Dog Sledding on Lakselvdalen

DogSledding_2016_024Dog sledding has a deep history throughout the Arctic.  For over 1000 years humans have bred dogs specifically for hunting and traveling resulting in the strong, smart and beautiful Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamutes and the Alaskan Husky a mix between them.  Our little Jack is one such Alaskan Husky mix, and he was born to run!  The dogs today were jumping with excitement when they started to get the sled teams together.  Our guide built the teams 1 by 1 and then drove them across the road to the trail head where they were tied to trees until we were all ready to go.

DogSledding_2016_029There were 8 of us from the University that went dog sledding today.  We were paired off into 4 teams with a 6 sled dog team.  Everyone was offered warm boots, gloves, socks and snowsuits to wear.  Since the dog sledding location was more inland it’s especially important since it can get much colder.  It was very warm today, but it was very windy so we mostly stayed on the frozen river bed.  It was early in the morning, we all carpooled out to Lakselvdalen from Tromsø, which was over an hour away.  The morning trip is a bit cheaper since it doesn’t include transportation from Tromsø.  It’s a small family-operated business, where the dad was the guide, the mother prepped us for the ride and made us hot chocolate and coffee cake for later, and the young son rode on the sled with his dad to help us get the dog sleds up steep hills, around tight turns and fix any other problems we were having.

DogSledding_2016_001Each of us took turns driving and riding the sled, which was pretty simple in design.  There are 2 rubber coated runners to stand on and a large metal lever in the middle to step on and brake the sled.  You have to stand on the brake the majority of the time, especially in the beginning because the dogs are very powerful and when excited it is almost impossible to stop them.  Our teams were trained to follow the guide’s lead team.  So once he told us we were off – we were off.  To be honest I was pretty shocked, the first couple seconds of dog sledding we turned a sharp corner and dropped down one of the steepest hills of the whole trip.  There was a moment when I felt like I was just free falling desperately stomping on the brake and holding on for dear life!  Actually, if I fell off the sled I would have landed in the soft snow, but the runaway dog sled with Julia inside would have been much more problematic.  Thankfully I didn’t fall and once we were on the flat river bed, things were much calmer and really enjoyable.

DogSledding_2016_020The dogs are attached to the rigging on 2 points, a short chain that attaches to their collar to keep them from drifting apart and a strong cord off of their harnesses where they are pulling the sled.  At one point the youngest dog on our team was having some issues trying to do some business while running, this was something all the seasoned sled dogs were quite good at.  The young dog somehow was unclipped from his collar and was basically run over by the dog behind him because he was going too slow.  Then we had 3 dogs in the very back because the young dog could not run fast enough to jump over all the attachments for the other 2 dogs to get back to his spot.  I slowed the sled down a lot, and he got his first 2 legs over one dog’s chain, but that was even worse since he was now running with the chain rubbing his underbelly.  I waved down our guide and stopped the sled.  The young boy ran back to us to see what the problem was, it took him a few minutes to untangle everyone.  But shortly we were off again.

DogSledding_2016_006At one point the guide stopped us all and took his border collie out with him to look at the ice and snow on one section of the river.  After assessing it they returned and we broke a new path with the sled on the river and then up the river bed to a large field.  We made a big circle in the field taking in the views of the mountains around us before returning to the river bed.  Breaking trail was hard work and the driver would get off the sled to help push it up the hills and through heavy snow.  I think the hardest part of that was keeping the sled from tipping left or right on such a soft surface.  For the dogs, they were struggling to keep their footing as they sunk deep into the uncompacted snow.

DogSledding_2016_009Julia took her turn to drive and I assumed the camera position.  In the sled was a nice piece of reindeer fur to sit on and a hefty canvas to seal you in away from the cold.  It was relaxing to sit for a while, but it was very different perspective to be so low.  When you are driving you really look down at the dogs and out in every direction, but being so close to the ground you really had more of the dog’s view of the world.  Julia drove us back to the start, but we weren’t done yet.  We went upstream this time a little ways, and then again went up the river bank to a large field area with and old bulldozer covered in snow (To be fair Julia and I were discussing the tractor and Jesse was kind enough to later point out that “there is no way to confuse a bulldozer with a tractor!”.

DogSledding_2016_018

Julia drove us through a narrow section of woods and across some sharp turns, one of which cases a serious mishap with one of the groups.  Apparently their sled flipped on it’s side in the heavy snow and they had to spend some time to get everything in righted again.  The guide was kind enough to stop us at one point and take pictures of each group with our own cameras.  On the way back Julia and I switched again, and I got to take the sled down another very steep hill through a forest.  The boy was at the top of the hill and told me to switch my weight from the right side to the left.  But this required momentarily stepping off of the brake, which made the ride a little faster then desired.  Thankfully we zipped through with no problems at all.

When we returned to the kennel we waited as the sleds were one by one tied back to the trees.  We were then treated to hot chocolate and some delicious cinnamon coffee cake.  It was a great ending to a wonderful excursion in Northern Norway.  Next time we’ll have to see if we can get Jack onto a team, he would just love to run with the others!!

I would definitely recommend the Northern Light Dog Adventure (even though there are no Northern lights to be seen on these trips this time of year).  You should come visit!!  We’d be happy to take you dog sledding 😉

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