Next morning, the sky didn't look that promising anymore.
But, by the time we were ready to go, it was sunny again and remained so for the whole day.
So here's a bunch of good weather dogsledding images.
The long traveling day was made slightly longer due to the fact that one trail over a mountain pass was not usable and we needed to go around the mountain. It was probably at the place shown below where we took the blue path, but probably planned to take the red one (which seems to be the lowest pass through the mountain) or the orange one (which seems to be the shortest).
As far as I recall, the picture below shows the stop on the trail where Kenneth looked for the trail over the mountains seen on the left side.
But as no path over the pass was visible, we went around and crossed the foothills at the right end of the mountain.
In any case, the scenery along the way was impressive.
And the conditions for the dogs were good as well - a thin layer of fairly fresh snow over a firm surface - they can run nearly forever under these conditions, even though it was a bit warm for them.
It was a good thing that it was a perfect surface for running, since the sleds were quite heavy. In addition to the weight of the sled, my weight, the weight of my personal gear on the sled and the weight of the equipment on my sled (dog coats, shovels, coolbox, dog bowls...), I now also had 60kg of meat and 15kg on kibbles on the sled. (The rough guideline is that you need to have about a kilogram of food per dog per day. You bring a bit more, partly to be on the safe side and partly since that allows you to adjust the meat/kibble ratio when needed, but it gives a useful estimate value. You usually also don't retain leftover meat, so when you have 35 dogs with you, you will feed them four ten kilogram slabs of meat for the day, not 35 kg.)
Fortunately, it's a load that gets lighter during the trip. And it is also an easy way to adjust sled speeds without changing dog teams - you feed from the slowest sled first.
When riding over plains or lakes, we sometimes crouched behind the sleds to reduce wind drag. So if the sled driver seems to be missing in some of the pictures, it usually means that someone is crouching behind the sled bag.
I am not quite sure how much of an effect this actually has.
As the wind resistance increases with the square of the wind speed, it might have some effect in a storm, but even then, it probably will not reduce drag a lot. But at least it gets you out of the wind so it's a better place to be when it is stormy.
According to an article I found, the wind drag for a standing person at 18 km/h winds equivalent would be about 0.5 kilogram, which the dogs are not likely to notice at all. (Well, actually it means a drag force of 4.5 Newton, which does not directly translate into kilogram, since that would depend on the resistance of the sled runners on the snow and things like that, but it gives a rough estimate.)
It also matches experience. If you run down a road on a calm day, you never really feel the wind from your own motion. Even when on a bike, wind resistance is hardly noticeable. Only once you get onto a racing bike and go beyond 50 km/h or so, you start to notice the air resistance. (According to the article, at about 70 km/h you have a drag of about 68 N, so it feels like bike seems about 7 kg heavier, which also seems about right.)
A more useful measurement than 'added virtual weight' (as the correlation between that and the drag force is tenuous at best) seems to be the 'effective hill slope', which is, for example, a third of a degree at 18 km/h winds and hardly noticeable, while at 70 km/h winds it would be about 5 degrees of slope, which would be quite noticeable. (Although all these values are for the full body. As crouching behind the sled only removes the upper body from the wind, the real effect is even less.)
But in any case crouching down from time to time gives you the chance of a bit of a posture change, which is always welcome when you stand on the sled for seven hours or more. Sometimes you also lean forward on the sledhandle, which gives a bit of a 'gladiator on a chariot' look.
As it was a long day tip, we had two rest stops on the way to Miekak.
At some point on the way we crossed the Polar Circle, so we were now properly sledding in the Artic.
There wasn't any marker on the trail to take a picture of, so instead here's just an image of me looking smug.
We got to Miekak around 5 pm and put the dogs on an empty spot behind the camp. There was a bit of a hill over to one side, but the space was still open to the wind and we had no straw or hay to put on the snow, so it was the first time on the trip to get out the dog coats.
Miekak is a somewhat strange place.
Miekak is possibly the remotest 'holiday village site' in mainland Europe. It's 45 km from the nearest road, so guests, who come mostly for fishing and hunting, usually fly in by helicopter. And in their standard package, every cabin includes the use of a boat in summer or a snowmobile in winter (they are usually closed in spring and autumn).
