Notes From Trail: Training for Dog Sled Expedition

This month, explorer Will Steger and six young adventurers will travel across Ellesmere Island, following in the footsteps of other legendary polar explorers. The team will visit ice shelves that have all but disappeared because of climate change. Currently, the group is training. Members of the group will regularly file reports from their 1,400-mile journey. This is their story.

I have now been in Iqaluit for about a month with Sarah and Eric to train the dogs and to prepare equipment for the expedition. Sarah and Eric have been great teachers and I have tried to my best ability to be an equally good learner. Last week, Ben also joined us up here and by the end of this week the entire team will be gathered here, with the exception of Sigrid who is finishing the Iditarod as I write this.

For the rest of our expedition training, which lasts until March 28, all of us will contribute to a daily blog about our experiences and development as we get ready for the great trip on Ellesmere.

Since I arrived here in mid-February, Sarah, Eric and I have trained the dogs during the daytime and worked on expedition equipment in the evenings. For me, who had not ran dogs using the fan system, it has been important to get used to this system that varies from the tandem system used in the south or as seen in the Iditarod by Sigrid.

The tandem is great in the boreal forests of Norway and Minnesota where it is important that the dogs do not get tangled up in trees or other obstacles. On the sea ice, however, the fan system, where each dog has its own line attached to our sleds, is great. In the rough ice the dogs running on the fan can avoid dangerous obstacles and if one dog gets its line caught it can easily be released by the dog driver that sits in the front of the sled.

It has been grand to learn the fan system from Eric and Sarah and I am now ready to be the third dog driver on the expedition. My lead dog is named Bylaw and he has already become a great friend. I am looking forward to working with him and the rest of the team for the next three months.

The plan for our training over the next couple of weeks is to continue to run the dogs and pack all our gear and food. It is an enormous task to prepare for a lengthy expedition like this. The highlight of our training will be our participation in Kimmirut Quest 2008 (Qimualaniq Quest), which is a dog race between Iqaluit and the village of Kimmirut, about 180 kilometers south of Iqaluit. The expedition team will participate with our three dog teams.

The race starts on March 15 and lasts until March 21. We are all looking forward to trying our equipment on the sea ice, through a mountainous plateau and to spend our first of many nights together in the freezing cold of the Arctic winter.

Sledder Toby Thorleifsson, 28, is from Norway and has worked as a writer, lecturer and mountain guide focusing on environmental issues.