The Fan Hitch Volume 6, Number 4, September 2004

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Looking for Inuit Dogs Past and Present
F.I.D.O.: Jan Erik and Barbro  Engebretsen
First Camping Adventure with Greenland Dogs
The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs, Part II
A Cut Above the Rest
In the News
Book Reviews:
Hunting Laika Breeds of Russia
Primitive Breeds - Perfect Dogs
 IMHO: Waiting for Godot?
Index to Volume 6

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Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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Ambulance sled, notice the Nordic hitch                             Engebretsen photo

My First Long Tour with Inuit Greenland Dogs

by Jan Erik Engebretsen

In January 1998 Inge Eklund, a very good friend of mine, asked me to join him and his two Alaskan Malamute dogs for a long trip in the mountains. The tour would be for about twenty Scandinavian miles (one hundred twenty English miles) over six or seven days, which indicated short daytrips, in a comfortable pace.

We decided to start the second half of April, so I had time for training my young dogs for this adventure. My dogs were Ross, Scott, Nansen, and Amundsen. The sled I chose was an old ambulance sled, Nordic style - a little bit old fashioned but suitable for trips like this - which I bought from the Norsk Trekkhundklubb (NTK).

April came and all was settled. So north we went by car to the planned location for the start. We decided to take it easy since it was my first longer tour with my Inuit Greenland dogs.

I had long experience with cross-country skiing in the Scandinavian mountains and the camping life in the winter and spring seasons. Consequently, my self-confidence was "on top"!

Day one went on as planned with nice weather and a smooth start; eager dogs with Ross in front. Inge was ahead with his team so we followed him easily. After a few hours we settled for the night.

Our camp the first night, you can see the dogs in the background.   Engebretsen photo

Day two after the breakfast I saw Inge was already ready, so I told him to go, since we had some checkpoints planned for each day's trip. I had much more equipment to take care of and took my time, no rush. Finally, with all dogs lined up and ready to go, and me leaning on my brand new ski poles I looked foreword for another perfect day. BANG - SMASH - DUNK!  All in a fraction of a second the dogs started and I fell down like a stone, both ski poles breaking like matches, and off we went with me hanging behind on the line several hundred meters before I managed, yelling and screaming, to stop them. I secured the sled, picked up the broken ski poles and suddenly realised I had no reserve poles. I must admit to feeling like a fool.

Since I was disabled without ski poles, I realised I had to trust my dogs even more.

I hung on behind the sled, skating as well as I could on my skis. The dogs worked willingly all the way, but half the way we met heavy snowfall and hard wind which reduced the visibility and, as an extra bonus, we went right up into an uphill stony area. I had to skip the skis and lead Ross on the right track which became rather heavy. We reached the ridge and I placed myself on the one side of the sled which I realised worked very well and did not seem to bother the dogs. Of course I felt guilty since I had planned for all skiing. But all went well and we came to the meeting point two hours later than planned. We had a good laugh about my accident.

My friend Inge Eklund inspecting my team.     Engebretsen photo

Day three was quiet and nice weather, easy terrain without stones and all went well, except for several adjustments of Ross. He was many times slowly drifting more and more left. I felt that strange, since we had sort of an express way ahead us all the time. Finally we settled for the night.

Day four we had about five kilometres uphill in deep snow. I walked besides the sled all the way uphill, leading my "left minded" Ross. It took us about two hours to the top, then we had a beautiful journey the rest of the day. During those hours I got an idea to change the dogs' positions, I thought two by two, and then the "train" should be quite shorter. I mentioned this to Inge and he said, "Let's do it in the morning." Said and done!

On day five all was clear with the new system - Nome harness instead of the Nordic ones. Off we went and what a difference! The dogs performed better on the trail and I saw that Ross seemed to be even more eager with his work since he had Scott at his side. 

We went on, still in nice weather, and all the dogs worked better for every hour which surprised me a little. I thought they should be tired because of having me as an extra burden! I was very impressed, but I was at the same time very careful and took frequent water stops since we were in no rush and had no timetable to keep.

But I still had in my mind a feeling that Ross was not the born leader, so I decided to try Nansen and Amundsen in front the next day, even if they were the youngest dogs. "Why not try?" I asked myself over and over. Said and done again!

Day six I placed the dogs as planned with Nansen to the right and Amundsen to the left, Ross and Scott behind. All in a sudden after the start I realised "This is it"! My friend Inge started out ahead of us, but after some kilometres we passed him and just kept going. What a change! It was such a pleasure to discover a new world! The new leader team of Nansen and Amundsen was born. 

It took me a week of hard work to get that experience, but it was worth it. For me and my dogs it was the first adventure of many, and I am privileged to have these fantastic intelligent, social and hard working Inuit Greenland dogs.

The "new" team!                                         Engebretsen photo
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