Week 09 In Stride

Date Posted: 4.19.2010
Location: 76º32'N 68º45'W
Thule Air Base, Greenland
Weather Conditions: Blizzard 17ºF (-8ºC)
“Thule Air Base remains in storm condition Delta. You are reminded that travel from your present location is not authorized…” The voice of a US soldier at the Storm Operation Center calls out over the speaker system with the warning that no one is allow to exit any building. The US military base is in “lock down” for more than 34 hours now. The winds are howling at 60-65 knots. That is, gusting upwards of 80 miles or some 110 kilometers per hour. The Polar Huskies are curled up in tight balls to protect themselves against the hurricane force winds. The
temperature is hovering around 18ºF (-8ºC), so it is actually not that

Listen to the announcement by the
  Storm Operation Center
cold here. However, it is wet, making the hurling snow cake in the coats of the Polar Huskies.

   Watch the blizzard raging outside our door!

  Watch driving back from feeding the dogs in the Pistol Bulley Colonel Gentry sent to take us to the
  dogs during the blizzard


Thule Air Base
It was only days ago that the Polar Huskies were rolling around in the budding signs of Spring. Before we left, the baking sun was climbing over the horizon along with the thermometer reaching 60+ degrees (+15ºC) during the day. Tim and the Polar Huskies were staying with our friend Tim White in the Northwoods of Minnesota. The dogs were definitely excited as they heard the roar of the dog truck coming down the dirt road. Aaron, Brant, Andrea, and Mille arrived from Expedition Basecamp at Tim White’s with the dog truck which was hauling the loaded trailer. The Polar Huskies were loaded into their own box and the small caravan continued north along the coastline of Lake Superior to Shell Aviation in Thunder Bay, Canada - right across the border from the US. Arriving early evening, our flight crew from Borek Air: Chuck, Jim and Dennis had the DC3 airplane open and ready to be loaded.

         Loading the plane
We all expected that it would be more than a tight fit to get everything loaded into the plane. As we mentioned in the last week’s report, we already knew that we couldn’t actually load everything even if it miraculously turned out that there was enough space. With that in mind, we expected we would have to load the Polar Huskies to stand neck-to-neck and head-to-tail in the plane as there would not be enough space for the dog boxes. As it turned out, Beacon, Goodie, Domino, Tucker, Jupiter, Baffin and Trigger could have their own boxes! As we boarded onto the plane,  Mille carefully placed the rest of the Polar Huskies as if seating a big party. They were tied next to each other so that everyone could get along as best as possible while lying down on the floor of the plane.



[image left: Inside our DC3]

After just a few hours and about 8000 lbs (~ 3600 kg) later, everything was loaded, doors were hatched and the plane rolled down the runway heading for Greenland with Aaron, Mille and 21 Polar Huskies onboard. We are sorry to report that Kinu and Chitwa will not be leaving with us on the expedition trail here from Thule Air Base. You can rest assured that their howls will be with us in spirit all the way. Andrea, Tim and Brant were also not on the plane. 

Watch the komtaek sled being loaded
  first into the DC3
    Approaching the community of Churchill
  for our first fuel stop. The DC3 is not
  pressurized & we flying at 10,000 ft.
         Aaron with Pingo in the door of the plane
The long distance to Greenland from Thunder Bay called for the DC3 plane to be able to carry a large amount of fuel and less of a load. With that in mind, we had carefully weighed out and marked 460 lbs of gear into large bags. The bags, along with the body weight of Andrea, Brant and Tim made up for about 1000 lbs, which is exactly how much weight needed to be shed off of our total load to fly with the DC3. So, the three watched the DC3 take off on Tuesday evening and on Wednesday morning they boarded their first plane to take them to Baltimore on the east coast of the United States. Next, they boarded the National Guard’s military plane to set off for Thule Airbase at 2 AM in the morning. This was at about the same time the DC3, filled with Polar Huskies, lifted off from the first fuel stop in Churchill, Canada.

A little over three hours and one more fuel stop later the Polar Huskies landed in Greenland! As the doors opened we were greeted by a smiling group of people, including the Police Chief representing Denmark at the air base and Kim Derry with Polar Field Services. Kim has worked with Mille tirelessly on resolving every one of the (many) issues that arose over time before we could finally jump out of the plane, shake hands and give hugs. After 12 hours in the air, the Polar Huskies could not get out of the plane fast enough either. “It was a gorgeous morning, the kind where dreams come true!” says Mille with a huge grin.

Mille with Polar Huskies in pick-up truck!  

