Dog sledding in the Arctic is a dream of many adventurous travellers, and something I had been wanting to do for a long time. Up high in the Arctic Circle in Svalbard I had the chance to organise such a trip.
Leaving the small town of Longyearbyen behind, the main settlement on Svalbard, you drive for a while until you reach the outdoor kennels where the huskies await.
There are many dogs, and they are bred for the kind of conditions they encounter. They have there own little box homes and when you arrive they get very excited to go out sledding. They are very tough animals and can drag a sled for a whole day. It is what they love too do!
The guide then explains the basics of sledding. Seems easy enough: hold on for dear life and don’t let go! Ok, maybe that was my definition of what I heard.
Upon asking what would happen if you did let go, the guide responded; “you would be left alone in polar bear country”! I assumed he was joking, but you can never know!
Pairing up with someone else the guide, who carries a gun for polar bear protection, shows you how to attach the dogs to the sled. This becomes quite comical when wearing mitten gloves as it is not easy to undo the buckles while wearing them, and freezing if you do not.
The huskies have some fun names, with the ones that are related having the same letter at the beginning. If you get the dogs Garmin, GoPro and GoreTex on the same team, you know you are in good hands (or should I say paws)!
Eventually with all the huskies attached you have to leave instantly as they are so keen to get going.
You take it in turns with your partner on who drives the sled, and who sits down. I got first driving duty, and went flying out the gate of the kennels across some icy terrain with the mantra in my head of “don’t let go”!
It soon became quite evident that this was not as hard as you may think. Just stand on the back, put the brake on when needed, and enjoy the ride. After clearing the initial ice it became easy sledding on good snow.
I was really enjoying it for a while until the weather turned nastier. A strong wind blowing snow into the face created almost white out conditions, making it really hard to see. On top of that we went over a big bump sending us over onto our side. The previous mantra of “don’t let go” came into good use and I held on strongly to the sled, causing the huskies to stop. Righting ourselves, we were soon of racing away again.
Despite the weather I was totally loving this, and the conditions made it feel more like the image of the Arctic I had in my mind. At this point clothes had started too become stiff from the icy Arctic temperatures.
Turning around after some time to head back to the kennel, I switched positions and had the easy task of sitting down and enjoying the ride. My mind starting drifting to thoughts of what it must be like to do this for 10 hours a day, weeks on end, like true adventurers. A much harder task obviously, and one I had decided there and then that someday I would do.
One bucket travel list ticked of, and another one added, both in the same day. But that is so often the case!
Back at the kennels we attached the dogs back to their small homes, thanking them for the ride. They are so friendly and love human interaction.
Then came the fun task of feeding them a rather hideous looking mix of meat, which naturally they went crazy for. I have never seen dogs eat so fast!
We then said goodbye to our furry companions and headed back to Longyearbyen, with a memory of a great experience. An experience that hopefully all adventurous people will someday have.
It is easy to organise a dog sledding excursion when in Svalbard, with many companies offering the trip . I personally used SvalbardHusky and found them to be very good, with a well kept kennel for the dogs.
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