So spending a vacation there isn't cheap. They also have a conference room there, so companies can hold very secluded meetings.
So you would expect at least a modest amount of comfort, but there's no electricity in the cabins and only a central toilet building (which is also a bit uphill and on a path that has a rocky ledge on the lower side, so you better make sure you have the headlamp with you if you go there at night), so while the costs are more like a hotel stay, the feeling is more like being on a camping site, except for the tents being wooden buildings.
Especially the 'no electricity' thing is a bit strange. I can understand that people might like to go 'back to basics' and spend their time in the cabins without, but few people will want to hold a conference without laptops and projectors. (As there is no phone reception in the area, you are isolated from the rest of the world anyway, so no temptation to go online or get distracted by phone calls.)
And I'm pretty sure I've seen a portable power generator outside one of the cabins, so guests seem to provide their own solutions, which is probably the worst variant. If they had one generator for the whole camp, at least they could have an efficient one and put them somewhere in a hole in the rock or behind a hill, where it won't be noticed at the camp. But a dozen individual power generators standing outside the huts will likely spoil the 'wilderness' experience.
It's an ok place, but it can't quite decide whether it wants to be a low-profile access point to some good fishing places or a fashionable retreat for CEOs and is stuck in the middle.
So it is a rather expensive way to live a simple life. Which is something I might be slightly more condescending about if hadn't visited it while being on a dogsledding trip, which, admittedly, is also a rather expensive way to travel in a primitive way.
(As a rough indication - I just looked at the 'special offer' page of ab airline: For the cost of dogsledding the 90 kilometers from Jäkkvik to Miekak, I could have booked a return flight from Berlin to Los Angeles. Granted, there wouldn't be only two people on the trip, the company owners would be unlikely to accompany, the food would not be as good as on the dogsledding trip and it wouldn't be as much fun. )
It had been snowing a bit during the night.
But by the time we were out on the trail it was all nice and sunny as again.
And the scenery was, again, amazing.
We started the day on a number of lakes, so we had easy flat trails and good views of the mountains all around us, combined with easy sledding and some time to relax, look around and enjoy the view.
When on forest or mountain trails somewhere, the sleds travelled usually close to each other, often with a dog's length distance, but on open areas, such as lakes, we let the dogs go at their own speed and avoided braking.
At that morning, I had by far the slowest sled and everyone else was about a kilometer ahead of me, so for a while I could pretend that it was only me and the dogs out on our own in the wilderness. (Until going around the next corner, of course, where everyone had stopped to wait for me.)
Due to the scenery, the good weather and worries about how many more days the camera batteries will hold (because in the cold, temperature has more effect on battery depletion than the numbers of pictures taken), I took by far more pictures that day than on any other day of the trip, so here are some more pictures of running dogs.
We also spotted a couple of reindeer on the way. The dogs took note that they were there, but didn't try to do anything about it. There's always a small risk that some hunting instinct takes over and the team decides to ignore the trail and head for the reindeer instead. In that case it is necessary to stop and anchor the sled immediately. But, to encourage the dogs to just ignore the distraction, as long as they are going the right direction, you try not to slow down or stop, to avoid giving them any ideas. So while you reach for the camera to take a couple of quick snapshots, you also stay alert to any changes in the dog behaviour and get ready to stop and throw the anchor.
Put while the dogs clearly noticed the presence of the reindeer, most of them had an "Yeah, reindeer. So what? We've seen them before." reaction. Only Prana kept looking at the reindeer and me (to anthropomorphize the behaviour) as if to say "Hey driver, there are reindeer over there. Did you notice them? Want to do something about it? Fine if you don't, just want to make sure you know that they are there." So she kept looking, but she also kept running in line, so everything was fine.
Once we got into the mountain, our luck with the good weather started to change.
While there were still patches of blue skies, clouds were coming in and obstructing the view of any scenery that wasn't nearby,
What we could see from the trail still looked impressive, but, especially when the clouds moved and allowed a quick view, there was always the feeling that there would be even more impressive scenery out of view
But at least we had some sun during our lunch break.
When we came down from the mountain, we passed a 'Polcirkel' sign, allowing us a "Crossing the Arctic Circle" photo opportunity, even though we were still about 25 km north of the actual Arctic Circle, we wouldn't cross it on our way south until the next day, and the sign was for a campsite with that name and not for the Arctic Circle itself. But at least it was pointing in right direction.
