“Give me snow, give me dogs! Then you can keep the rest”. Quote by Knud Rasmussen
Travelling by dog sledge in Greenland is an experience everyone should be able to make. To get the most out of this experience with vast magnificent nature and beautiful dogs, we have some small pieces of advice. These mostly apply for the longer trips of more than 2 hours but can be fun to read anyway to give you an impression of what to expect from a dog sledge trip for several days. There is a difference in the difficulty level for trips lasting 2 hours on the sea ice and the trips lasting up to several days in the mountain terrain. However, some of the principles are the same.
Driving dog sledge – a traditional culture
In Greenland a practical approach to everyday living is part of the traditional culture. Dog sledge is still used to a large extent for hunting and fishing, for transport of fish on the ice and for visits in neighbouring towns or settlements. Driving on dog sledge is something the local Greenlandic family enjoys, and often goes on trips for the pleasure of experiencing nature this traditional way, for instance as a Sunday excursion. In spring time dog sledge races are popular and organised in different categories: professionals (fishermen and hunters), amateurs (hobby time), women, children, etc. who everybody enjoys – each year.
If you have chosen a longer dog sledge trip with overnight stays along the way, you will experience how much the dog sledge driver enjoys the trip just as much as yourself. You might even experience that the driver starts to hunt a seal if it is showing up close to the sledge.
The Greenlandic sledge dog can be traced back to the first dogs of the Inuits who brought this part of the culture to Greenland from Canada. The Greenland dog is therefore closely related to the different dog sledge races found in Siberia, Alaska and Canada. It has been a priority for many generations to keep the Greenland dog race isolated from other dog races and it is still not allowed to import dogs to the “district of sledge dogs” in Greenland. This is an area that is defined as being north of the Polar Circle.
The Greenland dog is incredibly strong and robust and deals with the most extreme weather conditions. It is living outdoor all year round, no matter wind or snow. Only bitches are allowed shelter when they have small pups. All dogs needs to be tighed in chains of at least 3 meter length, preferably 2 and 2, except for puppies. Dogs are primarily fed fish, seal meat, blubber and sometimes additional dry food. To keep warm in winter time it is necessary for them to be fed a lot of fat. Halibut, seal or blubber is very rich in fat and therefore perfect as dog food.
The Greenland dog is a working animal and not a pet, which is why it is important to treat it with a correct behaviour and to feed it properly. Unfortunately, it is often that dogs are not fed according to the hard work they are doing. However, most of the dog owners put a pride in having healthy and strong dogs that lives up to the ideal about a Greenland dog: A beautiful dog that radiates strength and large size.
A sledge dog can pull almost its own weight or more for several hours. A typical sledge dog weighs around 30 kilo. As mentioned before they are working animals and not pets, which should be remembered when meeting them around town or on your sledge ride.
Even though they are normally very peaceful towards people they most often only know their owner and his family, which is why they might be insecure about strangers. Please remember not to touch a dog without permission from its owner.
Are you fit to drive a dog sledge?
When driving in flat terrain on a 1-2 hour trip, normally everybody can join. If you are considering some of the longer trips where the terrain will become more steep and changing you need to consider if you are fit enough to hike for shorter stretches in these hilly conditions. If you have a bad hip, back, knee, heart or lungs you should probably consider one of the shorter trips. Nevertheless, driving on dog sledge in absolutely pristine surroundings is one of the greatest experiences in life!
How about the weather?
Weather conditions in Greenland are like every where else – constantly changing. Some winters gets a lot of snow and others very little. Some years the sea ice is strong enough for dog sledges and others it is not. It all depends on temperature but also of wind and the sea currents. All of these weather and climate conditions affects how the trips and routes for dog sledges occur and varies from year to year. 2008 had one of the coldest winters and the following year very little sea ice occurred. Therefore, it is not only global warming affecting the local environments but also seasonal changes in wind and current that causes great fluctuations.
For this reason, it can be necessary to be prepared for adjustments to your itinerary with short time notice. Still, we will always do our best to make your trip happen according to plan.
We encourage our guests to view these travelling conditions as part of the adventure in Greenland. The local people has for more than 4500 years adapted to changing climate scenarios to survive – so it really is a part of the culture in Greenland to adapt and prepare.
We wish you a wonderful experience on your dog sledge trip!