Table of Contents
F.I.D.O.: Barry Salovaara and Tina Portman
Barry of the Midnight Sun
The Fan Hitch Contributor Wins Maxwell Award
Ivakkak: Encouraging Purity in Nunavik ISDs
Games People Play:
Saving the Sled Dog or Saving the Show Dog
Coppinger Comments Prompts ISDI Rebuttal
Behaviour Notebook: Building a Team
IMHO: The Sernix, a Fable
Barry of the Midnight Sun
by Barry Salovaara
After a lifetime of my reading books and dreaming about traveling in the arctic, the dream became a reality in 1997. I phoned Polar Sea Adventure's outfitter Dave Reid in Pond Inlet and explained that I wanted to travel by dog team with subsistence hunters, without the company of hordes of tourists. I suggested a trip in mid-March, but Dave was reluctant as he had never had a tourist out on the ice at that time of year because of the cold. Dave said that he would discuss my request with the local guides.
In February 1997 when I met Dave at the Toronto Adventure Travel Show, I convinced him that I knew what I was getting into and wasn’t really interested in going April, May or June. I left Toronto on March 9, traveling to Montreal, Kuujjuak, Iqaluit, Broughton Island, Clyde River and finally Pond Inlet. Every leg of the journey got colder, more remote and the plane got smaller. Finally landing in Pond Inlet twelve hours later, I stepped off the plane and inhaled the -45ºC (-49ºF) air. At that temperature, it doesn't matter what scale you use - it's cold! Dave met me, and quickly whisked me off to the hotel where we dined on arctic char and caribou.
After dinner, I met my guide, Charlie Inarak, who inspected my clothing and sleeping bag. Charlie said that I might be a little light in pants and parka.
The next morning, Charlie was hitching up his thirteen dogs, while his oldest son snaked a long sealskin dog whip in front of the team to keep them from fighting. The dogs' harnesses were made of sealskin, Inuit style with a broad chest strap. Lines were also made of sealskin. The gangline loops were threaded on a seal leather strap in front of the qamutiq, secured with a toggle made from the tip of a walrus tusk. While Charlie was in the process of hitching up the twelfth and thirteenth dogs, he told me to get close to the sled. When the last dog was in place, the team took off without any verbal command. We jumped on the sled and Charlie’s son handed him the whip as we went charging by.
We left Pond Inlet at 11:00 a.m., with the thirteen Inuit dogs pulling a twenty-foot qamutiq loaded with gear for eight days. After a kilometer of the sled bouncing over pressure ridges with the dogs at a full run, the team settled into their "Inuit dog gait" which would cover seventy kilometers in eight hours.
Charlie wore kamiit (boots) and pants made of caribou. On top, he wore a quilted one-piece parka with a fur ruff trimmed hood, made by his wife. Charlie also brought caribou parkas in case we needed them, and on the fourth day of the trip, he asked if I wanted to wear the traditional caribou parka - one with the hair facing in, the other with hair facing out. For this trip, I'd brought along a Snow Goose down parka. Although it was adequate, the skin clothing was warmer, more wind resistant and half the weight.
After three hours, Charlie brought the sled to a halt, turned to me with a smile and said, "Tea time." It was obvious that the dogs knew the drill, because they immediately lay down in their harnesses and hardly moved until we got going again. Charlie asked me to chop some ice for tea while he unpacked the stove, tea and soup. While Charlie prepared our lunch, I decided to go for a walk to get warm. Charlie said "Don't go very far," and I wondered why. Then I saw polar bear tracks in the snow. My feet are size nine and, wearing -100ºCelsius Sorel boots, I could still put both my feet inside the bear's footprint!
After our tea break, Charlie turned the sled over and painted the runners with ice water, using a caribou tail as brush. The runners were from the jawbone of a bowhead whale and had been in use for fifteen years. The centimeter of ice on the runners worked as well as any high performance ski wax.
When we reached our camp at Bylot Island's Button Point, on the shore of Baffin Bay, we were greeted by a primeval chorus of howls from four dog teams already there. The teams were picketed on the sea ice while their owners stayed in a small cabin on a hill. Six hunters slept stacked like cordwood in a ten-foot square cabin. Charlie and his friend set up our camp, while I was ushered up to the hut to meet the other hunters for a mug up of tea. With the temperature hovering at -45ºC (-49ºF), I felt a little guilty for not helping Charlie set up the camp. That feeling lasted all of about ten seconds.
After I had warmed up, I put on my parka and went down to help Charlie. But by the time I got there, the dogs had been picketed and fed and Charlie was heating the tent poles over his two-burner Coleman stove, so they could bend sufficiently to put up the tent. I unpacked my sleeping bag and put it where Charlie had prepared a place for it, atop a foam mat, a caribou hide hair-side down, another hide hair-side up. We crawled into our bags and Charlie cooked a caribou spaghetti dinner while lying in his sleeping bag. I went to bed without being able to feel my toes, but I was so tired, I was willing to walk around on two stumps for the rest of my life. After dinner, we were both asleep within minutes. I was pleasantly surprised to wake up in the morning with warm feet.
