Sweden Dogsledding, April 2016

I did like the dog sledding tour I did in Sweden in 2014 (which was fantastic) and it seemed a good idea (after the somewhat unhappy experience in Finland in 2015) to do a tour with the same operator again.

In 2014, we mainly went along the Vindel River to the Vindelfjällens Nature Reserve, then did two day trips in the nature reserve and headed back towards Lycksele.

I wouldn't have minded to do the same tour again, but another interesting option seemed to be to start a bit further upriver and spend more time in the Vindelfjällens Nature Reserve.

But it turned out that they were already fully booked for 2016, so they recommended to ask another company about possible tours.

Luckily, they still had open capacity for a tour at the end of the season. And since they are located in Umnäs, which is much closer to Vindelfjällens Nature Reserve, than Lycksele (the reserve pretty much starts on the other side of the lake they located are at), it also meant spending more time in that landscape than going along the river.

Coincidentally, I had already met Kenneth, the owner of that company back in 2014, since he was staying at the same hostels from which we did our day tours. (It was his dogs that were using the area in front of the hotel that made us, as the smaller team, move to the other side of the house, as I mentioned in the 2014 trip report.)

After having skipped the 2014 trip, so she didn't dog sled in Sweden before, Constanze, who was also on the last two Canadian tours and the one in Finland, joined this trip as well.

The first thing to do in Umnäs was to greet the 'engines'.

Sled dogs in dog yard Sled dogs in dog yard

We would be taking almost all of them on tour.

At the time of the trip, they had 40 dogs in the dog yard. One of them (Felix) did have problems with a pulled muscle on a previous trip, so he stayed at home. (This kind of injury can happen if you go too fast on deep slow or when running downhill, which is the main reason why you should be on the brake in such situations.) And three of them were young dogs and not quite ready for dog sledding this season.

But all the other 36 of them would be with us.

Though this didn't mean that we would run teams with 12 dogs each.

Kenneth's wife was coming with us. Her name is Catrine (though one of the certificates in their home had it misspelled Catrin, if I remember correctly) or Cathrine (if you go by her mail address, but she's usually called Catte.

I think that was partly because we were just two clients on the trip (Constanze and I), so there were enough dogs available for her sled and partly because it was the last trip of the 2016 season. In any case, it made the trip feel more like a family holiday than a commercial tour, which was nice.

It also meant that we (the clients) only needed to do the 'outdoor' part of the work and once we were inside the huts, just relax and enjoy the meals.

Originally the team list for the trip looked like this:

Team lists

Yes, that's just 35 dogs. And we had 36 on tour with us. So there must have been one 'last minute' addition to 'Team Kenneth', but I don't recall the name of the dog that isn't on the list.

In any case, for most of the time, Kenneth was running 12 dogs, I was running 9 dogs, Constanze had 7 dogs and Catte the other 8 dogs.

There were some changes during the trip. Prana was my lead dog for the first two days, but then got worn out (from leading, not from running) and was replaced by Saga (from 'Team Constanze', which frustrated Constanze a bit, since Saga was her lead dog and she was quite happy with her).

On one day I also had Krom for a while (I think that was the initial exchange for Prana, but I am not sure anymore), but after the third or fourth day, my team remained constant with Tall, Gran, Rönn, Peeta, Bilbo, Zink, Salt, Strider and Saga, although the specific position in the team kept changing. Tall, Gran and Rönn, were on daily rotation as wheel dogs, so each one of them would be a not-wheel-dog every third day. (There's no proper name for the dogs in second row before the sled - all dogs that are not at front of the lines (the lead dogs) or right in front of the sled (the wheel dogs) are 'team dogs', regardless of their position. Pedant remark: The dogs behind the lead dogs are supposedly named 'swing dogs' or 'point dogs', but I don't think I have ever came across the term outside of graphics showing the name of positions in front of a dog sled. I'm not sure whether it is actually used by anyone or just a bit of trivia.)

In any case, two out of Tall, Gran and Rönn were my wheel dogs for the day. And (after Prana left as a lead dog), Bilbo and Saga were my lead dogs in various combinations - Saga alone, Bilbo alone, Saga and Bilbo together, pretty much depending on daily form and how it went on the previous day.

But back to the start of the trip.

We packed our sleds. (Mostly with dog food - the box with human food looked small by comparison. But then, it was just four of us, but 36 of them.)

The sleds were amazingly robust (something that I did appreciate a couple of days later). Kenneth builds them himself and while last year's sleds were light with lots of wood, here only the runners were wooden and the rest was made from aluminium tubes, which might not have the same 'nature' look, but are much less breakable.

Getting the sleds ready

As I am mentioning sled details - there were some interesting features about the sled that I did (mostly) like. One was the large 'handlebar bag'. I like having some stuff in reach when being on a dog sled (admittedly, mostly cameras, sweets and snacks, but also proper stuff like thermos, gloves, face protection or neck gaiters - most of the latter I didn't use, but it's good to be able to get to them without having to open the main sled bag).

Well made dog sled

And there were three 'compression straps' across the main sled bag, to help keeping stuff to shift around in the bag, especially when you put it on the side intentionally or when falling over...

Well made dog sled Dog sled bag compression straps

The drag mat was also unusual. The sleds I've been on before all had drag mat behind the brake (usually with some sort of hinged frame to be able to pull it up when it isn't needed). Here the drag mat was slimmer and was running under the brake (being so slim that the two 'teeth' of the brake were at the side of the mat). While this makes it slightly harder to casually slow the sled by standing on the runners and having your feet on the mat (as the gap between the mat and the runners is wider), the advantage is that you can't misstep and get your feet between the mat and the brake. As that had been exactly the reason why I had crashed my sled the previous year, that seemed like a clever idea. (Though I think it would be better to have the mat more T-shaped, so it becomes a bit wider behind the brake. That would make it harder to pull the mat up when running, but since we only had it up once during the entire trip - and that was after a stop - I am not sure how much this matters.)

There's also one downside to having the drag mat run under the brake (as I found out during the trip). If the drag mad comes loose at one side (as it did on my sled), it will slide under the brake, leaving the brake non-functional, which is not a good thing. You can pull the drag mat out, but you have to hope that you don't need the brake at that point. But as I have crashed a sled when my foot got between the mat and the brake and I haven't crashed it when the mat came loose on this sled, it still seems to be the better alternative.

There was one more addition to the sled that I had never seen before - a snow hook holder.

Usually, you just hang the snow hook over the lower handle bar when sledding and that's it.

That works well and doesn't cause any problems, but if you fall and capsize the sled and get pulled behind it, the snow hook usually falls off and you have a heavy piece of metal with two spikes bouncing around right next to you. And that's in a situation where, by default, you already have enough other things to worry about. (If you are being dragged behind a capsized sled and your main worry is the snow hook, then your priorities are very, very wrong...)

I have never been hit by my own snow hook, so it is probably not an urgent problem to address, but adding a little holder (which, incidentally, also protects the sled bag) is a good idea anyway.

Snow hook holder

In short: I liked the sleds a lot.

But the purpose of the trip was dog sledding and not sled admiration, so back to the trip itself.

We didn't start on the day we flew in from Stockholm (but on the next day) so we had a bit of time to spare to walk the first few hundred meters of the trail.

Which seemed 'interesting'. And at first more like an obstacle course.

Starting out of the dog yard there would immediately be an ice-covered downhill turn (with rested and eager dogs always a good chance to fall, then we would cross a street without snow (so we could not use the brakes there), followed by a small gap between two rocks, with a chance to run the sled into either of them, followed by a rocky bit (with a tiny layer of snow) under the sled, where it was important to remember not to use the brake, as it might get caught by the rock, which is a bad thing for the dogs, the sled and the foot that is standing on the brake. And then another turn towards the lake that we had to cross.

