[Astrup’s originals on top, reconstruction on the bottom]
Astrup’s harnesses was made from leather of Ringed Seal and probably made during his last expedition to Greenland in 1894. By whom we of course cannot be sure, but I like to imagine that they were made by his close inuit friend Kolotengva. They did make sleds together, why not also harnesses?
Attached to the harnesses are hemp-ropes rather than leather-tuglines, a clear alteration to an already functional, native design. I used to think that change was maybe due to Astrup’s lack of knowledge in making leather-tuglines and maybe was because he needed replacements for broken lines when he got back to Norway. However, in recent photos I have seen from the Peary expeditions, hemp-rope tuglines was the norm in many of the dog-teams they used.
Maybe the answer is simply that hemp rope was something the expedition had plenty of, but leather-tuglines was (of course) not.
Whatever the reason, to me, these three remaining harnesses are true craftsmanship, a beautiful legacy of a tradition that kept humans alive in the harshest conditions.
You can read the two original articles about the harness here:
Fan Hitch article no. 1.
Fan Hitch article no. 2
Articles in Norwegian have been published in Hundekjøring og Firbeint frilutsliv, Polarposten and in the yearbook of the The Association for the Promotion of Skiing.
Check out the “Making E&K” section for details on the new harnesses.