25th September 2015

6 years ago  •  By  •  26 Comments

25th September 2015 – Recce Trip to Eagle



This is my 3rd blog, it will hopefully help build a picture of the preparations for the expedition Wayne, Graham and I are going to make from Herschel Island to Eagle, replicating Amundsen’s 1905 journey.

Following on from the last blog after my stay in Inuvik, I flew back through Vancouver, Seattle and Fairbanks to Eagle on the Yukon River, where I met the other two team members;

Wayne Hall, a highly experienced musher (sledge driver) and dog handler who is providing all the dogs and sledges for the expedition.

Graham Burke, a New Zealander who is the third member of the sledging team.

Graham and I stayed at Wayne and Scarlett’s cabin outside Eagle. Graham had flown all the way from Wellington in New Zealand specifically to meet up and train with us. We all sledged together through deep snow, steep river banks, hills and over flow (where the river rises above the ice level). Heavy loads were deliberately used on the sledges so as to simulate some of the problems we may encounter on our journey.

We met up with Earl Rolf who is the fourth member of the expedition. Earl will be running supplies for us on the Alaskan side of the border with his snow machine. We talked through the logistics for transport and dog food caches, also ran through safety procedures and weighed all the equipment.

It is essential we keep our load to a minimum for both the flight into Herschel Island from Inuvik (1800lb per flight) and to ensure the sledges are not overloaded for the trail to Eagle. It’s really important to find a balance between your equipment, food and the comfortable pulling power of the dog team over such a lengthy journey.