So, after not having been on a dog sled for more than a year, that looked ... challenging.

But that would be on the next day.

Kenneth and Catrine don't have a guest house. Yet. Kenneth is currently building one from scratch.

And that means starting with felling his own trees and cutting the planks himself. So there's a lot of work before the house building even starts...

In any case, the guest house wasn't ready yet, so we stayed at a slight odd bed&breakfast place about 10 km away. (Yes, Sweden has a lot of strange places to stay.)

It's a place that looks like it is next to an old, no longer used, Esso petrol station, complete with an old tanker truck and an old Saab 96 left standing nearby.

Esso Nostalgie bed and breakfast Esso Nostalgie bed and breakfast Esso Nostalgie bed and breakfast

Though, in fact, it turns out that this is all about as real as Disneyland.

On Google Street View from 2011, there is no sign of a petrol station at the site, so the 'old' petrol station must have been built after that. And while the 'tanker truck' is parked nearby, it's just a truck (seemingly with a crane at the back), so the large petrol tank must have been fitted later.

The interior of the place is a similarly eclectic collection of stuff. For example, for some reason the room I was staying in had a signed picture of a former prime minister of Sweden for some reason. (I have no idea whether the owner of the place ever met him or whether this is just 'decoration' like the petrol station outside.)

Next day it was time to start the actual dog sledding trip.

All dog sledding outfits seem to have their individual ways of doing things.

Here, the sleds were set up in the dog yard side by side and the lines laid out.

Then all the dogs were let out into the dog yard and the harnesses brought out.

The basic idea was to pick a harness, call the dog by name, check whether it is the right dog (they have their names on the collar), put on the harness and move them to their position on the towline.

Harnesses ready for distribution to the dogs

In reality, this didn't quite work, as the dogs didn't react that strongly to their names, at least when Constanze or I called for the dogs. (Maybe that's just due to our improper pronunciation of their names.) So in most we grabbed a harness and asked Catte to point out the corresponding dog (or, in some cases the nearest equivalent - in my team there was something wrong with Peeta's harnesses, but as Felix wasn't coming with us and his harness had the right size, Peeta was running with that on the trip.)

In any case, soon the dogs were harnessed and on their proper positions in front of the sled and we were ready to go.

Dogs ready to go

Even though it doesn't look that way in the picture.

Most of the time, dogs tend to get quite excited when it's time to go, jumping up and down, pulling and barking. Especially at the start of the trip, when they are well rested and even more eager to get running again.

But these dogs were well trained and just sat and waited until it was time to go.

Generally, these dogs were a bit unusual.

On previous trips, it was the rule that the dog teams never are beside each other. They always are in single file and teams should never overlap. The reason for this became clear on one of the Svalbard trips, where one of the guests on the tour was filming his wife on the sled in front of him, didn't notice that she had stopped and suddenly both sleds were by side.

The dogs in their teams decided to say hello to each other and started to mingle. All nice and friendly - no dog fights or anything - but it took a considerable amount of time to get all the lines and harnesses separated again.

In Svalbard, the dogs were tethered in the dog yard to their individual dog houses, so they didn't have much direct interaction outside the trips. But in Sweden (and that was similar in 2014), they are kept in pairs in their enclosures and also get to run free all together in the dog yard at least once a day, so they get more social contact outside their 'work days', so being next to other dogs is not that unusual for them as for dogs on other trips.

This also affected some other aspects of the trip.

For the main 'snack stop' (after running the dogs for about three hours), we stopped all the teams side by side instead of having them in a long line.

Parallel parking with dogs

This made communication easier and shortened the 'food distribution' distances (for dogs as well as for human food).

We (the clients) were also encouraged to pass the other team if our sled was going faster than the one in front and there was a sufficiently large gap between that team and Kenneth in front. (We didn't do much overtaking, maybe three times during the whole trip, but on none of the other tours this was ever an option.)

The downside of the well socialized dogs was that they didn't like to be too far from each other, so most of the time we were running quite close to each other. The goal was to keep about one dog length between the lead dog and the sled in front - on the Canada trips, the teams were mostly a hundred meters or more apart from each other.

Team distances Canada Team distances Sweden
Distances on trip in Canada Sled-to-sled distance in Sweden 2016

Finally it was time to get going.

Kenneth opened the dog yard doors and left with his team, followed by me, Constanze and Catte.

And, after all that worry about the possibly difficult start, it all went without a single problem and we made it out to the lake with no trouble at all.

When crossing the lake we went through two places where the snow had melted and there were sections of open water on the ice. That didn't cause any problems, but it was obvious that at the lower altitudes spring was starting and that we couldn't be sure to go back the same way ten days later.

After the difficult (but trouble-free) first parts, the trails were wide and easy, the scenery full of variety and the weather pleasant, so everyone, including the dogs, enjoyed the first day out.

Umnas area dog sledding Umnas area dog sledding Umnas area dog sledding Umnas area dog sledding Umnas area dog sledding Umnas area dog sledding Umnas area dog sledding

The destination for the day was a hut at Överstjuktan Lake. There used to be a village nearby (a church building close to the hut is a reminder of that), but the village is no longer inhabited.

Village church near hut Overstjuktan lake Hut at Overstjuktan lake

Water was fetched directly from the lake - after Kenneth hacked a hole in the ice to make it accessible.

Getting water from the lake Getting water from the lake Getting water from the lake

The feeding of the dogs (on the trail and in the evening) was the most efficient I've ever seen.

They had their dog food (mostly meat and fat, no filler) made into large sausages. (I think each sausage was a kilogram.)

The plastic skin of the sausages was then cut and peeled off and the sausages were then (depending on the temperature) cut with a knife or hacked with an axe into two or four segments each (depending on whether this was a 'snack break' or a 'full meal'), which were then given to the dogs.

The sausages made the meat much easier to handle and cut than the more commonly used blocks of meat, they were more hygienic when they were partly thawed and also easier to pack and count. (As we had 36 dogs, and they got half a sausage each, we needed to get two boxes of sausages for each meal and if there weren't two sausages left at the end, something went wrong. The extra sausages then went into a separate box, so we didn't need to think about boxes that had less than ten sausages. Counting to less than ten does not sound like an issue, but if it's cold, it has been a long day and everyone is tired, it is always a good idea to have fewer things that could go wrong.)

Note that the second picture was taken close to the end of the trip, so I look a bit feral...)

Easy portionable dog food Easy portionable dog food Easy portionable dog food Easy portionable dog food

The dogs only got food from a bowl in the morning to keep them hydrated.

We didn't carry any straw on our sleds. At most of the places we stayed, there were depots of straw, so we would distribute that and give the dogs something to sleep on.

Which is, oddly enough, something they don't really need when it is seriously cold. (Though they appreciate dog jackets when this happens.) The straw is used more when it is too warm and the snow is soft and wet. It is more protection from wetness than from the cold.

Straw beds made up for the dogs

The dogs were happy with it.

Dog on straw bed Dog on straw bed Dog on straw bed

The next day began nicely - up to a point.

Although, as a matter of fact, it didn't start out nicely, as the dog teams were located side by side after getting the sleds ready and we needed to go along a small path down to the lake. But I misjudged the speed of the team in front of me and pulled the snow hook too early (and if you have nine dogs in front of your sled that are eager to go, the brake is not enough to keep them from moving), so we ended up with my front three dogs next to Constanze's sled, forcing her to go off the trail and falling off. No harm done, but not an ideal start.

