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1000 Miles to Hope Bay: Robert Taylor’s Dog-Powered Sleigh Ride

Robert Julian Taylor served as a sledge dog physiologist at Hope Bay in 1954/55. Antarctic expedition1He took part in eight sledge journeys involving 248 days in the field, travelling nearly 2750 miles. Working with Alan Precious and Ron Mottershead, he studied the dogs' diet, work output and breeding, gaining a ground-breaking insight into the dogs' stimuli which was discovered after travelling with them throughout the year.

75 dogs were kept at Hope Bay, most of which had originated from Labrador ten years before Robert himself arrived. He picked a team of nine who were in their prime and set out on a journey to the coldest depths of Antarctica that would cover 900 miles and last three months.

Being an expert in nutrition, Robert began to assess the dogs' performance on seal meat and a food nicknamed 'Bovril' which had been the basis of canine sledging rations on British expeditions since 1930. It was insufficient in vitamin C, but dogs, like the majority of mammals, synthesize this vitamin (the exceptions being humans, monkeys and guinea-pigs, which develop scurvy). aFieldingPuppiesRobert introduced a new diet with a higher fat and carbohydrate content, less protein. 12 tonnes of the new dog ration was shipped to the Falkland Island Dependencies in the autumn of 1956.

As Robert journeyed to outposts that were increasingly remote, he suffered alongside the dogs as temperatures dropped and winds lifted. Every time a single degree Fahrenheit was lost, the bodies of the dogs would have to work 0.3% harder to maintain speed. However, there were still lulls and inconsistencies that confused Robert, even when he tested the dogs' pulling power electronically on the flattest, fastest sheets of ice.endurance

The breakthrough came when Robert was going through the most difficult periods of endurance himself. He experienced a Eureka moment when miles and miles of featureless terrain were suddenly burst by a jagged glacier on the horizon. For up until this point, Robert had been seeing the dogs as an engine to his vehicle and hadn't considered they might become bored. As with him, the psychology of the dogs played a bigger part in performance than anything else; changes on the environment with visual objectives produced a spark. He concluded that mental distraction was more important than even muscle strength or physical fitness. Will power and hope itself were the dominant forces in maintaining normal energy in the midst of the harshest environments.

 

 

 

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