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Were back in one piece it was the fastest seven days I have ever spent anywhere!! What an adventure, it was off the scale in everyway, scenery, challenge, and people, I was so sad for it to end although my muscles are glad of a little rest!
The Sledging team; Helen, Judith, Alice Adam Bob llinios and myself
Leader; Per Thore, together with Sid and Jonathan the Doctor
Well we arrived in Oslo on the 1stleg of our journey and made our connection to Alta around 1hr 40 minutes flight from Oslo. All seven sledgers travelled from Heathrow together and we were gelling very well indeed. Looking out the window past a rather large Norwegian man I could see vast areas of snow frozen lakes and rivers and I could hardly contain my excitement I think the gentleman realised it was my 1st time and smiled politely at me as I strained to get a better look!!
The approach to Alta was stunning we came in along a fjord and suddenly the little town of Alta appeared. Now I know what a real snow dump looks like enormous! The atmosphere is very dry and there is so little moisture it really is very different to the type of weather we get here. The baggage reclaim was tiny and the little truck carrying our luggage was there as soon as we were.
After taking a mountain of photos outside, Sid from Across the Divide Expeditions met us along with Per Thore Hansen our â€śleaderâ€ť, our expedition Doctor would meet us the following day as the one that should have been joining us had been taken ill. We had a forty-minuet drive to base and our starting point at Gargia. It was a lovely place little log cabins dotted around for sleeping and the lodge where we ate and got our arctic suits and boots which we were to live in for the duration of the trip The dogs were all on their lines near the cabins we couldnâ€™t resist the urge to go and see them and get an idea of what it was like to be around so many dogs they were all shapes and sizes the breed has evolved making the best of all the traits needed to make a good working dog, Huskies are a bit aggressive and not too easy to train as a pure breed, so by mixing the breeds you get the best of everything temperament and ease of training.
We were to meet early to see how to feed the dogs and harness and attach your dogs to the sledge, we were all feeling a little nervous now and feeling tired from out travels and after a delicious dinner of reindeer stew and a quick drink we hit the sack to be nice and fresh for our 1st day sledging.
Sid our Across the Divide guide was very professional and knowledgeable and gave us useful tips and had a wicked since of humour, he could shout at you pretty good too! This would develop as the days, passed and of course we hadnâ€™t met Jonathan our doctor yet! They would become an endearing double act!!
DAY 1 sledging Gargia ďż˝ďż˝" Souluvombi (Sledging ~30 km)
Up at 6am trying to pack only essentials for the slgdging leaving everything else behind. I put all my stuff in a waterproof rucksack (great piece of kit), as I would discover it was easy to carry and not heavy in the sledge other than that just a small bag with snack and spare hats gloves and thermos flasks.
The dog food was a dried food soaked overnight each dog gets all the calories they require for the day you also have to encourage them to take the water with the feed as Huskies donâ€™t like to drink water, some of the dogs pick up the bowl and tip out the food and eat it off the ground. This was something we would find in the coming days, the dogs that do this tend to perform the head in the snow ritual on the trails and believe me itâ€™s a tad scary when one of your dogs takes off towards the deep snow and the other three donâ€™t want to follow unstable wobbly sledge comes to mind!!
Let me mention that the moment the dogs know we are getting ready to leave they start to bark like crazy they canâ€™t wait to go and they are watching Per the whole time and waiting for him to set off and if your not hanging on tight they will knock you flying they have mega strength!
My dogs; SIMBA AND ARIEL(GIRLS) CREAM AND LUCKY (MALES)The girls had a lovely personality the darker brown one is Simba, they got on really well with each other they ran side by side with their heads touching when they could or when stopped they would rest their heads on each other. Then there is Cream guess he was called that because he is cream!! He had a boisterous personality he liked to jump over Lucky when he was stationary he had a powerful bark too but loved lots of fuss and then there was Lucky a black and white male very quiet I never saw him bark and he would just look at Cream when he was barking as if to say pipe down for goodness sake he had lots of battle scares and I would later find out that the was the oldest of Perâ€™s dogs about 10 or 11 years old. He seemed to me to be the wise one!