In theory, the rest of the day was an easy run. Although it was the longest distance we did in a day, it was mostly across lakes, which means easy running with no trees, rocks, corners or sloped trails to worry about.

Overcast morning on lake Overcast morning on lake Overcast morning on lake Overcast morning on lake Overcast morning on lake Overcast morning on lake

Mostly across lakes...

The downside is that you get complacent and careless.

So when got off the lake and followed a small river for a while, to get to the next lake. We went along a curve on the bank of a river over open water and I got too far inside, the sled slipped down the snow on the river bank and I fell flat into the water.

I don't have any picture of that specific place, but it sort of looked like the place on the picture below, just with higher banks.

Example snow banks over open water

Luckily, there were no further problems - the sled was hanging down the slope of the river bank, so it didn't fall into the water or pull the dogs backwards. It was also hanging down a way that made it impossible for the dogs to run away with it (we had to lift it up with two people to get it back on the trail later).

And as the water was shallow, there wasn't any risk of drowning or getting dragged under the ice - I just needed to get up, roll onto the snow and run back to my sled.

Surprisingly, I didn't feel as cold as I expected to.

I once (intentionally) went for a quick dip into an ice hole on the frozen Yukon river and that felt unpleasantly cold. (Which is also a reason for the somewhat dull picture. I went into the river, but didn't want to stay in there long enough for a better picture, especially as the person taking the picture mentioned "I am not sure whether I am using your camera correctly" and I didn't feel like having a quick look at the camera settings and then get back into the cold water.)

But with all the wet clothing, I felt mostly wet. Feeling cold came second by a large margin.

Although, in any cold environment, getting wet is something to avoid.

One of my favorite bits of wisdom about cold environments is from Matty McNair, who has "In the Arctic, if you get wet you die!" almost as a personal motto.

So I knew that being soaking wet is not an ideal condition for dog sledding.

On the other hand, it wasn't that windy and it wasn't that cold (and I didn't have any backup for the most critical bits of clothing - the shoes - anyway), so I just put on a new dry long undershirt and a new fleece shirt and we were ready to go on.

Putting on dry clothing

Later on, the clouds mostly went away and we did the last couple of hours primarily in sunshine. (And sunshine plus black clothing equals pleasant, though soggy, warmth...) Given the fantastic scenery, I didn't pay that much attention to the temperature anyway. I wasn't freezing or losing core temperature, so it wasn't dangerous, so I didn't mind.

Dogsledding lunch break Dogs at rest Vindelfjallens scenery Vindelfjallens scenery Dogsledding on tree lined path Dogsled and Vindelfjallens scenery Probaly not on a lake here. Vindelfjallens scenery Happy, lolling sled dogs Happy, lolling sled dogs Happy, lolling sled dogs Dogs sleds running close together Dogs sleds running close together Vindelfjallens scenery Dogsled and Vindelfjallens scenery

So, even with the mishap earlier on, it was a fine day of sledding - and the longest distance we covered in a day on this trip.

We arrived at the lodge at Tärna Lake. It is a larger lodge with multiple guest rooms and, convenient for me, a separate drying room, which I could put to good use overnight.

And while dogs weren't allowed in the main building, they were allowed in the separate guest house that Kenneth and Catte were using. That was relevant, since three of the dogs (Robert, Idun and, I think, the third one was Krom) are not the youngest dogs anymore. And whenever possible, they get to sleep inside.

Tarna Lake lodge Tarna Lake lodge Tarna Lake external guest house

The other dogs got their beds of straw outside.

Dogs on straw beds Zink saying hello Zink saying hello Dogs on straw beds Dogs on straw beds

While the weather had been improving during most of the day, we got a bit of fresh snow that evening.

Snowy evening Snowy evening Snowy evening Snowy evening

But that didn't keep the dogs from enjoying their evening meal - except for this one, who dropped it into the straw nest and then seemed to wonder whether it had laid an egg...

An egg laying dog? An egg laying dog?

After the meal it was time for the ritual evening howl.

Howling dogs

While that day had the longest distance to cover, the next day brought the shortest distance, moving less than two hours and that's mostly on easy terrain (lakes). And while the day started overcast, we had some nice, sunny bits on the way.

Me and dog sled on a lake Me during a sledding break Dog sledding break Dog sledding on a lake Dog sledding on a lake Dog sledding on a lake Dog sledding on a lake Happy dogs during rest

Getting to the next hut was easy - the real work began when we were there.

The hut hadn't been used for a while, so there was a lot of snow that hadn't been cleared away.

Constanze spent quite a lot of time of digging the outhouse door free and carving some stair down to it, so it could be reached without sliding down the slope. And the wood of the inside was covered in ice and I spent some time with (the backside of) an axe, trying to break the ice of the floor boards, to make it less slippery.

Getting the outhouse ready 
Getting the ouadto be moved aside before we could get to a hole in the ice to fetch water from the lake.thouse ready

More digging was needed at the water hole. There were about 1.5 meters of snow on top of the lake ice, which h

Kenneth starting to dig for water Catte continues to dig for water

Here's the waterhole as seen from the hut - note on the third picture that (to the left of Constanze), Catte is standing in the hole, still digging.

Waterhole on lake Waterhole on lake Waterhole on lake

But finally the outhouse was safely accessible, the water was drawn from the lake and brought up to the hut, and it was time to relax and enjoy the view.

Enjoying the view at Altsvattnet Altsvattnet scenery Altsvattnet scenery Altsvattnet scenery

It was quite noticeable how much the dogs were paying attention to whatever Kenneth did.

When we were around, most of the dogs didn't pay much attention.

Dogs and Constanze

But it was always easy to tell where Kenneth was walking around.

Dogs as Kenneth detectors

Later that day it was time to feed the dogs.

Strider looking forward to feeding

Most of the dogs just dropped their piece of sausage and then bit of bits of it to eat it.

Dogs eating dinner

Peeta, one of the dogs in my team, however was always a bit too greedy. He was the only dog that tried to lunge for the sausage instead of just taking it from my hand. And then he had the sausage between his jaws, didn't want to drop it, but was unable to chew it either. So while most of the other dogs had already eaten their dinner, Peeta would still stand there, trying to wolf it down in one gulp. Eventually he would manage to break it apart and then the parts would fall down on the ground and he would eat it from there, like the other dogs.

Peeta and sausage Peeta and sausage

And as I'm mentioning particularities of individual dogs - Zink had started to lose the winter fur early, so wherever Zink had been lying a while, the ground looked like a snowed-in carpet.

Zink loosing hairs

And, as Zink is a chewer, if the dogs were wearing jackets during the night, the next morning there were bits of yellow fabric as well.

We didn't have any straw at this hut, so we put jackets on all the dogs that evening.

Dogs with jackets Dogs with jackets Evening dog howl with jackets Evening dog howl with jackets

After the 'dressing of the dogs' and their evening howl, we went inside and enjoyed the warmth.

The cabin was the most 'rustic' of them all and also the smallest, but it was nice and comfortable.

Inside of hut Inside of hut

Next day was the physically hardest day of the tour.

We were crossing a mountain range and had to go through two mountain passes.

Which meant a lot of going uphill and a lot of either pedaling or jumping off the sled and running beside it, to help the dogs. The terrain wasn't difficult or steep, but the uphill stretches were long and there were a lot of places where it seemed like we almost had reached the crest the path, only to find that this was just a bit of hill blocking the view to the next uphill bit.

Track profile

The absolute altitude change wasn't that much, but all the uphill bits together meant that we had about 1103 meters of ascent. (And with dog sled, you're usually on your brakes when going downhill, so you can't use speed you gain when going down to help you up on the next bit, like you could on a bicycle.)

