When Husky Sledding in the Arctic wilderness you get a lot of time to think on your sledge, mainly respecting the wild landscapes, the terrain and conditions we know nothing about, watching our guide whilst absorbing everything as he takes us through some of the most beautiful scenes and exceptional camping locations that take your breath away. (literally when pushing higher into the mountains).
Having been before I knew some of what we were about to experience but Tore Albrigtsen has taken this to a whole ‘nother level with his passion and drive to show us what was special to him. He took a bunch of people of different strengths and ensured we all had our own experience by helping people at their weakest points and giving responsibility to those who could take it. Again I embraced everything and was consumed by it all. I loved every bit of extra responsibility that he trusted me with, but he recognised those moments of tiredness and taught us when we had a thirst to understand more.
One salient point I forgot to thank him for was creating the most graceful looking camping areas I’ve ever seen. Laying a trail ahead, allowing us to sweep around to shape a gathering of people that could in fact, complement the surrounding landscape. I have the utmost respect.
One of the most important elements in training is the order in which you set up camp and look after your team. Remember your team of dogs are more important than yourself, if you are injured they are your lifeline and only hope to get back to civilisation. Once a camp is chosen, it is clear if you have a tree or not to secure the dog line. It’s tough love if not. This calls for a 4 foot dig and a plank to tie the end of the line to, then burying it so deep that getting it back out in the morning, is near on impossible in the impacted snow.
Un-harnessing your team is one of the most tender moments on expedition, you have already grown the utmost respect for them, these Huskies whilst working are beyond what we know of dogs here in the UK. They are calm and peaceful and ready to eat and bed down. Not only are they affectionate but incredibly re-assuring when they are so in control and knowledgeable of their night ahead. They leap on hind legs with so much power when walking them over to their position for the night. No matter how hard I tried to get them to walk on all fours, they simply won’t.
Once they are secure, then your tent is next, not forgetting to pack down the snow and smoothing it over for a comfortable sleep. One learns through the consequences of ones actions when making mistakes. Listen and take note of all the elements in training when wilderness camping and you will learn that a tent can be remarkably cosy in minus twenty.
Now to feed the dogs either frozen tripe or kibble, they simply love you and now realise you are part of their pack. Although you want to spoil them with that little bit more kibble, be warned of a slower day of sledding the next day.
At last you can settle down yourself, warm your tent and cook your food. A time to reflect and absorb the remoteness of it all and some of the wildest terrain of your life.
The first few days the journey takes you through frozen pine and birch forests then off trail through the mountains and peaks. These are some of the more physically demanding days and the ones you remember above all others. This is where the lessons and challenges hit home.
My pack of hounds were 5 to begin with, 4 belonged to Tore’s good friend Tomas. Of course my team got more cuddles than the others, because that’s how I roll. The 5th I called lazy dog, he was a bit “special”. When I shouted encouragement going up hills, he just turned around to look at me while the others pulled him along, reminding me to jump off to push the sled carrying all I had for the 6 nights. This task is not easy, running, pushing all whilst sinking knee deep in heavy unpredictable snow. I realised that I wasn’t to underestimate the affects of the high altitude and the strong winds, the most challenging on my fitness I have experienced to date.
I was given a 6th husky on the 3rd day, which sorted Lazy dog out. He became focused with this sweet hard working lady by his side……..
6 dogs, heavy sled, down hills and desperate braking techniques continued….. soon challenging all the skills I had been shown.