Wednesday, 23 November 2022

XCountry 118 touring pulk, Fjellpulken, 2021.

When I began researching the ‘polar’ case for MoDiP’s Endurance exhibition, I came across an expedition report written by a team from Imperial College London in 2005. It recorded the experiences of a group of four students who had crossed the Greenland ice cap, unsupported, the previous year, collecting a variety of hydrological, meteorological and physiological data along the way. It made for a fascinating read and was a great opportunity to find out exactly what this momentous 560km crossing actually entails; from the initial planning stages right through to lessons learnt once everyone had returned home safely.

The report provided an appendix with comprehensive equipment lists, and it was from these that I made the decision to concentrate on just one object for my case: the pulk (refer image below).


MoDiP’s pulk, AIBDC : 009127.
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The presence of plastics materials within all the kit required to sustain life on such a journey is so vast, I could not see how I could possibly represent everything fairly within just one small display case. For example, the Imperial College trip involved pulks, hauling harnesses, pulk bags, ropes, skis, ski poles, ski boots, gaiters, tents, sleeping mats, bags and liners, water carriers and bottles, personal locator beacons, compasses, maps, a satellite phone, whistles, first aid kits, rubbish bags, wash kits, goggles, balaclavas, insulated jackets, thermal base layers, waterproof jackets and trousers, socks, a variety of gloves, boots and, of course, packaged food (and I have not even listed here everything that they took!). Clearly the pulk becomes a lifeline; the source of safety, navigation, health, hygiene, climbing, skiing, drinking, eating, cooking, camping and clothing.

The contents of a pulk for polar exploration.
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A pulk is another name for a small sled, typically towed behind a skier and particularly popular in the Nordic countries. Boat-shaped to glide on top of the snow, they have been recorded in use for centuries, and were traditionally made of natural materials such as wood with animal skin covers. Modern versions are now made in plastics, such as MoDiP’s example from Fjellpulken, which has a glass-fibre reinforced polyester hull which was hand-casted in a mould. Once dry, the RipStop polyester covers were then fitted, and the runners and shaft attachments mounted into place.

The runners on the bottom of the pulk.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

We have also put a harness and hauling ropes on display to indicate how the pulk would be used in practice. Although rigid pole systems are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to ropes, we would not have been able to fit an example into our cases! We believe the ropes are made of polypropylene with aluminium carabiner hooks for easy connection, welded rings and a shock absorbing rubber line. They were sold as part of a tyre pulling kit, which is common training for polar expeditions where pulks are being employed.

A rope hauling system (left) and a rigid pole system (right).
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There are advantages and disadvantages to both hauling systems. Whilst ropes enhance mobility, absorb shock, are useful in lifting or lowering the pulk over ridges, and practical in retrieving the pulk if it tips or gets stuck, they can present difficulties on a steep downward slope when the weight of the pulk becomes dangerous (essentially, it can run into your heels or even overtake you on the descent!). A rigid cross-pole system can provide stability and control but needs to be detached when access to the pulk is required or in a crevasse rescue situation.
Pulks are available in a variety of forms, sizes and weights, each suited to a particular application. MoDiP’s touring pulk is one of the smallest lengths available (selected on the basis of its ability to fit into the display case) and is designed to carry the equivalent load of two rucksacks. The width is calculated to ensure ease of movement and directional stability through snow.

It is a thing of beauty and I want one, despite the fact that I live in Bournemouth which rarely gets any snow (apparently the area has an average of only 4 snowfall days each year, with only 12mm snow actually accumulating on the ground!).

Heron looking confused (and cold) on my neighbour’s roof. March 2018.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Endurance will be on display in the museum until 10th March 2023.
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

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