Here we would like to share some of our experiences. They will provide important preconditions for a successful and enjoyable stay in the magnificent, but still rough, nature.
The ABC of dog sledding
To make a tour with polar dogs means that you challenge the forces of nature. These forces include snow conditions, the weather, the dogs and of course your own physical shape. The sum of these, as well as the interaction between them, will influence our trip.
Forests and mountains covered with snow, dramatic cloud shapes that haunt the otherwise clear blue sky, or cabins shivering in the storm – all of these we may experience if we have reverence for the moment and are able to discover the beauty in the unusual.
We start with the B for beginning:
- Beginning is always difficult. Therefore, we regularly start by giving the participants an introduction about how to ride a sled. At first, everyone will have to learn how to handle an apparently chaos of strings and ropes, what to do in bad weather etc.
There are quite a number of things to keep track of the first days. Do not hesitate, feel free to ask!
- Companionship is written with large letters on our tours. There is no competition for who comes first. Up here, we go to experience and enjoy the nature. And we do not start until everyone has harnessed dogs. The one who is ready first, must help the others.
There are plenty of common tasks. For instance, melting snow (a necessity for making tea or coffee or for cooking), washing the dishes, chopping wood – you name it. We expect everyone to do their share, and do not wait for the guide to direct you. The spirit of companionship is important, and one should not only think but also act.
- Main issue is that the dogs are having a good time.
This statement illustrates how dependent we are upon the dogs. We have to consider how they are, getting to know their personality, and have them respect us. The dog management has to be consistent, and the orders have to be clear if the dogs are not to lead themselves. Loose instructions thrown out in the air without following up on them, are much worse than no instruction at all.
Each dog is unique and consequently has to be spoken to in a different way, needs different feeding and punishment than the others. A loud order can frighten a shy dog, while it has no effect at all on a rougher dog. In either case it is harmful. To be scared is the worse condition for co-operating, and a dog who is not listening is useless as well. There is only one case where the dogs are the same: they all need comfort and encouragement.
One should also develop a feeling for the dogs’ capacity: What kind of support does my team need? What have the dogs been through until now, and what lies ahead?
- Physical shape is a flexible term. Consequently, it makes little sense to make specific requirements for the shape each participant should be in. There are tours where the snow conditions are ideal and hence do not require anything from the participants at all. And there will be tours where the weather is such that everyone will have to perform to their best. If the snow is deep, one will have to help the dogs by striking out with the foot, and on steep hills one must push the sled. Then it may also become hard to feed the dogs at night because every step in the snow is heavier than usual.
We will of course put together the teams according to the participants’ qualifications. If you are under a heavy load with six dogs in your team, there will be little fun and many sore muscles.
Hence, one can say that the better physical shape you are in, the more you will enjoy the tour. Jogging, swimming and cycling are good preparation for a dog sled tour.
- Smoking can be unpleasant for those who do not smoke.
Therefore, we ask you to respect the non-smokers and not smoke inside the tent or cabin.
- Safety is our highest priority. We are several hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, and the climate is cold. Unexpected snowstorms may arise, the temperature may drop extremely low, (but soon the sun may shine again).
Of course we will not leave a safe cabin or tent to go into a snowstorm. The danger emerges when bad weather surprises our group while we are on our way. The most important issue then is to stick together. And in the same way as you care for your own safety, you have to consider the safety of the others as well.
We must never loose sight of each other, because to find a way back to the others could be almost impossible.
Safety starts much earlier – one has to consider it in every action: “Have I tied the dogs well enough for the night?”, “Is the harness secured so that it won’t blow away?”, “Have I checked the team twice before we start?” “Did I forget something in the cabin?” These are questions that one should always ask.
We do not have a backup plan in our tours. The consequences of bad safety are perceived immediately: If the paraffin can has not been closed properly, one will have merely snow and frozen, that is to say, raw meals. In cases where the harness wasn’t secured well enough, the dogs will sit on the sled while the man or woman is in front of it. It is as simple as that!
Finally, a few words about the tour day by day. Everything will depend upon the snow. As an example, the record for crossing the lake in front of our house, “Altevatn”, which is 60 kilometres long, is four hours. To cross the same distance we have also spent four days. But that is also a record! Under normal conditions one will need a couple of days to cross the lake.
This illustrates to what extent the different snow conditions have can affect the tour. Our tour descriptions are based on an average weather- and snow situation.