Week 03 1...2...3...

Date Posted: 3.16.2009
Location: 44º54'N 92º47'W
Expedition Basecamp, Minnesota, USA
Weather Conditions: Sunshine, 53°F (12°C)
Are you ready?” (1 second, 2 seconds, 3 seconds ...) BOOOOOM!!!! “Whoooops,” exclaims Aaron. We just fired what we thought was a “bear flare” and it turned out to actually be a “bear BANGER!”  There truly is no better polar bear alert when dogsledding up the coast of the Baffin Island in Nunavut than the Polar Husky sled dogs, but to warn off any bear that we may encounter we will also be carrying a small kit of bear flares and bangers right in the pocket of the handlebar bag on each of the two sleds.

Watch Aaron and team
in action with the bear-banger
Hopefully that should do it. We never forget that we are only guests when dogsledding in the land of the polar bears, and beyond that, the facts are these: it is a federal offense to harm or hurt a polar bear in Nunavut or anywhere in Canada. Only the Nunavut communities (and then only some of them) are given permits that allow the Inuit hunters to hunt polar bears.

Students in Minnesota (US) figured out that a 14-dog team of 57 feet take up about 75% of their classroom!  

Polar bears dislike sled dogs more than anything. It doesn’t matter if it is the hungry moms on their way from land to the open water with little cubs to feed, or feisty males roaming to mark their territory, it is simply because the Inuit traveling by dog team is how polar bears have been hunted for generations. Inuit have lived on the land for about 4,000 years with the polar bears. Thus, it is very much ingrained in the knowledge and behavior of bears. And yes, it is still the way it is done today. In Canada, polar bears are no longer hunted with a spear as in the past (imagine the scare of that hunt!), but it is indeed the law that they can still only be hunted with a dog team; no snowmobiles are allowed within a mile of the bear when hunting it. A polar bear can charge 35-40 miles an hour (50 – 60 km/hr), which is much faster than any dog team. Therefore, the skill and knowledge passed from generation to generation is still a necessity for a successful hunt.

Our official clothing sponsor, Ground Wear, used some traditional Inuit knowledge in their design of a new jacket that just arrived for the team this week. We were very excited as boxes and boxes of clothing arrived to be sorted and fitted for the trail. “This jacket is not only long to cover our waist where we lose a lot of body heat, it is also fitted with a very deep hood and a huge ruff, so that once you pull it up around your face, your face is still protected even when the wind is hollering,” says Mille.

    Chris came out to Expedition Basecamp to
  try his hands at running a team of Polar
  Huskies on his own for the first time
    Listen to Chris about a training trip he
  made to Yellowstone National Park!
Mikkel grins, “We are actually having a hard time keeping count of the boxes arriving these days.” One box of stove fuel bottles; another box with new harnesses; and even more boxes filled with expedition batteries, tent poles, and even a generator! We also had  one very treasured box filled with mukluks, our favorite (and only) boots for the expedition trail. They too are made on a pattern and design making use of the traditional knowledge of the Inuit.

With the arrival of all the gear Chris, who was on a winter camping trip where he was building some muscles and endurance snowshoeing, came to Expedition Basecamp to make sure his gear would fit him just right. Around here we have been counting the digits, observing a more than a sixty degree fahrenheit (32˚ in Celsius) span in temperatures in less than 72 hours! At the beginning of the week balmy temps and mud turned to a snow storm with below 0˚F temperatures (below minus 20˚C). Now, it is record-breaking hot weather today. Enjoying the brief cold spell, the Polar Huskies did some of their longest runs of the year mid-week. However, yesterday when Chris arrived, two hours on a muddy trail in baking sun was more than plenty for them. As you might imagine, it is not like there is nothing else to do around here. Chris joined in to pack up the loads of dog food as we prepare it to be shipped out to the communities as re-supplies.

Watch how to harness with Tony!
Watch Chris give it a go with some
loving from Polar Husky Superstar
Powered up Polar Huskies.
It’s Chris behind Tony on the 4-wheeler.

There were many loads of dog food. 1…16…79…115…142…
158..159.160! One hundred and sixty 40 lbs bags (18 kg) of high-powered dog food unloaded, stacked and ready to go on the sleds.  This was not done all at once, which is a good thing, given that it amounts to 6400 lbs (2909 kg)! Now, add to that some 50 lbs blocks of delicious chicken fat! With 25 dogs, and figuring about 100 days on the move… Get the count?

