Dogsledding and odd hotel rooms in Sweden, March 2014

The updated weather report for the next couple of days looked promising.

When we left Ekorrsele, the forecast for the first three days was quite accurate, but after that it predicted near continuous cloud cover.

But now the prediction was cloudy with some sunshine for the current day, a bit overcast on the day after and then nice and sunny for the rest of the week.

And, conveniently for us, this forecast was pretty accurate.

So we started the day with clouds and sunshine.

Clouds and sunshine

On that Saturday we had the latest start of the whole tour.

That had nothing to do with sleeping late or any kind of problems, but because the shop only opened at 10 am and would likely be closed by the time we were back and I wanted to do some shopping (more about that later).

But shortly after 10 am we were on our way.

Leaving the hostel

We left a couple of dogs behind. Sitka was not going on the day trips anyway and we had one other dog (I think it was Hainai) who seemed to have some leg problems (oddly enough, she didn't show any problems during the trip so far, it seemed more like something happened during the rest day).

So they got another day of rest and the idea was to take them on the second day trip and decide whether they could run the way back or whether they would be transported home by car. (Though, as far as I recall, we didn't run either of them on the second day trip. To err on the side of safety, both of them were sent home.)

On the other hand, whatever had been troubling Nulli had gone and she was running both day trips (and the return trip) without any problems.

Ammarnäs is located in the Vindelfjällen nature reserve and a popular weekend destination for cross-country skiers, mushers, snowmobilers, snowshoers and (though not so much in winter) hikers. That basically means that there are about twenty visitors around, so it's not really crowded.

But even so, we only followed the 'shared' trails north for a couple of kilometers before escaping the busy traffic of, well, maybe five or six snowmobiles, and turning into a 'no-snowmobile trail'.

No snomobiles here

Plenty of options where to go...

Where shall we go now

Quite a lot of impressive scenery in that part of the nature reserve.

Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Vindelfjaellen nature reserve
Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Vindelfjaellen nature reserve

And some more good and relaxed dogsledding (easy as well, as the sled was pretty much empty) and the "cloudy with bits of sunshine" turned out to mean 'mostly sunny', so no long explanations here, just some pictures...

(Also, I am starting to run out of variations of writing "Another day of dogsledding without any problems and hence nothing to write about except that it was fun being out there with the dogs.")

Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve
Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve
Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve
Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve
Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve Dogsledding in Vindelfjaellen nature reserve

And as we weren't in a hurry, we also had a couple of stops, just to enjoy the day, pet the dogs, give them snacks and tell them that they were doing well.

Enjoying a break with the dogs Enjoying a break with the dogs Enjoying a break with the dogs
Enjoying a break with the dogs Enjoying a break with the dogs

I was still being quite careful and keeping a hand on Nulli's shoulder to avoid being headbutted...

Nulli having fun

But then it was time to turn around and head back. (And an impressive turn it was. I hadn't seen a group of dogs turn around on the trail just on command. Usually someone had to go to the lead dogs and lead them back. And people on the other sleds stood with their lead dogs to avoid any entanglements and interactions. Having the sled in front of me just turn and walk past my dogs was new to me.)

So it was back past the signpost...

Still a lot of options - but heading back

...and then back to the shared trails.

Back to snowmobile trails

All the trails were well maintained and there was a lot of trail grooming going on.

In fact, shortly after we were back on the big trail, we passed a snow grooming machine, so we went the rest of the way on a freshly prepared trail.

Freshly graded trail On freshly graded trails

Back at the hostel it was time for a special dog treat.

We were halfway through the trip, so I bought some pig's ears for the dogs. (Which was the reason why we started so 'late' that morning - I had seen them in the supermarket the previous day and asked Donald during dinner whether I could give them to the dogs. He said yes, they'd probably like them; so I went to the shop the next day to but some.)

You can get a lot of attention from the dogs when you're standing at your sled and unpack pig's ears...

Sled dogs and pig ears Sled dogs and pig ears Sled dogs and pig ears

And the dogs really liked the treat.

