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24 May 2012

Journey 2012-Part 3

The way I prepare my journey tents is very specific. It is a method I perfected after years of travelling solo with my dogs, when every single task was mine to do alone. The way I pack my tents also enables them to be packed efficiently on top of a sled load. The sled (picture below) used for the latest journey was the same one built in January 2009.

When packing dog and human food plus fuel I have to take into account a daily distance average with an added margin of safety for bad weather or poor travelling conditions. When moving between depots I use my judgement and add extra supplies in case the need arises to return back to the last safe cache point. Never is my sled without dog food or fuel to melt snow for dog water. Excluding dog food, payload was packed using Rab Expedition Kit Bags MKII. One was for human food, one for spare clothing, a spares bag (including tools for repairs) and the cook bag with the stove and a small stuff sack each for personal items. The white bags (picture below) contain dog food. The entire load was secured using 4 mm Beal cord. We skied beside the sled and a Think Tank bag made it easy to reach in for photography and filming gear.

                                Secure payload                Photo: Gary Rolfe
I fed my dogs a diet that included 34% protein and 40-45% fat. Their daily recovery rate was excellent and a lot of this was due to the gradual build up of conditioning runs this winter. Every single day I supplemented their diet with cubed portions of minke whale blubber.

Fit and strong, my dogs have never looked better after a journey.

                                            Shocker                 Photo: Gary Rolfe
Expecting dogs to munch on snow to hydrate themselves is, in my opinion, not efficient. If a dog has to dip for snow during the day his mind is off the job. Running over the large stretches of hard packed snow proffered very little in the way of loose snow on a daily basis and even if they did manage to down large amounts of snow, calories required to turn it into water would be wasted.

                                          Feller                         Photo: Gary Rolfe

No, inside my tent snow was melted with soaked liver in a large stock-pot. With at least one litre of water for each dog to enjoy, every evening they all rested happily as nourishment replenished hard working muscles ready for another day.

                                       Treatment               Photo: Gary Rolfe
We camped at times on sea ice under a range of unclimbed 2,000 metre high mountains with 50 degree gulleys (couloirs). Rock fall on to the ice was minimal, by that I mean no open water was caused by falling rocks. My dogs and the tent were secured safely when we made camp using snow and ice anchors as described in Polar Lyon - Part 2. What worked well was Phil taking on the role of inside man. In expedition parlance this means the one getting the tent up and stove on to melt snow for dog water as soon as possible. And in the morning it was his job to pack the cook bag and tent.

I was the outside man. In the morning I packed the sled and harnessed my dogs. At night I attended to the dogs by taking them off their traces and secured them safely before feeding and watering them. Youngsters Blimey, Max and Proper never tired and the end of the day (to them) meant time to play and generally mess up whatever routine it was I wanted them to learn. Kids.

Loads at the head of the camp     Photo: Gary Rolfe
Phil is a climber who has man-hauled more than his fair share of loads so I was surprised when he said he could not imagine what the workload must be like travelling alone with dogs. But this time I was not alone.

On the first night, and sat on top of my sleeping bag inside a tent I had always used solo, I thought badly with a sinking feeling that the arrangement was never going to work. But with less than one week into the journey our routine was good enough for me to concentrate my thoughts elsewhere. It was not long before the tent felt bigger inside than when we started out which is strange because that always happens when I am alone too.

This time my stuff sack of personal items contained a book. Generally I dislike reading books on journeys. It alters focus. I do not like switching off and I do not feel the need to be entertained when doing what I live to do.

But this time I thought I would give it a go because I knew Phil liked to read and would more than likely not wish to talk dogs all night. But alas, I ditched the book and instead read my maps as I would normally do and planned ahead for future adventures with my dogs.

Even after a long day I could tell my dogs wanted more and so did I. But we had to rest. At night I would go through our day in my mind's eye. All day I watched and worked with my dogs. Joy came from seeing their power as a pack as they moved in unison, all severe and intent in not stopping. They had enjoyed it as much as me and we did not want the days to end.

Journey 2012 - Part 4 will follow....

For more about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com

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