With many helping hands, we soon loaded the dogs into the back of a pickup truck to take them to their designated spot while here at the base. The gear, sleds, food and everything else was loaded off the plane onto fork lifts and taken to an enormous heated hangar building. Within this building we can work on assembling all of our gear and doing final preperations within the next 36 hours – when the entire GoNorth! team is together. Well, that’s not quite what happened. When it was time for the plane to arrive at Thule Air Base with Tim, Andrea and Brant onboard, the entire base was already in lock down. Instead, their plane was diverted to Kangerlussuak in southern Greenland where they are still sitting as we write this report!


[image right: Greenlandic sled dogs in action with Christine]

However, the Polar Huskies, Mille and Aaron had barely landed when a helicopter with Christine approached the air base as well! Setting out from Siorapaluk by dogteam with a young hunter and his 15-year old younger brother three days earlier, Christine dogsledded from the community of Siorapaluk to Qaanaaq, the next community down the coast of Greenland. This was just before climbing on board the helicopter to come meet up with the rest of the GoNorth! team at Thule Air Base. Christine will stay in Thule for a few days before returning to Qaanaaq where she will work for a couple of weeks!

  Explore the icebergs outside the
  community of Qaanaaq – can you find
  the source of the icebergs?
Appaliarsuk is Greenlandic name for the
little auk birds
The night before leaving Siorapaluk, Christine was invited to a delicious and very traditional dinner. At the house of a local teacher Suzette, along with her husband and kids, Christine enjoyed little auk or alle alle as it also called. Suzette pulled out about 40 frozen birds and laid them out to thaw a bit before putting them all in a big pot of salty sea water. Bringing it all to a boil, she put a lid within the pot and put a rock on top of it to keep the pressure on the birds. Once boiled for a while, the birds were spread out in a pan and instantly cooled down to stop the cooking with fresh cold seawater. “Watching the making of the birds followed by the feast was yet another incredible experience in Siorapaluk. Every bit of the birds, which are hunted by using big nets, except the claws are eaten. This includes the tongue and the eye balls (a real delicacy!).  Nothing is wasted here!” says Christine. Siorapaluk may be the most northern community in the world with just some 10 houses. At first glance you may think this is a desolate place of few resources. However, one quickly realizes this is not true as the people live in fine-tuned balance with their environment. They survive taking only what is needed and utilizing their resources to the fullest.


[image right: In Thule Mille and Aaron studies a map of the crevasses (colored lines) on the route ahead with the Traverse Team here]

With Earth Day approaching on April 22, it is a lesson for all of us to think about how we can best take care the place we call home.  This includes how we create and use energy, how we purchase goods and produce waste, and how we handle natural resources such as the wealth of resources in our oceans.  On that note, don’t miss this week’s chat on Friday, April 23th at 10 AM CT with Dr Thomas Juul-Pedersen from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources on the topic of World Resources! What are your plans for Earth Day? Share it with the rest of us in the Earth Zone, both your plans and what you actually did!


The Polar Huskies will be celebrating Earth Day on the trail climbing 10,000 feet (more than 3000 meters) to the top of Greenland’s Ice Sheet. This week’s first Polar Husky Superstar Rubi will be a major power in hauling our heavy loads. Paws down, no other Polar Husky today has a larger output than Rubi. When it is time to go, and preferably go fast, Rubi throws her entire weight up in the air and into the harness jerking the sled forward with her supreme technique. This is especially true if Mille is calling out “Ruubi, Rrrrruubi, Rrrrrrrubarb!” She may not be the largest Polar Husky or even the heaviest or the strongest, but with her immense will power and passion  Rubi gets the job done! She does this while she makes sure every other Polar Husky nearby understands it’s time to dig in and dig deep to move that sled forward! Really, at those moments, she may be the toughest Polar Husky in the kennel. However, until the going gets tough, Rubi is a very calm stoic personality who in the midst of much commotion can seem downright indifferent to whatever is going on.

[image left: Polar Husky Superstar Rubi]

         Polar Husky Superstar Pingo
This is not so for this week’s other Polar Husky Superstar, Pingo. He is a smaller guy, but don’t get fooled! Pingo has pretty much taken all of us down to the ground dragging after him to just hold on! A little powerhouse packed in bundles of high-octane energy, he is extremely athletic, buoyant and super-duper-happy!  Easy going, Pingo is not one to create problems with other dogs. This is as long as he is just allowed to work and get the job done. This expedition is only Pingo’s second, and he has lots to learn. However, he earns this week’s Superstar status for his tremendous leaps and bounces in his skills of meeting new people and challenges. See, as gregarious as Pingo is, he is actually very shy. However, this week Pingo totally blew us away! From how easily he handled the flight on the DC3 plane, to how he made friends with the pilots and everyone along the route, Pingo handled everything in stride!