Dogsledding in Sweden.
Some odd hotel rooms before and after that.
So, yes, pretty much the same as the last couple of years.
But with better scenery.
In previous years, we had some problems with the snow conditions.
The trips were usually in April, either the last or penultimate tour of the season.
And while we always managed to get some great dogsledding done, it was noticeable that it was already a bit too warm for the dogs and that there often was water mixed with the snow.
On the first tour in Sweden, we stopped the tour a day early, as some lakes already had a layer of water on top of the ice. That turned the experience more into waterskiing than dogsledding. And last year there was plenty of snow, but it had been hit by rain. It still looked good on the surface, but the rain had washed some of the snow underneath away. It was a bit like trying to drive on foam.
On one day, we made less than 2 km in two hours, with the sleds toppling when a runner hit a pocket of softer snow, over and over again.
None of this was a serious problem and it had always been possible to find reasonable conditions somewhere. But the message was clear: The end of the season might not be the best time to go dogsledding.
When we planned for this year, there were two options: Either Constanze and I could have a time slot in late April exclusively. Or we could join up with Koen, who was at the time the only one booked for the mid-March timeslot.
So we decided that mid-March might be better for the dogs and trails.
As usual, it's kind of tricky to fly to Hemavan (which is the closest airport to Umnäs, where the tour started) in a day from Berlin - it can be done, but the transfer schedule leaves no room for delays - so I flew to Stockholm a day earlier and stayed at the Jumbo Jet again.
It's a Boeing 747-200 turned into a hostel. They have also some 'normal' rooms along the main fuselage, but it's more fun to stay in one of the odder 'rooms'. So I stayed in the wheelhouse room (which the area into which the landing gear folds into after take-off). It's (obviously) a small room, but, unlike the engine housing (in which I stayed the previous year), it has its own toilet.
Cozy and sufficient.
Next day it was time to fly to Hemavan, which can, luckily, be done again.
The airline that used to fly to Hemavan (NextJet) went bankrupt last year, less than two weeks after we left. It wasn't a well planned bankruptcy - they had a press conference at 10:00, announcing that they would stop all operations ay 13:00 the same day. This left a lot of people stranded, as they were the only airline that flew most Swedish inland airports, including Hemavan.
After about half a year of (essentially) no flights to Swedish inland airports, a company named Amapola Flyg took over the job. But as that is a cargo airline, they don't have their own passenger planes. And also no real check-in presence. So their sales are done via Direktflyg, which used to be an airline, but doesn't operate any planes anymor. They seem to have retained their customer services, though. And Amapola's (passenger) planes are leased from other airlines and, as far as I can tell, operated by a Polish airline. Though that is not quite clear, as the plane itself was painted white, without any airline livery (As far as I recall, their drinks trolley had the branding of yet another airline, although I don't remember which one.)
So, all in all, it's not the most confidence inspiring structure. Also, between the time I booked the flight and the day I did fly, they changed the departure times two times. (Which made me glad that I had decided to fly to Stockholm on the previous day and not attempt a flight connection.)
But they did fly. And on time. And they did serve coffee for free.
So no reason for worries...
Time to get to Umnäs to sort out the gear and pack the sled.
Departure was next morning, so there was one night spent in the guesthouse.
As in the previous year, I asked for a 'house dog'.
(If you are on a dog sledding vacation, it just feels odd not to have a dog in the house.)
Oboy, who had been 'out on tour' in 2016 and 2017, and had, due to age, retired to indoor life in 2018 had died since I was there last time (he was kind of the 'default house dog'). So the house dog this time was Idun, who already had been a nice co-inhabitant of the guest house last year for a day or two. (Idun usually is one of Kenneth' lead dogs, but had an injury and wouldn't be out with us this year.)
The idea was to start in Umnäs and head north towards Padjelanta National Park. And then, depending of possible rest days, weather and trail conditions, stay a couple of days in the park before going with the dogs to Kvikkjokk, where we would put them in the trailer and drive back to Umnäs.
Different from previous years, Catte wouldn't be coming on tour with us. Partly due to needing to organize all sorts of things, but also due to the limits imposed by distance and available dogs.
We were three clients on tour this year (as opposed to two in the previous years), but also an unusually large number of dogs was unfit to travel, due to injuries (nothing serious, but you don't want to take a dog along that has a strained shoulder or a recent illness).
So only 31 dogs were 'available for touring'.
Which, with five people travelling, would mean 'only' six dogs per sled (possibly less, as Kenneth has the largest, heaviest sled and needs at least eight dogs in front of it, which would leave one sled with only five dogs). This is ok for shorter tours, but somewhat tricky for longer ones, leaving little margin for dealing with possible problems arising on the trail.
So Catte stayed in Umnäs, so each of us would have at least seven dogs in front of the sled.
The constant factors for me were Gran and Strider - both had been in 'my' dog team on every tour and also were there this time.
So here's a quick description of the dogs:
Prana A great lead dog. Always attentive and (possibly) fairly smart in
finding a good path. Or just likes to stay left of everyone else.
It's difficult to say, but there were a couple of sections where we went along the side of a hill, with the trail dipping to the right. As the sleds (and dog paws) ahead pulverize the snow, the farther behind a sled is, the more likely it is to slide downhill to the right. I did see Koen (at that time on the third sled) struggle on some passages to keep the sled on the trail and upright. In all those places, my leads (usually Prana and Zink) were choosing a path on the uphill side of him, providing me with a less travelled and much easier path. But I never figured out whether they were being smart or whether they liked to run left of everyone else. (We had one hillside that dipped to the left and they went slightly to the right of everyone else, but whether that was 'planned' or just happened because, at that time, I was too close to the sled in front of me and they didn't want to go to the side to which the sled was sliding, is something I am not sure about.)
Put Prana surely likes to go her own way.
Zink As is evident from the dog team list above, Zink wasn't originally part of my team. But on the
first day, my sled was by far the slowest of them all, so everyone else was running ahead and then had to
wait until we caught up - even on lakes. (And, admittedly, as I was the least 'athletic' of us, I
needed more support for getting uphill than everyone else.) So Kenneth took Zink from Koen and added her to
my team on the first day, where she stayed for the rest of the trip. Which seemed to balance things well.
My team wasn't a 'morning team', so when we started, I still tended to lag behind everyone else,
but after about an hour or so, the dogs tended to get eager and overtook Koen's team, which stayed behind
the rest of the day. So, over the course of the day, our teams were roughly equally matched.