“We calculate between 5,000 and 6,000 calories per day per Polar Husky,” says Mille. She continues, “Of course, Kinu does not have the same need for calories as Good Thunder does, but if we calculate for the average, it works out right on the trail. This also leaves us with some spare food for bad weather and slow conditions like heavy snow which is much more work for the Polar Huskies to wade through.”

   1 pallet… 2 pallets… 3 pallets total!
Have you calculated the calorie counts in your classroom? Make sure to post your calories and all your other explorations to the Explore Zone! Our own GoNorth! Cool Scientist Shari, who lives on the expedition route, literally just returned from exploring on the sea ice between Greenland and Baffin Island. She has been working with Greenlandic and Inuit hunters to compare and document their mutual knowledge about the ice conditions. “If you were not part of the live chat on Wednesday you must go read or watch it!” says Aaron. Students from around the world asked fantastic questions on the topic, and Shari gave us some really unique and terrific insights on being a scientist exploring and living in the Arctic. As she stated herself during the chat, she “has been living here (in Nunavut) for four years and counting!” This Wednesday will be your last chance for a long while to chat with one of us team members, so we hope you join us online to talk about “Arctic Exploration” March 18 at 10 AM!

  Watch team work –
  Mikkel, Tony, and
  Chris – in action!
  Explore at Expedition Basecamp
  packing up the dog food. How many
  bags have already been packed up?

“How many dogs are you taking with this year?” was asked by a class in the state of Wisconsin in the US,. This question was not entirely answered in that chat, but we promised to answer it in this Trail Report! Oh yes, we did answer it already.  It is the official plan to have 25 dogs on the trail! That means that every running Polar Husky is going on the trail!

Polar Husky Superstar Domino  
This week’s first Polar Husky Superstar is Domino. He is a Polar Husky who is always totally wired to go, but unfortunately had to sit it out last year’s expedition. Not being able to go on last year’s trip was not Domino’s fault. Domino was just very unfortunate in that he (along with Xena and for mysterious reasons) did not pass blood tests needed to go to Sweden on last year’s GoNorth! Fennoscadia 2008 expedition. We did not learn this until the week of departure so it was a huge shock to us. However, it emphasizes that it is literally not until we are standing on the ice hitching the dogs that we know exactly who, what and even at times… where! We do know though that if Domino is being hitched he is ready to roar. Domino is almost in every way a perfect image of his mother Nazca. He is larger, but he has the spirit, the speed and the incredibly athletic build of his mom. Despite the fact that he is a very heavy-boned guy, Domino can toss and turn himself in the air like few others, and he will too to get that sled moving. He is not a very dominant personality, but since he was a tiny puppy he takes nothing from anybody! Once Domino puts his very stubborn mind on something, he keeps at it! Unfortunately that includes running, even when not in harness. Domino is known to run and roam and do so whatever it takes. On more than one occasion he has broken his way out of his dog kennel in airports resulting in more than frantic phone calls to us from the airport controllers. Domino happily would be running down runways oblivious to airplanes!  He is just happy to run!

    Watch Kinu pulling around a bit on  
  Domino with  Jupiter and this week’s
  other Polar Husky Superstar Pingo
              behind them – all excited to go!
    Polar Husky Superstar Pingo

“Happy to run” is definitely the perfect way to describe Pingo, who is this week’s second Polar Husky Superstar. Pingo is so sweet and loving, but is also shy of new people. Like Domino, he is totally wired. However, put that dog in a harness, and he becomes another mad pulling let’s go dog! When Pingo was a puppy he was by far the largest in his litter and almost seemed a bit heavy and slow. His size and slow speed earned him the nickname “mini-lippy” after his great-uncle Lipton. Boy were we wrong. Pingo was not at all what we thought him to be, which fit his name perfectly. A pingo is a hill on the tundra. Or, rather it is what appears to be a hill. Because really, it is a a hill of ice formed by a lake (!!) which is then covered by a thin layer of dirt to form what we know as a pingo!  The first scientist to describe this landform, and name it a pingo was Mille’s great-uncle who lived in and traveled Canada by dog team of course! Erling (Alf) Porsild was his name, and he named it a pingo because that is the Native Inuit word for “ice-covered-hill.” Of course, the local Inuit already knew of this “tundra treasure!” The Inuit found good use of a pingo. They would keep their food cold during the warm summer months as they would dig into the pingos and use them as huge walk-in freezers year-round. So, polar bear meat, hunted in the midst of winter, would still be good for dog food in July!