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29 June 2012

Journey 2012-Part 6

The mapping of the earth's surface was completed years ago, but not by men on the ground. Arctic maps are horribly inaccurate which is not surprising when you consider that a vast majority of the mapping was interpreted from what was seen on satellite photographs. There remains plenty to explore.

I have no interest in following other peoples' footsteps. My dogs and I have enough to do on our own.

Before leaving home, crevasse skills were practiced; especially important for me. If a dog had fallen through a snow bridge and deep down into a crevasse I would have been the one to go down and get him out. It was a thought that filled me with fear so I tried not to dwell on it.

Photo: J. Elcomb
Instead there was lots of descending and ascending practise by abseiling off buildings and into imaginary crevasses. My mountaineering harness was the comfortable and easily adjustable Petzl Aspir.
Photo: J. Elcomb
The crevasse rescue kit taken on the journey included:
35 metres x 9.1 mm Beal Joker (dynamic) dry treated rope
60 metres x 8.6 mm Cobra II (dynamic) Golden Dry rope
1 x Petzl Kit Secours Crevasse (crevasse rescue kit)
1 x Verso (Petzl's lightest belay or abseil device)
8 x Petzl Locker screwgates
4 x St' Anneau Dyneema slings (all 120 cm)
4 x Prusik loops (made from 4 mm Beal cord)
                 The journey climbing hardware           Photo: Gary Rolfe
There are two main types of climbing rope: static and dynamic. Unlike a static rope, a dynamic climbing rope will stretch when put under load. This means that the rope can absorb some of the shock when a climber falls, for instance down a crevasse, instead of cutting him in half.

When made, every filament of the Beal Joker rope is specially treated so that the rope will not absorb water, keeping it light when wet. More importantly the rope cannot freeze into one long slippery icicle. Both the Joker and Cobra II ropes were light and supple, an advantage when handled in the cold wearing mittens. Also there's a lot to be said about bright colours on a long demanding journey. Somehow I was always pleased to see the ropes (picture above) in what I always thought of as happy colours.

I wore Ciba Vison continuous wear Day & Night lenses throughout the journey. A single pair lasted one month. I never felt them in or needed to do anything fiddly in order to maintain perfect and comfortable vision. This was all very reassuring especially when Mikkey put out the alert of an incoming polar bear early one morning.

With plush warm fur over 20 cm thick, my dogs do not benefit from wearing the jackets you might well have seen racing sled dogs wear. But I have to be prepared and, in case of injury or illness, I pack one Ruff Wear Cloud Chaser (a soft-shell dog coat) and one Ruff Wear K-9 Overcoat for a dog that has to be kept warm while riding on the sled to recover. At this point I wish to thank Sanne my veterinarian who, despite having her surgery 1,200 km away, once again made sure that I did not head out short of dog medical supplies on this journey. And over the months prior made time to talk matters through on topics about my dogs' welfare.

Rab’s Expedition Suit (all-in-one down) is the one I credit with keeping me warm for many years through the most difficult of times but as individual jackets go, in my experience, the Rab Expedition Jacket is the warmest coat in existence.

   Feller next to the world's warmest down jacket   Photo: Gary Rolfe
This winter out with my dogs, I never left home without packing the Expedition Jacket and the Expedition Salopettes. These and my Expedition Wind Suit completed my outer layering system in case of severe cold. But my daily workhorse was the Rab Neutrino Plus jacket. Gloves and mittens from Outdoor Designs protected my hard working digits.

Wearing mittens was no problem when shooting journey film footage using my Panasonic HDC-SD80 camcorder loaded with SanDisk Extreme SDHC cards. The camcorder and cards were faultless during the rigors of travelling through snow, cold and freezing fog.

The Panasonic HDC-SD80 camcorder    Photo: Gary Rolfe
The following video highlights the run-rest cycle of a journey day with my dogs pulling a half tonne payload (after a depot re-supply) over sea ice and between icebergs of various degrees of enormity. It is a montage of footage taken throughout the journey that could represent one single day. The HDC-SD80 picture clarity is superb. You can hear me give Loads the Greenlandic command to turn left, “iu, iu”. The right-hand move command is “ili, ili”. Greenlandic sledding commands sound nothing like those I once used in the Canadian Arctic and they certainly do not sound like the Alaskan versions either. In one scene you can see where Loads cleverly picked up our outward trail sled runner tracks. Petzl Spirit carabiners are clearly visible connecting my dogs' harnesses to their traces (tug lines). At the end of the working day I can be seen taking my dogs off their traces to secure them before they were fed, watered and rested overnight.


Petzl Laser Sonic ice screws (the 17 cm version) secured my 13 dogs and the tent seen in the end video sequence. My dogs were supremely fit on this journey and the power they generated was enormous. The trust I have in these ice screws is a reflection of their strength. This Petzl ice screw load testing video highlights that strength. For interest, when not in use the ice screws were easily packed and protected in their individual Ice Flute holders.

And now? The ice has been so thick this year that the sledding season will run into July. I do not know of anywhere else in the world where you can run dogs on sea ice in July. Girly will come in heat soon and I plan for more puppies. In the meantime I have already been stocking up on walrus blubber for next winter.

For polar expeditions, the physical and mental make-up of the Greenland Dog has no equal. Roald Amundsen was of the same opinion (according to his writing). Today, all the physical traits seen in working Greenland Dogs (within Greenland) are here as a result left from 2,000 years of stark and brutal environmental factors. Throughout this time a dog's chance of living was enhanced if it had warm fur to survive the cold, if its feet were well furred so it did not get frostbite, if it pulled hard over long periods of time and if its master thought it worthy to live because of its superior intelligence. In a land and a time where ancient Greenlanders suffered indescribable hardship there was no place for sentimentality towards dogs. The living legacies these people have left behind in Greenland today are the dogs: Greenlandic icons.

Three cheers for the dogs.

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

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