Zink herself is a bit of an oddity. She is quite good while running (after sorting out with Prana who
has control now - in the morning there often was a bit of growling, barking and snapping between them,
while they figured out who would be the 'leadier' lead dog). But the moment she was not running, she
collapsed. "Work done, don't bother me now, human!"
It was rare to see her standing somewhere. She was either lying down or running. Which made it difficult in the morning to put on her booties or her harness. She was lying there and could not be convinced to stand up for any of those. Even in Ammarnäs, where we put out straw for the dogs, she wouldn't move to let me put straw under her (which would have made her lying around much more comfortable). In the end, I made a straw ring around her, which, at some point during the night, she must have gotten up to re-arrange it into a more comfortable nest to sleep on. A good dog while she's "on duty", but not one that socializes much with humans. Or dogs. (At least when on the trail - when we were back on the kennel after the tour, I was surprised that one of the dogs that came up to cuddle turned out to be Zink.)
Strider One of the 'reliable' dogs. Strider is one of the dogs that quietly do their work, have no noticeable quirks and, as a result, you kind of forget about. (And where it's hard to write anything interesting.)
Harry Most of the time Strider has been running with Harry. (Named after Harry Potter and from the
same litter as Luna and Albus). And, next to Harry, it is hard to be noticed in any case. Like his siblings,
Harry is playful, likes to roll in the snow and always gives the impression of being a very happy dog,
acting still a bit like a puppy. (And, as evidenced last year, really likes to dig.)
And he likes to pull. Besides the wheel dogs, it was usually his tugline that was stretched tightest. [I have no competence in assessing dog capabilities at all, so Harry might not have the necessary strength or endurance to be a wheel dog, nor the smarts to be a lead dog, or be too playful to be a 'serious' sled dog. But if I had to pick up any dog of my team and replicate it seven times to make a team of identical dogs, Harry would be my choice.]
(Harry is the dog in the second row from the front, on the right side. Note how much the green gangline is stretched in his direction and how loose the red tugline of Strider (to the left of him) hangs in comparison.)
Harry also turned out to be a useful dog-boot fetcher. On two occasions, a dog from a team ahead lost one of its booties. I did see them on the trail and got ready to pick them up when my sled passed them, but Harry grabbed them. I was slightly worried when I stopped the sled and went up to Harry to retrieve the dog bootie. On another tour something similar happened with a dog named Ruby and when I stopped and tried to get the dog bootie from Ruby, the dog slurped down the dog bootie as if it was a noodle. I notified the guide, who was unconcerned about it, and he said "She probably thought you were going to take it away from her." Which was, admittedly, exactly what I had been trying to do, but still... Even though a dog bootie passes a large dog's intestines usually without problems, it's not going the dog much good either. So when I walked up to Harry, I wondered how I could take the dog bootie from him, without him swallowing it. But Harry dropped the dog bootie when I approached and I could pick it up.
Gandalf It's the first time that I had Gandalf in my team, giving me (again) two dogs named after something from Lord of the Rings (although I did have Rohan and Strider in 2018 as well as Bilbo and Strider in 2016). Gandalf was supposed to be my third wheel dog and started out in wheel on the first day. (As being a wheel dog, i.e. being positioned right in front of the sled, is the hardest job on the sled, it is best if dogs don't run in wheel all the time. So if you have three possible wheel dogs, you switch them around daily, so that every dog has one in three days where he's one row further forward and doesn't need to pull quite as hard.) But he developed a strained shoulder muscle early on (I think on day two) and started to limp a bit. Nothing much to worry about and a "neoprene t-shirt" helped to keep the shoulder warm at night and the limping stopped being noticeable the next day. But as it is not a good idea to let a dog work too hard too quickly, Gandalf was 'excused' from wheel dog duty for the rest of the trip, meaning that Gran and Fergus had to stay in wheel for the rest of the trip.
Denali Not sure where Denali came from - she wasn't there last year and I didn't see any other dogs
that would fit a naming pattern. [Note: Turns out that she comes from a dogmusher friend and is not related
to any dog in the kennel.] She looks a bit like a younger version of Idun, though. For a while I thought it
Denali might have been one of Idun's puppies from last year (even the fur pattern is quite similar).
(I think that is Idun to the left and Denali to the right, though it might be other dogs. It might be equally well be Krom and Idun, but as none of them is pressing its head against me, it's probably not Krom.]
In any case, Denali is, like Harry, playful. Likes to be noted and petted by people. And to lick people. Excessively. It is all very nice and tender (and I will not need to clean my ears from earwax for some time), but it can be a bit disruptive when you are trying to do other things, such as putting booties on Gandalf. I'm not that fast with booties in any case, but doing that while someone tries to lick your eyeballs clean is a bit of an additional challenge. Denali would easily win a 'nicest dog of them all' award, but if you have her as a house dog, you would probably either have your face licked off during the night or drown in dog spit. Still, Denali is cute. And, like Harry, she also managed to pick up a lost dog bootie on the trail and then put it down when I stopped the sled to collect it.
Fergus With his slimmer face, Fergus looks a bit more foxlike than most of the other dogs. He has been my wheel dog
for the whole trip (more than 300 km) and there never has been any issue with him.
Generally a good eater, he's a bit of a silly when he's not hungry. When we gave the dogs sausages in Överst-Juktan, Fergus didn't feel like eating it and tried to bury it next to a tree, which was close to his doghouse. Not only was that a bit pointless, as they were all tethered to their houses, so no other dogs could have reached it anyway, I doubt it would have helped otherwise, since every single dog would have been able to smell a sausage hidden under two centimetres of snow. Fergus also had an unusual behaviour when I put booties on his front feet. All other dogs lift one foot, get it bootied and then put down the foot when I lift the second one. Fergus kept his front leg in the air and when I tried to lift the other foot, he sat down on his back, keeping both front feet up and looked more like a circus elephant doing tricks than a sled dog getting ready for work.
Gran Part of 'my' dog team for four years now. Reliable as a wheel dog, but an excessive 'dipper'. When it gets too warm
(which is about everything higher than -15°C) dogs like to eat a bit of snow on the run to cool them down. (It's not
good for them, as all the cold snow in their stomach often causes them to vomit, but it's what they do anyway.)
