Greenland. Cold, wind and freedom. This is what the title of a book by Robert Peroni says. His book about East Greenland. And these three words describe quite exactly our trip with the dog sled from Tasiilaq to Tiniteqilaaq. A ride that was the absolute highlight of our winter trip to East Greenland after only three minutes. In the following article you will find out what makes a trip with a dog sled so special and read a few tips I can give you for the trip. There are also some great photos of the four-legged heroes. (Cover photo: Dr. Till Pasquay)
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What to expect in this Article
On the Way with the Dog Sled
It starts with a strong jerk. My camera flies around my ears and I just manage to hold on to the loading area of the sled. There are 14 Greenlandic sled dogs stretched out in front of the sledges. The musher has pulled the anchor out of the snow and drives the animals. He stands behind me on the sled runners. After the first shock I made myself comfortable on the loading area of the sled and leaned against our luggage. Warmly wrapped up in several layers of insulation, I travel over snow and ice to Tiniteqilaaq. Driving the dog sled from Tasiilaq to Tiniteqilaaq is the absolute highlight of our winter trip to East Greenland. And a quotation from Knud Rasmussen gets stuck in my head:
Give me dogs, give me snow, you can keep the rest.Knud Rasmussen
Find out more about our winter trip to Greenland and why you should plan a bit more time for it here.
But as soon as I have settled down on the loading area of the sled, I have to go up again. It goes uphill. The dogs are not well trained at the beginning of the season. So push along! The dogs insist on it and make this also unmistakably clear. They slow down, stop and turn around. Only after they have made sure that musher and passenger help, they move on. Wrapped up like a Michelin male, I struggled in the deep snow. After a short time I was out of breath. At the same time my respect for the animals grows with every step forward.
The Greenland Dog
The Greenland dog is extremely persistent and faithful and can easily pull its double body weight. With its dense coat, it is also optimally adapted to the cold Greenland temperatures. Even in winter and in the strongest storms the dog stays outside. To stay warm he digs himself a trough and in the worst case even gets snowed in. Because the snow insulates. The Greenland dog has been part of the Inuit culture for centuries and has long been vital for the survival of hunters and their families. Greenlandic sled dogs are pure-bred and are subject to the strictest breeding regulations. To protect the breed and its resistance, the keeping of foreign breeds is not permitted in Greenland.
The Sledge Team
The dog sled is the traditional means of transport for the locals in winter and was essential for survival in earlier times. Until today the snowmobile could not displace this reliable vehicle. The team is steered with only few commands and sometimes also with a whip. The Musher knows its dogs and in particular its leader dog very exactly.
The sled is so light that it can also drive over thin ice. It is even said that the dogs stop instinctively if the ice is too thin to cross. They are also the best protection against polar bears you could wish for.
The traditional sleigh teams in Greenland are a bit different than you might know them from Scandinavia. There the dogs are attached to the right and left of a main leash. In Greenland, on the other hand, the dogs are fan-shaped and stretched in front of the sleds. Each animal pulls its own rope, which is directly connected to the sled. This is advantageous when driving on ice surfaces. The weight of the team is thus distributed over a larger area and the animals have more freedom of movement. However, this freedom of movement is also sometimes a disaster. Namely then, when oncoming traffic comes. It happens relatively rarely in the vastness of East Greenland, but when a dog sled came towards our 14 animals, only a huge knot of wild barking dogs and green ropes could be spotted within seconds.
Even during regular driving it can happen that the animals get entangled in the ropes. However, a good musher knows exactly which rope to put his hand on. The rope is briefly taken off by the sled and untangled during full speed.
After a bumpy start and the steeper sections uphill everything worked out fine, the ride is a relaxed pleasure. I have enough time to take pictures of the landscape and the rear parts of the dogs. The view from the pass is breathtakingly beautiful and soon the settlement of Tiniteqilaaq comes into sight. Seal hunting in winter
Seal Hunting in Winter
Tiniteqilaaq has about 100 inhabitants, only half as many as 30 years ago. The inhabitants mainly live from seal catching, fishing and tourism. Tourists are also taken on the seal hunt. Since I wanted to learn more about the people and living conditions here, we also went out. However, I could hardly imagine how we could get out of the mostly icy bay and into the open water by boat.
In the morning we start with two small but strongly motorized boats. Our captain gets the swing and drives on the ice, which partly gives way. Further towards the middle, the ice becomes firmer and the boat remains on the ice. Now we push until the boat slides back into the water. Then the first boat pulls the second boat with a rope over the ice. I am very impressed by these tricks and glad that our small boat did not capsize or leak.
We were on the road for four hours. The hunters didn't kill a seal. I was relieved. But after I saw the food prices in the local supermarket in the evening, I felt sorry for the hunters and their families. The ingredients for a simple dinner for two people cost us 35 Euros.
Tips for your Dog Sledding Tour
During my trip with the dog sled from Tasiilaq to Tiniteqilaaq I learned a lot. Now I would like to share these experiences with you so that you can enjoy your tour completely.
We organized the tour through The Red House by Robert Peroni. Robert arranges contacts to locals who take guests with them on their sleds. The sledges are also used for hunting.
1. Contact with the Animals
Greenland sled dogs are by no means comparable to our pet dogs. Better pet the dogs with caution. If you want to be on the safe side, then talk to the musher first, because he knows his dogs inside out and can tell you who is happy about stroking.
The dogs look wild, maybe they are too. But I quickly realized that I don't have to be afraid of them. They are very busy asserting and defending their rank within their pack and are not very interested in humans. We also had young dogs with us on our tour who were running free for training purposes. They were a little more interested in humans. These free dogs can get a bit too curious especially for us women during the pee breaks... but after they have explored the situation, they usually disappear again.
2. Hold on and stow everything well
Make sure that you hold on tight when driving off and secure the camera.
Stow all objects (e.g. beverage bottles) well so that nothing gets lost on the way. Stopping the animals was a difficult undertaking, at least for us, and the braking distance is long.
3. Onion Layer Principle
Dress warmly, but be sure to dress in the tried and tested onion layer principle. If you run uphill or push along, you'll soon get too warm. Take off your clothes in time, that means before you start sweating. Otherwise you'll get cold very quickly afterwards.
Keep in mind that the weather can change quickly. So rather take a warming layer too much than too little with you.
4. Sun Protection
Take a good pair of sunglasses or better still glacier glasses or ski goggles as well as sun cream with a high sun protection factor.
The dog sled ride from Tasiilaq to Tiniteqilaaq can take a whole day depending on snow conditions. So take some provisions for the breaks and be sure to drink enough. Even if it is cold, but if you have pushed the sled for a while, you will also get thirsty.
Not all Greenlanders speak English. It is helpful to learn a few words of Danish or to install a translator app on your mobile phone. I can recommend the app from Bing, because you can also use it offline. Then all you have to do is keep the phone warm - otherwise the battery will quickly run out in the cold.
Did polar fever get you? Then you will find the best medicine in my article polar literature die beste Medizin.
Here you come to the photo gallery.
Book Recommendations for Greenland
You want to know where the journey goes? Then I can recommend these books*.
You can order the books with a click on the pictures at Amazon. If you buy a product via an affiliate link, I get a small commission and you help me to keep filling Fernweh-Motive with interesting articles. The product will not be more expensive for you and you do me a huge favor.
Have you ever been to Greenland? How did you like it? Do you have any questions about my article? If yes, then write me a comment!