Husky Sledding, Sweden (Part 1)

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Our first escapade into the Scandinavian Peninsula was to the home of Ikea, ABBA and husky mushing. Kiruna, Sweden is the Mecca for Husky Safaris.

Read on if you have watched Disney's Eight Below! We arrived in Kiruna, 145 kilometres inside of the Arctic Circle in darkness. Our guide was no doubt an experienced arctic resident - he had a warm friendly approach which complimented his no nonsense approach to arctic survival and sled dog handling. This adventure was certainly different to our past exploits off the beaten track. Our midnight transfer to the Musher's Lodge in Kauppinen introduced us to the aurora borealis (our images in next post!) through the misty windows of the minibus. I had seen an emerald smoke-like smudge in the arctic skies on our landing approach minutes before, not realising that was my first glimpse of this amazing phenomena!

Lapland Wilderness Tours are one of two major kennels in northern Sweden. At the time of our visit they had approximately 250 sled dogs. This trip is definitely for all dog lovers! A sled dog team consists pairs of harnessed sled dogs, a wooden sled (with a canvas covered body to hold your backpack) and of course, YOU, the musher! Our teams consisted of two Leaders and two Wheeler dogs. The Leaders ensure that we are heading in the correct direction and the Wheelers ensure that the sled doesn't encounter any obstacles during turns and uneven terrain.

Our first activity was to get comfortable with controlling a sled without dogs. We spent a few minutes going down a moderate hill and practiced applying the brakes in a controlled manner. The sled can be slowed down by pressing down on the spring loaded brakes into the ground/snow/ice. The various types of ice, snow and terrain mean that mastering brakes can be more difficult than you first envisage.

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Our guide, Eric, had chosen our dogs from the available 250. The extraction of each sled dog from their homes towards the sleds drove the remaining 200+ dogs into a frenzy. Each dog was vying for a place in a team. The howling and attention seeking barking was deafening. My Leaders were the feisty Odi and more sedate Valle. The Wheelers were the mad Lucifer and serene blue-eyed Lena.

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Brothers

Harnessing of the dogs was done every morning. There were three sizes of harnesses: Blue (S), Silver (M) and Black (L).

Harnesses

The technique involved manoeuvring the dog so that the you are standing astride over them and holding them still against your legs whilst you thread them through the collar to the harness. The dogs were very well trained and seemed to know the routine. A few of them even lifted the front paws in turn to step through the harness! The dog's regular collar must always be over the harness. The Leader dogs were attached to each other via a short cable at the collar. The tailend of the harnesses were then attached to the main guide cable. The Wheelers were attached to the guide cable both at the collar and at the harness tail.

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Harness configuration

Regarding the Musher's Lodge: Bring some ear plugs if you are a light sleeper. Dormitories can take some geting used to!

Part 2 to follow...

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