Most of the dogs are happy to turn their heads while running and grab a bit of snow from the side of the trail.
But Gran loves to take a detour and go into the deep snow beside the trail for this.
Besides being risky (dogs running in deep snow have a higher chance of injury), this also jerks the sled a bit into the direction Gran is moving. Generally, I prefer to have Gran one position further in front, where the effect on the sled is less pronounced, (Harry also likes to dip a bit off-trail, but not as much as Gran - and being three rows away from the sled, the sideward motion is hardly noticeable.) As Gandalf had a sore shoulder, that was not an option for most of the trip. It's also not much of an issue. You just have to be prepared for an unexpected sideward tug on the sled from time to time.
The first day of the trip easy this time. We went along the (by now) well known track from Umnäs to Överst-Juktan. We already went that way in the three previous years, so we knew what to expect. (And it was a lot easier to run than in 2018, where the snow had iced over and, while looking beautiful and glittery, it was hard as concrete and about as easy to drive a sled over.)
This year weather and snow conditions were good and the ride was an easy one.
But even so, we were doing our slowest time ever. In 2018 we got there in 3h40m, while this time it took us 4h34m. But 2018 we had larger teams with 'elite' dogs and sleds that were almost empty. (The conditions were more comparable to 2016 and 2017 - but even then it took us 4h20m and 4h06m to get to Överst-Juktan.) Of course, we weren't in a hurry (neither then, nor now), so we didn't care. And being back on a dog sled was fun, as always.
Arriving in Överst-Juktan was, as always in recent years, easy.
There are doghouses at the site, so there is no need to position the sleds accurately, set up the stake-out lines, put down straw, worry about wind direction or put jackets on the dog.
Take of booties and harnesses, bring them to a dog house, clip them onto the wire there and you're done.
The waterhole marker was still clearly visible and it just took a couple of blows with an axe to get the new ice away from the top.
There's even a wheelbarrow there for the dog's excrements, so no need to dig a hole for that either.
Easy living for humans and dogs, especially in the sunshine.
The second day was also cloudless.
Constanze and I had done that day's trail before (in 2017), but, admittedly, I didn't recognize any part of it, except for the (pretty much) last corner. Shortly before reaching Ammarnäs, our destination, the trail turns onto Tjulån River in a tight 90° angle, with a street sign right at the corner. If everyone is passing that with a bit of speed, all is well, but if anyone has trouble and the sleds behind have to stop, then everyone else is going to have trouble at that corner as well.
So when we got to the end of the trail, I definitely recognized that place.
But in 2017 it was overcast and there wasn't much to see:
This time it looked more like this:
Admittedly, there still wasn't much to see on the mountain plateau - it's still pretty featureless.
But it looked and felt much nicer.
The first couple of kilometres are across Lake Överst-Juktan, so they are easy to do. Enough time for some selfies.
Then it's time to turn off the lake and head into the woods (you stay on the lake if you want to continue to Tärna Lake).
From there, the trail took us through the forest for a while. Also easy going in conditions like these.
After that, the going got a bit harder. The way to Ammarnäs is across a mountain plateau and that, obviously, means that there's a lot of uphill sledding involved.
With the fantastic weather, we did something we rarely do - stop primarily for doing some photos.
Of course, the dogs enjoyed the rest as well.
The following images shows the difference between my two lead dogs 'at rest'.
While Prana is alert and tends to have a 'I have a job to do. While I'm in harness, I'm on duty." attitude, Zink is down on the ground and rolled up into a little ball the moment the sled stops.
If you look closely at the picture, you'll find that there's something wrong there. There is a neckline hanging down from the gangline. That should be attached to Harry's collar, but Harry somehow managed to unclip his neckline (probably by rolling around in the snow, as seen above) and then used the opportunity to say hello to some dogs in the team next to him. (He was quickly clipped in again after the picture was taken - you can already see Kenneth in the background, noting that something is wrong.)
Once up on the plateau, it is easy going across it and then down on the other side. The only real challenge is not hitting the street sign on the final bit. (Which we all managed without problems.)
After getting everything ready for the dogs (setting out stake-out lines, feeding them, putting down straw for the night) at exactly the same place as in 2017. (I didn't take any pictures of that this time, but it looked mostly like it did here (about halfway down the page).
As we did back in 2017, we then went 'into town' to have an afternoon drink on the veranda of the place we were staying at.
Also, like in 2017, we had "Fishermen's Pasta" again. A dish containing no fish whatsoever.
We covered familiar ground on the next day as well, when we went to Bäverholmen. We went from Ammarnäs to Bäverholmen in 2017 and we followed the same trail again.
Also running into the same issues again, only this time with a bit more confidence.
The easiest part when leaving Ammarnäs should be the part that goes along a road.
It's flat, it's wide, there's a constant layer of snow on it. It should be the perfect beginner's terrain.
But I had problems there in 2017, as my dogs didn't like to follow the other teams, but preferred to stick to the side of the road. And I had been afraid that they would pull the sled off the road at some point (especially with Gran jumping into the soft snow beside the road from time to time) and I'd drop down the bank into the river.
This time we started out properly.
But the more we went down the road, the more the dogs pulled to the left, so after a couple of kilometres, we were (again) running along the edge of the road with Gran stepping off the road for some dipping. (And the option I had back in 2017 - switching Gran from wheel to another position - wasn't possible this time due to Gandalf's sore shoulder.) But by now I knew not to worry about that too much and everything went without a problem.
From the road it's up to the mountains again, where there's (after a lot of pushing) a great view into the valley back towards Ammarnäs.
For most of the day we had, once again, lots of sunshine and the temperatures were also ok. Still a bit too warm for the dogs, but not critically so.
Only when we arrived at Bäverholmen did the sky start to become overcast.
Making camp at Bäverholmen was a bit unusual.
We were staying in two huts and there was a small path heading up to them, which forked Y-like to lead to the two huts.
The path was too narrow to put the dogs there side by side, so two teams could go to one path, one went down the other path and one needed to stay at the 'inlet'.
It took a bit of manoeuvring and clear instructions from Kenneth to get the dogs and the sleds where they needed to go.
A task that wasn't made easier by having to go around a corner to get there.
It wasn't a tricky corner (not compared with the street sign in Ammarnäs), but it needed the right speed. Too slow and the sled would get stuck on the corner or, worse, tip over or lose the driver. Too fast and the corner would be easy to take, but the dogs would overshoot their target (and moving a team of dogs backwards is no easy task).
