A great trip away from the modern hectic lifestyle. You will forget about your day to day life back home during your week away on this trip! Participants must rely solely on the supplies they carry with them and their coping mechanisms during sometimes adverse weather conditions. Prisitine nature scenes, chance to sleep out under the stars or in an igloo, 5 hyper-excited dogs to care for and rely upon, a satisfying meal and scrubdown in a Swedish sauna before bunking down for the night...doesn't get much better than this!
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
We arrived at our last wilderness hut for the trip just when dusk set in. It was so quiet in the wilderness and the horizon was glowing a beautiful pink. The dogs had dug their holes for the night and curled up in them exhausted. We briefly explored our surroundings and then set to work. There was wood to be chopped up to get the food (human and dog) cooking. Then we stocked up the sauna with more chopped wood and began hauling up icy water by hand from the well. After our reindeer soup, we all headed off to the sauna to scrape off the days dirt and relax in the warmth. It was about minus 20 outside! Our way from the hut to the sauna was lit by some candles we stuck in the snow. It was a very peaceful setting, the only noise being the occasional howl from our dogs.
Setting off on day one at one pm... We hadn't known we were to travel 60km that day and ended up sledding in the darkness. I was last in our line of dogs and was a bit separated from the group. It was a bit thrilling to racing through the forest having to rely on my dogs to sniff out the right way with only the faint beam of my head torch to see into the distance. We arrived at our tee pee around 8pm...all dogs and sleds intact!
- What did you think of your group leader?
I had been forewarned of Eric from previous postings on this sight, so I recognized him in an instant in the arrivals hall at the airport. First night in the lodge, he did his best to try and scare the pants off us by telling us all the worst-case scenarios he had encountered during his many years as a sledding guide with his company. I got the impression that if he had us expecting the worst, we would be more appreciative of the trip when the worst didn't happen! I felt that with his many years of experience in the area, we were in safe hands should things go wrong. He does expect participants to take care of their dog team from the start in regards to getting the harnesses on and placing them on the main lead in the morning and stringing them out on their lines in the evening. Since he is in the front of the teams during the day, it would be difficult for him to turn around his sled to backtrack and help you out with your dog/sled problems. You tip over, your dogs get tangled or fight, you get bogged....you get yourself out of it! Having said that, he did backtrack once to help a snowmobiler who had crashed and bogged into a tree. And on two occasions my lead dogs escaped by biting through the leads just as we were heading off in the morning when the dogs are at their most excited. He didn't give me too much grief over that one.
Culinary skills need improving, but surprisingly...dog sledding doesn't make one very hungry.
I really appreciated his laid back approach in the mornings. Usually we would wake up around 0730-0800. He would have the fire going by then, so we could exit out of a sleeping bag into a warm tee pee/hut. We generally had about 2 hours to wake up, dress, eat, feed the dogs, pack, tidy up and head off.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Bring a head torch and a spare set of batteries. You will need it for the night sledding and chopping wood/drawing up water at night.
You are going to be covered with reindeer fur and smell like dog from day one no matter what you do. Bathing facilities for us was on night one in the musher's lodge, night 3 in the staffed overnight guest lodge, and night 5 in a rustic sauna. Two changes of clothes makes sense. We all wore the same stinky clothes til night 3, had a sauna/standing bath, then changed into clean clothes for the second half of the trip.
Bring a stockpile of those iron powder hand/foot warmers that last for near 20 hours. After hearing Eric's frostbite stories from previous tours, I was glad I had them on board just in case. I used them 2 days out of the 5 during the beginning of March, but we were lucky. Our lowest temp was about minus 15-20. The previous week it was minus 40!
The sleeping bags they provided us were very clean/new and rated to about minus 5 or so. There is the chance to take more than one, which I did since I am a cold sleeper. I used one on top of my reindeer skin to insulate me from the ground and slept in the other. Perfectly adequate. They also provide fur-lined hats which were excellent. The arctic full length suits kept out the wind and cold. There were insulated boots to about 3/4 the way up the knees. We all kept warm in them with 2-3 pairs of woolen socks. You won't need any other shoes on the trip.
You definitely need sunglasses to keep the snow (which was small, hard, and ball-like) from hurting your eyes and to prevent snowblindness. You CAN wear contact lenses. Eric has never known of anyone's 'freezing over'.
Keep your pack light. The further back you travel in the line of dogs, the longer distance you have to trek with your bag and group supplies through untraversed deep snow, over sleeping dogs, and around dog poo and dog food to reach the hut after you've 'parked' for the night.
Eric provides mittens and overmittens. However, it would be a good idea to bring some thin silk glove liners. There is a lot of fiddly work to be done with chains and links and collars on the dogs. It can be done with bare hands, but messing around with bare hands on freezing metal could be uncomfortable. Also, if your hands are the least bit damp (doggie lick) and bare, they will stick freeze to the metal. Ouch!
Ear plugs if you think Eric's thunderous snore is going to keep you awake!
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Not a trip for the lazy or squeamish. I was really happy to have a great group of fellow sledders, all of whom pitched in to help each other set up the dogs each day and get the huts fit for the night upon arrival. The mattresses/sofa cushions used for sleeping on were a bit dubious, and there were dead frozen mice to be cleared out of the huts sometimes. You WILL be covered in animal fur, dog smell, and doggie poo.
Being the only girl on my trip...toileting 'facilities' were rather scarce on the trail as we mostly travelled thru treeless tundra. Either drink very little or be prepared to peel off that arctic suit and squat behind your sled at the rest stops (usually in the middle of a frozen lake!) Physically I am not very strong but coped alright. Be prepared to right a loaded sled when tipped, chop and carry wood, haul pails of water up from a well to the sauna/kitchen, pull the dogs back on to the right trail when off course, etc. It WILL be cold and Eric doesn't want to hear anyone whinge about it. His favourite line is: 'What to do?' His second favourite is :'Everyone wants the expedition jacket but doesn't want to do the work'.
Although we had 5 of our 7 nights with clear skies, we didn't get to see the northern lights (trip taken the first week of March).
The only wildlife we saw was a few birds and one moose just off the trail on the last day. Those further back in the line of dogs (me) didn't see the moose. Reindeer can be seen at the staffed lodge near the middle of the week. They are not wild.