There was one possibly tricky bit (which Kenneth had briefed us about in the morning) coming up, the crossing of road 95. It is a road that connects Norway and Sweden (with the next roads being 100km south and 200 km north) and sometimes there is a lot of heavy traffic on it. We had crossed it in Jäkkvik when heading north, but did this by going under a bridge.
There's also no convenient trail going toward it. Usually snowmobile trails go towards a street at a right angle, so dog sleds can drive up to the street on the trail, take a good look down the street and then cross.
But the snowmobile trail here did not cross the street directly. There is a large parking lot, at the border to Norway and many snowmobile riders park their cars and trailers there, unload the snowmobile from the trailer and start their trip. So the snowmobile track goes to the parking lot, not to the street.
Fine for snowmobilers (and when they want to go to the other side of the road, they either park their trailers on the parking lot there or drive across the road from the parking lot), but problematic for dog sleds. It is essential that you can safely stop before crossing the road. But on a paved parking lot, there's no way to stop or hold the sled, which is not a good thing. (Also, you don't know in advance how empty or full the parking lot is, and you don't want to drive a dog sled through closely parked cars. It's bad enough hitting a snowdrift or tree when trying to go around a corner, but it would be worse hitting a couple of (even stationary) cars on the way.
What we did in the end was to ride the snowmobile track running parallel to the road and when there was no traffic, Kenneth turned off the track and across the street.
There wasn't any trail towards the street and none on the other side, so it was a bit interesting. As you can't brake once you are on the street (you use the drag mat), you are heading towards the other side at some speed without knowing whether there'll be a ditch, rock or other obstacle.
But everything went well and we got to the other side of the road without any issues and were soon were on the southbound snowmobile trail.
We still had 12 kilometers to go until we reached the next hut at Lomtjärnstugan, but didn't stay on the snowmobile track (which went past the hut) all the way.
The trail was laid out to give snowmobilers a nice view, but for dog sled it meant a detour and also some needless uphill running, so Kenneth left the trail and we went 'off-piste' instead. We didn't quite go via Norway, but at the closest point we were about 300 meters from the border.
While the weather did change quite a bit in that hour (as is evident from the images above), it was sunny when we arrived at the hut. (Although Kenneth took a look at the clouds over the mountains and mentioned "These look like storm clouds to me.")
The location was great and I think it was the first time that I was sitting on an outdoor loo and watch reindeer from there (though I don't have any pictures of them, as I didn't take a camera with me when going to the toilet), but we weren't done for the day.
With the wind getting noticeable already and more wind likely to come, the dogs were in an open, unprotected place and it was better to move them to a place a bit below the hut, were the terrain was a bit less flat, were there were some trees for wind cover and the slope towards the hut would provide some protection as well.
But the dogs were already outside their harnesses and on their nightline.
But moving them one by one to the new place would take a long time and getting them into harness and hitched to the sleds would take a long time as well.
So we untied the front end of the nightlines and let them pull the sled slowly using their collars. (Which is not really a good thing, but can be done for short distances when paying close attention to the dogs.)
I also ended up as a bit of a cheerleader for Catte's dogs, since her team was the last to move and, as we didn't move as a group, they didn't have a team to follow and might have gone along the snowmobile trail instead of going to the other side of the hut, so I stood at the crest of the hill, enthusiastically shouting "Rohan!" until the team was pointed in my direction. (And then jumping out of the way, when they it was running up to me. The team made it easily to the other side of the hill, but whether my yelling had any real effect on it is questionable.)
But even after the dogs were moved and the nightlines were anchored at the new place, job wasn't done.
As the dogs were still not that well protected from the wind, Kenneth started to build a snow wall next to them. (I also had a bit of an impression that he wasn't too happy with the snow wall he built at Bäverholmen, where the snow had the wrong consistency and the wall was mostly irregular lumps of snow. Here the snow was better, so he was able to carve proper 'igloo style' blocks out of the snow.)
As there was no straw or hay available, it was time for getting the dog coats out again. A lot of them were still wet, so we took the coats from the 'extra coats' bag and selected the driest coats from the used ones. As this meant that many dogs didn't get 'their' coats, this took some checking which dog needed what coat size.