But again, like so many times on the trip, something that might have gone wrong didn't.
So all dogs and sleds ended up where they were supposed to.
According to the weather forecast it would get windy during the night, so we deployed our new 'secret weapon'.
Before leaving we had cut wide strips of cloth and attached them to aluminium poles, so we could erect a wind screen around the dogs.
It was the first time that we used them, so setting them up took some time. We needed to figure out how to best attach them and make sure that they stayed upright and weren't blown over by the wind.
One of the lessons learned was to set up the windscreens first and then start digging holes for the dog droppings. since Otherwise they might just end up on the other side of the 'fence', making things a bit awkward.
We got better during the trip in setting the windscreens up (and presumably other tours will improve on our (lack of) 'technique'), but it took a long time in Bäverholmen. It's still easier than building snow walls, though.
The windscreen looks a bit flimsy and insubstantial, but on 'dog sleeping level' it makes a noticeable difference.
To be on the safe side, we later put jackets on some of the dogs anyway. Including Gronk (on the picture below) wearing his own special jacket, as he tends to chew through any part of the jacket that is around his neck, so he got a jacket that is tied to his collar on the back.
(I was surprised to learn that Gronk is from the same litter as Strider, Gandalf, Bilbo, Pippin and, presumably, Rohan. I am reasonably versed in Lord of the Rings, but didn't recall anyone named Gronk. It turns out that he is named after the words the Orcs shout when they use the giant wolf-head battering ram to break down the gates of Minas Tirith. So Gronk is supposed to be 'just smash through any obstacle' kind of 'power dog'. I didn't know that until I just looked it up, but the actual name should be Grond, as is "Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old." But Orcs aren't famed for their spelling powers and pronounciation. And Grond wouldn't have comfortable worn a jacket either.)
After having cared for the dogs, we went to the restaurant at Bäverholmen for another nice dinner.
It was dark when we came back (it wasn't that later, but it gets dark early in March), so we fed the dog while we were wearing headlamps.
Then we retired to our cabins.
The plan was to continue to Laislodge the next day (where we had been twice before) and from there to Lomtjärnstugan the day after (where we had been once before). After that we would be heading towards Pieskejaure and into the Padjelanta national park - places we hadn't visited before.
But the next day, the weather forecast was bad. A big storm was coming over the mountains. There was a level 2 warning (the highest you can get in Sweden) and wind speeds were predicted to be up to hurricane strength (though probably 'only' at Beaufort 10 or 11).
In short, not the ideal conditions to be up a mountain plateau.
We were likely to be ok on the trail - the route follows a river down in a valley. It's not that exposed and we would be reasonably sheltered from the winds.
But we would arrive at Laislodge, where there's no good shelter for the dogs.
There is an area between the hut and the outhouse, where the two buildings protect the dogs a bit. And where we put the dogs in 2017:
But the usefulness of that depends strongly on the wind direction. If the wind comes from the wrong direction, you're essentially putting the dog into a wind tunnel.
And on the day after that, we would get to Lomtjärnstugan, where there's no good wind shelter at all.
Also, going there would limit our options. The huts (and all following places) would be far from roads (and also most other places), so once we headed out for Laislodge, we pretty much would have to follow through as planned. (Although, on the way from Lomtjärnstugan to Pieskejaure we would cross a road, so it might have been possible to meet up with a dog trailer there, but it would have been far from ideal.)
We decided to wait out the storm in comfort, stay in Bäverholmen and not take our chances with Laislodge.
A storm can be much easier weathered if you're sitting in a restaurant, ordering waffles with whipped cream than sitting in a hut somewhere.
Bäverholmen is at a river, so it's a bit protected from the mountain winds. While it got windy from time to time, the full force of the storm wasn't that noticeable.
Most of the time the weather looked pleasant.
But the clouds over the mountains spoke a different language and we had made the right choice in staying put and not being out on an exposed plateau. Later we learned that (close to Ammarnäs) some skiers had been following the snowmobile trail and been surprised by the storm. They then clung to the wooden posts that serve as trail markers and had to wait until a snowmobile came by and brought them to safety.
While there was no specific storm warning for the next day (just strong winds), the weather images showed that the bad weather front hadn't fully passed yet. Conditions would be better, but not much and for long.
Also, as we were now one day behind schedule, we had to face the fact that one of the huts we had planned on using (I don't recall whether it was Laislodge or Lomtjärnstugan) was already booked by another group for that day.
So it was time for Plan B.
Instead of heading for Laislodge and Lomtjärnstugan, where we would be on our own and without many alternatives, we would head to Vuoggatjalme.
It's a (surprisingly fancy) resort for snowmobilers, who use it as a base for snowmobile trips and ice fishing.
The cabins there have electricity, indoor toilets, showers and large panorama windows with an amazing view across Lake Vuoggatjålmj. And, more important from a planning point of view, a road goes there.
But first we had to get there.
We all were a bit worried about getting out from Bäverholmen.
The path between the trees was narrow and we would need to put two teams each side by side on the path. And then get going in an orderly fashion, without sleds or dogs colliding. Especially with dogs who had a rest day and were eager to run. And we would need to pass closely by the hut, which had two steps outside, which the dogs would run by, but the sled might run into. And there was an exposed stone on the path right next to it, which meant that there was an area where we could not use the breaks. And that would be followed by a bit of snow drift before we would get on a 'proper' trail.
It looked like a recipe for likely disaster.
For me it was even more worrying, as my team was on the wrong part of the 'Y', so there was a risk that they might either decide to go that way at first (which would have taken me past the second hut, where there was even less of a path) or might first run that way, realize their mistake and then try to run the small group of trees to join in with the other dogs. While there was enough room for the dogs to make it through, there wasn't enough for the sled.
So everyone was a bit apprehensive when we harnessed the dogs and put them in front of the sled.
Then, of course, everything went as planned and nobody had any problem at all - neither with getting away from the sleeping place, nor with getting onto the river (which had been a bit troublesome when we did it in 2016).
The rest of the day also went well.
The skies were overcast, but the sleds were light and the trail was a fun mixture of terrains, with a long lake towards the end to relax a bit (although with a bit where we had to leave the lake due to open water and needed to drive a while on a narrow trail along the bank of the lake, passing a polar circle sign and, more exciting, needing to drive on a small walking path under the bridge of road 95).