With expressions going from almost reverential...

Sled dogs and pig ears

...borderline maniac...

Sled dogs and pig ears quite possessive. ("This is mine! Don't even look at it!")

Sled dogs and pig ears

But all seemed happy.

Sled dogs and pig ears Sled dogs and pig ears Sled dogs and pig ears
Sled dogs and pig ears Sled dogs and pig ears Sled dogs and pig ears
Sled dogs and pig ears Sled dogs and pig ears Sled dogs and pig ears
Sled dogs and pig ears Sled dogs and pig ears

After the dog treats, it was time for some dog driver treats - sitting in the snow on a sunny day, leaning against some (covered) straw bales, a bottle of cider in one hand, a dog by the side is as good as it gets...

Lazy day

Zak (or Zek or Zack or something sounding like this) also paid a visit. Only three month old, Zak is already good at rolling and digging in the snow, although a bunch of eighteen sled dogs is met with a more careful approach...

Three month puppy

Next day we went on another day trip, this time heading westwards from Ammarnäs to the Stor-Tjulträsket and Lilla-Tjulträsket lakes.

The weather was fine for sledding, but as it was overcast, there aren't that many pictures from that day.

Dogsledding at Stor-tjultraesket Dogsledding at Stor-tjultraesket Dogsledding at Stor-tjultraesket Dogsledding at Stor-tjultraesket
Dogsledding at Stor-tjultraesket Dogsledding at Stor-tjultraesket Dogsledding at Stor-tjultraesket

The return procedure that evening was slightly different, which confused the dogs.

For the last three nights, the dogs had been out on an area on the other side of the hostel. But as another dog sledding tour with more dogs was coming in, 'our' dogs would need to stay on the 'lakeside' of the hostel. (Better views, but I doubt that the dogs cared about that.)

Usually the lead dogs of the tour guides are 'command leads', which means that they change direction on command.

But the dogs also aren't stupid, so when Donald tried to tell them to go 'haw' instead of straight on, they just stayed on the trail. After all, it was the trail and they 'knew' that their resting place for the night was straight ahead. So they didn't see the point of leaving the trail and going somewhere through the snow, especially as they could see that it was just a dead end.

And that's the behavior they should have. They're not remote control toys that just turn left because you press the corresponding button. The situation is more akin to sitting in a car and telling the driver to go left. In most cases the driver will not suddenly turn left and drive across the fields or into a house wall, but interpret 'left' as "go left on the next proper intersection". This is also what the lead dogs of the first team are supposed to do. Directional commands tell them which of two upcoming trails they are supposed to take. And not to blindly turn immediately.

[The lead dogs of the other dog teams usually just follow the team in front of it - they pretty much ignored my attempts to 'gee' and 'haw' them, even if they had no clue where to go. At two points, we were a bit behind, the lead team went around a corner and my lead dogs hadn't paid attention. They didn't see the team in front of them and they tried to move straight on, even though I told them to 'gee'.]

To convince the dogs that 'haw' in this case was indeed supposed to mean "turn left right here and leave the trail" he had to get off the sled and physically point his lead dogs in the right direction. (Twice - the first time they just went back to the trail the moment he had turned his back. Probably thinking the canine equivalent of "What an idiot. Can't he see that the trail is right in front of us?"

Turning off trail

But then they got the idea.

Turning off trail

Next day could have been tiresome - once again we had to do the longest leg of the trip (about 85 km) and this time the boring way around, starting (after the initial 5 km across the lake) with the more interesting forest trail (about 30 km) and then the 'dull' 50 kilometers along the river at the end.

But given the great weather, it was no chore at all. (Wouldn't be a chore in dull weather either, but still...)

None of the dogs (including Nulli) had any problems and it was a smooth ride. (Although I had a bit of a worry when I took a corner in the woods to fast and the end of the sled was hanging over a depression in the snow next to a tree, but the dogs pulled on and I was back to solid ground a moment later.)

And we did see (the same?) moose again.