The purpose of this trip was for me to live, learn, and work along side my Inuk guide. I wanted to harness the dogs, feed the dogs, prepare the camp and carry my share of the load. But the next morning I was so drained from my first day in the cold, that I could only harness one dog.
After a bacon and eggs breakfast we set off with the other teams for a two-and-a-half hour run to the floe edge where the day was spent hunting seals. Once a seal was shot, the hunter threw a grappling hook out into the water and dragged the carcass onto the ice.
I spent a lot of time marching up and down the floe edge, trying to keep warm. Charlie said that eating more "country food" would help my energy level. Later that afternoon, after Charlie killed and skinned a seal, he opened the body cavity and removed the still warm liver, which he invited me to share with him. I could detect slight grins on the faces of the other hunters, while I was making up my mind. I thought to myself, the worst thing that could happen was I would try this raw seal liver and throw up and they would all get a good laugh. After my third helping, Charlie put his arm over my shoulder and said that I wasn't bad for a southern guy.
Back at Button Point that evening, we were in the cabin drinking tea with the other hunters. After I left the cabin to get rid of some tea, Charlie came out to find out why the dogs were howling so loudly. When we looked down the hill at our tent, where the dog teams were picketed, we saw a polar bear in our camp. Yelling in Inuktitut, Charlie announced there was a bear in the lower camp. This caused an explosion of hunters and rifles stampeding out of the tiny structure. It was determined that this bear was young and no one was really interested in harvesting it. Charlie ran down the hill and released his dogs to drive the bear away. One of the other hunters also released his team. While I was watching all this, the bear, harassed by at least twenty-four dogs, decided to come straight up the hill towards me.
Now, I've read lots of hiking and camping books on how to deal with bears and I understood that you should never panic and never run from a bear. But I turned and ran as fast as I could to the cabin, and slammed the door just as the bear and the two dozen sled dogs dashed by. When I heard voices telling me that the coast was clear, I came out, and saw Charlie lashing at the bear with his dog whip to drive it from camp. Eventually, the bear left. Then one of the younger hunters decided he wanted to take his first polar bear, so he tracked the animal and killed him that night.
Charlie was right about eating the native food. My strength grew daily and I enjoyed eating seal ribs and fresh polar bear meat. The next few days, we traveled many times out to the floe edge to hunt. Each day I harnessed my share of the dogs, and even drove them after Charlie jumped off the qamutiq to hunt over a seal hole. I stayed back with the team, some 500 meters from the edge, so the seal would have no chance of smelling the dogs.
On our way back to Pond Inlet six days later, Charlie asked if I would like to sleep in an igloo. This was something that I've always dreamed about doing. He stopped the sled and started pushing a steel rod into snowdrifts to test the snow for the right consistency for making an igloo. While Charlie was cutting the blocks and building the snow house, I unharnessed, picketed and fed the dogs. Using an ax, I split a frozen seal into thirteen portions and fed them to the dogs. Each dog was fed two and a half kilos (5 lbs) of seal per day when they were working (hauling about 680 kg (1500 lbs) for sixty to seventy kilometers a day) and the same amount every other day when they were not. Charlie completed the igloo in less than an hour. He asked me to shove the last of the hefty blocks through the entrance so he could finish the roof. That night was the most comfortable of the whole trip, with an indoor temperature of 0 ºC (32°F), while outside it dropped to -45 ºC (-49°F).
Inside the igloo, Charlie used his shortwave radio to take in the local chat, and when the locals realized he was on the line they asked him to call some Inuit travelers who had become lost or confused on their way to Iglulik. After asking the travelers to describe what land features they could see, Charlie told them how to get to Iglulik.
Relaxing after dinner, Charlie told me that a week before I arrived in Pond, he was on his way to visit his mother in Arctic Bay when a storm came up and he had to build an emergency igloo. Charlie said his wife confessed she was worried each time he traveled by snowmobile, but never when he makes the same trip by dog team.
The next day we arrived in Pond Inlet at about three in the afternoon. The dogs seemed as fresh as they were when we left the hamlet seven days before.
In the Northern Store with Dave Reid, I noticed some Inuit looking at me and giggling. I asked Dave why and he replied that they were having a good laugh at the qallunait's expense over the polar bear incident that had made the news on their local radio station.
This adventure was everything I wanted it to be. I lived with Inuit hunters, traveled by dog team in one of the most hostile environments in the world, and except for some cold toes, I felt completely safe with these wonderful people. As for the dogs, it was a rewarding experience to travel with them, to see them used in a traditional manner and in their native element, these dogs of the midnight sun.
Editor's note: Barry Salovaara is a former NHL player with the Detroit Redwings. While a newcomer to mushing, he's no stranger to cold, slippery surfaces.