But while it was exhausting, I managed to get to the next hut. Although most of that is probably due to having a lot of dogs on my team. Nine dogs represent a lot of pulling power.

And the weather was great!

In the mountains, there's often bad weather, strong wind and limited vision. But we had a calm day, blue skies and great views.

Towards the mountains Towards the mountains Bridge in the mountains Mountain plateau Short stop in the mountains Mountain plateau Mountain plateau Mountain plateau Mountain plateau Mountain plateau Down from mountain plateau After the mountains

While the mountain bits were hard to do, they didn't pose any tricky problems.

It became more interesting when we were about to head down into the valley of Lais River, where our next hut was located.

There was one small brook, which had steep river banks, where we needed to go straight down on one side and straight up on the other. The drop wasn't deep (maybe 2.5 meters or so), but steep. It is a bit irritating to see the team in front of you just drop out of view. And then feel that a parachute would be more useful when going down than the brakes.

But while that felt challenging, nobody had any problems there and we went through easily.

I ran into a problem a while later. On a curve, I almost ran into a tree. I barely managed not to hit the tree (just a glancing blow), but there was the stump of a big branch coming out of the side of the tree and I ran into that with my handle bar.

I was surprised that this stopped the sled.

As mentioned earlier, nine dogs have a lot of pulling power and with a wooden handle bar (as the sleds had in previous years), it would probably have broken.

The metal bar, that Kenneth had fitted when he built the sled, was sturdier. Once we had pulled the sled back a bit and moved it away from the tree, I could continue.

No significant damage done to tree, sled, dogs or driver.

The dogs probably got a bit of a jolt as the sled stopped quite suddenly and they were brought to a sudden halt by their harnesses. Sudden stops should better be avoided. (But then, crashing into trees is something that should be avoided anyway.)

The rest of way to the hut went without further incidents.

As it was still sunny and the sun would be out for a couple more hours, one of the first things to do was to hang out the dog jackets to give them a chance to dry, before putting them on the dogs again.

Drying dog jackets

Meanwhile, the dogs got their some well-deserved rest. And, where appreciated, cuddles.

Dog at rest Dogs at rest Dogs at rest Dog at rest Dogs at rest

Time to fetch some water.

Open water of Lais River Open water of Lais River

This time, no digging was required to get to the water. The hut was next to the Lais River and there were some areas where the river was not snow covered.

Open water of Lais River

So all that was needed was some care when fetching the water to avoid falling in.

Finally, everything was done and it was time for us to relax.

Relaxing at Lais River hut

And for a lesson in 'not crashing into things'.

It turned out that the main reason for my fall into the water on the second day and the getting stopped by a tree when getting down from the mountain, was me standing on the wrong slide of the sled.

The usual advice is to lean into corners to keep the sled from tipping over.

Which is good advice if you run a sharp corner at speed on flat ground.

But the more realistic (and accident-reducing) advice is not to be on the side of the sled where the problem is.

Again: Do not be on the side of the sled where the thing that you want to avoid is.

So if there's a tree on the left side in a left corner, don't lean into the tree. Stand on the outside runner.

If you run a left corner up a river bank, stand on the right runner.

If you are on a trail that slopes down to the left, stand on the right, uphill side.

The usual 'lean into a corner' rule is just a special case of this rule. If there is nothing on the inside of the corner and you want to avoid tipping over on the outside, then the outside is the side where the problem might be, so don't be there.

Part of the advantage is that standing on one runner presses that runner down a bit and makes the sled turn a bit into that direction. You can also press one foot against the back of the runner and give the sled a bit of a push to swivel it around a bit. But, most importantly, even if this does not help and you do hit the tree with the sled, at least you don't hit it with your body as well.

And if you fall off and manage to pull the sled to your side, then it's the runners that face the tree or the slope, which are usually more robust than the bag side of the sled.

This turned out to be useful advice - I only had one more fall during the rest of the trip and I couldn't avoid that, even though I was on the proper side of the sled. (With emphasis on "I" in "I couldn't avoid that". Catte, who was behind me, managed to avoid it easily.)

So here are the "three rules of dogsledding" that I know now (even though I broke all of these rules on this trip):

  1. Don't let go of the sled.
  2. Don't be on the side of the sled where the thing is you want to avoid.
  3. If you get wet, you die.

Trying to keep these bits of wisdom in my mind, I relaxed and enjoyed the sunset.

Lais River sunset Lais River sunset Lais River sunset Lais River sunset

Next morning, the dogs still looked a bit sleepy.

Dog not quite awake yet Dog not quite awake yet Dog not quite awake yet

But bringing out the dog bowls quickly got their attention.

Dog bowls Dog bowls

The feeding procedure Kenneth uses is a bit unusual, but clever.

Usually on tours there are only enough bowls to feed about one team.

So you fill the bowls and let the dogs eat. Once a bowl is empty, you fill it again and give them to the next dog in line. Continue until all dogs are fed.

On this tour we had bowls for all the dogs. (Actually more than that - we had 38 bowls for 36 dogs. Not sure whether the other two were spares or whether we just took all bowls, as that's easier than counting them...)

So all dogs got their breakfast more or less at the same time (as fast as we could carry the bowls to them).

This shortens the time that it takes for the dogs to have their breakfast, but I assume the main reason is that it reduces tension, since dogs don't have to wait (and get excited) while other dogs already are having their food.

In any case, after breakfast (human and canine), it was time to leave.

After the mountain trail the previous day, the next day brought a short and easy trail.


There were a couple of interesting moments, as we were traveling down the Lais River, which had quite a few spots with open water (and as spring was getting noticeable closer, Kenneth couldn't rely on the path he used last time). There was a lot stop and go while Kenneth tried to find a suitable trail and also a fair amount running along sloped river banks, with rocks on one side and open water on the other.

But almost everything went smoothly. No falls, no crashes.

Then I found out the hard way that Gran really does not like water.

And hates dirty water.

At one point we went through a small brook at the side of the Lais River.

We were running along the bank of the main river, needed to drop down to the brook, go up on the other side and continue on the river bank.

This required some attention, but wasn't overly complicated.

But the water in the brook wasn't clear, but a big, blackish, muddy mess. (And having two teams run through it ahead of us didn't help to make it any clearer.)

And when we went through the water, Gran, who was one of the wheel dogs at that point, suddenly panicked and ripped off his neckline. (The necklines are connected to the hook that attaches to the dog's collar with a small plastic zip tie. Sturdy enough for normal use, but if the dog seriously pulls on it, it will break open. This is primarily a safety measure, so the dog can free itself if something goes very wrong.)

Suddenly I had a wheel dog that was no longer attached on the collar and was panicking. What was worse, was that the sled was still moving (it was still on the downhill slope) and as the dog was only attached with the harness at the back, there was the risk that it would be run over by the sled.

But rolling in the mud, Gran managed to get out of the harness and bolt away, so it was only the empty harness that got under the runner.

I managed to stop the sled and then get it started again and up the slope on the other side, before securing it with the snow anchor.

In the meantime Catte yelled at Kenneth that a dog was loose.

Fortunately, Gran didn't take off in a random direction. In the moment of panic, the instinct was to run to Kenneth.

After everyone (especially Gran) had calmed down, everything was quickly fixed. The neckline was repaired and Gran continued the trip as if nothing had happened (although it was now by far the dirtiest dog of them all - rolling in muddy water does not help with the 'clean dog' look...)

