Even the largest arctic wildlife can be difficult to spot. I took this photo of Joe Henderson and the team coming towards me and it was only afterward that I noticed the muskox peering down at us from his castle, very much the “Monarch of the Glen” in an arctic style.

In fact Joe had seen the same muskox the night before as he scouted the route ahead and it had given him quite a start in the dusky evening light. At first all he saw was a large brown hairy animal at the top of the bluff and there was no immediate telling whether it was a bear or a muskox, enough to make anybodies heart skip a beat or two!

And here’s a whole lot more of these amazing animals; on a previous trip these guys were hanging out grazing right next to the Dalton Highway (the road of Ice Road Truckers fame).

Alaskan malamute puppies at -45c

During last winter’s expedition Joe Henderson was surprised to discover that one of his team, Tikka, was pregnant, it was totally unexpected and a worrying prospect with temperatures hovering at -45c.

But all was to be well and Tikka gave birth to 2 pups, Pete and Lupine

and by the time I joined Joe 3 weeks later they were plump little butter balls not far off their first taste of real food.

First ever breakfast…

“Not sure about that”

Still not convinced

mother’s milk tastes best.

A few days later…

Joe does his best to persuade them it really is good food.

Success, shame about the table manners.

Happy family.

FURTHER READING – To download a great article by Joe Henderson, all about Pete and Lupine click here: Born_Tough.pdf

Or visit Joe’s own website for many more great articles:

Snowshoes or skis?

It’s a conundrum that challenges me on every trip North. When planning what kit to take, and being ever mindful to keep weight to a reasonable minimum, I always fudge this one and take both.

What is for certain is that you need one or the other (or both). This is Joe Henderson doing a short wade just to illustrate that without snowshoes or skis to spread your weight and keep you on the surface of the snow you are not going anywhere fast.

…and a few days later with Iverson snowshoes on. Joe, being something of an expert, can keep up a fine clip for miles on end, just skimming over the snow that would otherwise engulf him. Snowshoes work for Joe, particularly because of their shortness and manoeuvrability, he might be leading the dogs from out front one minute and then be in the thick of it sorting the dogs out the next.

I like snowshoes too and spend as much time on snowshoes as I do on skis, but somehow when I head out to really see the country I always put my skis on, in this case robust Fischer E109‘s.

I think it must be cultural, I like the image of travelling on cross country ski gear and I am forever on the look out for a steeper slope to cut some telemark turns on and leave those telltale marks, wilderness graffiti if you will. Of course skis are a European tradition and snowshoes North American and both are great solutions to traveling distances on snow.

FURTHER READING – To download a great article by Joe Henderson, all about his epic snowshoeing journeys click here: arctictraveler.pdf

Or visit Joe’s own website for many more great articles:

Wandering free and a debt of gratitude…

To wander free across a landscape, choosing your route as curiosity takes you, feels like a rare privilege for someone who comes from a densely populated place like Britain, and what’s even more amazing is to be able to do it without carrying a huge backpack or hauling a sled full of gear behind you.

On a fine day fancy can take you to the far horizon.

Of course it’s all made possible by the team and their boundless energy. They pull all our camping gear and supplies and to say they love to pull would be an understatement!

Lead dogs, Farmer, Bear and Boss setting the pace.

Closely followed by the rest of the team

All the gear is loaded on to 3 sleds with 22 dogs out front. On long trips Joe Henderson can load the sleds up with enough supplies for 4 to 5 months of unsupported travel. You can read about one such trip at

and after all that work a well earned snooze for the team and a lot of gratitude on my part.

Arctic animal tracks

Winter river valleys are also where you are most likely to see wildlife or, as is more often the case, see their tracks in the snow. Most prominent for actual sightings are the willow ptarmigan with their funny clucking/cackling calls.

Often more content to run than fly they leave their mark everywhere

as they travel between small clumps of dwarf trees looking for fresh buds to peck.

A six legged alligator… or more prosaically a ptarmigan taking off!

A ptarmigan landing

& I didn’t know what these tracks belonged to for a long time and in many ways that’s the point for me – the Arctic is full of unfamiliar signs that make me curious.

Arctic rivers, winter highways of the North

As winter descends on the Arctic the rivers that thread through this landscape freeze solid and smooth, flat surfaces perfect for dog sledding. The rivers of the North are well established as the traditional highways of winter. Travelling along these natural trails it is a certainty that people will have passed by before you for centuries even millennia, Inupiat families following the early spring migration of the caribou, or perhaps more recently a prospector looking for gold or other mineral wealth. Today the skills necessary to travel this way have diminished and you will see no trace of anybody else having passed by.

The rivers twist all over the place adding miles to a journey, but it’s a fair trade considering the surrounding hills muffled in deep snow.

There is however a particular spectacle/hazard to look out for.

At first you may see fog ahead, steam rising into the air from the river, open water!

The North Slope is pockmarked with thermal springs that well up under the river ice and burst through creating “overflow”. This particular section of river was very lively, with lots of gurgling, cracking and popping and water pouring over the ice and disappearing down a sink hole.

If you are lucky you can skirt round and continue on your way, sometimes you have to turn around…