Moose on the run Moose on the run

And while it is not easy to see due to the fur cap, putting in earphones and listening to music while dog sledding makes it even more fun and helps to pass the time.

Dog sledding with music

Otherwise it was more of the same fun stuff - sunny weather, nice scenery, relaxed breaks, easy going...

Dogsledding along a river Dogsledding along a river Dogsledding along a river Scenery and dog sled
Dogsledding along a river Snack break Snack break Nulli and Sokoke - good lead dogs
Sun and snow North Sweden Scenery Dog sledding is fun

In the late afternoon it got warm enough to pack the leather jacket and long underwear in the sled bag and dog sled in a t-shirt instead.

Dog sledding in a t-shirt Dog sledding in a t-shirt

After about seven hours on the sled (and one hour for snack breaks), we were back at the B&B.

Bed and breakfast place with dogs Bed and breakfast place with dogs

While we had placed straw on the ground when we were there on the way to Ammarnäs, we hadn't any left when we came back. It wasn't that relevant - the dog's don't need it, but at temperatures of -25°C (which we had five nights earlier) they appreciate it. But with temperatures barely below freezing, they could well do without.

But Blackfoot seemed to like his snowless spot next to the tree anyway.

Blackfoot in the dirt

And another dog even bothered to dig the snow to get some bare earth to lie on. Though that can't have been that comfortable, since there was a small tree stump right in the middle of it.\

Dog on dirt

Regarding the dogs: We were back to 'full teams' with ten dogs on Donald's team and eight on mine, as we had settled on 'Plan C' for dealing with Sitka and Hainai.

The original plan A was to find someone from the area of Lycksele who had bought a house in Ammarnäs and was up there to do some renovating over the weekend. Donald asked him whether he would be driving back home on Sunday and willing to take the two dogs with him. (Which he would have done.)

Plan B would have been to put the dogs on the bus. While there are no special bus connections for dogs in Sweden (the infrastructure is good, but not that good), there is a daily bus from Ammarnäs to Umeå vie Lycksele. And it would have been possible to ask one of the passengers to take keep an eye on the dogs until they were met in Lycksele.

But then Plan C came up. Donald's daughter had just passed her driving exam a week earlier. And when she heard about the problems with the dogs, she suggested that she could use some driving experience and drive up to Ammarnäs and fetch the dogs. Which had the extra advantage that she could bring in two 'replacement dogs'.

As a result of that (and a bit of shifting around in the teams), I was now running with Nulli and Sokoke as my lead dogs, Etha and Nina as swing dogs, but instead of having Sitka (who had gone home) and Tofslan (who moved to the other team), I now had Ruby and Tenino in third row, keeping Vega and Blackfoot as wheel dogs.

Ruby and Tenino had already run all the way up to Ammarnäs on the other team, so at the end of the trip, all the dogs that were on my sled had been running more than 500 kilometers. I haven't made any note about the 'new' dogs. I did note that the other team started with Dakota, Nitinat, Denali, Hainai, Ruby, Tenino, Sigyn, Luta, Kaima and Tettegouche, but I'm not quite sure what their positions in the team were and in which configuration the came back.

(As far as I recall, I also had Kaima and Tettegouche in my team for some of the time during the day trips, but I'm not sure on what of the trips and in what combination.)

Next day the temperature had dropped again a bit.

Perfect combination for dog sledding - nice and sunny with not too much wind, warm enough for not having to worry about temperature (and, as I just notice from the pictures, for not wearing gloves most of the time) and cold enough so the dogs wouldn't overheat (though they still did a lot of snow dipping and rolling in the snow during the stops). But not quite warm enough for t-shirts.

We did also see the trucks doing their rounds on the ice again.

And, not that far away, a modern 'igloo' in Sorsele, which serves as an event location for a local hotel. Some of the events are related to the 'ice truck driving incentives' where they project the truck company's logo onto the igloo at night.

Igloo in Sorsele Igloo in Sorsele

The next pictures should look familiar by now - snow, scenery, sleddogs and sunshine.

