National Geographic

Denmark's Navy Dogsled Team Is Serious

And they're called Sirius — as in "the Dog Star," the brightest one in the night sky.

To shoot a story in National Geographic's January issue, Fritz Hoffmann took a Danish military cargo flight to Station Nord, in the far northeast corner of Greenland; he camped in a tent overnight at about 25 degrees below zero; worst of all, he had to wear wool underwear. And he had about two days to get what he needed.

  • Setting out in the middle of winter, a dogsled team patrols northeastern Greenland.
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    Setting out in the middle of winter, a dogsled team patrols northeastern Greenland.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • Rotating their arms to stay warm, Jesper Olsen (right) and Rasmus Jergensen ski beside a sled full of supplies: rifles, a radio, first aid, a tent, sleeping bags, a big map, and plenty of dog food.
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    Rotating their arms to stay warm, Jesper Olsen (right) and Rasmus Jergensen ski beside a sled full of supplies: rifles, a radio, first aid, a tent, sleeping bags, a big map, and plenty of dog food.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • Their lives spent outdoors, reserve dogs at Station Nord are chained far enough apart to avoid fights. Sanne, perched atop a doghouse, gets a hug from base leader Soren Engkjaer Hansen.
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    Their lives spent outdoors, reserve dogs at Station Nord are chained far enough apart to avoid fights. Sanne, perched atop a doghouse, gets a hug from base leader Soren Engkjaer Hansen.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • Obedient but with a wild streak, the sled dogs are actually eager to be harnessed and start patrolling. They've been specially bred by the Danish military during the past 60 years to thrive in Greenland's Arctic desert.
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    Obedient but with a wild streak, the sled dogs are actually eager to be harnessed and start patrolling. They've been specially bred by the Danish military during the past 60 years to thrive in Greenland's Arctic desert.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • As the sun sets, the team drives toward an iceberg in Hyde Fjord near the top of Greenland. After two years with the dogs, "you know them better than high school friends," Rasmus says.
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    As the sun sets, the team drives toward an iceberg in Hyde Fjord near the top of Greenland. After two years with the dogs, "you know them better than high school friends," Rasmus says.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • As a cold dusk settles over the camp, patroller Jesper Olsen inspects the dogs one by one for any injuries they might have sustained after pulling the sled across packed snow and ice for six hours.
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    As a cold dusk settles over the camp, patroller Jesper Olsen inspects the dogs one by one for any injuries they might have sustained after pulling the sled across packed snow and ice for six hours.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic

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It's just about the most intense-sounding photo assignment, but it still pales in comparison with what the Danish military dogsled patrol goes through.

Sirius is an elite navy unit — perhaps comparable to our Navy SEALs — the only military dogsled unit of its kind in the world. It's been around since World War II, and to this day remains one of the most competitive military positions: For each rotation, there are only six two-man units, with about a dozen dogs to each unit. And it really is just men. According to National Geographic, no women have applied yet.

Over the phone, Hoffmann explains that he was interested in the relationship between man and animal — how they seem to have a rhythm and understanding with survival at the core. But capturing that is no easy feat.

To get some of the action shots, he dangled his camera from a long pole in front of the dogs. In other cases, he whizzed around on the back seat of a snowmobile. Throughout it all, he writes on his website, a big struggle was simply preventing his nose from sticking to the camera screen.

"It was cold," Hoffmann sums up with a chuckle. For this kind of work — both on photo assignment or on patrol — you just can't complain much more than that. Learn more about Sirius in the article. Or check out the diary of Jesper Olsen, one of the two men featured in the article.

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