A Husky's Year

Kevin Shepherd

When the 1980 party arrived at Mawson there were two working dog teams. We were treated to many runs to the nearby islands across the sea-ice, and to the nearby ranges on the plateau behind Mawson. As the sea-ice disappeared, the trips diminished and a warm summer brought with it a large malt, making access to the plateau quite treacherous and very hard work for both dogs and men.

There was little work for the dogs during this period (and precious little fresh snow at the dog-lines) until the melt finished and the ice slope access to the plateau became usable again when fresh snow was laid down. One team however was flown briefly to Enderby Land to be used as part of the Summer program at Mt King and were worked enthusiastically by the party there.

By the time the plateau was again accessible and the sea-ice began to reform, the teams were badly in need of exercise and were somewhat undisciplined. Trouble was experienced on early dog trips by dog runners due to this.

Gradually however the teams were brought back into condition, as good sea-ice travel around Mawson allowed easy but regular training for the dogs in preparation for the longer trips planned for later in the year.

The teams were rearranged during this time until what we believed to be the best combinations were obtained. Huskies are pack type dogs in their natural environment and will naturally respect a lead dog. The lead dogs chosen by humans however may not be the one they themselves would choose. For these reasons the teams were made up of carefully chosen family groups, with one dog in each team chosen by his intelligence as the lead dog. Our leaders in the final stable teams were Noogis and Moby.

Once these teams were organised and the dogs themselves learned their running positions, traveling with them became less hard work and more of a pleasure for the dog runners. New dogs, just pups when we arrived, were introduced to the teams and it was very rewarding to watch their progress during the year.

Major trips during the year included Taylor, Kloa, Scullin Monolith, Baillieu Peak, and several closer trips including meteorite searches at the local ranges, Auster trips and weekend jollies at Rumdoodle. In addition, we proved that dogs can be worked successfully with tractors, and a team accompanied the tractor trains on the Prince Charles Mountains traverse. A team also accompanied a route remarking traverse to Hordens Gap, and proved themselves to be most useful by setting up the route while the tractors followed placing the permanent markers.

This we hope dispelled the myths that dogs cannot work with tractors or keep up with them over long traverses. It should open up a new era for their use.

With the arrival of the 1981 party it was the duty of the 80'ers to pass on the experience gained over the year to ensure their confidence with the dogs and their regard for safety with them. We left assured that they were in good hands and our best wishes are extended to them for a rewarding and enjoyable year with the permanent residents of Antarctica, the Mawson huskies.