As part of a set of 12 outdoor challenges I had set myself, an arctic dog sledding adventure was one of them. I had applied to Fjällräven Polar in late 2018, but it was not to be. However, I could not let this dog sledding adventure idea drop, so I found Arctic Adventure Tours, a company based in Tromsø, Norway. I booked myself to go on the adventure of a lifetime, and what would be my 2nd of my 12 outdoor challenges. Every day I was away I wrote in my journal so I could remember what went on, and now I have put that into a couple of blog posts. So sit back and enjoy my adventure with me 🙂
They often say getting to the starting line of an outdoor challenge can be one of the hardest parts of the whole adventure. Then once you are into it you can buckle down and get on with the task in hand. First I had Brexit to deal with, and the possibility of having to apply to get a stamp in my passport to allow me back into Sweden afterwards. Then that temporarily blew over, only to be replaced with my airline going on strike the day before I was due to take my first flight, from Copenhagen to Oslo. My flight was not cancelled immediately, but I was very worried, so in the end we booked a second flight on another carrier just in case before their seats filled up. Just as well, as a few hours later, my original flight was cancelled. We were so glad we had taken the chance.
For this dog sledding trip, tents, roll mats, sleeping bags, stoves etc were all being provided. I needed to bring my underneath layers, my own jacket, and snow trousers. An extra over-layer of trousers and jacket was being provided as well. With three flights in one day for my return trip home, I wanted to minimise losing my luggage. So with this in mind, I rather ambitiously decided to try and pack for the week long dog sledding adventure in a day sack/carry on luggage! That was my first challenge of the trip….and I did it! I was silly pleased about that success.
So, finally all packed, all fluids bottled and measured into their little bag, it was the day to leave. This would involve a train from Sweden to Copenhagen where I would catch a flight to Oslo. Then I would stay overnight in a hotel, before catching a morning flight to Tromsø. Dadda had his “to do” list, complete with meal menu plan, child school/activity routine, and house work jobs. His vegan meals were all pre cooked and frozen for him. I was ready to be off on my adventure. This was my first extended time away on my own since we had had our first child over 11 years ago, so it was new territory for all of us. Dadda was looking forward to being the point of contact instead of being bypassed…..you know that thing children do: the dad is watching TV and the mum is doing a hundred things at once, but the child will still go to the mum first!! I was nervous but hugely excited at the same time. However, I did also feel quite a bit of guilt for leaving them all behind to selfishly pursue something entirely for myself. I also felt though it was very important I did follow my dreams as well, but it didn’t mean guilt didn’t hitch a ride even if it was the right thing to do. I think it is important for all three children to see that being a mother does not mean you do not have your own dreams, or that you can not follow them. Plus it is good for them to see me stepping out of my own comfort zone and hopefully then inspiring them in some way.
Once I arrived at the hotel in Oslo I did speak to my trio. Contact with everyone back home was going to be very limited once I headed out into the mountains for the week.
I enjoyed a very scenic flight from Oslo to Tromsø, with the mountains getting larger and larger, and the snow becoming more the further north we flew from Oslo. Coming into Tromsø the views were stunning.
I was collected from the airport by the dog sledding company, along with a few others that had been on the same flight. Very soon we arrived at the company’s base, and the kennels where the dogs were housed. I was in my element as we were allowed to drift around and meet the dogs in our own time and unaccompanied. Even more so as they had a litter of puppies that were only a few months old…lots of hugs with those!!
We spent the afternoon learning various skills required for the dog sledding, and getting to know each other. There were 10 in the group; 3 couples, a family of three, and me. That would leave me in my own “team” for things like tents or cooking. No one to share the work with. I was up for a hard challenge though so I would just have to get on with it. We learnt to put the harnesses onto the dogs, booties on their feet to protect them from the snow and ice, how to work the stoves, how to pack the sledges, and how to put up the tents. We also got issued our over trousers, massive jacket, and 2 pairs of boots to use throughout the week.
After all of this, it was time for one last lovely meal (homemade reindeer stew), in the communal yurt used for meal times, and hanging out.
After supper, we retired to our “rooms” for the night, which were also yurts, and it was into the sleeping bags we had been issued for our trip. Slowly the level of luxury was dropping…it would be tents next!! The projected forecast for the northern lights was really good for that night, but even though the sun is still setting, it is not getting dark fully now, so you can not see them 🙁 It had been quite a tiring day with meeting so many new people, and learning so many new things.
Today was the day the dog sledding part would well and truly begin!! I woke before my (very early) alarm, as I was so excited….something that would become a bit of a theme throughout the week. I found I was awake before I needed to be every morning. A combination of nerves, excitement, light, and cold! The first few hours of the morning were spent eating breakfast, making a packed lunch, and then watching the guys who worked there putting the chosen dogs onto the transport. I have never seen animals so excited about wanting to get into a small space. They were so keen to get into their kennels on wheels, and they were all barking with excitement at wanting to be chosen to go on the trip. Once they were onto their transport safely, we climbed into our transport and headed into the mountains. We had one final stop at a garage for a final “proper loo”, before it was a week of (what we affectionately call in our family) combat poos and combat wees!!