And then the dogs also needed to be fed.
So by the time everything was done and we went back to the hut, it had gotten quite late.
Next morning I was wondering how Catniss managed to get that much fur on the snow wall behind her (especially as she had been wearing a coat as well). It remained an unsolved mystery.
The hut was at some distance from where the dogs were located, but by the dogs behaviour it was still very obvious when Kenneth stepped out of the hut.
Our destination for the day was Laislodge, where we had been staying the previous year as well. From here on we would be back to familiar places. (But not yet to familiar trails - last year we stopped at Laislodge on the way from Ältsvattnet to Bäverholmen, while this year it would be the stop between Lomtjärnstugan and Tärna Lake.) So time to roll out the ganglines for the sleds, get the dogs into the harnesses and ready to go.
It turned out that Kenneth was right with his weather forecast.
The sunny days were over and we were back to overcast skies. Plus a lot of wind and snow.
While it looks unpleasant on pictures, it was surprisingly enjoyable to do.
Most of the trail was on a mountain plateau, so it was easy going - no trees or corners to worry about, just an occasional patch of deep snow and the need to pay attention to possible built-up of snow under the sled.
And while it was a bit windy, it wasn't that cold, so it was sufficient to cover the face a bit, but no need to worry about small areas of exposed skin.
Travelling in whiteout conditions is quite serene - there's nothing to see, no real sensation of getting anywhere, so it feels a bit outside of time and space - only you and nothing else.
All very meditative, contemplative and Zen, unless you're me and listen to random songs from the MP3 player for most of the way, which spoils the introspective vibe, but is more fun.
In any case, it is best not to get too absentminded. Sometimes there are things that require your full concentration, like the bit where we went down some steep hillside with fresh snow. Braking didn't have much effect on the deep snow (it only builts up snow under the sled, making it even less controllable), so the best way is to slide down the hill, and try to stay on the sled, not to run the sled into the dogs (ideally dragging your foot behind the sled instead of hitting the brake) and not tumble down the slope.
It's one of the things that feel really fun when you've done it, but not so much while you are actually doing it. And, especially in whiteout conditions, it's important that you are alert and see the sleds before you suddenly dropping out of sight (and the frantic hand signs to slow down) instead of unexpectedly finding yourself more downhill sledding than dogsledding.
I wasn't sufficiently alert when we arrived at the hut.
I thought I knew what to expect, since we had been there before, but we arrived from another direction and due to the snow, my sunglasses were a bit fogged and snow covered, and I while did see the other dog teams vanishing behind a precipice, I didn't see how abruptly they went, so it came as a surprise to me when my dogs suddenly fell out of view and my sled dropped down as well. I heard someone shouting something, but I was only aware that the sled was somehow falling and instinctively tried not to be on it when it hit the ground, so I jumped to the side and lost the sled.
It did only go a couple of meters, since we were right next to the hut and everyone had stopped their sleds, so the way was blocked for the dogs, but Kenneth looked at me with a slightly exasperated expression and said "I did say: Don't let go!".
Looking back at the trail it wasn't much of the drop, neither particularly steep or high, but it had taken me completely by surprise and I lost the sled where I shouldn't have, even though it didn't have any real consequences.
As usual, once they were on their nightline, the dogs curled up to rest.
The path between the lodge (to the right) and the toilet and wood store building (to the left) has ridges on both sides (and behind it), it is well protected from the wind. But it was still necessary to put coats on the dogs for the night (no straw available).
We had hung up the wet coats to dry overnight at Lomtjärnstugan, so we had a reasonable amount of dry coats. There weren't quite enough coats to make two complete sets and have one on the dogs while the other one was drying, but there were enough that we could give them coats that were, at best, slightly damp and never needed to use wet ones.
Those were hung out to dry in the hut.
The dog coats weren't the only thing that provided the huts with dog smells.
There were four 'indoor dogs', who were allowed to spend the night indoors when it was not explicitly forbidden (as in Jäkkvik). In some cases, it was due to the age of the dog, causing the fur to be no longer as dense as it was, or some other health issue, like having scar tissue on the belly and leg where no fur was growing. (I am not quite sure about Idun, who was also sleeping inside, but it is Kenneth's primary lead dog, so it may have more to do with giving the dog a privileged role in the eye of the other dogs than any health reason.)
