Sledge journeys are mostly silent as Inuit hunters are not used to company and I find that Sven doesn’t have much English anyway.
The dogs are fresh and excited by the other teams as they are used to travelling alone. The pace is fast over rough terrain. One by one my five companions seem to be falling off their sledges. I am determined that this won’t happen to me but when our dogs bolted up over a snow mound and tipped the sledge up on a rock, I became airborne. Sven was horrified and the dogs were punished accordingly.
From then on, we often travelled alone with no one else within sight, so I was privileged to experience the remarkable peace and solitude of such a beautiful, pristine wilderness.
Travelling by dog sledge is an experience never to be forgotten, with just the swish of the sledge runners on the ice, the patter of the dog’s feet as they move in unison and the quiet commands to the team. Apart from that there is a deep enduring silence.
On the third evening we approached a high snow bank silhouetted against the grey sky. The dogs turned away and tried to jump down the side of an ice cliff. Sven is off the sledge shouting at them and whipping them away from the cliff. Suddenly they plunged over the top of the bank. Sven threw himself onto the sledge and we hurtled down a long steep glacier front onto the frozen fjord below!
Night has set in and the chill damp air is starting to bite. Still we travel on at a good pace until we come to a hut where the rest of the crew are preparing to spend the night. Sven says “Go in, I will bring your things.”
The hut is warm and a meal of polar bear meat has been prepared. Kathleen, our leader goes to serve me but Sven signals her to stop. Solemnly handing me his pocket knife he holds out his plate and I cut my meat from his. This is very ritualistic. I’m not too sure of its meaning, but I realise this is the only meat I should eat and Sven smiles at me for the rest of the evening.
The next day things have changed! This is our last day and we are silent no longer. Communication is difficult in a mixture of Danish, Greenlandic and English but we are getting to know each other. Sven asks when I am going back over. (Yes, from the top of the world Australia is down under.)
He likes the summer best, he has a small boat and, “maybe you come?“
Late afternoon a blizzard overtakes us. Sven zips my jacket up tighter and pulls the hood well over my head as we head into the driving snow towards the end of our journey to the village of Ittoqqortoomiit. There’s a snowmobile waiting for me, no time for proper goodbyes. The snow pounds the windows of our house all night.
Next afternoon I am standing on a hill behind the village with a view out across the fjord. I see a familiar dog team heading out across the ice and there is someone on the sledge waving to me.
I shall always remember the magic of that first sledge journey and the privilege of travelling with such a reliable character from another culture who looked after me so well.