And I probably need a quicker reaction. While it was a completely unexpected problem (we had gone through two sections of open water on the first day and there wasn't any panic - it must have been the black water that worried Gran), I just tried to brake and stop the sled (and worried about running over the dog). Instead, I should have immediately tipped the sled over to the other side, when I saw this. But that thought only occurred to me five seconds later, when Gran had already run away.

On the whole trip, that was probably the most dangerous moment, since there was a real danger of someone getting hurt. And, unlike the other tricky moments, which were foreseeable, this one came up out of nowhere.

Fortunately, everything ended well.

To get away from the gloom and doom - something that did work well that day was using Bilbo as a 'camera dog'.

I have a harness that allows an action cam to be attached to a dog. And while I tried to use that in Finland last year, there were problems with the camera sliding to the side of the dog.

This year we tried to put the camera harness under the pulling harness, so that it would be fixated by that outer harness. That doesn't quite work either. The camera harness has two camera attachment points. One is on the back and one is on the chest. But if the camera harness is under the pulling harness, then the pulling harness presses down on the chest and the camera attachment causes the dog distress. So the solution was to put the camera harness over the pulling harness in the front and under the pulling harness in the back.

Took a while to get that sorted out, but it worked.

The basic idea was to have the camera for a while and see whether there would be some good frames that could be used as stand-alone pictures.

As the dog bounces a lot when running, the video itself is nearly unwatchable and likely to cause sea-sickness.

So here are some 'lead dog view' screenshots from the first hour or so of that day's trip. (When I stood on the sled, I also had second camera running, so I could get some dog driver's view for comparison.)

At the beginning, I got a couple of unexpected scenes of me harnessing dogs.

Usually, the lead dogs are the first to get harnessed and put in front of the sled. And they are supposed to stand forward looking and keep the towline tight. But that morning, Bilbo kept turning around and looked at me while I was harnessing Salt and Strider behind him.

So there's a fair amount of footage of me grabbing Bilbo and turning him around to point him forward again, followed by him following me when I got to the dogs behind him.

It took five or six attempts until Bilbo remained where he was supposed to be and sit down. I am not sure why Bilbo kept doing this. (Usually he was better behaved than this.) Possibly, it was the unexpected weight on his back and his way of telling me "something is odd with my harness - could you have a quick look what's wrong" - but that's likely to just be overinterpreting a dog's behavior.

Bilbo looking the wrong way Bilbo looking the wrong way Bilbo looking the wrong way Bilbo looking the wrong way Bilbo looking the wrong way

But then it was time to go.

Kenneth went down the trail first.

Team Kenneth going first

Followed by Constanze.

Team Constanze following

And then it was our turn to follow, with Bilbo and Saga in the lead

Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view

A couple of shots of the scenery along the way - from the lead dog's point of view:

Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view Bilbo dog cam view

And here are some screenshot of the scenery along the way - from the dog driver's point of view.

Here's the start:

Kenneth starting first Constanze following

And here's my view of the trail:

Dog driver trail view Dog driver trail view Dog driver trail view Dog driver trail view

Technical side remark:
Initially, I expected the video from the 'dog cam' to be only useful for a couple of screenshots. It was much too unstable to watch. And the 'video stabilization' programs I've used before could only correct minor wobbles. They couldn't deal with frames that were jumping all over the place.

I was aware of a rather impressive presentation given at SIGGRAPH in 2014, but it is always hard to determine whether the algorithm is that good or whether they were just using source videos that conveniently had parameters that suited their code. And, in any case, I didn't know that it became available as a product at the end of 2015. It turns out that their code can even produce stable hyperlapse videos from a source that is as wobbly as the one Bilbo shot. I'm rarely that impressed by an application!

Here is a comparison of the video from the dog camera (speeded up by a factor of 4) and the stabilized hyperlapse video created from the source video. (Video is about 69 MB and lasts 92 seconds.)

Stabilized and unstabilized footage

As I had a camera on my head as well, I also created a split screen video of my view and the lead dog's view. (Video is about 56 MB and lasts 80 seconds.)

Driver and lead dog views

And, also from the same day, some more normal pictures, taken after the cameras had been taken off Bilbo and me.

On the trail to Baverholmen Me on the trail to Baverholmen Me and Catte on the trail to Baverholmen On the trail to Baverholmen Catte on the trail to Baverholmen On the trail to Baverholmen

After, essentially, a fun day (ignoring the problem with Gran), we arrived at Bäverholmen, a guesthouse at the Lais River.

Baverholmen guest house Baverholmen guest house

After five days of dog sledding, we would have a rest day here.

It's a convenient place to have a rest for dogs as well as for the dog drivers.

While Bäverholmen is not connected to the street network, it does have water and electricity, so it was a good place to get a shower, recharge the cameras and even put some stuff in a washing machine. There's also a restaurant, so Catte and Kenneth didn't have to worry about making dinner. So it is a real 'vacation day' during the trip.

And after running over 200 kilometers in five days, the dogs appreciated the rest as well. (Not that they needed it - 40 kilometers a day, even with some mountain running, is not a big distance for a sled dog - but they appreciated it anyway.)

The set-up was similar to the one used at Tärna Lake. Dogs weren't allowed in the main building, so while we clients stayed there, Kenneth and Catte were in a separate building, which was also closer to the dogs outside.

The snow wasn't deep where the dogs were lying and they got a bit bored on their day off, so some of them started digging and found some twigs to chew on, making the place look a bit messy (and in some cases having an uncomfortable rest in the night, as they undermined their own sleeping places).

Dog with twigs Gran, hole and twigs Gran, hole and twigs Dog in snow hole.

While there's no road going to Bäverholmen Värdshus, it would make much sense to put a guesthouse in a place that can't be reached (the occasional dogsled is not enough to cover operating expenses), so there's an 8 km hiking trail to the neatest village. In summer, there's also an on-demand 'boat-taxi' that brings guests the approximately 5 km up the river. In winter, you can also get to the village by snowmobile - that's a bit shorter, as don't have to follow all the river bends, but can use shortcuts.

More due to having nothing to do all day than for any real need, we decided to borrow a snowmobile at Bäverholmen and drive to the nearest shop. Kenneth and Catte were riding on the snowmobile, we clients were in a 'snow coach', which is an enclosed 'passenger sled' that is pulled by the snowmobile. It's normal use is to transport small children. As an adult, there's no way of sitting in one of these that doesn't look somewhat undignified - it is the snowmobile equivalent of an adult sitting in a pram...

Me in snow coach class

It is also not that great for sightseeing, as the view is limited.

View from snow coach

But we the roof could be detached, so we went in 'cabrio mode' on the way back...

In any case, the shop we visited was a bit unexpected. I think we expected a mom-and-pop type general store, serving the daily needs of the village, but it was mainly a bric-à-brac store with oddities, toys, historic-style postcards and tons of reproductions of vintage advertising signs. They also had a shelf with fishing gear and two freezers with meat and frozen pizza, but they were minor add-ons to what seemed mostly like a home decoration store. No sweets, no drinks, no groceries (except for frozen meat and pizza), but enough advertisement signs for sale to sell each person in the village about a dozen of them and still have enough left for the occasional tourist.

Local store and cafe

Well, maybe it is a village entirely populated by advertisement sign collectors...

Oddly enough, their web page shows shelves with cans, soups, jam, breakfast cereals, spices, that I didn't see when I was there. So either they changed their product range (their web page is six years old and the place where the shelves are seems to be the one where they now have some tables for the local café). Or they have somewhere an extra room in the shop that I didn't notice.

In any case, an odd store and it gave us something to do on our rest day.

We had some snowy weather coming in that evening and a 'not so great' weather forecast for the next day.