And the dogs were very careful in not abusing the opportunity to be inside.
There was a dedicated dog blanket that was put on the floor and that was the only place the dogs were allowed to be. And, in general, the dogs were precise on not even moving a paw outside the blanket area, like kids playing "the floor is lava".
So it was a big surprise when I came into the hut and did see only three dogs lying on the blanket. For a moment I was concerned that one of the dogs might have slipped out of the door without me noticing it (which would have been unlikely) or something like that.
Only when I looked at my bunk bed, I did spot Oboy, who quite comfortably seemed to assume that it should be his bunk bed.
Even more surprising, Oboy didn't seem to think there would be anything wrong about it and didn't move away when Catte or Kenneth entered. (Of course, Oboy moved back to the blanket immediately after Kenneth told him off, but the unexpected thing was that the dog did react like given any other command and not like being caught at something he shouldn't be doing. Catte mentioned that they didn't raise Oboy and they got him as a grown dog, so they didn't know his complete background and it seems that he might have been allowed to sleep on the bed once, but as he didn't do anything like that before, it was still odd. No idea what it was about that bed that made it look 'allowed'.)
Next morning the dogs (indoor and outdoor) were well rested again, although, as usual, lead dogs a bit more enthusiastic than wheel dogs.
I, on the other hand, started to look a bit scruffy by now.
The first half of the day was similar to the previous day. We were still on the mountains, so no trees dotting the landscape, it was still windy, it was still overcast and it still snowed from time to time. More whiteout dogsledding.
We had our lunchbreak at outside Dalovardo hut, where we had been staying the previous year.
But as we were intentionally doing longer daily distances this year, the trail from Dalovardo to Tärna Lake, which was a day trip (although the second shortest one) of 27 km in 2016, was now just the second half of the day, which in total covered more than twice the distance (65 km).
And part of the things to come was the 'Valley of Death'.
Which sounds a bit more dramatic than it is, but 'Hillside of Sliding" hasn't got quite the same ring to it.
It's about two kilometers of trail that goes along the side of the mountain. The trick bit is that the trail not horizontal, but slopes to the side with the mountain, so the sled always tries to slide downhill sideward. So you have to stand on the upper runner of the sled and lean as far as possible uphill to keep the sled on the trail.
Depending on the snow conditions that is somewhere between easy and impossible.
We didn't have any significant problems when we went the same trail the previous year, as we had deep and wet snow, but there were other tours that encountered an icy surface where the sled, well, sled off to the downhill side.
This year, the trail was 'mostly harmless'.
I did fall off the sled once, but managed to throw it upright again and climb back onto it and go on. Although memories are selective. I recalled that I was taking a calculated risk when getting back to the sled and it worked. The sled had tipped to the downward side and I wasn't sure that I could properly put down the snowhook and get going again. (The proper way is to anchor the sled, get it upright, stand on the sled, step on the brake, pull out the anchor and get going again.) But I would have needed to put the anchor downhill of the sled into deep snow, so I was neither sure whether it would hold, nor whether I would be able to reach it once the sled was upright, so I stood next to the sled, pulled it upright again and hoped I would be able to jump on runner. (Which is usually a good way to lose the sled, since the dogs start pulling the moment the sled is on one runner and at that point, you are not yet on the sled and also can't use the brake. So there is a good chance that the dogs pull the sled right out of your hand and a 50-50 chance that the sled will land on its runners instead of falling over again, in which case there is little to do than waving your fast receding sled goodbye.)
But in this case it worked out well. I was back on the sled and didn't have any more problems in the 'Valley of Death'. So I only recalled the getting back on the sled. But Catte, who was riding behind me, later mentioned that the 'getting off the sled' was much more impressive and I had some 'airtime'. Since I was standing on the uphill runner when the sled tipped, it acted like a catapult and I did fly a short distance through the air before hitting the snow and rolling twice before stopping. Something that I didn't recall at all. I wasn't even aware that I had let go of the sled when it was falling over. Seems like I was so focussed on getting back on the sled and how to do that, I completely forgot the fall itself.