We were given a talk by Per who explained the sledge was basically a 3,000 year old design used by the indigenous people and it worked very well indeed, well lets see how long it would take the magnificent seven to wreck oneâ€¦
The sledge has two brakes one in between the two runners used to control your speed and help you come to a stop when needed. The snow anchor is to anchor your sledge to the ground when you stop for a while and when preparing the sledge. We were also given tips on how to handle the sledge and the dogs how not to let the lines get slack or let the dogs get tangled with the other sledges, how to stay close to the sledge in front so the dogs donâ€™t go off piest if they see a short cut they are likely to take it. Our heads were buzzing with information the adrenalin was pumping as our sledges were lined up for the off and Per selected our teams, by all accounts he had us all sized up with in a short time of seeing us so he knew which dogs we should have. My sledge was next to Perâ€™s so I had my two girl dogs (lead dogs) first for speed and then the two maleâ€™s at the back for the power. From this
day on I would have to remember my dogs and their positions and which harness or it could be a disaster
!! I was the first to be done so went to the front to my lead dogs to do a bit of bonding and my heart was thumping while waiting and watching the others get their dogs.
I donâ€™t know if I wished we could start quick or that we could stay a while longer as we were all feeling the pressure as Per made his way to his team of twelve dogs he had a large sledge to carry all the food and equipment we needed for the trip, we all knew it was time to go whether we liked it or not. I held on for dear life and was going over all the tips in my mind, it looked a bit tricky getting out onto the trail a drop with a sharpish left turn but what the hell here goes. Per took off in a blaze of dogs and snow and I was next off the starting blockâ€™s with the snow anchor lifted I was off like a bullet from a gun. I felt the sledge bounce off the bank and into the sharp left turn foot on the break I managed to keep the sledge and myself attached soon I was on the straight and following Per, legs shaking slightly. We slowed and watched as the other sledgers came bouncing out one by one and a huge sigh of relief. We would find out later that we were the only group out of 11 this season that made it off the start without â€ścarnageâ€ť (we were to here this word a lot in relation to sledging experiences)
Listening to Per showed he clearly is a giant of a man in every way strong, quiet, relaxed un ruffled and very in touch with nature, the outdoors and his country. He has a great love and understanding of his dogs and tradition; he is an inspiration to me. We would learn so much from this man in the coming days. He is now on his way to the North Pole, we finished on Friday night and he left on Sunday with three others and 20 dogs. We were very lucky to hear first hand how the planning and preparation for this trip was going. Check out the website
We were off and finding our feet it was going to be varied terrain today hills some flat various surfaces soft snow, ice and very uneven in places. The next thing to put into practice is helping your dogs, Per explained that your dogs look at you as part of the team and expect you to help with the pulling, putting this into practice meant â€śscootingâ€ť and running, scooting is what you see kids doing on their scooters with one leg. You found yourself doing this a lot on steep inclines and on the flat in the deep snow; this is where the fitness and training comes in. This was never an issue because you wanted to help. The arctic suit and boots were heavy but very warm and a complete necessity out here in these conditions. The trail lay ahead ant there would be thrills and spills before he day was done.
We found our â€śfeetâ€ť on the sledges and at times tried to relax a little but you just never knew when the dogs might throw a surprise and off you came!! There were a few spills and falls all part of the getting used to sledging experience. My moment came at the very end of the day on a nice down hill into a sharp left turn I didnâ€™t see coming add a couple of stationary sledges, BANG off I came in a spectacular roll or so I was told, off went my dogs and sledge oh no the cardinal sin!! I didnâ€™t stand a chance luck would have it they stopped when they got to Per and it was base for the night. I ran down the hill to grab dogs and sledge hoping Per wouldnâ€™t notice. I think he did!!
To add insult to injury I was helping Per attach one of his dogs to a line and the little devil slipped from my grip and made a run from freedom, I thought this is it not even the end of the first day and I have lost one of the dogs!! I didnâ€™t even look towards Per and took off after the dog running as fast as an arctic suit would allow (thatâ€™s not very fast I might add) I spotted him sniffing something by the lodge and did the sneak up tactic I couldnâ€™t believe my luck, for the countless times that day my heart pounding I grabbed him by the collar and we walked back to base trying to look in conspicuous and not get noticed by Per. Fat chance, I bet he was having a quiet giggle to himself. That was a lesson learned never under estimate the strength and power of a husky!!! Our lodge was very comfortable and warm and we had a delicious dinner of arctic salmon oh and did I mention the delicious waffles!
