We watched as the guides harnessed up the dogs. The dogs were so keen to leave and start pulling that the sledges are staked down with a rope with an anchor on the end so that they don’t leave without us ! Basically 6 dogs have individual harnesses that attach to the sledge and then also attach to a central rope. This means that they can all pull equally forward but also stay together as a team. They are paired up so that there are 3 pairs.
The guide briefed us on how to Mush the Dogs – as it is called. Basically there is one passenger who sits in/on the sledge depending on the type you get, and one Musher who stands behind on a little platform holding onto the sledge infront. There are 3 main things to remember he explained.
1. Hold On when you leave – there will be a big jerk when it sets off !
2. Brake when necessary– probably the most important skill as the dogs are so keen they will set off at the top
speed they can go, and it’s important to keep a distance from the sledge infront so they don’t run into each
other! The brake is basically a metal ridge behind the sledge platform. When you step on it it sticks into the
ground and so slows the dogs down as they are pulling against this resistance.
3. On the upward slopes he explained if the dogs are straining, the driver should get off and walk behind to
lighten the load for them- but still hold onto the sledge so you stay connected with the team, and then jump
back on at the top – before they regain their speed again and you are left behind!
He explained that there would be a stop half way for a hot drink, and that we could swop so we all had a go at driving, but that it would probably be better to have the heavier person driving first as the dogs get tired at the end.
And then we set off and IMMEDIATELY there is silence. The contrast between the cacophony of the noise and total silence was shocking. Then you settle into the silence and listen to the sledge runners crunching over the new snow, and it is wonderful.
Our guide with his dogs was ahead and we followed along a narrow path with snow laden trees either side. It was
beautiful, thrilling and truly Narnia-like. The blue Polar light gleamed on the frozen lake we passed and my eyes were filled with the pure beauty, wilderness and pristine forest view.
Each sledge had 6 dogs who are rotated regularly so that they get used to all running with each other to give the kennels the most flexibility with their teams. Our sledge kept pulling to the side and my husband kept asking me to lean to the other side to balance it. This seemed quite hard work and I could tell he was leaning as well. The guide looked back and stopped his sled, anchored it, walked back and asked us what on earth we were doing ?! We explained the problem and he told us to take his team and he would take ours and see what the problem is. Within a couple of minutes he stopped us again and started moving the dogs position around on the harness. Basically they were not pulling evenly and so the left hand dogs were pulling more strongly and therefore pulling us off balance.
So we swopped back again and now the gentle ease of sliding across the snow came to us. We were back to peace and calm as we glided across the snow. It is probably one of the most relaxing things I have ever done. Even when the dogs are pulling at their top speed on the flat you are only doing about 15 miles per hour so you can relax into the rhythm of nature.
Half way we stopped and anchored our dogs in a lovely little clearing in the forest for a warming hot Ligonberry juice and swopped Mushers. So this time I was driving and I was feeling a bit nervous. But no need to, the dogs know what they are doing and pretty much follow the sled of the guide infront.
I had to break more than I expected to keep the distance and also because I wanted a bit of space infront of us to truly enjoy the wilderness experience. Certainly the guide was happy with that. As the dogs tired I did need to jump off a bit and walk behind on the slopes to give them a breather, but this was no hardship. On one steep hummock I had to shout “ya ya” at them (In true Swedish sounding style!) to get them going faster to heave the sled over the top. That was such fun that I have to confess to shouting it more than I needed later on, on the flat!
The three hours passed so quickly and I was heartbroken when I saw the Kennels coming into sight. It was a magical experience, one that I could definitely do again and again – I refuse to call it a “Once in a Lifetime Experience” as I am determined to experience it many more times!