As I knew I wouldn't have the time (or free hands) to take a picture of the "Valley of Death", so I originally wanted to put a video camera on the sled this time to get a couple of pictures out of it, but it had been four days since the camera had been charged and the batteries where dead. So at least it turned out to be the "Valley of Battery Death".
In any case, once down from the mountains, the terrain was flat and easy and the last six kilometers were on Tärna Lake, so there was an hour of standing on the sled and relaxing.
You get accustomed to the sounds the dog team behind you makes and generally tune it out (if you're not having the earplugs in and listening to music anyway, which I wasn't at that point), but it feels strange when you suddenly hear a dog panting below you.
When I looked down, I did see this poking out between my legs.
Bending down and looking back between my legs, the view was this...
While we were encouraged to pass other sleds when our dogs were going faster, on the assumption that it's better (within limits) to let the dogs run at the pace they prefer and not slow them down needlessly, only to keep the order of the sleds constant. And the dogs were well trained to pass each other without causing problems.
But somehow Pippin didn't quite get the idea of passing the sled on the side and tried to pass through my legs instead. Or he wanted a nice portrait picture without Zink being in it, i.e. unlike these:
From the lunch break at Dalovardo hut, we were following the travel plan from the previous year, so the next stop was the lodge at Tärna lake.
Kenneth had a stack of straw stored at Tärna lodge, so we didn't need to take out the coats and could provide the dogs with straw 'nests' again.
As with all places where we put out straw, we needed to rake it together and move it aside, leaving the place as clean as possible.
Next morning, the travel conditions this year were a lot better than last year.
Back then, it was warm and the weather report predicted storm and rain. We decided to sit out most of the bad weather and had a very late start (around 3:15 pm), and while the weather subsequently was fine, the surface of the lake was slushy at best, but in most places there were a couple of centimeters of water on top of the ice. And snowmobilers coming our way informed us that it would be worse on the next lake. At that point we decided to head across the hills for the road, end the tour a day early, put the dogs and sleds on a trailer and drive back to the kennel.
This year, we still had overcast skies and everything looked grey, but the wind had abated and most of the time it wasn't snowing anymore, but the main thing was that the trails on the lakes were covered with snow and not with slush or water. So, once again, there wasn't any impressive scenery, but the dogsledding was good.
I hadn't recognized much of the trails we had been on the previous year (or even the ones we were on earlier on this trip - the next day we went back the same trail that we had been heading out ten days earlier and I didn't recognize any of it), so I wasn't sure whether I would recall one specific bit of this one.
But I immediately remembered this one.
This time we were coming down the slope, but in the previous year we had been going up the slope and my sled got too far to the left, sled down the slope and I fell into the pond below. So I did was soaking wet all the rest of the way to Tärna Lake Lodge.
This time I didn't fall in (probably more due to coming from the other side than due to anything else - I'd likely still have problems going up the slope), but it was a place I instantly recognized.
In this direction, the trail was in general easy to drive. Except for a few places the snowmobile track was wide and provided ample room between the trails and the trees.
And, as on the previous day, the last few kilometers (about twelve this time) were on a lake, so it was easy going and time to stand on the sled, listen to music and enjoy the ride.
It took some time until Viktoriakyrkan came back into view, which would normally be visible from about six kilometers away, but visibility decreased during the day and ultimately we were about a kilometer away when I spotted it.
And about ten minutes later the dogs were in their comfortable dog houses again.
And we were soon in our comfortable cabin as well, for the last night 'out on the trail'.
Although there was a bit of excitement around dusk, due to this view.
No, not the stick. That only marked the waterhole.
There were some birds on the ice (geese, I think) that should not normally be there at this time of year, but normally arrive a month later or so.
Probably interesting to bird enthusiasts, but somehow I couldn't get as excited about it as Kenneth.
Next day it was the last day of dogsledding and time to go back to the kennel.
In the morning it looked like we might have slightly better weather than on the preceding days, at least there was a bit of sunshine.
And there were some sunny bits that day.
Not a lot and most of the way it was still overcast, but at least enough sun to wear a t-shirt for a while.
Though, admittedly, for barely an hour. It got quite chilly when the sun was hidden behind a cloud, so I went back to my usual leather jacket, as, for a lot of the time, the weather looked again like this.
