Trip report from New Year tour for Siberian Husky Dogsled Adventure 29th December 2009 – 3rd January 2010:
I arrived by train into Järpen from Stockholm in the afternoon and was met from the train by Urban, our guide. It was easy to see who he was, as he stood there in the parking lot just next to the platform on the small station, next to their truck which they use to transport the dogs . He also had a sign with the names of the participants he was meeting. There was myself and also Marcus from Holland.
We drove to the lodge, where we were shown our accommodation, and here met Sylva from the UK, who had arrived by domestic flight to Östersund earlier that day. The tone of the group was set quite quickly and within a short time we were chatting and joking as though we had known each other for ages.
We had lunch in the kitchen at the Husky Lodge together with our hosts, Urban and his wife Malin. After lunch, Malin took us to see the dogs! There were 36 of them, mostly two dogs to each kennel and six were puppies – they were so cute! You just wanted to lie down in the snow with all of them jumping on you…I didn’t even mind one of them trying to take a bite of my hair, which he thought was a chew toy!
Back in the cabin, we settled in and chatted and after a while Urban came in and prepared dinner. Afterwards Marcus joined Urban to feed the dogs, Sylva and I continued chatting until Stephie arrived (the fourth and final member of our group, German but living in Holland). Then we settled down for a good night’s sleep looking forward to everything we were going to learn tomorrow.
We woke up in the morning and chose what we wanted for breakfast from the assortment in the fridge. Being Swedish and knowing what filmjölk is (a kind of thin yoghurt), I had to stop the others from putting it in their coffee. I opted for filmjölk with cereal and a sandwich, juice and coffee. After breakfast some of us joined Urban to feed the dogs.
Around 9 o’clock we went over to Urban’s house to try out our shoes and clothing. We were all given a pair of warm boots, a musher’s hat, warm gloves, warm jacket and trousers, sleeping bag and a thermos water bottle each. Then we went back to the lodge to get dressed and gathered outside to learn how to harness the dogs and prepare the sled. First you straighten the lines, put in the front and back anchors and put the hand rope around a tree. When the sled was prepared and securely fastened it was time to learn how to harness the dogs. First, Urban showed us and then we each got to practise on a dog taking on and off the harness. When we all were comfortable we harnessed six dogs do go in front of the practice sled and Urban demonstrated how to start: lift up the front anchor and place it in your sled, stand on the brake, take up the back anchor and when 100% ready to go, pull out the stick that holds the hand rope around the tree in place, say “Yuip! Yuip!” and you’re off!
Now it was time for us to have our first go and we divided up into twos. First myself and Marcus went on the sled with Urban, Marcus started driving. After a while we stopped, secured the hand line to a tree, put the front and back anchors in (sled dogs are born to pull!), then it was my turn. Take up the front anchor, stand on the brake, take up the back anchor, release the hand rope and Yuip! Yiup! And off we went….!
I drove back to where Sylva and Stephie were waiting for their turn, and when they headed off Marcus and I went in to warm up. Minus 21 degrees C today, brrrr! After a while the others came back in and we sat down for lunch.
When we had defrosted and felt back to normal it was time to head out to give everyone an opportunity to try putting on and walking in snowshoes. After we had played about for a while in our snowshoes, it was time to prepare the sleds, lines and stake-outs for tomorrow. After sorting out the equipment , we loaded everything onto the truck ready for tomorrow morning.
Photo: Sylva Atkins
Afterwards we went inside for a warm shower and dinner, then helped feeding the dogs and shovelling poo, a regular job with 36 dogs around! In the evening we sat in the kitchen and got to know each other better, played cards and shared thoughts about the coming days in the mountains.
Woke up quite early, had a large breakfast as Urban had recommended and filled our thermos drinking bottles with warm squash. After breakfast we fed the dogs and then gathered our personal equipment, food, etc and put it on the truck. When the truck was loaded it was time to collect the dogs. Urban took us into the kennel and gave us each different dogs, letting us know who should sit together and whether they should ride in the truck or the trailer. When everything was loaded we took a “before-we-set-off” photo and then headed off.
On the way to the start point we stopped and stocked up on snacks so we would have something to boost our strength during the days of dog sledding to come. I bought three large chocolate bars, one for each day (I should have chosen more varied snacks though, man was I tired of milk chocolate by the end of the tour!).
