Komatiq Dog Sled
The Baffin Island 2007 expedition will be using handcrafted komatiq (pronounced comma-tech) freight dog sleds. These 14-foot long 36-inch wide sleds are stable under a variety of ice and snow conditions and will each carry loads weighing well over 1000 pounds. In essence these sleds are the semi-trucks of the dog sled fleet. Will has mushed versions of the komatiq on all his major Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. The sleds feature an open flat bed design which makes for easy loading and unloading and allows the sled to be packed in many different ways as the load size changes over the course of an expedition.
The Inuit developed the komatiq through thousands of years of travel by dog sled over the sea ice, fjords and coastlines of Northern Canada and Greenland. Mushing long distances across desolate landscapes to hunt and travel to other villages, the Inuit staked their lives on the durability of their komatiq sleds. In these high latitude regions, trees do not grow and wood is extremely scarce. Using drift wood for runners and sinew from sea mammals, such as seal, whale and walrus, the Inuit lashed (tied) together their sleds with special knots and patterns that made for maximum strength and flexibility. Much like a structural design of a sailboat, a dog sled must be able to withstand the twisting and torquing caused by gliding over an uneven dynamic surface. It also must be easy to repair in remote locations where shelter, supplies and time can all be of short supply.
Building a komatiq sled from scratch is a time consuming project that requires a lot of patience, focus and attention to detail. Such a project is even more intense when the builders feel the pressure of a looming expedition departure deadline. Simon Teale and Van Conrad, experienced craftsman from Ely, MN, are building the komatiqs for the Baffin Island 2007 expedition. Working out of the well outfitted Homestead Wood Shop, so far they have spent the majority of their time fashioning the sled runners out of sitka spruce, a beautifully straight grained, knot-free wood. The runners are the most important part of the sled -- if a runner breaks, the repair options are minimal. Once the runners are finished and cut to exactly the right angles, Simon and Van will build the upright handle bar or stantion of the sled and lash the sled together using super tough rope.
Look for Part 2 of Sled Building in the near future.