At some points the weather seemed a bit mean. While we were dog sledding under cloud cover, the mountains were almost sparkling in the bright sunlight. The mountains looked much more attractive than at the time we were on them.
And then we were almost on the home stretch - the last bit of forest trail.
It seemed a lot more exciting (and harder) than I remembered, but I had never done it in this direction.
Going out from the dog yard towards Viktoriakyrkan it was an unremarkable bit of trail (and we didn't go back along this trail the previous year, since we ended the tour a day early), but that was because it is uphill and slow going.
Downhill it is a bit steeper and curvier than I expected and we seemed to be going a lot faster as well. (Usually we travelled close to each other on forest trails with Kenneth setting the pace. Here Kenneth and Catte were pulling much farther ahead - farther than on the two pictures above, but when they did, I didn't dare to reach for the camera - presumably assuming that we had enough experience by now that we would be able to cope.)
So this meant paying close attention to the trail and quickly switching between standing on the left and right runners to be on the proper side for the corners.
But we me all made it down to the lake without any problems, although I am not quite sure whether this was due to the skills honed by ten days of being on the sled and covering 500+ kilometers of trail or pure luck.
At least the road crossing, I contribute to pure luck. There was one final road to cross before getting to the lake. There's usually not much traffic there, so crossing is usually easy. Bit due to the snow conditions, we had our drag mats pulled up. And you can't use the brake on roads. So you more or less automatically step on the drag mat, to slow the sled down a bit, so you don't run into the dip on the other side of the road at full speed. But if you try to step an the drag mat and it isn't there, you stand on the road and the dogs pull the sled away from you. Everyone made it across the road without problems, but I don't think anyone was really still aware that the drag mat was up before trying to step on it.
Getting put of the forest and out onto the lake, there was also a log lying across the trail. It had still been covered with snow when we were heading out, but was now exposed. Which can cause problems when you try to use the brake there, since the sled will not slow down the way it does when you use the brake on snow, but abruptly stop. (Or drive the brake violently back up and hurt your foot.) Easy to avoid (just don't brake there), but I hadn't even noticed it was there, so I have to attribute that to a bit of luck as well...
But, be that as it may, we all made it to the lake without accidents.
The lake had become... interesting.
On the way out, it had been a thick layer of ice, covered by a thin layer of snow - ideal for dogsledding.
Now, ten days later, the snow had mostly gone, but there must have been a layer of water on the lake, which had frozen over again, so there was the thick ice of the lake, a small (maybe a centimeter or two) layer of slush, snow or air and an ice sheet, about half a centimeter thick, above it.
So when the dogs ran across it, it was like running over a gigantic sheet of glass, shattering it with every step and leaving sharp ice shards behind.
It was probably worst for the dogs in my team, since we were the last in line, so they had to run over all the ice shards the other teams had created. But the paws of the dogs were quite thick and resilient and I didn't notice any cuts later.
At that point I was glad that I was wearing my leather jacket again and not wearing just a t-shirt. We were going fairly fast across the lake (as there wasn't much friction of the sled on the ice, the sleds were light again, as all the dog food had been eaten and the brake isn't really that effective on ice) and if there had been any problems, I wouldn't have fancied being pulled behind a capsized sled over broken ice with bare skin exposed. Nothing like that happened, but I felt better anyway.
Once across the lake, it took only another minute or two to get back into the dog yard.
The trip was over.
Time for the dogs to relax a bit before getting back into their individual kennels.
Time also for us to lose the scruffy, out-on-the-trail look.
And go back to our 'kennel'.
There had been one thing that I noticed during the trip - the interior of a cabin feels more appropriate if there's a dog lying next to the fireplace. So I asked whether I could take a dog with me to the cabin. So we got a sheepskin rug and Oboy to lie on it, which seemed right.
There was one more lesson to be learned the next morning. Sled dogs don't really "go walkies"
As planned, the next day was for relaxing, maintenance and hanging out with the dogs. So after breakfast, we walked the 500 meters or so from the cabin to the kennel, having Oboy on a leash. Now, normally, you would expect a dog either walk beside you or look around, trying to look at (for dog) interesting places besides the trail.
