Snow and Dogs and the Pursuit of Light

by Jason Nugent

A leap into the unknown Norway


It is 30 below zero and I can feel the relentless cold force its way through my down mittens, attacking my hands, numbing them, and making me question my grip as I cling to the back of my dog sled. It is just past three in the afternoon, and what little daylight remains is obscured behind clouds of swirling snow. It is January, and I am in Norway's Arctic, exploring Rohkunburri Park the only way possible. I am an expedition photographer, and this far North the prize are the Aurora Borealis; those elusive threads of purple and green that seem to make their appearance only when you aren't ready to photograph them. My sled lurches to the left and begins to slide out from under me, so I quickly shift my weight to counter. We are climbing a steep hill, and I have to step off the back to help my dogs make the climb. I immediately sink to my knees in the deep snow, and my labored breath shows in the small spot of light created by my headlamp. As we push on, the sky continues to darken. Soon I can see no further than my first pair of dogs. There is no world beyond them. An hour later we slide into camp, and once my dogs realize that their long trek is over for today, they curl up and fall asleep, exhausted from pulling through deep snow for nearly forty kilometers. They look warm in their thick fur, and I envy them. I tighten the hood around my face and tip my sled onto its side in order to unpack it. On the bottom is a 6 foot ice drill. I grab it and several water containers and begin the long trudge down the slope we just climbed. There is no water available save for what lies beneath a half meter of frozen ice and I need water in order to prepare food for the dogs. In the Arctic, your dogs always eat first. They are your life line, and you depend on each other. I just spent a whole day relying on them to guide me safely through the mountains and now it is time for me to do my part. I have walked out nearly a kilometer onto the lake. Closer to the shore the ice freezes all the way to the bottom so this is the only way to be sure. Despite the razor sharp bit, the work is hard. Eventually the drill breaks through the ice and the cleanest water in the world bubbles up through the hole. I have not been drinking nearly enough water - it is nearly impossible on a moving sled - and I greedily ladle some into my mouth. It freezes on my chin but I don't care. It is the best thing I have ever tasted. In a split second, I am overcome with emotion. How did I end up here?