If the 'team order' looks different - after leading for six days, Nulli had lost a bit of focus and spent some time looking around and paying less attention than before (leading requires more concentration than just pulling), although Sokoke was still 'on the job'.

As all my dogs were 'trained to lead' (there were no specific 'lead' and 'non-lead' dogs) and as they just had to follow the sled in front of me anyway, I switched my dogs around.

At first I tried to put Ruby and Tenino in lead, but Ruby caused a lot of chaos. Not only was she easily distracted (which was not really an issue), she also did let the gangline hang loose, which caused a lot of problems for the swing dogs, as they ran the risk of stepping on the gangline or get entangled in it (which is an issue, since in the worst case a leg can be wrapped in the gangline and lead to serious injuries when the line gets pulled tight again - this is unlikely to happen, but it's better not to avoid the possibility).

So after a short run, I switched again and put Etha and Nina in lead, which worked quite well. And suddenly Nina ran in line with the other dogs...

This might need a short explanation. There's the old saying that "unless you are the lead dog, the view never changes". And that's a view that Nina doesn't seem to appreciate. So on the previous runs, Nina had usually been running far left of the team, essentially turning the 'two column' formation into a three column foundation - the dogs running on the left, the dogs running on the right and the 'Nina column' on the far left. (This picture might illustrate this...) But when she ran in lead, she didn't pull sideward at all, so she really just wants to see where she is going and isn't an inherent 'left puller'.

The final half kilometer to the summer fishing cabin were graded just for us (sort of the dogsledding equivalent of rolling out the carpet), as the graded section turned off the main trail and ended at the cabin.

Freshly prepared welcome trail

And a short while after we arrived, someone even drove by with a snowmobile and brought a freshly charged battery for the cabin lights.

We prepared the nightlines for the last outdoor night for the dogs on this trip and got some fresh water from the river.

Dogs on night line Dog relaxing Dog relaxing
Dog relaxing Dog relaxing Getting water for the dogs

Little more to do that evening than to feed the dogs, turn the sleds around so they would point in the right direction the next morning (as we needed to go back on the main trail first) and sit down at the veranda, drink some coffee, (possibly write some postcards) and enjoy the last evening 'out there'. (And then go inside for some dinner.)

Turning the sled Sitting on the veranda

After a long night and an early rise, it was already time to start the last day of the trip.

Usually I don't like to get up early, but on this trip, I tended to wake rather early. On that last morning, I remember that I awoke at some time, decided I could sleep a bit longer, then turned in my sleeping and slept for another hour or so. And when I awoke, I noted that I had a real long and refreshing sleep and was ready to go - which on this trip probably meant that it was 6:30 am. (I was off by three minutes...)

But then, with arriving at the hut around 5 pm, even with having coffee, drilling for water, feeding the dogs and sitting around, taking out the cameras and looking at the pictures of the day, that still meant dinner at 7 pm latest, which left nothing else to do afterwards, so going to sleep at 8:30 pm meant that getting up at 6:30 in the morning still brought ten hours of sleep.

Anyway, well rested, we fed the dogs...

Slobbering dog

... and headed out one more time, with nice, sunny skies and (towards the end of the day) t-shirt weather again.

Sunny day dogsledding

There was one more difference regarding the handling of the sled, which I hadn't seen anywhere else before - pushing with a ski pole.

If the trail gets difficult due to deep snow or because it goes uphill, you're supposed to help the dogs by either 'pedaling' with one foot or jumping off the sled and running behind.

But an extra help can be to use a ski pole and use that for pushing the sled a bit, so we had a ski pole on our sleds to do that.

Helping with a ski pole

Although I didn't use it much for the intended purpose (I prefer to pedal or run), and clamped a camera to it for some 'overview' and 'beside the sled' pictures of the dog team.

Ski pole as camera holder Ski pole as camera holder

Such as these.

Dog sled and me Dog sled from side

Again, a good day for dogsledding.

