Dog Sledding in Northern Sweden

The wilderness around Kiruna, SwedenIn the morning we woke, had breakfast, then had enough time to pack our stuff up and get dressed in our snow gear.  We then carried our bags outside (bring a small carry on size bag for this trip) and waited for instructions.  

Our guide brought us over to a dog sled, without the dogs and showed us the setup of it, mainly the two different brakes on it, and instructed us in their use.  There’s the heavy brake (no clue what they are really called), and the light brake.  Both brakes go across the ground between the two treads that you stand on.  The heavy brake is a metal piece that when not in use sits about half a foot above the snow.  It has large teeth along the bottom of it that dig deep down into the snow when you step down on it, effectively bringing the sled to a stop, no matter how hard those dogs might be trying to pull it.  The light brake is a large black, rubber square that sits on the ground between the two years treads.  It has little bumps on the bottom, but does nothing to slow the sled down until you step on it, at which point it merely slows the sled some, depending on if you use one foot, both feet, or how much weight on it.

The boys on my team: Rizla (left) and Loden (right)

We were then instructed on how to harness the dogs, and then attach them to the leads on the sled.  Once we were told everything he thought we needed to know, he assigned each of us a dog team, and had us carry a piece of paper with the dogs’ names to our sled, along with our bags.  We loaded our bags in the sled.  They’re smaller sleds, so you’ll want smaller luggage, plus the less weight in the sled, the faster you can let those dogs run later.

Our guide and his assistant slowly kept bringing us our dogs and hooking them up for us, until eventually everyone was ready to go.  The excitement was palpable everywhere you looked.  The dogs were barking, and jumping, attempting to pull the sleds, they were so eager.  Which brings me to the last brake that I forgot to mention.  When the sled is stationary and you are going to get off of it, you use this brake.  It’s basically like two curved metal hooks, side by side, attracted to each other by more metal, and to the sled by a rope.  Before you get off the sled, you take this, and with one foot and your weight steady on the heavy brake, you stomp this brake deep into the snow with your other foot.  The dogs won’t be able to run off with the sled when this brake is used.  So before we started hooking up dogs, those brakes had been put in.

The girls on my team: Kayla (left) and Lady (Right)So there we all were, on our sleds, ready to go, dogs barking and jumping, the sled jerking every time they’d jump, heart beating so fast…  And then we started, the guide set out first, followed by the individuals who had been back further with him, following him down the trail.  His assistant than kept telling those of us to go in an order, helping us with that hook brake as we needed.  Then it was my turn.  The excitement and adrenaline was insane, I took my foot completely off the heavy brake and my dogs hauled ass.  Loden, Rizla, Lady, and Kayla.  Four dogs of solid muscle and power.  I lasted for all of 17 seconds before I face planted in the snow.  (Check out the video at the bottom of this post)

Lesson number one, do NOT take your foot completely off that heavy brake when you start!!!  The dogs are TOO excited and they want to RUN!  You need to lift up some on the brake, so they can pull it, but not too much.  You need to make it hard for them so they have to work to pull you and lose that initial burst of energy.  Otherwise you end up like me…  In our instructions we had been told that if we crash, to hold on to the dog sled so the dogs can’t run away from us.  Ha!  That is so much easier said then done!  I tried, I truly did, but they immediately pulled that sled out of my gloved hands and they proceeded to haul even more ass without my weight on their, even though the sled was on it’s side, passing the other sledders.

The remote cabin we stayed at
So, in slow motion, here’s what happened:  I took my foot of that heavy brake, they hauled ass, I giggled with the rush of adrenaline at how incredible that felt, realized that we were going to overtake the guy in front of me, tried to step on brake, missed it (remember how I said it’s a good half a foot above the ground?), looked down quick to see where the hell out was, tried again, still didn’t get my foot high enough for it, face planted, held on, lost my grip, got up as fast as I could, and ran after the dogs, yelling to get the guide’s attention.  He caught them, I got back on, without any further instruction from him, and we all started again.  Because he didn’t help me figure out how I screwed that up so royally, I didn’t know to keep my foot on that heavy brake yet.  So once again, just down the path, I face plant again!  At this point I realized my gopro wasn’t on my head anymore.  I started to run back to look for it, I had just purchased that, I wasn’t about to lose it already!  One of my group told me the assistant had it, so I returned to my sled.

