The Fan Hitch Volume 6, Number 3, June 2004

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Who Are You and What Do Want?
Fan Mail
F.I.D.O.: Ludovic Pirani
Geronimo's Travels
The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs: Part I
How We Met Tom
Dog Yard Tips
Setting a New Standard
In the News
Behavior Notebook: Qiniliq and Sunny
IMHO: Unnecessary Roughness

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

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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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On our way back to Pond Inlet we take a break while Jayko untangles the tug lines.
Tom's snow machine in background                                         Hamilton photo

How We Met Tom

by Sue Hamilton

We met Tom one April, about four days out of Pond Inlet. Jayko, Mark and I and twenty dogs were camped on the ice near the floe edge on Lancaster Sound in between the top of Baffin and Bylot Islands, next to a tiny, steep-sided island smaller than the dimensions of a soccer field.  Travel out to camp was difficult and the dogs had worked extra long and hard.  Unfortunately, there was nothing to hunt on the way. There was no way to hunt at the floe edge either. Access to that interface of  ice and water was blocked by huge slabs of thick ice thrust on end by wind and tide, jutting twenty or more feet into the air, preventing  safe passage to where a walrus might be shot and hauled in for us and the dogs to eat. Other ice pans, broken loose from their cousins, went grinding by in the current. Returning from  a failed attempt to reach the floe edge, the dogs scrambled over a four-foot pressure ridge and lunged forward across the flat section on the far side, thrusting the front of the qamutiq skyward and flinging me off backwards onto a jagged chunk of ice.  After zigzagging our way back to camp through this obstacle course, me groaning with every bump, we picketed the dogs, had our dinner and commenced waiting. Our provisions included some caribou for both the dogs and us. The hunk of meat was wrapped in the animal's own hide, the underside of which was covered with the larvae of fly warbles. In the fall, the momma fly deposits her eggs under the skin on the back of the caribou where they incubate, warm and snug, through the long cold winter, creating open sores as they erupt through the animal's hide the following spring.  I was told these fat grub-looking things are considered delicacies. 

All those bumps on the underside of this caribou hide are fly larvae.   Hamilton photo

The previous day, over the Spilsbury (short-wave radio), Jayko had requested support in the way of dog food from his friend Tom, who was expected to arrive from Pond Inlet that same evening. It normally takes about three hours by snow machine to span the 120 miles from the hamlet to our camp. Due to bad weather and equipment problems, Tom didn't come. And so the dogs went without food after another day of very hard work. On the evening of this, the fourth day, Tom was once again expected. It was now 11:00 p.m. and still no Tom. All we knew was that he had indeed left Pond, five hours ago. If Jayko was worried, he didn't show it. I was concerned for the welfare of this person I did not know and because I was wondering when the hungry dogs were going to be next fed. On this relatively mild and windless night I stood alone in the dusky light created by clouds covering the spring sun, about a hundred yards from the tent, wearing only my bib pants and expedition weight underwear top. Not bothering to take a "bear dog" as Jayko would have preferred, I was more worried about falling into cracks in the sea ice covered by blown snow lurking somewhere, everywhere beneath my feet, than the return of the two polar bears we chased away from the area when we set up camp. I looked to the southeast up Navy Board Sound, straining my eyes for a glimpse of a headlight. I cocked my ear in that direction, hoping to hear the sound of an engine piercing the quintessential silence of this arctic night.  What I heard were footsteps coming from behind, squeaking on the thin cover of dry snow.  It was Mark urging me to return to the tent. I was almost asleep on my feet, apprehensive about the pain I was going to experience settling into the sleeping bag. My injured back was already the color of raw seal meat - dark and purple-brown - and I doubted that aspirin would offer relief. I wanted to be awake to greet this visitor, who was bringing food for our dogs so we could eventually get back to Pond. At Mark's insistence I returned to the tent and after a few minutes of wincing into place, managed to fall into a blessed sleep. 

It seemed as if I had been asleep for only minutes when there was a deafening roar next to my head. A snow machine, towing a heavily laden eighteen-foot qamutiq sputtered to a rest outside the tent. The three of us scrambled into our boots and parkas and rushed outside. An exhausted driver staggered off his snow machine. We all set to work hurriedly unpacking the qamutiq to get to the food for the now screaming dogs.  Not having had time for "formal" introductions by Jayko, an unmitted hand was thrust in my direction, "By the way, my  name is Tom. Nice to meet you." And then we all returned to the task at hand. After much unpacking, a large cardboard box was produced. To my surprise, instead of seal, the only food for the dogs Tom was able to bring with him was frozen fish. The Arctic char were quite large so they were hacked up with an ax, portioned out and, as there was not even enough fish  to adequately feed the dogs, their meal was supplemented with much of the caribou meant for us. If necessary, Mark and I would be relegated to eating "southern food", while Jayko was perfectly satisfied to eat the fish he packed for himself. The dogs settled down to gnawing on their frozen meal. Tom brought his gear into the tent and while I set up his bedroll complete with the pillow, he brought along, he hungrily bolted down leftovers from our caribou stew dinner. He had driven in a blinding snowstorm, over rough ice and hidden cracks, in gale force winds, often loosing the trail - an eight-hour trip that should have taken three.  Somewhere around 4:00 a.m. we retreated into our sleeping bags and within minutes became unconscious, even Jayko. He decided it wasn't worth remaining fully dressed and awake again, clutching his loaded rifle, just in case nanuq returned to the neighborhood.  On this occasion, he assigned guard duty to the dogs.

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