DAY 2 Souluvombi ďż˝ďż˝" Maze (Sledging ~25km)
Today sledging looks short but it is up hill all day and when we go over the top is high and very exposed, so you are likely to really feel the cold especially if itâ€™s windy.The sledging was more technical today. It had snowed over night and was still snowing this morning. Per and Sid told us at the briefing the previous evening that it was tougher going for the dogs in fresh snow, also we had to cross a road followed by a sharp left turn fairly soon after setting out, this had to go like clock work we all HAD TO go in line, no gaps and no hesitating, they would be in radio contact Per up front Sid at the back, oh heck there goes my heart again after my tumble the previous evening I was a tad nervous but had a mantra going now â€śI will not let go of my sledge whatever happensâ€ť
Well,Doctor Jonathan arrived last night and we should feel safe and secure knowing he was on hand should the worst happenâ€¦or were we?? Let me just say he acquired the nickname Dr Death in a very short time I will explained all later ;-)â€¦..to be continued
Getting the water from the lake involved drilling into the ice with a large drill type thing which was worked by hand, it was around 16cm into the ice before striking water (I hope this is correct as I wasnâ€™t there, us ladies were on washing up duty I think the guys got of pretty easy actually) The water was then carried up the steep hill to the cabin in buckets, this makes you appreciate it all the more when such an effort has to be made to get it! The sauna was a small wooden cabin at the bottom of the slope a wood burner and a bucket of precious water and we had a most welcome sauna, once we were hot enough, it was out into the snow and a basin of water over our heads, we thought about rolling in the snow but we were a bit close to the dogs and may have been rolling in more than we bargained for so we gave that a miss!
Day 3: Maze ďż˝ďż˝" Nedre Mollisjokk (Sledging ~60km)
A little background to our time with Doctor Johnathan. He had a dry wit and a wicked sense of humour. After many conversations of how he might sort us out if the worst happened we all came to the conclusion that he would take the easy option to finish us off and leave us there, thus saving time and money. So whenever there was a fall or a spill you made sure you got up quick if you saw him coming, it really was a good incentive to stay on your feet! So he acquired the nickname Dr Death. Joking aside he was a fun guy and Iâ€™m sure he would have looked after us if we had needed it. Together with Sid we had some very deep conversations that covered most things including politics, Celebes, and religion, let me tell you Margaret Thatcher and Madonna featured quiet high as topics. I will leave that right there!
DOG NAMES It may seem that a lot of the dogs have strange names for Norwegians, thatâ€™s because many are named after previous sledgers! I wonder will there be a dog named after me some day?
Day 4 Nedre Mollisjokk ďż˝ďż˝" Jotka (Sledging ~65km)
We had the containers of food and we had to feed x amount of dogs from each container we would find ourselves almost counting out the nuggets of food so each dog got the same, usually 4 people were feeding the dogs with the supporting few doing the â€śpoo pickingâ€ť. Once again leaving the dogs to digest their food we went to fuel up ourselves.Once again there was a tricky start to the morning, a drop and straight into a sharp left onto the frozen river. Ice is really hard to sledge on you find it hard to control the sledge and breaking takes a tremendous effort because you are skidding all over the place. That brings back a memory of day two where we had to sledge down a steep frozen road it was very scary and I think I held my breath the whole way down with two feet on the break. Iâ€™m sure I blanked out the memory till now! Once again I found myself bouncing onto the river and negotiating the left turn ok and managing to keep myself dogs and sledge attached, off we went. It was very sunny and very cold you really had to keep your skin covered from the elements.
|THE PERALS OF THE COLD
We were told about what and how to look out for signs of frost nip and hypothermia. By all accounts you are the last person to know you are getting hypothermia so you have to watch out for signs in each other, like slow reactions, incoherent, difficulty performing tasks, all of which seemed to fit all of us as we trudged around in our arctic suits and struggled to hear each other through hat and balaclava covered earsâ€¦.so this might prove difficult. Frost nip shows itself in white spots and a tingling sensation on the skin, once again we were to watch out for each other. Alas with faces covered it was hard to see anyone under all the gear but we would do our best.
