Great Adventure

Mush Ahead! Dog Sledding in Swedish Lapland

by Debbie Pappyn and David De Vleeschauwer
Sledding Into the horizon. All photos by David De Vleeschauwer.

The duo behind Classe Touriste, one of Fathom's 24 Best Travel Blogs and Websites of 2014, love seeking out adventures in the far reaches of our planet. They found winter fun north of the Arctic Circle with six huskies and a Viking expedition leader. Here we go for the ride via David's amazing pictures.

KANGOS, Swedish Lapland – Our expedition leader Johan Väisänen has the looks of a Viking with the vigor of Ben Hur. The latter also refers to the sled on which he skilfully balances while zipping through a cold, silent, white landscape. Johan is a modern charioteer, with six hyperkinetic husky dogs pulling a wooden sleigh. The dogs and their eight sledge drivers (bundled in extreme-weather gear) operate in the territory around Kangos, a Swedish village 150 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.

Kangos village is made up of a couple of streets and a handful of typical wooden houses where small lights are traditionally hung in front of the windows. It's a gesture of warmth in a wintery landscape where temperatures often plunge below -35 degrees Celsius. This secluded area consists of nothing but dense forest, clear rivers, and more than 150 lakes. During the winter months, everything morphs into an abstract, white entity. As far as the eye can see: a wilderness of snow sculptures that were once trees, icy plains made from frozen lakes, and quaint fishing huts that now serve as refuges to escape the -25 degrees nights.

Johan runs Pinetree Lodge with his family. It's an intimate hotel with its own husky kennel. Pinetree Lodge is cozy inside. Far too cozy. Outside everything creaks under the extreme freezing temperatures and staying inside, close to the fire, seems the only human activity that is acceptable here. They live far away from busy/touristy Lapland where most travelers go. (Lapland is amazing in itself — easy to reach from any city in Europe, yet in its own world.) During our weeklong stay, we are practically alone in a vast and very quiet area. The feeling of solitude up north is unmatched.

A few days later, our group leaves for a three-day husky expedition. Everyone hopes for clear skies and Northern Lights. Don't think you can go out in casual winter ski pants or a dress; we don special suits and giant boots as if we are preparing to walk on the moon. Thermal underwear is a man's best friend here, believe me. The only way to step outside and actually enjoy the majestic landscape is to be well-dressed and ready.

Fans of blue-eyed huskies should come here. Johan has his own kennel with more than a hundred dogs. They are well groomed, in top condition, and have three full-time caretakers working with them. Alaskan huskies are not really lazy, on the contrary, they are always jumping, barking, crying, fighting, pulling. Standing on a wooden sled, being pulled full-speed ahead by six huskies isn't a piece of cake. Balance and flexibility are important, and of course, being fit, because when it's time to go uphill, you need to help the dogs. If you don’t, they will look at you as if you are a big lazy bastard. To stand back casually on your sled is not an option.

We whiz past trees, under low-hanging branches covered in snow, through endless, shimmering plains where going off-track means disappearing into deep, soft snow. Johan demonstrates his Viking skills and pops out his Sami knife to build a smoldering campfire for lunch. Reindeer skins serve as a bench in the snow; a pot of hearty soup hangs on a branch above the open fire.

We arrive at the wilderness cabin shortly after sunset, and are dying to get inside and warm up. But before we can escape indoors, the dogs have to be fed and put to bed in a nest of hay to protect them against deadly cold nights. And the nights are long and dark in Lapland. In case of frostbite, there is always the sauna to heat up again. Or the bottle of Aqua Vit or Jenever that one of our fellow guests was clever enough to pack. Life can be simple in the high north.

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