Comments 26

  1. Sonja Carp
    I love being able to follow your news of this exciting expedition. Good luck!! Sonja xx
  2. Thanks for the blog update Tim. Presumably Amundsen didn't have any hunting constraints for food for the dogs? Any idea how he managed the dog rations? Perhaps he encountered more hunters and trappers operating in the landscape than you will encounter next year and was able to access their food caches?
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Steve Thank you for the interest in the expedition. Amundsen got outfitted on Herschel Island and took with him seal meet for the dogs.As supplies got low he traded for Caraboo meat from Indians that he met along the Firth and the Coleen rivers. When Amundsen made the journey in 1905 there many more people in that part of Canada and Alaska as a result of the fur trade and prospecting.On his journey along the Yukon river there would have been guest houses every 20 miles that he could get dog food provisions from. All of that infrastructure has now gone leaving small villages at Fort Yukon,Circle and Eagle on the Yukon. You can run a sledge for about six days before you have to resupply. We have already got dog food depoted on the Firth that will get us to the boarder with Alaska. At that point we will have a drop by plane. Another depot on the Coleen river, Fort Yukon and Circle all delivered by Snow machine. Best wishes Tim
  3. Ben
    Hello Tim I'm in the year 9 at Marlborough college and I would like to know how the dogs have been trained to be sledged.
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Ben, The training the dogs get is pretty similar to training any dog. You start when they are young by getting them to come to you when called.Sounds easy but getting Huskies to come to you is not easy.Their natural instinct is to chase ,which is why they are so good at running and pulling sledges. When they are old enough the next thing is getting them used to being in a harness and pulling a sledge.The puppies are around older dogs so they see what is going on and soon learn. To get the dogs fit for a journey like this they will have done hundreds of miles of sledging trails as soon as the snow is thick enough for them to pull sledges. There are quite a few different types of Husky,the ones we are going to be using are Alaskan Huskies - a cross of Greenland, Siberian dogs with a bit of everything else thrown in. With a dog team you have dogs that are picked for specific qualities. You have the bigger wheel dogs at the back then swing dogs in the middle and a lead dog at the front. A lead dog will have an above average intelligence and be brave. It can be quite stressful being a lead dog. A good lead dog will learn to recognise thin ice as well as being trained to go left and right. A really good lead dog can be used for running loose lead in heavy snow. It goes out in front on its own to make the beginnings of a trail for the other dogs to follow pulling the sledge. That's a one in a hundred dog! Hope the above covers it. Tim
  4. Francesco
    Why are there no woman on the expedition and is there good salmon fishing. Mc
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Francesco, There are plenty of female mushers that are capable of making a journey like this. There are women that have won some of the toughest dog races in the world. When you start looking round for people to do an expedition of this sort you pick people you know and have the skill bases you are looking for - you also have to get on - six weeks in a tent is a long time! The only female mushers I know well sadly couldn't commit to the time frame. i would have liked to have had a mixed team. Fishing - The temperatures in February and March in the Yukon are generally around -30 degrees and can go as low as -60 degrees so the rivers and sea are all frozen solid ! Salmon are not migrating at that time and even if they where you couldn't get to them and would freeze trying ! People with big kennels of dogs living along the Yukon use salmon fish wheels to catch up to 3/4000 Salmon in the Autumn run so they can feed their dogs in the winter. Tim
  5. Ben Jacobs
    Do you expect your going to come across any Inuit people on route.
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Ben The Inuit people are made up of different groups. The area that we will be in is mainly populated by Inuvialuit Inuits who mainly live in towns or villages like Inuvik or Aklavik. We will be travelling to Inuvik and flying from there to Herschel Island to start the replication of Amundsens Journey. We will be meeting Inuits in Inuvik and may well meet some out on Herschel Island as it will be their hunting season when we are there and they travel up from Aklavik to the area.The Inuvialuit Inuit people have land rights over the Ivvavik National Park area which they have given us permission to travel through. Once we have started our journey from Herschel Island we do not expect to see anyone until we get to Fort Yukon.The majority of the population of Fort Yukon are Athabaskan Indians. Tim
  6. harry
    why are you choosing alaskan huskeys?
    • Tim Oakley
      Wayne Hall who is one of the expedition team members is outfitting the expedition with the sledges and dogs.All of his dogs are Alaskan Huskies so that's what we will be using.
  7. Sam
    Dear Mr Oakley, where do you intend to source your food from when you are isolated, and on average how much kit do you intend to bring with you?
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Sam Both the dog food and human food will be carried on the sledges. We can travel for about six days before we need to resupply as the amount of dog food you need weighs a lot.We will fly to Herschel Island with enough food for a week. After that we have depoted food at Sheep Creek on the Firth River, we will have a plane drop on the Alaskan /Canadian boarder, another food drop 50 miles up the Coleen river and depots of food at Fort Yukon and Circle -all places you can look up on your atlas or Google earth! Tim
  8. Marcus Wimbush
    Hello my question is how much food is need per day when on this sort of journey.
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Marcus I am going to cover your question in a future blog but in brief we will burn about 4000 /5000 calories a day and eat freeze dried food that we add warm water to. We eat one packet in the morning and one in the evening as well as having some soup when we first make camp. During the day we eat trail snacks of chocolate,raisin,etc. Hopefully we have worked out exactly how much food we will need. When we fly to Herschel Island we will have about 44 lbs human food and about 500 lbs of dog food. The dog food will only last for 8 days before we have to resupply but the human food will last for 14 days.
  9. Bob
    Dear Mr Oakley, It says on your overview that nobody has done the expedition successfully since Amundsen, has anybody tried but failed? And is there any serious risk for you and the others doing the expedition.