CLOTHING The arctic suits and boots which were supplied were very warm really well insulated. Although you felt like an astronaut it really would have been freezing without them. Underneath I wore a thermal base layer, mid layer and fleece hoodie (all light weight) light layers are better than one heavy layer your body heat gets trapped also a pair of fleece lined trousers, two pairs of socks and I can say I was very comfortable indeed. You needed your head and face covered all the time too. My best buy was a pair of leather gloves that cost ÂŁ5 from the Army surplus shop I got them for handling the dogs and in the end they were so good I wore them for sledging too. I took several pairs of other gloves to ware when not on the sledge. I never needed to wear the arctic mitts supplied to be honest I donâ€™t think I could have held on to the sledge anyway with them on they were very cumbersome but believe me if it was any colder you would have had to wear them! It was quiet funny it was hard to know who was who as we all looked the same in goggles and balaclavas, lucky there were some very funky hats so we became recognisable by our hats.
Day 5: Jotka ďż˝ďż˝" Gargia (Sledging ~55km)
We canâ€™t believe its our last sledging day. It would be the last morning feeding our dogs and going through the morning rituals. We all sat together eating breakfast for the last time on the trail, it felt a bit melancholy, still we had one last day of thrills and spills ahead.
Dogs and sledges poised ready for the off for the last time the magnificant seven plus our leaders took to the trails. Today was lots of down hill which may sound great and yes it is if its not narrow trails through forest and what I can only describe as a toboggan runâ€¦. with sledge on ice and four speeding dogs.. wow it was a white knuckle ride down hills sharp turns followed by uphills after a short lunch stop we took off again as we turned a corner we hit ice and my feet lost contact with the sledge so I was on my knees hanging on for dear life I used all my strength to hang on and wondered how I could slow down and the closest part of my body to the break was my knee so I managed to jam my knee onto the break and pull myself up, once again I was in control you really couldnâ€™t take your eye off the ball for a second. I narrowly missed being dumped in a snow drift as we came up an incline to cross a car parkâ€¦ oh yes Per was right we were using every skill we had to get through this one. The dogs knew they were near home and were on a mission. This really was a rollercoster a real adrenaline rush. All too soon we were back where we started having completed the challenge I was sad for it to end. We were the last sledging group for the season soPer was heading back to Thromso with his dogs and of course to begin his trek to the North Pole.
It was hard to leave the dogs they had become good friends and a vital part of the team. We would not have done this without them. It was a pleasure to care for them they gave so much back, they ran every day regardless taking us to our destination and ready to do it all again the next day. Each dog was unique and had its own personallity, I really only got to know my four and I will never forget them. I guessed Lucky was old so I had to ask Per the question, was this Luckys last season? and yes it was. I felt a bit sad as usually once the dogs reach the end of their working lives thats it. Per told me he was going to keep Lucky at home to train the puppies, I was delighted as I think Lucky would be perfect as I felt he truly was the wise one! I have my pictures and memories and the very special week we spent together.
We stayed with the dogs for as long as we could and saw them safely into their transportation vehicle. They would spend the summer resting, gaining weight and rasing puppies ready to start all over again.
SEAN Before I wind up this blog I have to tell you about Sean, who is Sean you might ask and why havenâ€™t I mentioned him before? Well Sean is one of the dogs and he had to have a special mention, because he was a bit â€śuniqueâ€ť. We were all drawn to him he was the â€ťbeautiful oneâ€ť all of us Iâ€™m sure have several pictures of Sean, (some more than others) If there were a â€śNext Top Modelâ€ť programme for dogs he would win. We were all hoping he would be on our team, alas he wasnâ€™t the Doc. got him. The Doc reckoned he was lacking in the brain department and a bit on the dumb side but I think he was just a bit jealous because he was so popular.
He couldnâ€™t understand when we said what he lacked in brains department he got away with because he was very cute. I think after this he thought we were barking!!There were times on the trail and when we came to a stop when you could hear the Doc shouting â€śSeanâ€ť and you knew he was misbehaving and prone to doing his own thing which tended to get him in trouble. (He was obviously un aware of Dr Deaths reputation)
What a wonderful group, everyone brought their own unique personality, we laughed so much and shared the thrills and spills. I am so happy I took part in this challenge with an amazing bunch of people and to have shared their friendship. This really is something I will never forget.
That brings an end to my experience of being a dog sledger for a week, would I do it again? absolutely. If you get the desire to take part then sign up for the 2010 expedition on ;
The expidetion led by Per to the North Pole made it! read all about it on;
Its almost D DAY and it is thrilling and exciting all in one. Embarking on something like this really makes you take stock. Firstly how lucky I am to be healthy and fit enough to consider doing it. Secondly, getting a chance to go to the arctic north with a bunch of people who must share a common interest and outlook.
