National Geographic : 2006 Jan
Arctic Mobile Homes Jens, Gedion, and other hunters of the region travel with tents but often take refuge in plywood huts like this one outside Qaanaaq. These shelters are built in villages and towed by dogs to prime hunting areas. When possi ble, each hunter leaves meat for the next. Arctic biologists say that the entire ecosystem is in collapse. Without sea ice, seals can't build ledges on which to rest, eat, and bear their pups. Walruses can't find refuge on drift ice to rest and digest their meals of clams and other shellfish. Polar bears can't catch seals if there's no ice. And hunters like Jens can't travel in search of game. "H uughuaq, huughuaq-Getgoing, go faster!" Jens calls, encouraging his "H team. His sled is 13 feet long and 4 feet wide, pulled by 15 dogs in a fan hitch that lets 84 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC . JANUARY 2006 them navigate the rough ice independently. "These dogs are half wild," Jens says. "Maybe we are too. They have to be a little hungry to keep working for us, and we have to be hungry to keep going out with them." The sled tips and tilts as the dogs scramble and bark. A fight breaks out, and Jens snaps a whip over their backs until they pick up speed. When a line in the fan hitch snags and a dog is dragged, Jens leans forward, without stopping, plucks at the tangle, and the dog's leg is released. As we weave between stranded icebergs, Jens clamps his huge leg over mine and grabs my shoulder to keep me from falling off the sled. After one jolting bump, he raises his eyebrows to ask if I'm all right, then laughs when I nod yes. We've traveled together many times since 1996, when he first allowed me to accompany him on spring hunts for little auks, beluga whales, ringed seals, and walruses, so there's no need for words.