When we arrived at our dog sledding starting point, we unloaded everything, packed our sledges, and then our dogs were hooked up this first time for us. Our sledges each contained: a huge 15kg bag of dog food, a food box for us, a “shit shovel” (both ours and the dogs), snow shoes, a bag of booties and foot creams for the dogs, the dogs’ evening stake out chains, a tent, 2 types of roll mats, sleeping bag and fleece liner, a second pair of boots, a cooking stove, fuel for the stove, our personal clothing and belongings, a second coat that goes over your usual winter jacket, water, and for me chocolate 🙂
Then suddenly it was all go and we were off amidst much barking and nerves (myself). I felt surprisingly comfortable on the sled quite quickly. However, even with only 5 dogs, (some had 6) I was going quite fast as I am only a small person. It was all going so well until we took a bend a little too fast and it came complete with a set of mogels! I was thrown off but managed to hang onto the sleds handlebar. I was determined not to let go of my sled and see it go off into the distance. I have no idea how far I went like that, but it felt like miles!! I was bouncing around off the back of it like a rag doll as the dogs were having a lovely run. Eventually one of the guides further up the line caught my run away sled and stopped it for me. My arms were exhausted and shaking from hanging on for so long. He put my sled’s anchor down in the snow so I could recover, and start again when I was ready. However, he had done it very firmly and when I went to pull it out I fell over backwards and the sled was off again, but this time totally minus the driver!! This was not going so well. The sled was finally caught again and the rest of the day went without a hitch….I think that was quite enough drama for the first day.
We arrived where we were going to pitch our tents for the night, and the location the guide chose had a little bit of exposed ground so the huskies could have a night off sleeping on ice and snow. We staked the dogs out onto their lines, took off their booties and harnesses, and put their coats on. They were then fed. We then pitched our tents, resigned ourselves to the fact that high in the arctic there is nowhere to hide when you want the loo, and then cooked some food. The views were stunning and I was deeply in love with the wild beauty already.
So, what was in our food box? Freeze dried foods for the evening meals. Granola and dried milk for breakfasts. Round Norwegian bread, butter, cheese, ham, salami, tea, hot chocolate, blackcurrant powder sachets, biscuits, noodles, loo paper, jam, and some other bits and pieces. I had chicken curry followed by a hot chocolate, made by melting and boiling snow. By the time I had finished, summoned up the courage to bare my bum to the freezing temperatures for a wee. It was around 9pm. Time to get in the sleeping bag to get warm. I would then write my journal in it in the evenings.
The first night in the tent went really well, but I was realising fast doing this on my own was going to be hard work. Everyone else had someone to share their camp admin with, and if they are really lucky they may even have got a warm drink in bed 😉 However, although I was finding it hard work, I was also finding it very satisfying. Once I had had breakfast and packed my kit into the sled, I needed to turn my attention to my lovely team of five dogs. They needed their poop clearing from the night so you do not tread in it while you are doing all the other tasks. Then their coats come off, and their harnesses go on. Finally we check their paws to see if they are OK. Zinc cream is put between the toes, with a vaseline like substance going on the pads, before finally putting booties on them. Some dogs did not really like the booties going on and would hold their paws in the air after they had them put on. This caused a few wobbling dogs by the time you got to paw four!! I had learnt already (everything was a steep learning curve), to sleep with the zinc cream or else it was too frozen to squeeze out. Then it was time to take the dogs off the stake out chain and put into the right positions in front of the sled. In the meantime your sledge was anchored, or tied to something to stop them zooming off in excitement.
Today’s dog sledding adventure saw us cross three huge different lakes. Thankfully all my kit performed and I felt toasty as I was dog sledding along. I also managed to stay on my sled! However, one of my pulling dogs was swapped out for a smaller dog, as down hills I was like a runaway train, even with 2 feet stood on the brake. I just didn’t seem to have the body weight to stop the dogs pulling power. A little bit disconcerting for those in front of me in the line as I would career haphazardly past shouting “watch out”. After the swap, when I braked I actually stopped, and it was so marvellous to feel in control of the sled!
After being out dog sledding for around maybe 6 or so hours, and having crossed into northern Sweden along the way, we came to our stop for the night. A collection of stop over cabins that Sami’s use. There were no flushing loos (there were “drop box” loos in a separate cabin), running water, or electricity, but there was a rudimentary gas stove and heater. So extremely luxurious compared to a tent!! Water we fetched from an ice hole. You used a bucket from the cabin and wandered onto a nearby lake where someone had made the hole and then covered it with a wooden box. If it had started to freeze over there were tools beside it to break through the ice again.
I was by now really starting to miss my family back at home. A digital detox is a brilliant thing, but I am not used to being without my children or being able to communicate with Dadda. Although there never seemed to be reception where we slept overnight, today something fabulous had happened. I had obviously gone through some 4G reception at some point and had received some whats app messages, so they were there when I unpacked my phone! I was so happy. So the following day, I would try a new plan….I wrote a huge message back, and then just before we left I pressed send hoping it would keep trying until I went through some reception…and it worked!! The messages from Dadda and the children were so morale boosting too. I thought I was coping well with everything that was being thrown at me during the dog sledding experience thus far, but this was making it a little easier to handle and being away from them too. Also, once I got off the sledge today and was pottering around my cabin, I felt like I was still moving and a little dizzy from all the hours of motion.
Despite the slight home sickness for my family, I was really loving the dog sledding and it was so far turning out to be everything I had imagined and more. A truly very unique and special adventure to be able to be part of. The guides were fabulous and very patient. The dogs were working hard but loved their cuddles at the start or the end of the day. I was really starting to bond with my team of beautiful dogs, and I already knew it would be heart wrenching to leave them in a few days time. I had fallen into the daily routine of dog sledding life and was absolutely loving it!!
Make sure you keep an eye out for part 2 of the dog sledding adventure and come back to read it 🙂