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19 December 2011

Polar Lyon - Part 2

As a non-climber myself it might come as a surprise to learn that I use rather a lot of climbing hardware in snow, on ice and in the cold. There is a reason. My dogs are strong and have a tendency to reveal weakness in equipment.

This is broken non-climbing hardware.
The photo above shows a selection of stainless steel collar hardware that didn’t survive, breakages inflicted by single dogs. In the middle is what was left of a 5 cm steel ring that Knuckle snapped as if it were a twig.

In the picture below, ten Petzl (Lyon) Spirit snap gate carabiners and two screw gate carabiners are loaded with the power of ten of my 19 dogs. The Spirit is my general purpose carabiner. These crisp and confident snap gates attach my dogs' harnesses to the main centre trace. My dogs weigh in at over 45 kg each and all those carabiners withstand and tolerate up to 10 hours of strain, for days on end, nine months per year. At full tilt 13 dogs complete a full team pulling up to a half tonne payload over mountainous terrain.

My dogs putting gear under strain.
I know of several unfortunates unlucky enough to have had their fingers torn from hands when snagged in rope attached to the power of their dogs. When I go out with a full team of fit dogs it is like the unison ignition of huge locomotive pistons exhaling clouds of spent air into the cold to drive their legs of stacked muscle. When I slip my quick release knot to unfurl that initial surge of power one almighty horizontal ice rocket propels itself in a spectacular rush that remains as exciting now as the very first time I experienced it. At that point a dog team would rather knock your teeth out and leave you for dead than stop. Click on this to learn how I do it without losing body parts. You can see Beal (Lyon) rope secures my sled before I release the knot and hear that rope whip and crack like a pistol shot. The rope was tied off to a Petzl William with its automatic locking Triact-Lock system carabiner. Looks easy doesn’t it? But, as with getting climbing protection device placement wrong on a serious climb, it can all go horribly, horribly wrong.

Trailing behind my sled is a snub line. It drags behind enabling me to grab it the next time my team leave me stranded. It is a rope I trust to be dragged for the entire duration of a journey behind my sled and every single step of the way it will go through water that will freeze, break off, re-freeze, slide over punishing rocks and razor ice. If this isn’t enough my dogs' crap on the fly and the rope gets covered in it until it freezes and flakes off like peanut brittle. If you have a dog team and they have never bolted and left you standing, they will. The last time it happened to me was December 2007. Also, to the left of my sled (picture above) clawed into packed snow is my snow anchor. This holds my sled fast enabling me to stop my dogs. The anchor has Beal semi-static rope run from it to the main centre trace bracing all the power. Here's a closer look at the snow anchor. It is a severe piece of ironmongery.

The only known snow anchor to halt an ice rocket.
A Petzl Locker screw gate caribiner attaches my sled to my dogs' main centre trace. It is a potentially pivotal wear point that is pulled through snow and over ice and bare rock. You wouldn't want to come back as a caribiner responsible for working this position. It is a bad, dangerous place. 
Bad day. The red dot in the middle is my sled as I work my dogs over a mountain section devoid of snow.
Beal 6 mm and 8 mm cord makes up the construction of my sleds, enables me to lash sled loads securely and improves my tents. Most of the time I travel alone. Getting a tent up or down quickly can be a matter of life or death. Tents tend to come embossed with marketing hype exclaiming they'll withstand nature's fury and you'll sleep as if at home. Not so. Tents required for Arctic winters require modifications. I have never come across a new expedition rated tent that doesn't require alterations or improvements. Invariably I start to sew loops around the tent inner floor, following the tent pole framework and thread 3 mm Beal cord through the loops for tensioning. This stabilizes tent poles from the inside. It also creates a neat lattice high up above where the warmth of my stove dries gear. Click here to see how I improve my tents.

I have been rolled in a tent by the wind, with a blazing stove inside, an experience I never wish to repeat. So now, for staking out my tent or the ends of my dogs’ stakeout chain in hard packed snow I angle horizontally (15 ยบ) 90 cm long aluminium pickets before clipping in one carabiner into each and securing. I always pack a mountaineering snow shovel. For a perpendicular pull anchoring technique called a dead-man, I dig a pit for the picket and clip a caribiner into the centre hole before digging a slot in the direction of pull.

Top left to right: Petzl Spirit caribiners and Laser Sonic ice screws with Ice Flutes.
Bottom left to right: home-made dirt spikes and pitons.
Sometimes there is no choice but to make camp on sea ice which means anchoring my tent with Petzl 17 cm long Laser Sonic ice screws. They are a cinch to place with mittens on and it is ever so easy to rid the tubes of ice. My ice screws travel inside Petzl Ice Flute protective holders. After any journey I am always sure to wash the saline residue off ice screws to avoid corrosion. I pack pitons because there are times when my only anchor points are exposed rock. For anchoring into frozen dirt I have 25 cm long bolts. These I drive into place with the back of a small Gerber Sport axe that I always carry.

At night I secure my dogs by means of a long chain. Dogs are spaced along the chain and given their own space to feed and rest. Snow or ice anchors secure both ends. On ice I use Petzl Laser Sonic ice screws, in deep snow I drop dead-men. Petzl Locker screw gate carabiners and Beal 10.5 mm rope complete the secure set-up.

Dogs secure, tent secure.
In the winter of 2010 I returned home after a 33-day, 640-kilometre journey alone with 12 of my dogs to an area marked unknown or unexplored on the maps of Greenland.

Home safe.
This winter we will go further. Below is the first picture ever taken of the region.

Preparations continue and include the packing of crevasse rescue equipment such as 60 metres of Beal Cobra II 8.6 mm (dynamic and dry treated rope), Petzl Locker screw gate carabiners and ST'Anneau Dyneema slings.

For nine months of my year Beal rope and Petzl climbing hardware is working outside 24-hours a day, whether at home or on a journey. It hardly ever rests and never fails to protect. I just wish that my dogs didn't like chewing it so much.

Beal rope. It is everything but fang proof.
For more information about Gary and his dogs: www.garyrolfe.com

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting readings, i wish you good luck on your journey this winter