The Fan Hitch Volume 7, Number 1, December 2004

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: New Faces, Old Passions
F.I.D.O.: Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen
A Conversation with Palle Norit
DNA Analysis of the Greenland Dog and the Canadian Inuit Dog
Pregnancy, Whelping and Pup Development in the ISD, Part 1
Product Review: Herculiner®
Tip for the Trail: Anti-fatigue Mats
In the News
Janice Howls: At the Heart of Greatness
 IMHO: Training or Interference

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Index of back issues by volume number

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Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
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This site is dedicated to the Inuit Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. It is also home to The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog.
Featured Former Inuit Dog Owner.....

                            Mikkelsen photo

Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen

About the SIRIUS Patrol 
In 1950 the Danish government decided to establish a military dog sled patrol in Northeast Greenland. Due to the then cold war situation the existence of this special task force was kept secret. Within the military authorities the patrol simply had the code name Operation Resolute. In 1953 the patrol was made known to the public and was given the name SIRIUS - after the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major.

Today, more than a half a century later, the mission of SIRIUS remains the same, namely to maintain Danish sovereignty along the uninhabited coast from Scoresby Sund in East Greenland to Thule on the west coast. The patrol also exercises military surveillance and civilian police authority within an enormous area called Nationalparken Nord- og Nordøstgrønland (The National Park of North and Northeast Greenland), an area of almost one million square kilometers, larger than France and Great Britain combined. 

SIRIUS is unique. It is the only military dog sled patrol in the world. Besides, it operates in one of the most spectacular and extreme places in the world - Northeast Greenland - a place of ultimate beauty as well as climate. The patrol is surprisingly small. At any one time it has never numbered more than a dozen members. Yet the results are impressive. To the present, the patrol and their Greenlander Dogs have traveled more than 750,000 km by sled. That is roughly nineteen times around the Earth!

Sirius Patrol covers the area in red, between Qaanaaq (Thule) in 
North West and Ittoqqortoormiit (Scoresbysund) in East Greenland

A Dream to Fulfill
I grew up on my parents' farm in the western part of Denmark, relatively flat lowland. Though I had my daily duties on the farm, I also enjoyed an almost unlimited freedom to stray around on my own in the woods and fields exploring the wildlife and nature. Having no playmates of my own age within miles, I spent most of my early boyhood on my own. That was probably why my parents gave me a puppy for my seventh birthday. He looked a bit like a husky but was in reality a crossbreed between a German shepherd and something indeterminable. We grew up together in close friendship, exploring the secrets of the woods, moors and country around the farm. 

For centuries my family had been farmers in that part of Denmark. However, my grandfather and his brothers had done something quite unusual. In their youth, around the beginning of the twentieth century, they went to America and lived there for several years farming and ranching. They later all returned to Denmark to settle down. It was as a kid listening to their fantastic stories that made me decide that I too would discover the world, when I became old enough.

After finishing school, I got an education as a radio engineer. In 1975, when I was 21 years old, I was drafted for military service. A year later, while I was undergoing officer training, my eyes fell on a brochure about the military SIRIUS Sled Patrol in Greenland. Already while reading that brochure I knew that the SIRIUS and Greenland would be the perfect answer to my dreams of adventure. 

I submitted my application for SIRIUS and soon realized that it would be a close race getting my dreams fulfilled, as there were several applicants, and only six new members were selected each year. 

The SIRIUS Patrol is considered one of the toughest jobs within the military. The admission requirements are strict. One must be an officer in the Danish military, male, unmarried, have all one's physical abilities and senses intact, and most of all have a very stable psyche. 

The assignment is for two years. During that period one has to work outdoors under arctic conditions. One joins a small team consisting of men only. In those days one had contact with one's family through traditional mail perhaps half a dozen times a year, as there are no vacations during one's service in Greenland. There is no native population in the patrol area - absolutely none. The nearest native Greenland settlement is located almost 600 km south of the patrol area. 

All applicants had to pass a large number of physical and psychological tests before the final selection, but - to make a long story short - I was one of the six selected for the 1977-1979 SIRIUS team.

Before going to Greenland we got a half year of training in such skills as winter combat and survival (training in Norway), medical, radio service, motor technology, meteorology, and much more. 

Peter and his team                        Mikkelsen photo

Finally in July 1977, I arrived at Daneborg, the SIRIUS headquarters, situated at latitude 74 on the East Greenland coast.

As mentioned the assignment is for two years, and there is a specific reason for that. SIRIUS is organized in six sled teams, each consisting of two men. For the first year of service one is a trainee and, in the second year, the trainer-in-charge. Upon arrival in Greenland one is teamed up with another SIRIUS member, who has already been there for one year, and therefore is a fully trained.

As dogsledding is very rare in Denmark, none of us recruits had any previous experience with sled dogs. But as soon as the individual sled teams had been formed, we would each share a team of dogs together with our trainer/team partner. He would then teach us to take care of the dogs and eventually everything he knew about dogsledding. 

The season for dogsledding in the North and Northeast Greenland coastal regions begins in October and ends in June. During that period the waters of the fjords are ice covered. Around the beginning of November five out of six sled teams leave Daneborg, heading out in different directions. One team remains at the station to run the headquarters. Each sled team consists of two members, eleven Greenlander Dogs and a fully equipped sled weighing 400-500 kg. Depots of provisions are located at hundred-kilometer intervals along the sled routes. The teams return to Daneborg around Christmas time.