But Oboy is a professional sled dog. What he does is pulling forward along the trail as strongly as he can. He's bred and trained to do that. So instead of a relaxing morning walk, I had to spend a bit of effort to hang onto the leash and keep Oboy from pulling me off my feet...
Then it was time to clean out the sleds, check the runners and put them up to dry (the large sled on the right is the one that Kenneth uses).
Feeding the dogs in their kennels is a bit different from being out on the trail.
Out there, all the bowls get filled and then distributed to the dogs as quickly as possible.
In the dog yard, it's a bit like "meals on wheels", except that it's on runners.
Water with meat in it and kibble are loaded on the sled and get distributed in well measured portions to the dogs, who have their individual 'feeding stations' (i.e. bowls) at their kennels.
Next day around noon it was time to get back to Hemavan airport and fly back south.
But there was one more thing to do in the morning...
We had been to the "local supermarket" (well, the shop at the petrol station 10 km away; the next proper supermarket is 40km away...) and as a "thank you" for the dogs, I bought dried pig's ears for all the dogs.
Kenneth decided to distribute them as an "ear shower", throwing them out to the dogs quickly.
Which is amazing to watch, as the dogs are incredibly well trained.
The dogs are, of course, excited and paying close attention (they're playing close attention to anything that Kenneth does anyway, but especially if there is anything unusual going on).
But there's no barking and no aggression between the dogs.
There is a bit of a competition who manages to snatch a flying ear first, but once a dog has it, the competition is over and there's no fighting over it or trying to snatch it away (at least as long as the dogs pays attention to it - if a dogs looks up to see whether there might be another ear flying its way, the one on the ground in front of it seems to be fair game again and is quickly grabbed by another dog).
Essentially, the dogs just trust that Kenneth (who looks a bit like a DJ behind his mixing desk throwing goodies to his devoted fans) makes sure that food is distributed fairly and that they will get their own dried pig's ear without having to push and shove, rush forward, or compete with the other dogs.
And in the end, all the dogs were happily chewing on their dried pig ears. (Which made me happy as well - it would have been frustrating to give the dogs a "thank you" for all the hard work they have been doing, only to find out that they didn't like pig's ears.)
Almost time to go - but enough time to go for one last "selfie with a dog". Which is always a bit tricky.
What you want is something like this:
But, of course, the camera means nothing to the dog.
What it notices is that you're sitting right next to the dog and not paying attention to it, so the dog makes sure that you know it's still there by pushing its nose into your face (or licking your face), making the picture look odd.
And, of course, there's always a nosy dog or two, trying to see what is going on...
And then it was really time to go to the airport.
So here's a summary of all the data from the trip.
|Day||Date||From||To||Start||End||TotalTime||Pause||Moving Time||Distance||Avg.||Mov.Avg.||Min Alt||Max Alt||Total Ascent||Total Descent|
In ten days, we have been travelling more than 570 km on dog sleds, with, on average, more than five hours sledding per day.
What is almost as impressing as the horizontal distance is the vertical distance. It's always a bit tricky to calculate the total ascent (the sum of all the uphill bits) from a GPS track, as altitude information is usually the least reliable data available and it strongly depends how much you smooth the data set. My GPS has altitude fluctuations of about half a meter per second, so if you leave it lying on a fixed spot and calculate the altitude changes between all measurements, you will roughly get a 'total ascent' of 900 meters per hour.
So when I used various tools to calculate the 'total ascent' per day, I got (using day six for testing) a total ascent of 2149, 2159 or 1093 meters. For the table above, I used the tool that did the most smoothing, so that the ascent and descent sums were most likely from real elevation changes and not from measurement areas, so I want for the lowest value. (And matched what seemed plausible by looking at the altitude curve.)
So in the ten days we were travelling, we not only covered 57 km per day, but the dogs had to pull the sled almost 800 meters uphill as well. (Probably hardest on the dogs on day six, where all the sleds were fully loaded and they still needed them to pull more than a kilometer uphill.)
Here is the elevation graph for the whole trip - distance is in kilometers, altitude in meters.
And here is the GPS trail from the tour on a satellite map (and also here as a KML file to download into watch on Google Earth).
But my vacation wasn't quite finished yet.
Continue with the final part of the vacation in southern Sweden
Back to other travels