The Fan Hitch Volume 4, Number 2, February 2002

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Ove Nygaard
An Amazing Lead Dog: The Story of Tatra
A Mystic Reunion
Katan, the Greenland Pup
Oregon Dune Musher's Mail Run
High Arctic Mushing: Part II
Bibliography: Inuit Sled Dog Research
Video Review: Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner
Book Review: To a Lonely Land I Know
IMHO: Visibility

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Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

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Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

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              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. 

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At the Gilshus-støl, Tatra in lead, heading home after a week in the 
mountains sledding and skiing the Nordic way. (L-R) My daughter 
Mona , son Bjørn, wife Tove and me.                       Nygaard photo

The Story of Tatra

by Ove Nygaard

An Inuit Dog is not only a hard working sled dog, it also has the innate ability to find its way in all weather conditions, to know when to when to go with caution, to safely find its way around open water and always to know the way back home. This story is what happened many years ago while sledding with Tatra, my first lead dog, in the Norwegian mountains.

In the mountains the local farmers have cabins, called støl, in areas where they take their cows, goats and sheep for the summer months. Those cabins are often not in use during the winter. I got in contact with one of those local farmers one spring, and he told me that he had a cabin from some relatives and I could use that cabin as my own as long as I'd like. Well, the spring turned into summer, and the summer to autumn, and the thought of that cabin in the Norwegian mountains came closer and closer to my mind. One week before Christmas that year, I called the farmer on the phone and asked if his offer was still open for me to use the cabin.  "Yes, the key is hanging over the door to the small utility house (for wood, gear storage, and toilet)," he said. And so I drove up with my dogs from Oslo, where I was living that time, to find the cabin and stay there for some months that winter. I had never been in the area, but knew from the farmer that the cabin was located on the north side of a lake where there were several støls and also some huts (owned by city-people and used for holidays) on all sides of the lake.

I parked the car at an open place, and began sledding across the lake. There was approximately forty centimetres snow on top of the ice, and after some warm weather there was water under the snow. The conditions were difficult and there was no trail to follow going in my direction.  I would walk in front of my team of five dogs to making a track, then go back to pushing the sled (it was quite heavy since I planned to stay for some time), then repeated the same way again - making a track and pushing the sled, all while looking up to the hills with hope to recognize the støl from what the farmer had described to me. We had been working like that for about twenty-five kilometers, when suddenly my lead dog began to work harder, coming up on my heels, trying to go in front of me. We had now been out there for seven hours, and it was getting dark. My sweater ( I only use wool sweaters without a wind coat when I'm working like that on the trail) had gotten wet during the daytime, and now with temperature down to minus 20 - 25 centigrade, it had frozen to a block of ice, so I thought I should change into something dry.  I stopped the team, and in the same moment I opened the sled-bag and put down my sweater, Tatra, my lead dog, pulled away and went for the hills on my right. I had to run after the sled, finally catching up at a point where the dogs had reached a spot with the snow up to their ears. The dogs continued pulling that heavy loaded sled with me trying to hang on to it as if it weighed nothing.

I knew there was a road coming from northeast going up in the hillside, and since the dogs were heading in that direction, I thought I could go along that road further northwest in the correct direction after reaching it, and then I would see where the road should be on the hillside. It was totally dark now, and snow had started to blow so there was no view and I did not see a thing around me. One hundred meters before where the road should be, Tatra began to turn left and a little down hill again. I called to her to stay in the direction to the road, but she went on her way, going west 100 meters down from the road. Then she stopped! Two meters in front of her was a shadow, and that shadow turned out  to be a cabin. Hanging up over the door was a sign that said: "GILHUS-STØLEN", and that was the exact cabin we were seeking. The next morning I woke up, and went outside to the dogs to give them some small talk while they were drinking water. Looking around I could see eight other støls and huts in very same area. Can anyone of you tell me how my lead dog Tatra knew to take us to this very spot, other than the fact that she was an pure Inuit Dog with all her instincts as one?

Since that time I've used that cabin for twenty-one years as a place to stay for months during the winter while sledding my dogs, or as a cabin to rest for a night or two while we toured in the mountains. I'm always thinking of Tatra when I come to that cabin. And even if she was very special in that story, I've learned that Inuit Dogs have got that kind of knowledge built inside their heads. I'm blessed with two dogs today, Ask and his daughter Wild, that give me some of the same experiences,  but then they are from the very same bloodlines as Tatra.

Tatra                                                            Nygaard photo

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