Dogs in the snow Dogs in the snow Dogs in the snow Dogs in the snow

We also had a bit of a bad start. When we went down to the river, there was a turn down the river bank, right next to a tree. Constanze, who was running in front of me, nudged the tree and fell off the sled. I managed to stop my sled before getting to that point, but, of course, the dogs don't keep standing in a forward line, they started turning into the direction where the sled in front had gone.

So I could wait until everything had been sorted out down on the river (by which time the dogs would probably be standing right next to the tree and pull me right in when going down), or I could just let them run while they were still standing more or less on the right path.

So I went for it (even stood on the correct side of the sled), but didn't have enough speed to get around the tree, so I did fall off the sled as well. As I was half expecting this to happen, I didn't let go of the sled, turned it on the side away from the tree and had it quickly stopped and up and ready to go again - but two falls at the start of the day didn't seem to be a good thing.

But it turned out to be my last fall on this trip. So either I was learning or Kenneth was just taking easier trails from then on...

Our trail would take us across a mountain plateau again. And weather tends to be more relevant up there, since you are more exposed to the wind. And the conditions are less sheltered than the trails along rivers and below the treeline.

And, of course, it meant going uphill again.

Though this time it was much easier than three days earlier, as there was just one big ascent for about five kilometers (gaining about 400 meters altitude). But after that, we went mostly along mountain lakes, which were, of course, flat.

Track profile

Once up the plateau, there was the need to pay attention to the dogs in case of reindeer (there are approximately 3000 reindeer scatter across the plateau). Usually the dogs do behave, but they might get a bit overexcited, so it's better to keep an eye on them and if they try to move towards any reindeer, to use the snow anchor and stop the sled at once.

When we spotted reindeer (happened a couple of times), we kept our teams close together and didn't run into any problems (only Gran did keep his head turned towards the reindeer while running and leaned a bit in their direction, but didn't do anything stupid).

The skies had turned a continuous grey, making it sometimes difficult to see where the snow ended and the sky started.

Whiteout on mountain plateau

At the beginning, there were still a few trees at the horizon, providing at least some visible landscape (and reassuring us that this was indeed just due to overcast skies and that we weren't in some sort of fog).

Not much to see during dogsledding Not much to see during dogsledding Not much to see during dogsledding

After a while, we were in the treeless area of the plateau, so for a while everything was just one grey vista. But then, there was a bit of sunlight at the edge of the clouds (the proverbial 'silver lining', even though there was nothing silvery about it).

Catte on mountain plateau Dog sleds in empty scenery Dog sled in empty scenery

I was happy about that. I like empty white landscapes with just a small nuances in whiteness (or greyness) and could look at it for hours (or at least I feel like I could - if I took out a chair and just sat and stared at it, I'd probably be bored after five minutes).

Still, it's a great non-scenery.

Dog sleds in empty scenery Empty white place Empty white place

Though I was probably the only one who enjoyed that part of the trip. A drizzle and a bit of sleet had begun a while earlier and everyone started to get wet. I didn't really notice, though. (I had the impression that my jacket was keeping me dry, until I removed it later in the hut and noticed the wet patches on my sweatshirt.)

From time to time the sleds slowed down unexpectedly. The wet snow was sticking to the underside of the sled and especially when using the brakes (we weren't using the drag mats there) a big block of snow accumulated under the sled. Usually, after releasing the brake, a slab of snow came out under the sled, but sometimes it remained stuck and the sled had to be wiggled a bit to remove it or, in some cases, the sled needed to be stopped and tilted to the side to get the snow off. (And having wet snow under the sled makes it much harder for the dogs to pull the sled.)

The last bit before getting to the hut was a steep section - going down about 200 meters over just two kilometers. But as this was mostly in a straight line, it didn't pose much of a problem. Of course, the snow was still wet, so every time the brake was used, snow accumulated under the sled, making it harder to steer (the runners give the sled a lot of directional stability - once the sled is, essentially, sliding on a flat slab of snow, it tends to slide a bit more to the sides, although not critically so). But with careful use of the brake, nobody ran into any problems.

There was a bit of an 'Oh, no!' moment, when Kenneth decided that the best way to get to the hut would be right through a line of trees, with not much room at either side of the sled. But that was also unexpectedly easy to do, since we went through this in a straight line. So as long as the dogs don't run into the trees (which they don't) and you stand on the brake (which you do), then the taunt towline will force the sled to directly follow the path the dogs took.

Although I almost missed the fact that there was also a branch at about chest height. I only noticed that Constanze was ducking down behind her sled when she passed through the trees, so I just did the same. I only noticed the branch when it went over the top of my hat...

But as the dogs properly went down the trail and I ducked, there weren't any problems.

Side remark: This doesn't fit anywhere else and it sort of fits here - one unusual thing about the set-up on this tour was that there weren't any leader-necklines.

If there are two lead dogs on a team, then most tours have a neckline connecting the collars of the two dogs. That's partly to keep the dogs from just slipping out of their harness (as Gran did when his collar got loose), but mostly to avoid a situation where one dog tries to pass a tree on the left and the other one passes on the right. But not having the collars connected gives the lead dogs a bit more freedom of movement. And, presumably, one of the criteria for choosing specific dogs as lead dogs is that they aren't stupid and try to pass a tree on different sides.

Though it felt sometimes odd when we were on the trail and (mostly on lakes) I had one of the lead dogs of the sled behind running on each side of me. Fun though.

We spent the night at Dalovardo hut (nice and comfortable, with a big sleeping room under the roof). As stuff had gotten wet during the day, we heated the upper room until it got quite warm and then were glad that the mattresses were down on the floor where it was a bit colder. Still, slept well and out stuff got dry, so it was a good combination.

Dalovardo hut Dalovardo hut upper level

Getting water was interesting again - there was a small river close to the hut with open water and some small snow bridges over it. So it needed a bit of care to fetch the water without breaking the snow bridges or falling into the water. The snow on the path back to the hut was also a bit rotten, so sometimes you hit a bit of soft snow and a leg sank down to the knee into the snow. So it was a bit of a challenge to get the water buckets (especially the open ones) back to the hut without spilling the water again. Surprisingly, it all went without a hitch.

Dalovardo hut water source Dalovardo hut water source

The next morning was a bit chaotic.

When I went to the outside loo at around 4 am, I noticed one of the dogs running around. So I grabbed Zeus and clipped him back to the stakeout line. (As he was still wearing the collar, the most likely cause was that he wasn't properly clipped in after putting his jacket on.)

During breakfast, Kenneth looked out of the window and noticed that Rohan got loose as well. As she was in heat, some unplanned mating occurred. Unexpected bit of knowledge resulting from this: Dogs don't always do it 'doggy style'.

Unplanned mating

The start was also more complicated than usual. There wasn't any safe way forward from the area where the dogs were located. So the teams had to be moved up in front of to the entrance to the hut, where the trail started.

So we needed to get our sleds and teams ready, but then had to go to the lead dogs and hold them (essentially wrestle them to the ground...) while Kenneth moved his team in position and secured it. Then, one by one, we went back to our sleds, while Kenneth led our leaders to the beginning of the trail.

That took some time, but after a somewhat turbulent morning, everything was sorted out and we were ready to hit the trail again.

After the dull grey weather of the previous day, the weather improved and some bits of blue sky were visible again.

Lead dog Bilbo Good weather dog sledding

The dogs liked it.

Running dogs close up Running dogs close up

And we didn't complain either.

