Dog Sled Expedition in East Greenland

By Verified Expert

In April 2018, I embarked on a two-person, twelve-husky, dog-sledging expedition from Diilerilaaq to Isortoq. Our route was uncertain. Max, the team’s driver, a former professional hunter and an experienced Ice Cap explorer, mapped a few leads after consulting other hunters and village elders. Our first challenges were to boat across Sermilik Fjord and to disembark safely onto the fast ice that clogged Johan Petersen Fjord. Next, we would start scouting the coastline for a way up the mountains onto the Inland Ice. Thereafter, we’d navigate by the sun, GPS and wayfarer’s intuition. Max calculated a distance of eighty or ninety kilometres – as the crow flies. But as the dog-sledge glides, our reconnaissance could (and did) fare many kilometres more. 

Barring three-days of low-hanging fog, unrelenting snow storms and limited visibility that forced us to stay in camp, we were able to navigate a route without major incident. We didblunder a wrong turn or two, at one point rolling our sledge on a precipitous cornice and hurling two-hundred pounds of dog food into the abyss. (No photographs of that!) Yet, we recovered quickly and made smooth, exhilarating, sailing once we plateaued the Ice Cap.

The most demanding aspects of this seven-day adventure were our ascents and descents up and down the Ice Cap through labyrinthine mountains, crevasses, moraines and melt-water puddles. Recreational skiers from Europe and America have recently taken to testing their abilities with an Ice Cap “crossing.” Yet often they begin and end on the plateau, leaving out the more formidable parts. Hats off to their local, dog-sledging support teams who risk navigating such rough terrain, not to mention encounters with piteraqs and polar bears.

After a day of resting and visiting friends, Max and the dogs headed back the way we came. With what we learned on our reconnaissance run, he improved our route and bettered our time. I stayed behind to get further acquainted with Isortoq before returning to Diilerilaaq by helicopter – extraordinary travels in themselves.  

Here are some expedition highlights –  

Waiting expectantly for high tide and loading twelve dogs, one sledge and heaps of gear aboard a hunter’s powerful, open boat: 

Two men, a dog sled and a bunch of sled dogs
Man and his sled dogs getting on a boat
Almost loaded
Getting the dog sled onto a boat
Securing the dog sled to the boat

Punting the narrow channel of Diilerilaaq harbour: 

Cute sled dog sticking up his head

Crossing Sermilik Fjord amidst iceberg phantasmagoria:

Sled dog and dog sled on a boat
Sled dogs and dog sled on a boat

Grinding through a kilometre of fast ice at the mouth of Johan Petersen Fjord:

Suzuki moterboat
Dog Sled Expedition in East Greenland

Disembarking warily and swiftly onto thin ice:

Unloading the sled dogs from a boat
Disembarking warily and swiftly onto thin ice
Disembarking warily and swiftly onto thin ice
Boat in the sea ice
Musher almost ready to go

Camping on a frozen lagoon under a glacial head wall for three fogged-in days and at last waking to an auspicious dawn:

Camping on a frozen lagoon under a glacial head wall
Dog sled expedition camp
Man making dinner in the snow

(Mis)finding our way onto the Ice Cap and attaining its plateaus of infinite whiteness: 

Trails of a dog sled and its sled dogs
Man talking in a radio on the sea ice
Paw prints in the snow

Dodging crevasses, rock mazes and pooling meltwaters on our descent to Isortoq:

Endless snow

Seeing Isortoq and meeting hospitable villagers after an incredible twelve-hour push:

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