Mirror, Signal, “Mush”…
Mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Basics we learn, but perhaps soon forget (or choose to ignore) on the road to becoming qualified drivers. In the dogsledding world if you get anchor, handbrake and “mush” in the wrong order you will end up on your own with a team of dogs heading at great speed into the pristine distance. I found out to my cost whilst trying a mitten removal operation, at speed, hoping to get a quick snap on my camera of the approaching reindeer. Of course I dropped my mitten and it was quickly out of reach. Cue a sequence of handbrake then anchor, tentative steps back to my mitten hoping the anchor held, and then quickly back onto sledge, reunited with my dogs. Only in my elation of having two mittens again I forgot the number one rule. I released the handbrake then the anchor and whoosh! I was getting a face full of snow whilst I desperately clung on to five lean running machines.
I was given a taste of the extreme conditions to come stepping off the Arctic runway at Kiruna, Northern Sweden. A week long high of -21oC was quickly felt in the airways! It dropped to a bone chilling – 36oC during the trip. We were in for a wilderness adventure at the extremes of human living. On the first morning my team of five huskies were introduced to me. Leading from the front were the sister and brother youngsters of Emily and Carlos. In the middle of my five was the established Ville and the two “wheelies” (the huskies at the rear who take the brunt of the weight) were Sara and X-centric. His piercing blue eyes and attitude marking him out as the canine boss. Even though I was in command of my team of huskies from the start I think we both acknowledged he was the boss.
For the next five days we would be sharing all the wonderful features of this wilderness region. Frozen lakes stretching as far as the eye can see, or whizzing through pine forest watching out for any low hanging branches! The sun, barely above the horizon, created some sparkling blue skies turning to pink at the end of the day. Whilst I was enjoying this remote region the huskies just wanted to run and run. As soon as you come to a halt they’ll let you know their displeasure by howling away until you release the brake, when once again everything will fall silent.
During the week you build up a real affection for the dogs. Make sure you don’t shirk your dog duties. Although distributing sloppy and smelly dog food in freezing conditions represents some hardship the reward is a real bond between huskies and driver. They’ll particularly appreciate the straw to bed down in! Whilst saying your canine goodnights you may also gain a glimpse of the Northern Lights. I was lucky enough to have a show for about 30 minutes, by which point I was so cold and hungry for my own dinner I had to retire back into the cabin for my own reindeer stew cooked by the leader. A warm end to a rewarding day in the frozen Arctic!
Exodus’ Dave Richardson travelled on Arctic Circle Dogsled Expedition (Trip Code: CSD).