Dog sledding in Sweden Dog sledding in Sweden Dog sledding in Sweden Dog sledding in Sweden Dog sledding in Sweden Dog sledding in Sweden Dog sledding in Sweden Dog sledding in Sweden Dog sledding in Sweden

With a couple of breaks in between, which the dogs seemed to like.

Dog during break Dog during break Dog during break Dog during break

Especially Vega liked a good belly rub.

Vega belly rub

Donald was posing with his dogs.

Donald and dogs Donald and dogs

The route on that last day differed in two places from the one we took on the first.

Back then, the trail through the forest hadn't been cleared and prepared and there was also a bit along the river that hadn't been checked, so we stayed 'out in the open' on the first bit and then detoured to a different lake later. Now both sections were open again, so we had a slightly shorter run on the last day.

But even though there had been a bit of snow while we were away, it was noticeable that the dog sledding season in these parts was essentially over.

Frozen overflow is not that much fun to ride (well, it's not much of a problem for the sled, but dogs can slip and fall while running and then it's hard to brake the sled on the ice - so it's more a point of risk avoidance than difficulty).

Frozern overflow Frozern overflow Frozern overflow

On one of the days (though not on the last) we had also a bit of slush (which looks pretty much like above, except that it is not frozen, but, well, slushy). And I was impressed that the dogs didn't react at all, but just ran through it. (Mostly dogs don't like running through slush and while they will do it anyway, they tend to at least hesitate a bit.) And when I commented about this behavior to the guide, he noted with a bit of weariness that the dogs had lots of opportunity to get used to slush this season.

The trail through the forest had still enough snow to run the sled on, but it was also obvious that springtime was approaching.

Forest trail Forest trail Trail along road Forest trail

Which was an appropriate end to the dog sledding trip.

After eight days on the sled, even the scenery gave a clear sign of 'it was fun, but you should stop now'.

So we put the dogs and the sleds back on the trailer and went back to Ekorrsele.

And thus ended the most comfortable dog sledding trip I've ever been on.

Here are some details about the trip:

During the trip we managed to cover about 517 kilometers (321 miles) on dog sled, being on the trail for nearly 47 hours (counting from starting to move from one camp to stopping at the next camp, so this includes short stops on the trail).

Our average speed was about 10.6 km/h (about 6.6 miles/hour), the dogs moving fairly constantly at 12 km/h (7.5 mile/hour).

The details for the individual days are:
From To Time moving Time resting Avg. speed Avg. moving speed Distance
Vormsele Krokforskojan Cabin 6:14 0:58 10.8 km/h 12.5 km/h 77.81 km
Krokforskojan Cabin Nedre Norra Örnäs B&B 5:16 1:09 9.7 km/h 11.8 km/h 62.23 km
Nedre Norra Örnäs B&B Ammarnäs 7:38 0:46 10.2 km/h 11.2 km/h 85.51 km
Ammarnäs Ammarnäs 3:29 0:29 9.8 km/h 11.1 km/h 38.69 km
Ammarnäs Ammarnäs 3:04 0:36 10.7 km/h 12.8 km/h 39.30 km
Ammarnäs Nedre Norra Örnäs B&B 6:52 0:22 11.7 km/h 12.3 km/h 84.69 km
Nedre Norra Örnäs B&B Krokforskojan Cabin 5:03 0:38 11.1 km/h 12.5 km/h 62.98 km
Krokforskojan Cabin Vormsele 5:32 0:35 10.7 km/h 11.8 km/h 65.34 km
  Total 1d 19h 8m 3:33 10.6 km/h 12.0 km/h 516.55 km

Here is the trail shown over a satellite image of the area (and a grayscale version, since it's easier to see the trail on that one).

Trail on sat image

Trail on grayscale sat image

For anyone who wants to see the trail interactively and in more detail, here's a version that works with Google Earth:
The route of the dogsledding part of the trip (as a Google Earth KML file) is here.

And while this ends the dogsledding part of the trip, I had a couple of days left in Sweden, so I did some other stuff as well.

Continue to the final part of the Sweden 2014 trip.

Back to other travels