Shenanigans, floppy ears and paws: Greenland, part 2

Our guest writer Anna’s Greenland adventure continues.

The day dawned in a mist but accompanied by sunshine and a crisp minus two degrees Celsius. It’ll be a good day, one involving a dog sled ride!

Tourist rides are scarce in the Sisimiut village so our tour was arranged by local hunters. The kennels were located outside of town and we received brief instructions on where to find our chauffeur.

Walk to the end of the road, turn left at the green shack and after you see a large boulder, your shouldn’t be too far from the rider.

No large advertisement banners, no neon lights, no sir.

They’d briefed us on how to approach the sled dogs and how to behave when on board. This proved to be crucial since most of the riders didn’t speak any other language besides their own. You weren’t allowed to pet the dogs without explicit permission or pay any attention to them whatsoever. They had from 8 to 16 dogs in each team, ours had 14. The breed is Greenland Dog, obviously. Our rider was a 19-year-old hunter who, we were told, was a bit of a daredevil. And we had no common language save for gestures.

A sled ride in Greenland is massively different from one in Finland. The dogs are attached individually with nylon ropes that go from the harnesses to the sled. The sled itself is solid wood and very heavy, with no nails or metal parts. They use two thicker nylon ropes that go under the skids as brakes when necessary. The rider uses a lash to guide the dogs into the right direction if verbal commands didn’t do the trick or if they need to increase speed when going uphill.

The dogs were anxiously waiting to get moving and were visibly happy as soon as they did.

The instructions were clear: stay inside the sled at all times, even when going uphill. We didn’t, though. But it was in agreement with the rider, since we thought it better to just hike the almost 90 degree uphills and give the dogs a bit of a break. But as soon as we got over a hill, we needed to jump in as the speed started increasing.

Spring came early to Greenland this year and had less snow than it had had in years but we were looking at 25 kilometers worth of sledding. At the very start our rider had to look for the best route on the ice that was, quite frankly, looking pretty fragile at times. He found one but the ice gave in at one point and long story short, our feet got wet. Another sled in our expedition submerged completely but it all worked out in the end.

The landscape surrounding us left me speechless: the mountains, the sunshine, the silence of the wilderness. There were hardly any snowmobiles in these parts and no proper trails to follow. So at times the sled would sink into the snow.

We took a longer break for rest, maintenance and nutrition. The view was spectacular. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

What I experienced left me with mixed emotions: the beautiful, raw nature and the opportunity to be apart of a primitive way of transportation. But if I’m completely honest, I had great difficulty adapting to this Greenlandian dog sled ride. They’d often get tangled in the ropes and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for they’re paws. As veteran sled dogs they pulled through just fine, though.

The sheer weight of the sled was another concern of mine. On soft slushy snow the sled would slow down to almost a full stop and I felt so bad for the burden the dogs had to carry. Then again, at times we’d just fly over snowless hilltops.

Obviously there’s a reason for the sled to be that massive. They hunt seals and musk ox which happen to weigh hundreds of kilos. It’s a long way back from the wilderness so the catch has to fit into the sled. The reason it’s made of solid wood is simple: it has to withstand big shifts in temperature and travels on rocks and deep snow.

Despite his young age, our rider chose routes wisely and treated the dogs with kindness and respect. They were fit ones and were clearly well taken care of. They were also social and silly and kind as well, which was why the rider let us pet them even during the trip. But it was obvious they were purely working dogs, not pets.

This day was a very emotional one. Perhaps the most emotional.


//Anna Laakso

Anna Laakso calls herself a numerically middle-aged hiker who fuels on nearby locations and dares to venture farther from time to time. The fellowship is completed by the Cartographer and Paw Patrol.

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