In a region where snowmobiles malfunction from the cold, twelve men rely on Kalaallit Qimmiat, or Greenland Dog, to carry them across the 8,700-mile coastline of northeast Greenland. Together with their dogs, these men make-up an elite special unit’s force known as Sirius–the world’s only military dogsled team.
The men of the Sirius Patrol serve as the only rangers for the Northeast Greenland National Park and have been using sled dogs to patrol it for over 60 years. Even with today’s modern technology there is no better way to travel across the rough arctic terrain than by dog sled.
Dog sledding is both skillful and chaotic. The men must continually interact with their dogs by whistling, scolding, encouraging, and praising.
Although untamed by man and far from civilization, the sled teams are not alone during their travels across the arctic. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including musk ox and polar bears. Having a dozen wolf-like dogs with you can be helpful when you’re sharing the land with polar bears–the dogs make a hissing/growl sound as a warning to the patrollers if a polar bear is nearby.
The dog’s keen eyes and amazing sense of smell is especially useful during the winter months when Greenland is in total darkness. Sledding in the dark, especially in foggy conditions, can render the driver blind. The dogs, however, have been known to stop short of a cliff edge (invisible to the driver) and refuse to move forward, even when commanded to continue.
From June to November each team patrols 40 miles a day. The team covers around 5,000 miles during their 26 month charge. Most Sirius dogs will serve for 5 years, but one dog in particular and a legend among the patrol, Armstrong, has served for 10 winters. With all of Armstrong’s time combined, it’s estimated he’s hauled a sled about 25,000 miles.
The patrollers have a bond with each of their dogs, and know them for their individual personalities and quirks (like who’ s the troublemaker and who’s the sweetheart). Each night, beneath the Northern Lights, the patrollers spend a little time with each four-footed member of their team.
To the Sirius Patrol, the dogs are more than teammates. Returning home during the 26 month operation is not an option for a Sirius patroller, so for the men, the dogs become their family.