When we reached the start point, we first took the sleds off the truck and made them ready for start: lines, front anchor, hand line secured, back anchor. Then we loaded our own personal equipment onto the sleds and divided the common equipment between us. When we were all ready, Urban started to give us our dogs. We were told their names, whose sled they would pull and what position they were going to have in the team. My dogs were Eldar, Winga, Dakota and Rover, with Winga and Eldar at the back and Rover and Dakota at the front.
Photo: Marcus van Bennekom
Then we got to know in what order we would be driving so we knew who to start after. When we all were ready – off we went! Yuip Yuip!
The first part was a long uphill stretch…so we needed to the give the dogs a lot of help, running behind the sled while they pulled the sled uphill. It was now I realised I should have done some extra training! Just a short way up the hill Sylva lost her grip on her sled, but Stephie who was in front managed to grab it as it caught up with her! Phew!
After we had been going for a while we stopped for a short lunch break. fruit soup and sandwiches, before continuing on our way. The landscape began to flatten out a little, but there were still some uphill and downhill sections. It was a cloudy day, but that also meant it was not too cold. But the sleds were quite heavy as we had all the provisions (for dogs and humans) for the tour. Hard work!
For the last part up to the cabin we crossed a lake through deep snow. This was quite heavy going, especially at the end of a long day. But dog sledding is such fun you don’t mind when it gets hard sometimes!
In the end, just as it was starting to get dark, we reached the cabin. First we put up the stake-outs, took the harnesses off the dogs, put the dogs on the lines and dug small holes for them to lie in to give them some protection during the night. We also put coats on the dogs with short hair. They got snacks – frozen meat, which Urban chopped up with an axe. Then we took all the equipment to the cabin, which was already warm. Lovely!
Photo: U. Svensson
We all went in, chatted a little and then fetched water from a hole drilled in the ice. We talked about the personalities of our dogs and showed each other the photos we had taken during the day.
Being New Year’s Eve, we had a special dinner of elk steak and potatoes with chantarelle sauce. Delicious after a day on the sleds! Later, while some washed up others went to feed the dogs. When Marcus came in after being out with the dogs, he obviously felt cold and stoked up the fire, which meant the cabin got very hot and soon we were all boiling! We spent a relaxed evening chatting until around 11pm, when the exertions of the day started to catch up with us and we realised we were unlikely to make it until midnight. We decided to call it midnight now, and cracked the sparkling wine. Soon were we ready for bed and headed off to the sleeping cabins.
In the morning, while some were preparing the breakfast, others fed the dogs. We all had a big breakfast together to fill up our stomachs for the day. Meatballs and fried potatoes! Urban told us that he been woken up by one of the Sami, the local indigenous people who own the cabin in the middle of the night, who had been passing on a midnight/New Year snowmobile tour with his wife and was just checking that everything was alright. Urban had taken the opportunity to ask if we could use their private trail for our day tour.
During breakfast we all made sandwiches for lunch, then dressed and went out to the sleds and the dogs. Some of them were waiting eagerl while others looked like as if were disturbing their sleep. But when we started to prepare the sleds, they all woke up and were eager to be off. First we prepared our sleds – the lines, front anchor, back anchor and hand rope – then we started harnessing the dogs and put them on the lines in front of the sleds. I always had to wait with harnessing Rover until last, because he has a tendency to bite off his harness. Full of character and by the end of the tour my favourite dog, but also full of mischief!
Then Urban told us what order to drive in today. Everyone ready, harness Rover and off we go…. but I needed Sylva’s help! When I took away my front anchor, Rover pulled Dakota off to the side and they all got tangled in the lines! Sylva came to my rescue and held them until I was ready to go. Yuip Yuip!
Photo: Marcus van Bennekom
We started on an uphill section over the mountain, travelling through a beautiful snow-clad landscape on a smaller track than the day before. It was much easier going today with empty sled – real fun! After climbing a little we started downhill. The empty sleds were less stable but much easier to handle – it felt great! Yuip Yuip! The weather was still a bit cloudy, but because of the cloud cover it wasn’t so cold.
Half way we stopped for lunch and Urban made a fire. We took turns photographing each other and “our” dogs. Then we got going again and it felt magical driving through the snowy landscape with all the snow hanging from the branches of the trees.
Back at the cabin we made everything ready for the night, and by now felt like we were beginning to know what we were doing . Secretly I felt very glad for the shorter distance today, 16 km with lighter sleds. I felt quite tired in my body and knew we had a longer distance again tomorrow. It was funny, I was really starting to feel like a team with my dogs and that I knew their individual personalities individually… they were mine now!
