Big dreams and even bigger challenges in the Arctic wilds
By Michelle Wild
I joined Arctic Adventure Tour’s weeklong dog sledding expedition in the spring of 2019. Here is my experience of the dog sledding expedition.
I flew from Germany to join this adventure of a lifetime. Having never visited the Arctic before, I had no idea if March/April would be cold, dark and snowy, or the endless summer heat and midnight sun that I had read so much about. In fact, as the plane touched down, I could already see it would be the best of both. Fantastic snow conditions, twinned with long sunny days.
When I arrived into the arrivals area at Tromsø airport we were met by PT, the owner of Arctic Adventure Tours and our expedition leader for the coming week. PT helped us load our luggage onto the minibus and, once all members of our group had arrived, we were driven the short journey to the dog kennel on Kvaløya.
As much as I was trying to take in the beautiful views of the mountains and sea during the drive, all I could think about was meeting the dogs!
Feeling a bit nervous, the bus pulled into the Arctic Adventure Tours kennel. Will I be any good at driving a sled? Are the dogs be difficult to handle? Can I even manage to get my tent up!? My nerves were washed away when I was greeted with a firm handshake and Hege’s warm and smiling face. Hege is manager of Arctic Adventure Tours and PT’s adored wife. She immediately made us feel at home and after some coffee and waffles in the Sami lavvu we were given a crash course in arctic camping.
It was finally time to meet all the dogs who would be taking us on this weeklong dog sledding expedition. I was SO excited, and to my complete delight they even had puppies we could cuddle. The dogs were all Alaskan Huskies, and were so friendly and social. They would certainly let you stroke them and play with them all day if you had the chance!
We all sat down to a hearty Norwegian stew for dinner and spent our first night in the Arctic in the four small lavvu’s just a stones throw away from the dog kennel. Each Lavvu had a cosy fire and sleeping platform. Falling asleep to the sound of the wind gently blowing across the glistening snow I was so excited for the real adventure to begin. The next morning I watched the kennel staff load up all the dogs into the huge dog trailer and we were driven all to the starting point of the expedition. Everything was organised and efficient and I was certainly impressed how well the staff knew each and every dog by name (there are 200 dogs at the kennel!). I just hoped that I could remember my five dog’s names by the end of the day!
All the equipment was distributed and staff showed me how to pack my sled full of food (human and dog), my tent, sleeping gear, and whatever else I would need over the weeklong expedition in the wilderness. My dog team was brought over to my sled one by one. Leaders first, to hold the gang-line tight and keep the team in position, then swing dogs, and finally the big strong wheel dogs. I had five dogs in my team and they were so happy to pull me and my sled. You could feel and hear how excited these dogs were to get going. PT led us out with his bigger team of 8 dogs into the snow-covered forest and we followed behind – my dog sledding expedition had begun! The initial pull of the dogs was unreal, I could not believe the power and strength my dog team had.
It was an adrenaline rush, but the training we had been given the day before kicked in, and very quickly I was able to relax into it and just focused on shifting my weight for the different turns and bumps on the trail ahead – what a thrill!
Once I found my balance, I could begin to enjoy the beautiful scenery. I spent that first day on the trail completely mesmerised by the wilderness we were passing through, it was so incredibly vast and we saw no one else in sight. I noticed myself finding a peacefulness that came with dogsledding. Watching the dogs get into a steady rhythm, your mind focused on the present moment, but also feeling like you are in a dream. Between these moments I would chat away to my dog team and let them know what an amazing job they were doing.
Coming into our first campsite the staff came and helped us park our sleds and showed us the evening routine. Each dog was given attention and checked over, harnesses and booties removed, a little rub down and, with tails still wagging, we put their coats on and prepared a good meal and straw bed for them to lie on for the night. We pitched our tents and organised our sleeping space.
PT drilled a hole through the ice of a nearby lake to access fresh water for cooking, washing and drinking. To people paying good money for Vos water, well this ‘Arctic Water’ was certainly just as tasty! We soon had our gas stoves set up and cooking our tasty ‘boil in a bag’ meal. Having never camped out in the snow before I was worried it would be freezing, but with a thermal mat, air mattress and thick expedition sleeping bag, with the arctic sun still shining, I was surprisingly cozy. That first night, lying there exhausted, I really felt I had accomplished something and knew that I needed my rest as we had only just begun our journey into the high arctic.
The next morning we had a nice quick breakfast (for both human and dog!) and then we were on the sleds again after everything was packed down and cleared up. No trace of our campsite was left. Being back on the sled and setting off, I felt so free.
My dog team and me, in the middle of nowhere gliding through this beautiful winter wonderland.
From then on, our daily routine became easier, it was easy to remember that we always take care of the dogs first when making camp, and to try to have good tent organisation! Our meals eaten on the mountainside, sitting on your overturned sled, and toilets with the best views in Scandinavia!
I wished I could just live like this forever. Just me, my dog team and the incredible views.
The time flew by so quickly and soon enough the dream was over and we were on our way back to Tromsø. Our last day of sledding was very long. I loved this ending to our dog sledding expedition added bonus that we managed to see some reindeer!
After packing up all equipment and the staff loading up the dogs, we all said goodbye to our new best four-legged friends and were driven into the bustling city centre of Tromsø. Here, from the comfort of my clean hotel room after having washed off the sweat and campfire smoke of the trip, I cried for all that I had achieved, for the memories I’d made and for the sweet-souled dogs that I will forever remember.
Our group enjoyed a last evening meal together with PT and the staff. In the morning we said our goodbyes and were dropped back at the airport.
This was an experience I will never forget. I fell in love. Completely. The dogs, the mountains and being on a sled.
In fact I fell in love so much that shortly after the expedition I wrote to PT and Hege to ask if I could come back and volunteer. I was finally reunited with all the wonderful dogs. I enjoyed a tough but satisfying 8 weeks, but that is a story for another time!