All fun and to my enjoyment, seemingly within my skill level ('seemingly' since I might just have been extremely lucky). But when we came down the mountain towards Lake Sädvajaure, we were on a narrow trail through a birch forest, with a tree standing at every corner of the trail - the kind of route that I used to dread. In previous years I never felt comfortable on such trails and considered myself lucky after any tree that I happened not to hit.
This time it seemed more like intentionally driving around trees. Instead of coincidentally not hitting them. (I might still be just lucky and my confidence completely unjustified, but that doesn't matter - this time I enjoyed driving down towards the lake!)
When we got to Vuoggatjalme, the view from the cabin was amazing.
But, as in Bäverholmen, the clouds over the mountains weren't 'friendly clouds'. They heralded a forthcoming storm.
And, sure, there was now another level 2 storm warning for the next day.
So it was time for another change of plan.
We could have stayed put the next day and continued after the storm, but then we wouldn't see much of Padjelanta National Park. We would essentially just make it to the edge of the park before we would need to turn towards Kvikkjokk.
But Catte had driven up from Umnäs with the dog trailer, so we now had more options.
We hadn't enough food for the whole journey on the sleds and the original plan was to re-supply the sleds on the next day, when we would have crossed road 95 (a bit closer to the Norwegian border than we were now) and taken new food (dog and human) on the sled.
She had now driven to Vuoggatjalme instead, where she waited for us when we arrived. (We almost arrived at the same time - we could see the car and trailer on the road at the side of the lake, when we were on the lake with the dogs.)
So instead of putting out stake-out lines, we put the dogs into the trailer (which they like a lot - it's cosy, protected from the elements, they have a nice 'nest' of wood shavings in there) and went into our cabin for an unexpected shower (after Bäverholmen none of the originally planned huts until Kvikkjokk had tap water, plumbing, electricity or showers, so we had planned for seven days without such comfort).
In the evening we went to the restaurant, which was incredibly good. And not just 'good for the location'.
The place is more than a 100 km from almost everywhere else, so I didn't expect much. They could have served and kind of food they wanted - it's not like we could have gone anywhere else. (Though, possibly, the business logic is the other way around. They are a long way from everywhere else, so unless they have good food, maybe people won't make the effort to travel there. But then, Miekak, where we had been two years earlier, doesn't have a restaurant at all and they manage to attract customers as well.)
I had reindeer tartar as a starter, followed by "Swedish Meatballs made of Moose" and a Creme Brulee with Mackmyra whiskey, whey cheese, topped with marinated lingon berries.
Before and during dinner, we also made plans.
We were not going to do dogsledding the next day, but we wouldn't be staying either.
Someone would drive up from Umnäs, meet up with Catte and she would drive all the way back to Umnäs (which would be a long day for Catte, as it'd a 3-4 hour drive and she had already driven up from there with the trailer earlier that day).
That would mean that we would have a car and trailer available at Vuoggatjalme, which we would use the next day to drive to Kvikkjokk, which is the closest place to Padjelanta that you could drive to.
It would be a long drive for us on the next day as well, but we would be getting somewhere.
A long drive because, even though Vuoggatjalme and Kvikkjokk are only 75km apart, they are both pretty much (and Kvikkjokk literally so) 'at the end of the road', but there is no north/south road in the vicinity and you need to drive almost halfway to the Baltic Sea through Arjeplog and Arvidsjaur, before you can turn north to Jökkmokk and from there back west towards Kvikkjokk. All in all 421km or 5-6 hours' drive. (And while we wouldn't be somewhere on a mountain plateau, it would be a windy day and we would have a dog trailer behind the car - not the most aerodynamic of vehicles.)
But we had a plan and we were on the move.
The drive itself was long, but uneventful. (Although it was clear that my musical tastes are not widely shared. :-)
We stopped at two petrol stations for a snack. That covered the human needs. But we also had to consider the canine needs, so we stopped at a rest stop, where the E45 crosses the Piteälven River. There we set up stake-out lines between the car and the trailer to give the dogs a chance to stretch their legs and relax their bladders.
In the meantime, there was enough time to take a look at the nearby river.
Kvikkjokk Fjällstation is a popular starting point for tours into Padjelanta and Sarek National Parks. It is the place closest to the parks that can still be reached by road. It's also on the Kungsleden, a popular hiking trail and as there's a regular bus service, many hikers start their walk along the Kungsleden there.
As a result, the Fjällstation is larger than most other STF (Swedish Tourism Association) huts and stations.
Since it's at the end of the road and many people who start their trips there come by car, it also has a large parking lot. This was good for us, as we had room for car, trailer and feeding the dogs. And also could leave car and trailer there while we were away.
And the next morning we were ready for dogsledding again.
It was, again, going to be a bit windy. But there wouldn't be storms. And the weather looked promising for the next couple of days.
Time to get moving.
Getting from the parking lot down to the river turned out, due to a false start, to be more exciting than expected.
There always was a clear starting order - Kenneth obviously going first, followed by Constanze, then Koen and me following at the end. Even if we arrived in a different order (as my dogs were slower in the morning, but often got more enthusiastic during the day, so my team sometimes arrived ahead of Koen), the starting order was constant, which was sometimes interesting as the sleds weren't in the starting order. But as we started out on most places more or less side by side, that didn't usually matter much.
As we arrived in Kvikkjokk by car, that wasn't an issue in any case, as we could set up the sled in the parking lot in any order we wanted.
But it was an issue that it was a parking spot.
There was a thin layer of snow over solid ground (a centimeter at best), so there wasn't much for the snow hooks or the brakes to sink into.
The dogs are usually unusually relaxed before a run. (The more usual experience is that the dogs on other tours are nearly hysteric by the time they are put on the gang line. On one tour there was a dog where you could tell where it had been standing, after the sleds had left, as it started running the moment it was in harness and left a noticeable hole in the snow at its starting position.)
But these dogs are fairly calm about it.
Until it's about 20 seconds before we're leaving and Kenneth tells everyone to stand on the brakes.
Then the dogs will get excited.
In this case, Constanze's dogs got a bit too excited and started to run. And the brakes weren't enough to hold the sled, so Constanze went down the trail first.
