Dog Sledding in Greenland: The Ultima Thule

Wendy Redal February 2, 2012 0

Dogsledding in Northwest Greenland. Photo copyright Explorers’ Corner.

As a passionate Alaskan malamute owner, I’ve long been a fan of hardy, beautiful, independent northern dogs. My malamute, Chilkoot, regularly shows his Arctic roots as he romps in the snow, howls with coyotes or curls up in a ball to sleep outside on winter nights when it’s well below freezing.

But there’s nothing like seeing sled dogs in their true element, as working dogs in a northern environment. Northern native cultures have relied upon dog teams for centuries, and there’s no more authentic place to witness this classic practice than in the regions where dogs are still used as a means of traditional transportation.

In Alaska, sled dog heritage is celebrated with famous long-distance races such as the Iditarod and Yukon Quest. But in far northwest Greenland, dog teams are still part of daily life, as they have been for centuries.

If you’re in search of an extraordinary adventure, consider Explorers’ Corner’s 17-day Dogsledding the Ultima Thule expedition, offered in March and April as spring warms the air and lightens the skies of the Far North.

Dog sledding the ‘Ultima Thule’ in Greenland. Photo copyright Explorers’ Corner.

The Arctic odyssey, heralded as one of the Top 25 Greatest Adventures by National Geographic Adventure magazine, is a far-from-ordinary journey into the realm of legend—in ancient times, ‘Ultima Thule’ lay beyond the northernmost edge of the known world.

This travel adventure is a window on a nearly bygone way of life, offering rare insight into the traditional lifestyle of the Polar Inuit who live at the earth’s highest inhabited latitudes. Here is a culture where many of the ancient practices—hunting with harpoons, wearing skin clothing, and traveling exclusively by dog sled—have survived for millennia.

The Polar Inuit have used dogs for transportation for centuries. Photo credit: Windows2Universe.org

We travel with these Inuit hunters, descendants of the great Thule culture whose fathers helped Robert Peary and Matthew Hanson in their quest to reach the North Pole. As a passenger riding in a sled guided by a seasoned musher, you are immersed in the Polar Inuit’s high Arctic homeland as you travel overland by dog team from the village of Qaanaaq. The journey follows a circuit along sea cliffs, fjords and glaciers, through mountain passes and across arctic tundra. Conditions permitting, the group will reach the village of Siorapaluk, the world’s northernmost community.

En route, spend time with Polar Inuit hunters and their families, watching them in action as they hunt and fish and sharing tea in their camps while learning about their traditional culture.

Amid the riveting scenery— a frozen landscape of icebergs back-dropped by mountain cliffs that rim the massive bulk of the inland ice cap—we may find caribou and musk ox as well as polar bear, seals, arctic fox and an astounding array of seabirds. Along the way there are plenty of opportunities to hike or ski in the extended hours of daylight.

Spring’s warmer temperatures bring melting, creating the ice-edge phenomenon that nurtures a profusion of life. Photo copyright Explorers’ Corner.

As we travel with the Arctic’s most traditional hunters, we venture to the edge of the world’s largest polynya (an ocean area free of sea ice), where warmer temperatures and sunlight nurture plankton and other small biotic creatures that draw hundreds of thousands of sea birds.

While my own northern dog has never been hitched to a sled, I long for the day when I can experience the heritage his bloodlines hail, on an authentic dog sledding expedition in the Arctic. Let’s discover the Ultima Thule together!

Wendy

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