Trail to Tarna lake Trail to Tarna lake Trail to Tarna lake Trail to Tarna lake Trail to Tarna lake Trail to Tarna lake Trail to Tarna lake Trail to Tarna lake Trail to Tarna lake

The terrain was mostly flat (we were running mostly on or next to a river) and the snow wasn't too deep, so it was an east trail.

Even with the dreaded gates.

I was always worried when we reached a gate or a gap in the fence, followed by a corner, as there was always the chance of crashing into a fence post.

Especially at one gate, which had a 90 degree turn right behind the gate and a trail marking pole straight on. If you brake too much, the dogs will run around the fence post and the towline will pull you right into it.

If you go too fast, then you'll make it through the gate, but fall against the trail marker on the other side.

So the tricky bit is to get just the right amount of speed.

Which, unexpectedly, turned out to be full speed.

When approaching the gate, I heard Kenneth yell "Don't brake! Don't brake!", so I didn't. And, remembering not the stand on the side of the sled where the thing is you don't want to hit, stood on the left runner.

I was surprised when, after getting through the gate, I didn't even need to hit the brake to avoid overspeeding and falling over - the sled stayed right on the trail without any further effort on my side.

Approaching gate Dogs through gate Sled at gate Through the gate

Admittedly, getting through a gate is not the most exciting of adventures. But it was one obstacle that I did see coming and had enough time to think about what I should be doing (with yelled instructions added...) and managed to do it properly.

Some short clips:

Just sledding along Running dogs Through the gate
Just sledding (42 MB, 26s) Dogs running (15 MB, 10s) Through the gate (23 MB, 14s)

As this was only a short run, we were at the Tärna Lake hut (where we had spent the second night on the trail) around noon. I was greeted with a friendly "Did you fall in any rivers again?", which, this time, I could deny.

After a couple of days without it, we were able to give the dogs straw beds again.

Dog on straw Dog on straw Dog on straw Dog on straw

Since we had arrived early and the weather was still holding, we also hung the dog jackets up for drying again.

Dog jackets hanging for drying Dog jackets hanging for drying

Some of the dogs also clearly wanted some attention...

Dog seeking attention Dog seeking attention

The next day brought some unexpected developments.

The plan was to retrace the route of the first two days from here, so we would be going to the hut at Överstjuktan Lake and then return to the dog kennel the day after that.

The weather was still quite nice the previous evening.

Evening mood at Tarna Lake

But weather report wasn't favorable - it predicted wind, rain, snow and comparatively warm temperatures during the day.

So the initial plan was to get up early (5 am) and get going while it was still colder and the snow wouldn't be quite as soft. Also, winds are often stronger during the day than in the early hours of the morning.

But when we got up in the morning, the weather had already deteriorated.

Unpleasant weather at Tarna Lake

Good for us at first, as it was quickly clear - we weren't leaving for hours, probably not before noon. So back to bed and some extra sleep.

The dogs also got a couple of extra hours of rest, but didn't appreciate that much, as they were all soaking wet and the straw they were lying on was soggy as well.

Wet dog on straw Wet dog on straw Wet dog on straw Wet dog on straw

After breakfast, we did some more 'housekeeping' around the lodge.

Since the hut at Tärna Lake is conveniently located for various tour routes that Kenneth does, he has some supplies (straw, dog food) stored there during the season.

We were the last tour of the 2016 season and the lodge at Tärna Lake is a 'public' one (which means that being allowed to store stuff there during the season probably depends strongly on the goodwill of the lodge keeper). So we packed the storage pallets away, put the last remaining boxes of dog food on our sleds, raked the snow together and moved it do a big pile nearby, folded the tarps used to protect the dry straw and put them on out sleds as well. Essentially, it was spring cleaning day.

Moving the straw Moving the straw Big straw pile

By the time we had finished with that, the weather had only marginally improved. The rain had stopped, but it was still windy.

So we decided to have a long lunch before heading out. (The reason was similar to getting up early - it would get colder in the evening and the wind would lessen as well, so the later we started, the better the conditions would, probably, get.)

Around 3 pm, we harnessed the dogs and got ready to leave.

I still harnessed the dogs next to the stakeout line.

The, slightly unusual, set-up that Kenneth uses during harnessing is that the harnesses stay attached to the towline of the sled at all times. You lead the dog to its position in front of the sled, put the harness on the dog and just clip the neckline to the collar.

While that is an efficient method of handling things, I never got comfortable with putting on the harness when it still was attached somewhere. (I like to keep my attention focused on the dog and prefer not to be distracted by a harness with restricted movements.) Fortunately, harnessing the dog with the harness still on the towline was a "you can do this, since it's more efficient, but you can do it differently if you want to" thing.

Dog harnesses on sled

Something that took me a while to get used to, but was worth doing so, was harnessing the dogs from the front.

On the first tours I've been on, the procedure to harness a dog was to stand over the dog and, if you weren't sure about the dog or your skill to harness it, bring your heels together under the dogs, so that you were almost riding it. The idea was that this would give you the most control over the dog.

That has been the way I had been harnessing dogs since.

But it is indeed easier (once you've tried it a couple of times) just to stand or kneel before the dog and harness from there. And (presumably) the dog is less likely to bolt off, as it would need to run right through you. (Yes, it can run around you, but if a dog is that determined, it would also easily run through your legs when you are standing over it.) And, realistically, none of these dogs was likely to take off on its own. (Even when Zeus got loose the previous night, all he did was walk around the house and hang out with the other dogs on the stakeout line. And when Gran ran off in panic, he ran directly to Kenneth.)

So harnessing from the front is a better way of doing it.

When we finally took off, the snow on the lake was seriously wet.

At some places it felt more like wakeboarding than dog sledding.

I am sure that dog sleds shouldn't have a tailwave...

Dog sledding in the wet

The wind was still strong and blowing against us, so we tried to keep as low as possible behind the sled to reduce wind drag.

Reducing wind drag

But at least there was enough space available for passing.

Passing a slower sled takes longer than expected. At the beginning, the dogs in the passing team are enthusiastic to pass, but once they get beside the dogs of the team in front, the dogs on the passing team slow down a bit, while the dogs on the team that is passed get more enthusiastic and speed up. So Constanze had to stand up and use her drag mat to slow her team down, while I was crouching behind my sled and pulled my drag mat up to increase my speed. Neither of us had much experience with overtaking dog sleds, but, given enough space, it worked well.

Constanze in front of me Starting to pass Nearly level Slightly ahead Passing the lead dogs

Here is a video of this: (142 MB, 89s)

Overtaking on lake

We went along the lake for about 12 kilometers and while the trail clearly was do-able, it was far from fine.

Dogs on the lake

When we finished the first lake, we still had two more lakes of about 45 kilometers before us (plus a couple of connecting bits along the river) and we got an update from someone who had driven a snowmobile there, that these lakes were currently blue ice with about 20 centimeters of water on top.

So we had a stop and a quick discussion.

While it was possible to go on (wading through water is just annoying for the dogs, but they would and could do it - even Gran), there seemed to be little point of doing so. We were covering a route that we had already done a week earlier, so there wouldn't be anything new to see. And the trail would be even worse the next day, since we would go over areas where it was already thawing when we left.

And none of us felt the need to do follow the original plan for the sake of doing so or due to some sense of needing to achieve some abstract goal and getting a feeling of failure by giving up on that.

It also helped a lot that Constanze and I had been dogsledding before and knew that the only thing we were giving up on would be tedious going through the water for hours - something we already know that we could do.

So after an extremely short discussion (I think it went along the lines "What do you think?" "Let's not do it, it's stupid." "Yeah."), we decided not to continue as planned.

Having a look at the wet and unhappy dogs also helped with the decision...