Which is not a good thing in general and was worse here, as the trail wasn't that wide, but also because there were multiple paths a short distance ahead and it's not a good idea to leave the decision to the dogs which way to go (they are smart, but not that smart...), especially as one of the options was running onto the street.
Kenneth hadn't been quite ready yet - when he tells us to step on the brake, that's the moment when he puts on the gloves and the jacket - and just yelled "Don't go ahead of me!", shoved his stuff somewhere into his sled and took off.
I'm not sure what happened next (I was much too busy putting pressure on my brake and keeping my (possibly well behaved, but then also not that fast in the morning) dogs from starting as well and adding to the chaos), but Constanze got to the side of the trail, where, I think, there was deeper slow, so her brakes worked better, while Kenneth managed to squeeze by and get in front. Constanze retrieved her snow hook (which was probably bouncing around - I doubt that she had picked it up by then), let go of the brake and followed. Then Koen and I started normally. Possibly because our dogs were better behaved than Constanzes, but much more likely because we are both heavier than Constanze and able to put more pressure on the brake to make the sled stay where it is.
In any case, the start was unexpectedly exciting. (We had some starts that we expected to be tricky, but this one should have been the least problematic of them all.)
But all went well and we got to the river without any serious issues.
The trail that day was one of the shorter ones. After we got down to the river, going was easy for a while. There were also some breaks in the clouds, so we got some glimpses of the mountains of the Sarek mountain district on our right.
Once again, while being a bit slow at the start of the day, my team decided after a while that they didn't like to be behind Koen and his dogs and accelerated when there was enough room on the river to pass.
Neon, Koen's lead dog, didn't like that much, so she increased her speed (and that of her team) as well
Neon is an amazing 'client' lead dog. (Not sure what Kenneth would think about her in front of his sled and whether she can reliably turn on command, but for someone less experienced, like us clients, she's a dog that 'manages' the team.) Like Prana, but even more so, she's always 'on' when in harness. She is one of the smaller dogs, but she's the one that keeps pulling hard and gives a short bark, if she thinks the others aren't following fast enough. She comes across a bit as 'the quarterback' - not the strongest or even the fastest player in the team, but the one who needs to be most alert and also keep the others motivated when things get rough.
And, unlike Prana, who always looks a bit as if she's afraid you might yell at her for doing something wrong, Neon more a "people's dog" when she's off duty.
But she looks a bit insane when she's running...
After the river, we needed to go through a forest for a while. Here we encountered the most dangerous section of the whole trip - two small bridges.
They crossed a small brook and weren't higher than a meter or two and no longer than five meters, but they consisted of individual boards nailed onto two long wooden beams, with gaps between the boards.
When dogs try to run over such a bridge, they often step with their legs into the gaps. And if the sled moves too fast, they get pulled along and can dislocate a shoulder or break a leg.
And while, ideally, the dogs would walk slowly across such a bridge, taking care with their steps, walking slowly is somethings sled dogs don't do.
So we needed to go very slowly with the sled. Which is also something dog sleds don't to. The 'mat' isn't enough to slow down the sled. If you use the mat, the dogs will still got too fast for their own good. But you also can't control low speeds with the brake, especially on thin snow. Either the spikes are in the ground and the sled stops. Or the spikes scrape on the ground, which doesn't sufficiently slow the sled.
The solution was to have Kenneth walk beside all dog teams over the bridge (including his own - at least I think so, as I was too far behind to see whether he drove or walked over), so the dogs were doing 'walkies' with Kenneth and matched his speed instead of being in 'sled dog mode' and running at their own speed.
It took some time to get across the bridges and it was worrying to see the dogs drop down into the gaps and then scramble to get up on the planks again. But we all got across the bridges without a dog getting hurt.
Then there was a small uphill climb winding through some birch forest overlooking the river, which looked beautiful - real tourist office brochure dog sledding.
While we were sheltered in the forest, the wind had picked up a bit and when we were back on the river again, the wind was blowing against us. We had to crouch down behind or sleds for a while. Partly to avoid being exposed to the wind and getting cold, but also to reduce the wind resistance and make the dogs' job a bit easier.
A short while later we needed to get past another obstacle.
The wind had blown off the snow from a section of the river, so we needed to cross sheer ice.
There's not much that can be done except to stand on the brake to reduce the speed a bit (although that makes the sled drift to the sides and harder to keep on track) and hope for the best.
The situation was complicated due to some of the dogs, especially lead dogs, wearing booties on all their feet. They had almost no traction at all on the ice, so some of them slipped and looked a bit like Bambi on ice, having difficulties to get up again. Especially with the dogs behind them still running.
On my team Prana slipped and was dragged along.
There's not much that can be done.
It's not like you could stop the sled on the ice and untangle the dogs.
So you brake hard and go as slow as possible, to minimize risks and then sort out any problems and untangle lines when you're on snow again.
The whole thing (not only on mine, but the other sleds as well) looked funny, but it was worrying for moment. Especially when Neon decided that she didn't like at all what she saw and tried to take a different, more curved path, which didn't work well on ice either.
Again, we made it across the ice without any real issues, but all in all, that day was the day with the most "that could have gone seriously wrong" moments.
A short while later, we made it to Såmmarlappa hut.
It's nice, spacious and dog friendly.
They have two large hostel dorm-like sleeping rooms (I think the one that Constanze, Koen and I were sleeping in had eight beds) and one smaller room where dogs are allowed inside (which was good, since at least two of the dogs, Järn and Robert, usually didn't spend the night outside with the other dogs).
And there was a group of wildlife photographers there on the same day, which were using the other sleeping room. They tried to photograph lynxes, but hadn't any luck so far. (And with 31 dogs around, weren't likely to come by later.)
As the hut is right next to the river, the hole for fetching water was right outside the entrance. (In fact, the picture above was taken from the waterhole.)
The dogs (excluding the indoor dogs) were placed behind the hut, once again sheltered from the wind with the windscreen we erected. (Visible behind the sleds - the white wall next to the building is mostly snow that fell from the roof.)
The next day we finally entered Padjelanta National Park.
It was the hardest day of sledding.
Not so much because of the distance (it was just 5 km more than the previous day) and technically it was quite easy, but there was one long, tedious uphill section.
But the scenery was worth it.
When we started, it was still overcast.
We were following an easy trail along a river, until we reached a site named Darreluoppal, where there are six small sleeping cabins. (These are not STF cabins, like most of the cabins in the national parks, but are managed by the Sámi organisation Badjelánnda Laponia Turism (BLT)).