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Bob Yes a couple of teams have tried to make the journey before but failed. Both teams were not following Amundsen's route exactly as they were trying to go from South to North. We are following his exact route from North to South. The reason for the previous expeditions failure was the ground conditions. I think that one team left it a bit late in the season and the Firth River had too much water on the ice.The other team had too much snow that year which made progress impossible slow. However carefully one plans an expedition like this the weather can throw you a curved ball. Our timing will hopefully avoid the worst of the Arctic storms in the Beaufort sea,the worst of the overflow on the river ice and hopefully we will not experience exceptional snow conditions. Leaving at the end of February means that the sun will be above the horizon in the north and we will hopefully be back in Eagle before the river ice becomes too poor to sledge on. There are always risks with this sort of trip but we have prepared a comprehensive risk assessment of the dangers and how they are going to be dealt with so hopefully all will be fine.
  10. Alexander
    Hello Tim, I want to ask you a question about your expedition. Are you worried about the weather when you have your dog-sledge trip.
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Alexander yes is the simple answer. The weather is the big variable for a trip like this.For us the ideal is no wind, good snow cover but not too much of it and temperatures around - 30 degrees. I have given a bit more detail to your question in my reply to Bob. Tim
  11. Lena
    Hello Mr. Oakley, What food are you going to bring? How are you going to keep the weight down and the calories up? Will you diet consist of mostly fats, carbohydrates or a mix? Fruit must be very hard to transport and you have to find a close balance for all of the nutrients, I'm sure. What aspect of climate change are you focusing on? Is it the rising sea levels? Are you looking at the affect that the world's pollution has on the Arctic or the effect that the receding of the land and sea ice is having and will have on the world? Good luck on your trip, and please can you take photographs, as there are only 19 photographs of Herschel island and that general area on Google Earth... Thank you!
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Lena We keep the weight down on the sledges (with the human food) by using freeze dried prepared meals in packets that you just add water to.We eat these twice a day along with soup when we first make camp in the evening. We also have snacks during the day of nuts,raisins and chocolate. You always end up loosing weight on a trip like this as the constant cold and the daily exercise eats up more calories than you can put in. The food we take with us for the dogs is dried pellets.The bags weigh 44 lbs each and we get through 1 1/4 bags a day feeding the 22 dogs. The dog food is a big part of the sledges cargo weight. I will be doing a blog later on about the fat /calories/protein thinking on diets in cold climate expeditions. The expedition will be taking comparative data on the difference between now and when Amundsen made his journey and making a report to the Royal Geographical Society on its return.This will include how the Inuits lived then and now as well as looking at the environment. The climate change focus is raising awareness of what is generally happening in the Arctic as a result of global warming.I am hoping that the students in Inuvik at the East Three School and the Eagle Community School will be able to share their experiences of how their environment is changing with the students that are following the expedition.The effects of climate change is becoming very noticeable in the Arctic with the reduction of ice sheet and glaciers also the increase in intensity and number of Arctic storms are effecting the land. An example of this is what is happening on Herschel Island.As a result of the ice receding earlier and their being more open sea ,when the storms come, the increased wave action is resulting in increased land erosion. Rising temperature are also effecting the permafrost on the island making it more vulnerable to the wave action. Herschel Island whilst 600 ft in parts has no bed rock and is made up of frozen sand. I will take as many pictures as the dogs will let me!
  12. Emily Place
    Dear M Oakly, my question would be what drove you to take on this risky expedition? Why do you have these goals and why drove you to achieve them.
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Emily Sorry not to have got back to you sooner, I have been away for a week ,but I also had to think about your question for a bit. Expeditions like this are a risk; to us and the dogs, there is also the risk of failing.Hopefully we have enough experience to mitigate some of the risks but the weather and the ice conditions on the rivers will play a big part in whether we succeed or not.Failing is OK if you know you have given it your best shot. Why do I do it? I suppose I just like sledging with huskies and being out in wild isolated places were normally no one goes.It is cold,uncomfortable and unrelenting but also great to try to achieve something like this.The expedition has taken four years to organise,negotiating the permissions to be in that part of Canada and Alaska, working out the logistics of how we are going to do it, getting dog food supplies depoted.Finding the right team and people to help,getting the educational side up and running as well as fundraising. Hopefully the educational side of the expedition will help to raise awareness of the problems we all face from climate change.It is difficult to organise an expedition like this in such a remote part of the world.All of these things have been a challenge but the biggest will be doing the trip. Getting an idea about something and turning it into a reality takes a lot of hard work. If there is something you really want to do you have to work hard to make it happen. Thank you for the question Tim
  13. marcus wimbush
    hello, do you wash yourself whilst on your trip?
    • Tim Oakley
      Hi Marcus The simple answer is - not very much! We brush our teeth like anyone else and try to remember to use hand gels before eating. Washing in -40 degrees is not really a good idea. People who live out in cabins in the bush in Alaska tend to use saunas to get clean and do their cloths washing in.Taking lots of changes of cloths adds unnecessary bulk and weight to the sledges, we only take one full change of cloths in case of getting wet,also a spare pair of socks and one base layer change. It is important to check your feet regularly for blisters or other problems. Tim
  14. Jim Boyde
    Morning Tim: How can Yukon schools connect? I'm here in Whitehorse but your route goes right behind Old Crow School and an interesting one. I've raft guided on the Firth and visited Sheep Creek and canoed the Porcupine R. passed the Colleen R. to Fort Yukon. A wonderful learning expedition! I will pass your web connections to folks in the Yukon Department of Education and so possible connections to all Yukon Schools.