Thirdly, the opportunity to see this unspoilt part of the earth while raising awareness of the important work carried out by SPRI. We all take travel a bit for granted these days, its so easy and cheapish to explore the world. Now more than ever travel is more accessible to the general population which is fantastic. I am very aware after spending all my working life in the travel industry that if it hadnâ€™t been for the great explorers and adventurers heading to the unknown, maybe just maybe we wouldnâ€™t be as privileged as we are today!
Im writing this blog about my preparation and reasons for going on a charity dog sledging challenge to the Arctic Circle â€¦READ ON
The training has taken on momentum in earnest since Christmas. Itâ€™s important to have a good all round level of fitness, be physically fit and build up a good level of staina. guidelines say you should be able to walk around 20 miles on two consecutive days in comfort. Well as the weather has been to say the least a touch on the arctic side it was a good reason to get out there and .
get 1st hand experience of what it will be like to be â€śworkingâ€ť in sub zero temperatures
As itâ€™s not possible to get our hands on a couple of huskies and a sledge to get a feel for it, we had to improvise and revert to the trusty two wheels and take to the trails on the mountain bikeâ€™s (my prefered method of exercise anyway). Iâ€™m not sure it will be as easy to control a sledge and huskies though. I know the sledge has a break and ice ancor but where is the break for the huskies ?
My biggest fear is they (the huskies that is) will see me as a total push over and find myself being dragged along face down in the snow and worse still letting go of the sledge (which is a no no if you fall off you must hang on to your sledge at all costs) and having
to chase after my team of unruly dogs!
We took to the hills and had 4 snow filled days in the Lake District the begining of February in what turned out to be the worst/best few days of snow fall for many years, excellent timing. We cycled, dragged, hauled and carried our bikes over once familiar trails now covered with pristine snow and ice. (thatâ€™s the stamina sorted!)
The walking consisted of walking the Monmouth Way and other local trails for times and distances dictated by time and shifts. This was excellent until the farmers ploughed the fields and I ended up with boots that weighed about 10 kilos each as they were thick with the lovely chalk/clay soil in this area. I looked and felt like Herman Munster as I clomped my way along the trails. (Thats the weight training taken care of)
That leaves the upper body. It was off to the pool to whack out as many lengths as possible before being thrown out at closing time or getting tired of dodging and being hit on the head by stray balls and inflatables at â€śfamily fun timeâ€ť (That has the agility and manoeuvring covered).This might be good practice when it comes to trying to steer the sledge round bends on steep decents. The dogs donâ€™t pull you except on the flat so it will be necessary to get off and push the sledge and run with the dogs on difficult areas.
With less than a week to go the nerves are setting in. It will be liberating to be free of the day to day routine. There are 7 sledgers 1 doctor 1 guide and a leader. Us sledgers are in the same boat its our first time and have no expectations. It will be good for the soul to leave the comforts of our day to day living and go back to bacics learning how to get in touch with nature and the simple things without running water and electricity on the days we are at our most remote.
The hours spent sledging you will be on your own enjoying the endless peace and quiet that is unless your huskies get all competitive and decide to overtake or undertake other sledges causing carnage in the process at that point the blissful silence will be broken by the crashing of wood, howling of dogs screaming of fellow sledgers and the wrath of our leader for being unable to control your teamâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦now for some interesting stuff!!
DESTINATION; The Arctic North of Norway!
THE CHALLENGE; 200km with sledge and 4 huskies
THE REASON; To raise funds and awareness for the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.
WHAT THEY DO: Well, itâ€™s a first class institute for Polar heritage, research and has the worlds most comprehensive polar libary. http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/about/
It wasnâ€™t just about getting there first. The scientific research undertaken on these expiditions and polar mapping is what we still use today, for example Scotts measurements were so accurate they are still being used today for satalite navigation systems. Not to mention the fantastic polar photography which was the first glimpse of these reagions for ordeniary people. http
When these expeditions went to explore and discover the Poles in the name of science they had very basic equipment and clothing. Most of the clothing was made of heavy wool not like today where we have fabric as light as a feather that can stop freezing arctic winds, the miracle of goretex and fleece waterproof and windproofing. No air lifting out if things went wrong or food drops if you were hungry. They were away for years with no contact with home or the outside world. The strength and determination shown by these early explorers it truly inspiring and fascinating.