These huts (one of them visible in the preceding picture) mark the end of the valley - a cul-de-sac.
Any way onwards is over the mountains (we went up at the part in the middle of the picture).
It doesn't look that steep, but it's 250 meters of altitude difference. And the dogs expect you to help them when going uphill, so you either pedal a lot or try to run beside the sled.
And running uphill in snow at 6 km/h isn't something I am good at.
Technically, it's something that I am really bad at, so there was a lot of 'Stop, try to catch my breath while the dogs look at me impatiently, and then go again'.
But once we were up the plateau, things looked amazing.
The clouds were lifting, the sun was coming out and we were in this fantastic bleak polar landscape.
And the terrain was level again, so it wasn't exhausting any more. Which made me happy.
(When I looked at that picture, I wondered: Why are there only six dogs in front of the sled? But that's only an unfortunate perspective with the two front rows of dogs overlapping. There are eight dogs. I hadn't lost any...)
A great place for dogsledding.
It was the day with the longest time on the moving sled on this tour. But then, this was only by a minute, so it wasn't an unusually long day. And finally we could see our destination. Staloluokta is roughly where the small forest is located on the next picture.
Supposedly, the view from Staloluokta across the lake is one of the best vistas in Sweden, but during the afternoon, the clouds had been rolling in again, so when we arrived, it wasn't.
But the cabin was nice and large and we could use one of its room to dry out dog jackets and booties.
In the evening, it was planning time again.
As originally planned, we had only two more days left. But everyone had added one 'rest and play with the dogs' day at the end of the trip (so none of us went home directly after returning to Umnäs), wo we had the option of staying up north a day longer.
So we could go back in a three day semi-circle via Låddejokk. Or we could do a daytrip on lakes Virihaure and Vastenjaureand, then go back the way we came. Or we could, instead of going via Såmmarlappa, go along another river and mountain pass, more or less parallel to the route we took, to the Såmmarlappa, cabin and from there to Kvikkjokk. Or do a day tour and then via Vaimok to Kvikkjokk.
But, after following the weather forecast, there were fewer options. There would be strong winds in three days. Not yet a storm warning, but potentially so. The worse news that it would also be raining that day.
Dogsledding and rain doesn't go together well.
The rain destroys the snow (even if the snow is not washed away, it gets 'perforated' and hard to drive on) and it's also no fun for dogs and humans when they are outside and wet.
Cold is easy to deal with when you are dry, but if you get wet, it gets uncomfortable quickly.
I had done dogsledding in the rain once in Svalbard and I've never been as cold and miserable on a dog sled as then. The only saving grace was that it was the last day of the tour, so we were heading back to the dog kennel and I would be in a nice warm hotel room with a hot shower three hours later. I rather am out in a dry -22°C than in a rainy +1°C.
In any case, that removed the option of spending three more days dogsledding.
Now the choices were to go back to Kvikkjokk in two days the way we came (via Såmmarlappa) or via Vaimok. There was a slight preference for Vaimok, as that was a route we hadn't seen before, but the final decision was postponed to next morning.
When stepping out of the hut the next day, the view was much better than the evening before.
When everything is white, it probably loses a bit of its beauty, but it was easy to imagine how it would look like in spring, with open water and snow covered mountains as the backdrop.
And although it looked nice as scenery, it didn't look nice in meteorology.
Kenneth didn't like the clouds behind the mountains towards south-west, which would be the way towards Vaimok, so it was safer to go back the way we came. Partly, because the weather looked better there (although that might have changed quickly), but mostly because we came that way the previous day, so we would have a trail to follow and we didn't risk to run into deep snow or unexpected problems somewhere. (Especially as we hadn't been following snowmobile trails for most of the way, but made our own track.)
So back to Såmmarlappa it was.
And any frustration of not seeing anything new was quickly removed by being on that plateau again (and knowing that this time we could drive down to the river valley).
Before we left, I tried to have a look at the local 'church building', which is in a turf house (grass and soil covering a wooden frame underneath). But the door was frozen shut and I didn't want to force it in fear of damaging something.
The start from Staloluokta was another potentially tricky one, as there was soft snow behind the hut, where the dogs were located.
In deep snow, you should go slow, but right when starting out in the morning, the dogs will run, so there's always a risk of a dog getting the foot in a soft spot and being pulled along, hurting a shoulder.
But once again nobody had problems and we were on our way.
We had spotted some moose the previous day, but didn't manage to get a good picture of them. This time we had more luck.
All through the day the weather was great - lots of sunshine and only an occasional cloud.
Of course, my team once again decided that it wouldn't follow the track that everyone else was doing, but there was lots of space and the snow was not deep, so it didn't matter.
And should the lead dogs decide that they wanted to follow the trail, Gran wasn't happy with turning his head and eating a bit of snow when overheating, but went off trail on his own, pulling thee sled off trail as well.
At that point of the trip I've come to expect it, so I didn't mind much. And there wasn't any river bank or tree around to cause any issues with the sled.
While at some points the scenery looked alpine...
...there were other parts where the sand looked more like dunes and, with a bit of a yellow-ish tint (and editing out the dog sleds), might as well been taken in the Sahara desert somewhere .
Even though going towards Såmmarlappa was easier than the other way round, there's still a lot of going uphill and pushing the sled (although on shorter stretches, so there was time to catch some breath between uphill sections).
But it still was exhausting.
And then I got taken by surprise by my dogs.
When I was not pushing or pedalling, they often stopped on uphill sections, expecting for me to do my job properly. At one point I was exhausted and we had stopped. Koen was close behind me, so I gestured him to pass me, so I could have a short rest and follow later. (After all, it was a vacation and not a race.)
But the moment that Neon tried to run by my stopped team, Zink evidently decided that, uphill or not (and with my help or without), she wouldn't Neon let pass. And started to sprint.
So after slowly walking up that slope, they ran up the rest of it.
Neon stood there, wondering what just had happened.
From there it wasn't far to the crest.
And from there, it was down the slope that gave us (well, me...) so much trouble the previous day.
Downhill is so much easier...
The section doesn't look that steep or difficult, but it is hard work.
After that, we had an easy run along the river to Såmmarlappa.