Wet dogs on lake

The alternative was to cut the trip a day short, pass over a mountain and head for the nearest street, where we could be picked up with a dog trailer.

The alternative turned out to be brilliant.

Turning away from the lake

Once we were off the lake, the trail was gorgeous, with wide views over the valleys below and the mountains behind. The snow was firm, the dogs enjoyed running on it much more than they did on the lake (and much, much more than they would have enjoyed running through 20 cm of water), the trail was interesting to do with a fair amount of variety (though no tricky bits this time) and we even got a bit of sun on the trail towards the end.

Mountain trail towards the road Mountain trail towards the road Mountain trail towards the road Mountain trail towards the road Mountain trail towards the road Mountain trail towards the road Mountain trail towards the road Mountain trail towards the road Mountain trail towards the road

So while the trip had been cut short, it was much better to go out having fun and ending it happily with a smile on out faces, than going a day longer and arriving bored and exhausted, feeling, at best, relieved that it's over.

End of the trail. Start of the road. The trip was done.

End of the dog sledding trail

The dogs looked content as well.

Dogs at the end of the trail Dogs at the end of the trail

Time to sit down with the dogs and tell them what a good job they've done. (It's not like the dogs care about that, but it feels like the right thing to do.)

Praising the sled dogs Praising the sled dogs

Then the trailer arrived and it was time to load the dogs, secure the sleds and get back ti civilization.

Loading the dog trailer Dog trailer on road

It was around sunset when everyone was back at the kennel.

Dogs arriving at home

As the trip was cut short by a day, we spent most of the day playing with the dogs. (Although sled dogs don't really play - cuddling the dogs would be a more appropriate term.)

When we came back from the trip, there was also a large German Shepherd dog, named Pi, around, which belonged to Kenneth's daughter. When out in the garden, that one was always eager to play 'fetch'. Pi would come with some log of wood, drop it in front of you and look et you eagerly. So I took the log and threw it a couple of times. Pi was obviously quite happy running and fetching it. In the meantime, one of the sled dogs was lying on the grass, looking at us and didn't seem to approve. If it would have been a cartoon dog, it would have been painted with a raised eyebrow and an thought bubble with an resigned "Germans!" over his head... Sled dogs don't play.

But they do like to cuddle.

Conveniently, there are two wooden tables in the dog yard (which are mostly used for cutting meat), so we could just stand next to a table and all the dogs that wanted to get their fur stroked, could just jump up. And while it is among the more useless bits of knowledge, I know now that satisfactory pet four dogs at the same time. (If a dog has the impression that it hasn't gotten the attention it wants, it'll let you know quickly by licking your face - so if you have four non-face-licking dogs in front of you, you know you're doing it right. Though, admittedly, it's an odd measure of self-worth.)

Dogs waiting to be petted Dogs waiting to be petted

Between visits to the dog yard, there were also some more maintenance things to do. Clearing out the sleds, hanging the jackets and booties to dry, putting gear back to its proper place - these kind of things.

But as we had all day, it was relaxed work.

Hanging up booties and jackets

And, in between, going back to the 'engines' and saying Thank You.

The horde approaching Socializing with the dogs Socializing with the dogs Socializing with the dogs

Although there were some exceptions. Peeta, who was the most affectionate of my dogs during the trip, preferred to sit on a rock in the corner of the dog yard.

Peeta sitting on a rock Peeta sitting on a rock

Others preferred to watch the proceedings from the safety of their houses. (That's probably Catniss looking out from her doghouse.)

Dog watching dog yard

Side remark: Dog houses are an interesting case of good intentions gone awry. There is a change in regulations that will require dog houses to be built bigger. The underlying sentiment is understandable - small dog houses look uncomfortable and providing dogs with more space seems like a good and animal friendly idea. But that's applying human values to dogs without knowledge or paying attention to what dogs like. To quote a book on sled dogs: "It should be noted that most dogs like cramped shelters. Many dog owners have been astounded when they give their dogs big, beautiful doghouses, only to find that the dogs have crammed themselves in some nook under the porch."

Later on, I tried to take a picture with two of the dogs from my team, but Neon decided to photobomb the picture.

Neon sneaking into picture

Seems like Neon really likes to pose for pictures.

Neon posing with me

The final thing we did before sending the dogs back to their kennels for the night felt like a perfect way to end the trip - the end-of-season removal of the collars.

The dogs only need their collars during the dog sledding season. In the summertime, they can do without. (The name tag on the collar is useful for clients to identify the dogs, but in the summer time the only people interacting with the dogs know who they are, so there's no need for them.)

Taking off the collars is a clear sign to the dogs that the running season is now over and the lazy season begins.

And it's an appropriate "and that's it" thing to do at the end of a trip.

And that was it.

Next day it was time to fly home again.

There's one more thing that's worth noting - when you go into a dog yard and play with even the friendliest of dogs, you should wear something that's easy to clean (preferably under the shower) and scratch resistant. Dogs do get enthusiastic...

Leather jacket after dog yard

Here is the trip data for the individual days.

Day From To Start
Pause Moving
21.04.2016 Silent Way Överstjuktan Lake 09:30 13:50 04:20 00:43 03:37 47.97 24.3 11.7 13.2
22.04.2016 Överstjuktan Lake Tärna Lake 09:24 14:46 05:22 00:37 04:45 61.71 20.9 11.5 13.0
23.04.2016 Tärna Lake Ältsvattnet 10:34 12:17 01:43 00:10 01:33 21.45 21.1 12.5 13.8
24.04.2016 Ältsvattnet Laislodge 09:22 15:37 06:15 01:01 05:14 52.73 19.4 8.4 10.1
25.04.2016 Laislodge Bäverholmen 11:04 14:00 02:56 00:23 02:33 36.80 21.3 12.5 14.4
26.04.2016 Rest Day
27.04.2016 Bäverholmen Dalovardo 10:05 15:11 05:06 00:20 04:46 46.53 21.7 9.1 9.8
28.04.2016 Dalovardo Tärna Lake 10:34 12:55 02:21 00:30 01:51 27.22 22.0 11.6 14.7
29.04.2016 Tärna Lake Endpoint 15:15 18:09 02:54 00:23 02:31 31.20 21.5 10.9 12.4

Overall trip data:

Total Time30:57 hours
Pause04:07 hours
Moving Time26:50 hours
Distance326 kilometers
Average trip speed10.5 km/h
Average moving speed12.1 km/h

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

There is one more thing I need to add - it was a good dog sledding trip!

It might not be obvious from the preceding description - with falling into water, running into trees, ending the tour a day early, dogs getting loose, going through bad weather, exhausting mountain pass crossings and almost running over a dog, it might seem at first that the trip didn't go well.

But none of the problem was critical (and nobody could foresee that Gran would panic at the sight of black water) and most of the mistakes were my own anyway. The important things that made the trip a good one was a constant flow of information, When I did something wrong, I got specific and useful advice how to avoid this the next time. We got detailed information about the route for the day, where we would be going, what conditions we were most likely to encounter, what possible problems might occur.

As an effect, none of the problem spots we were told about did cause us any problems.

If you are on a trip in a nature reserve, not following trails for most of the time, you can't expect that everything works according to a preplanned schedule without problems and in perfect weather.

If it does (as it pretty much did on the trip two years earlier - and even that schedule had an ad-hoc change), it's an unexpected bonus.

But having various problems on the way is not something that makes a tour a bad one (unless things go disastrously wrong, of course). What makes the trip good or bad is how issues are addressed, how problems are avoided, that information is available and that alternatives are presented. And, as always on any tour, good cooking, of course.

Nice vacation!

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