton and Mawson, when so many mistakes were made and people pushed themselves to the limit and beyond. Amundsen used dogs because Norwegians knew how to use dogs though in fact, they brought in their dogs trained in trace running. After his early journeys, he turned over to running in the fan hitch. Scott and Shackelton never really used dogs properly. On the Endurance expedition when they lost the ship they had, judging by the spate of archival photos that have recently appeared, the rummest collection of dogs ever seen: St. Bernards, Collies, woolly Sheepdogs. You name the breed and they had it.  Then came the American expeditions under Byrd who imported trained dog teams from Wonalancet. They took all their dog food and did some very good journeys. This was an interim period between the heroic age and the modern.

In the early 1930's, the modern age started. Englishman Gino Watkins came to the conclusion that up to this time no British, or Norwegians for that matter, really understood how dogs should be run in polar conditions. He organized an expedition to East Greenland called the British Arctic Air Route Expedition (BAARE). The men lived very simply among the Inuit of East Greenland and learned how to run dogs. They also learned how to handle kayaks and live off the land as well as kill seals. They did some astonishing inland journeys. The Inuit thought they were mad, but they finished up by crossing the Greenland Ice Cap from east to west. Gino Watkins was killed but five of his expedition became members of the British Graham Land Expedition (BGLE) led by John Rymill and this is when the fan hitch, suitably modified, was used for the first time in Antarctica (except of course by Admundsen though he never said much about it or had pictures).

Ted Bingham, my base commander and dog trainer, was in Greenland with BAARE and the GLE which ended in 1938. He was my leader in 1945 with the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey (FIDS). The only way we were allowed to train dogs was in fan hitch, suitably modified for Antarctic travel. There was a previous expedition which was led by Martin Lindsay, a Gino Watkins member which included Andrew Croft who died only two years ago. They did an incredible trip across Greenland at its widest part.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS), initially the FIDS, started in 1944 largely using BGLE methods as taught to us by Ted Bingham, the acknowledged BGLE dog driver. At that time, Finn Ronne joined us for a year at Stonington Island. We were horrified to see him trying to run his dogs from Wonalancet as well as twenty or so odd dogs that the police gave him from the streets of Santiago, using centre trace and/or tandem hitch. Finn Ronne had never used anything else and was the sort of person who was always right and everybody else was always wrong. He was an expert skier and always skied ahead of his team. From a safety point of view, we would never do that.

During the early years of FIDS, 1950-1953, a very interesting joint Army, Navy and Air Force Expedition, which included some scientists, was running in East Greenland. It is very well described in a book called "North Ice" by Cdr. Jim Simpson. They virtually took on the BGLE/FIDS system and did some very fine journeys in East Greenland. The dog driving is very well written by Angus Erskine in the expedition book. Angus gave me much help with the book "Of Dogs and Men" as he joined FIDS some years later. He mentions an interesting experiment running a proper Inuit fan hitch with just one dog as leader out in front on a very long trace.

The FIDS bases with dogs ran without break for fifty years. After my years with Bingham, there was a continuous development of harnesses, hitches, breeding, training so that by the 1960s, parties were in the field for 9 months of the year with annual mileage up in the thousands. In Antarctica, 50 percent of one's time in the field was probably spent lying up.

There is another side to the husky running in the years when BAS was running dogs. The Norwegians, New Zealanders, Japanese, French also drove dogs.  Wally Herbert, BAS trained, went up and down the Axel Heiberg glacier, Amundsen's route, to prove that the route was possible. He then asked the New Zealanders, who have jurisdiction over it, if he could do it. They replied that it was too dangerous and difficult and he was forbidden to go. He then admitted that he had already done it.

Kevin Walton lives in Colwall, U.K.  He is the author of Two Years in Antarctica and has co-authored the books Of Dogs and Men and Portrait of Antarctica.

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