So, in slow motion, here’s what happened:  I took my foot of that heavy brake, they hauled ass, I giggled with the rush of adrenaline at how incredible that felt, realized that we were going to overtake the guy in front of me, tried to step on brake, missed it (remember how I said it’s a good half a foot above the ground?), looked down quick to see where the hell out was, tried again, still didn’t get my foot high enough for it, face planted, held on, lost my grip, got up as fast as I could, and ran after the dogs, yelling to get the guide’s attention.  He caught them, I got back on, without any further instruction from him, and we all started again.  Because he didn’t help me figure out how I screwed that up so royally, I didn’t know to keep my foot on that heavy brake yet.  So once again, just down the path, I face plant again!  At this point I realized my gopro wasn’t on my head anymore.  I started to run back to look for it, I had just purchased that, I wasn’t about to lose it already!  One of my group told me the assistant had it, so I returned to my sled.

The remote cabin we stayed atWe started once again, and somehow I managed to stay on that sled and not let Loden kill me!  When we finally stopped for a quick lunch and hot drinks I was actually starting to enjoy myself and the gorgeous wilderness that we were going through.  After I ate I visited with my dogs, and I think Loden warmed up to me, for I’m very pleased to say that I never crashed again for the remainder of the trip.  Or maybe it’s simply that I finally figured out what I was doing!

The remainder of the ride till we reached the cabin was peaceful, relaxing in a way, and thoroughly enjoyable.  I was now directly behind the guide (my dogs had passed everyone else every time I crashed), and I was able to see the caribou that he spooked along the trail.  They quickly vanished into the trees, so I doubt many in the group got to see them, unfortunately.  I do love nature and animals!

The remote cabin we stayed atWhen we got to the cabin, we unharnessed the dogs, and attach them lines along long rows of little dog houses.  We then took our stuff up to the cabin.  Of course, there were some simple chores to be done.  Water was needed for the sauna/steam house they had behind the cabin, this was fetched from a stream somewhere (the men handled this task).  The women gathered firewood from a pile outside the sauna and carried it to the main cabin for use throughout our stay (the place was heated by a fireplace).

The remote cabin we stayed atOnce we had the chores done, we started to settle into the cabin.  This cabin was without electricity and the bathroom was a separate outhouse.  A true retreat from modern life.  There were 3 rooms along the side with two sets of bunkbeds in each.  One room we were told was reserved for a separate little group that would join us the next day (turned out to be a German couple and their guide).  Upstairs had a dozen or so more beds in a large open area, divided into little stalls of a sort.  I took a bed on the far end underneath a window.  Everyone, but one couple was staying in the rooms downstairs, the couple took a bed at the opposite end of the upstairs than I and everything was cozy and private still.

A little igloo near the cabinAfter the chores, and before settling into the cabin for the night, some of the group wandered off down a little trail to go exploring.  They stumbled upon the above “igloo” and told the rest of us when they returned, so we in turn set off to find it and climb inside…

The setting sun near the cabinWe all relaxed in the cabin after our exciting day.  Sitting in front of the fireplace was so relaxing after being out in the cold and being smashed into the cold snow repeatedly…  As we waited for dinner to be cooked, our guide headed outside to feed the dogs their dinners.  I decided to go help out, I was feeling useless inside, and I did want to improve his opinion of me after all of my crashes in the morning.  The dogs get fed a surprising amount, and all of it very rich in calories.  They need it after the distances they run!  They ended up with almost a hot broth of dog food and frozen raw meat that was doused with steaming hot water.  They all wolfed this down.  If I gave my dog the diet those dogs have, he’d have died of obesity in his first year of life!

Dinner was a fabulous stew of caribou meat, on noodles, and with some sort of local berry topping (I forget the type) that was absolutely scrumptious.  After dinner, the guides cleaned up, and left us alone for the night as they went to their own tiny cabins.  Card games were broken out, as the rest of us sat by the fire and relaxed.  I was taking a college class online at the time, so I sat by the fire and hand wrote out a paper to submit when I got home and just enjoyed the peace of the place.

The Aurora on the first night at the cabinAs we all sat around lazy for the evening, we kept checking the windows, trying to see if there was any sign of another aurora.  (Check out my previous post for the first night’s aurora, it was much better!)  Eventually somebody spotted it while on an outhouse run, and I quickly grabbed the camera and tripod and headed outside.  Unfortunately, it was nowhere near as bright as the first night had been, mostly just looked like thin wispy clouds, slowly moving in the sky, with just a hint of color.  But the pictures still came out nicely, and I do love the pine trees in these shots.  As the aurora in the distance faded, I looked straight up to see the sky faintly rippling overhead too.  I played with the camera settings, pointed it up, and posed in front of it with our little cabin.  I think this (below) is one of my favorite shots from the trip.  I can’t believe I was truly lucky enough to see the aurora twice on this trip!!  In an effort to not overload this and the previous post with pictures, I’ve created an album of the aurora pictures on my Facebook page, MidnightAngelPhoto, for your enjoyment!

Me, staring up at the faint aurora over the cabin in the middle of the woods

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