Camping With Antarctic Huskies

Camping in the Antarctic is a regular occurrence for scientists and also for tourists. The husky component, however, is missing as Antarctic-born huskies were declared an “alien species” in 1991. They had by then been replaced by the more powerful, though more polluting snowmobiles.

Two of us would raise the double-walled pyramid tent with the sleeve entrance. A small Swedish kerosene stove dried one’s clothes, cooked the food, and gave some heat before it was turned off to save on fuel. Our Antarctic clothing, kept most of the biting wind and cold at bay.

To counter being out in low temperatures our food boxes held pemmican, butter, oats, sledging biscuits, chocolate, cocoa, sugar, powered milk, and dried onions, and potatoes. All this equipment was loaded onto a wooden Nansen sledge that could flex over uneven ground. Seven Antarctic huskies suppied the power.

The husky team hauled the loaded sledge with the dogs in pairs except for the leader out in front. Antarctic huskies, originally from the Arctic, were heavier and stronger than their ancestors. The huskies could move a 1000 lb. loaded sledge. Deep snow lessened the distance travelled. They loved humans, and fought each other at any opportunity.

On a journey the huskies would lean into their lamp wick harnesses, and push with their hindquarters. Arthritis in the back legs was a common condition of the dogs’ occupation. The pulled sledge would run over the snow at a steady 3 mph. I often crunched alongside; at – 20 degrees and with no wind there was no need for an anorak. The huskies only balked if a strong wind blew in their faces. Sometimes skiing ahead of them kept them going. When the light thickened we would camp in a sheltered spot.

At the camp the dogs were clipped onto a light wire span, staked into the snow. The tent was raised, its cloth-legged sides were spread out, and its valence or “skirts” were held down with ration boxes. The inside man laid out the groundsheet, and the equipment was passed inside. The quickly lit stove supplied the needed liquids in the dry climate, and heated our food. The outside man fed the dogs with Nutrican, (processed meat not much different from the human meat blocks,), checked the stability of the tent and the sledge, threaded the radio aerial through the top of the tent, and finally brought the dogs’ harnesses in to stop them getting frozen. His tasks were ended there unless the wind picked up at night, or a dog wandered off.

Dinner was hoosh: mixed meat, onions and potatoes. The evening finished with contacting the base by radio.

The weather was generally fine for a day or so, and then the usual Antarctic Peninsula clouds rolled in. A lie-up was the only solution during zero visibility. It was then time to read.

A final task in any Antarctic camping trip was how to have a bowel movement. You walked away from the tent watched by all the huskies, dug a hole, and then had to decide wind position. Did you drop your various lower layers and face into the wind, did you “moon” it, or compromise with a sideways position?

The trip home was always faster than the outward trip. There was often old husky or tractor tracks to spur the dogs on. The fastest trip back was my last one in the Antarctic. After six days of sitting in cloud, the field assistant used known. compass directions to take the two dog teams on a dogleg out of the mist and into sunshine. The urgency was the arrival of the yearly supply ship.