At the beginning of February the teams again leave Daneborg. In order to cover the entire area, some teams are transported by plane to different starting locations. At a specific time one dog sled team may be patrolling in Hall Land, just some twenty kilometers from Canada's Ellesmere Island, across the Nares Strait. At the same time - more than 1,500 km away - another team may be traveling in Scoresby Land on the East coast. 

On an average day one travels some 25-35 km. However, in difficult terrain that may be reduced to a mere handful of kilometers. In rare cases we covered up to 100 km in a single day. During travel we always skied beside the sled to ease the weight on the dogs. Because one must be in constant motion to maintain body temperature, SIRIUS travel clothing is light. This principle works perfectly, and in the history of SIRIUS there has never been any serious freezing accidents during the regular travel. Only when crossing smooth ice, free of snow cover, one might dress heavily and ride the sled.

Each year, the SIRIUS teams travel a total approximately 18,500 km along the coast of North and Northeast Greenland. During my two years of service, I traveled more than 7,700 km in the 337 days that I was sledding.

During July-October, when there is no snow for sledding, the patrol members are busy with such tasks as taking care of the Daneborg headquarters and taking fresh provisions out to the travel depots.

Being a SIRIUS member and working with sled dogs is a memorable experience. This might sound like another trivial cliché, but to many of the 250 former SIRIUS members it is without question the strongest experience in their entire life - except perhaps for special family events. 

In one's second year of service, when one takes over the responsibility for the sled team, one really gets to know the dogs. Each dog has its own character, and they are as different as human beings. Most members of SIRIUS Patrol have a very close and passionate relationship with their dogs, and they will do everything they can to keep the dogs in good health and condition. Right from when the pups are quite small they spend time every day to gain the trust of each pup and dog.

One must handle the dogs with a friendly but firm hand, so that one can be sure that they will obey their commands, especially on that day, when one inevitably encounters a critical situation. This could be meeting thin ice, a polar bear or sudden blizzard. 

As reward for treating one's dogs well, the dogs will respond with unconditional devotion. They will pull one's sled and their own weight each and every day, and they will be happy all along. The worst day in the life of a SIRIUS member is the day when the team is handed over to one's successor. 

Since the day I left SIRIUS, I have neither done any dogsledding nor owned a dog. The latter simply because I have not possessed, what I think is the right environment for a sled dog. 

July 1978 at Daneborg, Mikkelsen photo    Published February 2003, Post Greenland

Looking back and forward
One might assume that being in the SIRIUS Patrol has changed dramatically over the years in view of all the new kinds of technical equipment that have become available. Not so. In practice, the SIRIUS concept has remained almost unchanged throughout the fifty years of its existence, simply because it has achieved a near-perfect way of carrying out its tasks - two members, eleven dogs and a sled loaded with exactly what is needed to survive an arctic winter. This is low-tech, relatively inexpensive, and as safe as it can be. 

Of course SIRIUS today uses satellite navigation equipment and modern radio communications, not to mention modern clothing and base station conveniences, but they still navigate by means of map and compass when necessary, live and work in small self-reliant groups and travel in a way that neither pollutes nor requires extensive back-up or an elaborate support organization. 

Looking into the future, SIRIUS will eventually face changes. The patrol is a product of the cold war, and the demands and possibilities for military surveillance have changed dramatically since then. However, even today SIRIUS provides the backbone infrastructure of the large national park of North and Northeast Greenland. Over the decades increasing scientific activity has taken place in the area, especially in global change research. Tourism also is a growing industry with enormous potential. In all this there will still be a need for an organization - perhaps semi-military - and a handful of skilled persons capable of providing basic services in the Greenland outback no matter what time the year. 

Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen today lives in Denmark. He is married to Ulla. They have two children, aged 19 and 17. Peter lived in Greenland for four years. After returning to Denmark, he has held various management jobs within electronics manufacturing. Beside these full-time occupations, he is the author and co-author of a number of books about SIRIUS and Greenland. 

In 1986 he published his first book Tusind dage med SIRIUS (One Thousand Days with the SIRIUS Patrol), published by Gyldendal, ISBN: 87-01-67070-0. And he is the editor of Sirius gennem 50 år (Sirius Through 50 years), published by the Aschehoug Dansk Forlag A/S, Copenhagen, May 2000, 328 pp, ISBN: 87-11-11376-6. This book is richly illustrated with maps and approximately 250 photos. The Sirius Patrol celebrated its 50-year anniversary in year 2000, and this book gives the overall account on the past and present of SIRIUS. It is based upon 40 exciting, personal remembrances told by 31 former members of the famous SIRIUS Patrol, which is the only of its kind in the world. At this time, both books are out of print but may be available on the secondary market.

In 1994 Peter published Nordøstgrønland 1908-60. Fangstmandsperioden (Northeast Greenland 1908-60. The Trappers Era). This book is the result of seven years of research and gives an overall account of Northeast Greenland's later cultural history, starting with the first expeditions in the 17th century up until today, with a focus on the period 1908-60. The book was republished in 2001 by Aschehoug Dansk Forlag, in an updated edition including an English summary (15 pages).

Peter is the co-founder and current director of "NANOK", a Danish nonprofit company which maintains the historical buildings of Northeast Greenland.

Peter continues to visit Greenland regularly, most recently in the summer of 2004.

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