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To the Thelon -- by dogsled

German doctor embarks on 700 kilometre trip

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 13/02) - A German doctor has begun a 700-kilometre trek by dog-team to the heart of the Thelon sanctuary.

Dr. Gerhard Hampel, 52, from Wandlitz, Germany, left March 10 from Yellowknife to begin the month-long journey with his son Christian, 14, along with two guides, Chipewyan elder Noel Drybones, 70, and his nephew Lawrence Catholique, in his 40s.

Tom Faess, owner of Great Canadian Ecoventures, is the logistics planner for the trip.

"This was the idea for so many years," said Hampel. "Taking my son also, he at his age he can do something his father can only dream about at the same age."

Hampel said he has never attempted a journey of this magnitude before. He's done two-week trips in Scandinavia, but said it doesn't quite match hardship of Canada's North. He contacted Faess to organize the trip four months ago.

"The main difference is that even in the Far North, Scandinavia has more infrastructure than Canada's North," said Hampel. "It's not such a vast empty country. It looks neatly organized. You hardly find wild animals, there are hardly any left."

Adventure begins

The trip began Monday. They headed up over Pike's Portage to Artillery Lake, across the barrenlands to the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary.

The trip will end near the Nunavut border, 700 kilometers northeast of Yellowknife on the edge of the 65th parallel.

Catholique, from Lutsel K'e, said he is looking forward to the trip.

"It should be a good trip," said Catholique. "I've never been to the Thelon by land, only by plane."

Hampel said the trip is costing him a fortune.

"I don't want to look at my bills," he said.

Faess said a trip is costing around $20,000. This is the first time his company has organized something like this.

"I've never run a winter trip to the Thelon," said Faess. "We'll make a couple thousand off this if we're lucky."

A lot of the expenses come from charters for food drops and the final pick-up, said Faess.

Hampel is using 20 dogs on the trip who will be pulling a wooden sled. He'll be carrying pre-cooked meals sealed in plastic containers.

He bought his dog food from a Vancouver company which is high in protein and fat.

Most importantly, Handel will have a GPS guidance system and a satellite phone.

Drybones and Catholique will break the trail with snowmachines.

Handel said he feels comfortable about his chances on the trip.

He's been training in Germany with his dogs pulling a wheel-cart and in Sweden with the sled.

"Northern Canada was my childhood dream," said Faess. "The pages of my atlas showing Canada were filthy from the dirt of my fingers travelling around."