We unharnessed the dogs from the sleds and took them to the stake-outs. As we were staying at the same spot as the night before and it hadn’t snowed during the day, there was no digging! Harnesses off the dogs, pack the sled together, gather up the lines, and give my dogs some frozen meat as a treat.
Back inside the cabin we had some snacks and made the fire to warm the cabin up. Then it was time to heat up the sauna. Marcus gladly took on that task, making the fire and filling the tank with water. After sauna we had dinner. Today it was broccoli and cheese pasta with bacon with the rest of the sparkling wine.
This evening we spent playing “Hi Knight”, a card game that had us laughing all evening (and the next day). After a while we felt the tiredness creeping in on us – it was time to hit the sack!
Photo: Sylva Atkins
We woke up a little earlier today and you could already see it was going to be a beautiful, cold day with clear skies. Again, some of us prepared breakfast while others fed the dogs. During breakfast Urban asked us if we felt like taking the easy or difficult route home. Most of us agreed that we wanted the easy route, but Urban said we didn’t need to decide now, he would let us know when we were at the crossing and we could decide then.
We had a big breakfast this morning too – omelette and bacon – and prepared sandwiches for lunch. Then we packed everything together, did the washing up and tidied up the cabin.
As we went out, the sun was rising, bathing the snow in red and gold. A beautiful start to the day! We carried everything to the sleds and packed our equipment. It was clearly going to be very good weather today, and everyone started taking lots of photos!
We prepared the sleds, lines and anchors and harnessed the dogs – as usual I left Rover until last. Soon we were all ready – everything was really starting to feel natural now and we had learnt a lot since starting our tour. We were to drive in the same order as yesterday, and Sylva helped me again to hold Rover while I loosened my front anchor.
Then we were off for our last day of dog sledding! Yuip Yuip! We began with a beautiful drive over the lake, straight into the sunrise, then went slowly uphill. By now the sleds were half empty, as we and the dogs had eaten all the food, so the going was fine. And somehow everything was made easier by the sunshine. But it was VERY cold, with everyone’s hair beginning to freeze. Urban checked the thermometer, which was registering -24 degrees C, not counting the wind chill!
After a while we came to the crossing where we needed to choose the easy or difficult route – this time we were all in agreement, the easy route it was.
Halfway we stopped for lunch break to discover that our sandwiches had frozen! During the lunch stop we checked the dogs, and some of them had big lumps of ice frozen onto their paws. We set to work taking the ice off the dogs, but Rover’s clumps would not loosen. In the end, after trying to prise them off with his multitool, Urban resorted to biting the lumps of ice off with his teeth. You certainly get to work closely with your dogs on a dogsled tour!
When all the ice had been removed, we set off again. Just as we were starting to get tired, Urban announced that we would soon be heading downhill – and so we did, cruising down the section we had struggled our way up on the first day, through beautiful pastel colours as the sun was setting. It was great to be alive, and great to be a musher!
Photo: Stephie Buttrich
In the afternoon we got back to the truck. We all helped out and were quickly on our way. By this time everyone was feeling tired and congratulating ourselves on choosing the “easy” route home.
Harnesses off the dogs, dogs into the truck, take the snow off the truck roof, empty the sleds and pack up the lines. Everything in the truck and off we go! It had been a marvellous day in the sunshine, but it was also nice to get into a warm car. On the way home we compared photos on each others’ cameras from the day.
After a while we were back at the Husky Lodge. As always, the dogs came first – we saw to it that they were unloaded and cosy in their kennels before retiring for a hot shower, dinner and an evening of chatting and laughing together over our adventures – and a VERY sound night’s sleep.
After breakfast it was time to go, and Malin took me to the station to catch my train to Stockholm. A day of mixed feelings today – sad that the adventure was over, sad to be leaving new-found friends behind, both human and canine, but very happy to have experienced the last few days, looking forward to telling everyone at home about my trip and already wondering when I could return!
Sofia from The Nature Travels Team
In addition to Siberian Husky Dogsled Adventure, Nature Travels offers three other dogsled tours based at the Husky Lodge:
- Mushing in the Mountains: 5-day husky holiday combining two nights’ cabin accommodation with a 3-day mountain tour with wild winter camping
- Dog Sledding Across Jämtland: 8-day dog sledding adventure for those with previous experience of mushing or winter mountain tours
- Midwinter Magic at the Husky Lodge: 5-day winter multi-activity holiday combining dog sledding with snowshoeing and ice fishing with comfortable accommodation at the Husky Lodge.