We set up things in Såmmarlappa as before (by then the photographers had gone - without managing to get a lynx picture). By then, we had gotten reasonably experienced in setting up the wind protection. (Though there's still a lot of room for improvement.)
And next morning was the start of the final dogsledding day. Back to Kvikkjokk.
Overcast and a bit of snow - already noticeably different from the previous day's weather.
Crossing the icy part of the river was a bit easier this time.
We knew what to expect, so we had only put booties on the dogs that really needed them (and didn't do precautionary booties). So, for example, Prana in lead didn't have to cross the ice with four 'bootied' feet and hence got better traction on the ice. And we went from a trailhead onto the river. So instead of having to aim specifically for the trailhead, we could go for any point on the other side of the river.
And once there, we had enough snow to continue normally.
Further along the river, there was even a bit of blue sky and sunshine. Not necessarily where we were. But it made the scenery around us look nicer.
Later on it got a bit windier again, but this time at least the wind came from the back, so it didn't feel as unpleasant and we didn't need to crouch behind our sleds.
Then we went off the river and through the woods for a while. One downhill section was especially memorable, as it was winding through the forest and had high snowbanks on both sides, so it felt a bit like going down a bobsleigh track on a dogsled. Strange experience and fun.
We had to cross the two wooden bridges with the gaps between the stepping boards again. As before, it looked a bit scary with the dog's legs dropping through the gaps and the dogs falling all the time, but we managed to go even slower than the first time and all dogs made it to the other side without issues.
After that it was down to the final stretch of river towards Kvikkjokk.
By then the clouds were rolling in and, looking back, soon the mountains behind were no longer visible. That felt a bit like curtains closing at the end of the show.
And with a final run up to the Kvikkjokk Fjällstation we reached the parking lot where the trailer was parked.
The dogsledding trip was over.
Time to hug the dogs (which they don't care much about, but we did), take harnesses and booties off and put them into the trailer for the long drive back.
Kenneth had decided to drive home the same day (as opposed to staying in Kvikkjokk for a night and driving back the next day), which was (partly) the reason why this was the earliest trip start of the whole trip (admittedly, just a minute earlier than when we left for Staloluokta, but still...) and especially the earliest arrival. We got there at 12:33, which is more than two hours earlier than the second-earliest arrival and almost three hours earlier than a typical arrival.
Of course, the fact that we didn't have any dog food on the sled on the last day also helped a lot. And that going from Såmmarlappa to Kvikkjokk has only a hundred meter of ascent, but more than 300 meters of descent, so it took us roughly 50 minutes less to get from Såmmarlappa to Kvikkjokk than going the other way.
In any case - after the dogs were in the trailer, we put the sleds on top of it, went into the car and drove to Umnäs, where we arrived in the early evening.
Next day started with an unexpected visitor outside the guest house.
Then it was time to remove the visible marker of the trip - shave of the beard. But not before taking a picture as a reminder that beards don't suit me.
We then spent some time with the dogs (after such a trip, it's nice to see their front ends again) and with the usual end-of-of-trip sorting of what's in the sled.
Hanging up the jackets, the booties and the harnesses to dry.
As well going through all the other stuff in the sled bags, like sleeping bags, dog bowls, mittens, shovels, wind screens, repair stuff and sled anchors, sorting them and putting them where they (hopefully) belong.
And you find other dog booties. They turn up in an astounding number of places. Some of them you put in your pockets, so you have a replacement available when a dog loses one. Then there are the ones you pick up on the trail and drop in the sled. Then there are some with a hole, which you will no longer use and intend to throw away. So you put them somewhere, where you will not accidentally use them and then forget about them. And the ones where you happened to pick the wrong size and put them aside, as they are still usable, but not on your team.
You keep finding dog booties for quite some time. (I found one days later - when the rechargeable batteries for my GPS died and I switched to normal batteries, I needed to put my rechargeable batteries somewhere. So I put them into an old dog bootie. It had a small hole and was no longer usable for the dogs, but it was a convenient little bag to put batteries in. I didn't notice that until later my batteries died and I was looking for the rechargeable ones...)
We were glad that we went back to Kvikkjokk when we did and didn't stay for another day.
While there were some sunny moments, the weather did change a lot during that day and we had a bit of rain and a bit of sleet - both not good things when you're on a dog sled and no fun for the dogs either.
And in the evening, the wind picked up strongly.
Kenneth and Catte not only have a lot of dogs. They also have horses, which they ride in dressage competitions in the summer. When bringing the horses into the stable for feeding in the evening (it was too windy to feed them outside, as the hay was blown away), the wind ripped off one of the stable doors. And not simply by ripping out the hinges. It managed to dislocate the whole door frame.
Not good weather for being outside.
By that time we wouldn't have been on the sled anymore, but we would have been in the car, with the dog trailer behind. And that dog trailer isn't one of the most aerodynamic shapes.
So it turned out that all the decisions that Kenneth made due to the weather had been the best possible and we always were where the bad weather wasn't.
Next day it was time to leave.
And it was time for giving the dogs a little 'good-bye' present before leaving.
Then it was time to get to the airport and fly to Stockholm.
The dogsledding part of the trip was over.
Here's some information derived from the GPS track data.
|Date||From||To||Start||End||TotalTime||Pause||MovingTime||Distance||Max Speed||Avg.||Mov.Avg.||Start Alt.||Min Alt||Max Alt||Total Asc.||Total Des.|
And the track over a satellite image of northern Sweden.
And here is the trail we took as a zipped KML file, so it can be watched in Google Earth:
After arriving at the airport in Stockholm, I spent the night again in the Jumbo Jet. This time the accommodation was a little bit more luxurious. Instead of staying in the wheelhouse, I spent the night in the cflight deck suite. This also included the used of the 'conference room' on the upper deck, so I had a good working environment to get my laptop out and do a first sorting of all the pictures and videos I took on the trip.
But I didn't fly home the next day.
I had one more strange hotel to visit.
After spending a lot of time with dogs, I planned to spend a night with wolves. Or at least close to them.
There is a village in Sweden named Järvsö and there is a zoo there, named the Järvzoo.
The zoo covers a large area and the animal enclosures (especially for the herbivores) are the size of football fields or larger.
There is only one trail through the park. It's an (often elevated) boardwalk that is three kilometres long and has an elevation change of about a hundred meters.
In the animal park, there are only animals that normally occur in Sweden. Reindeer, moose, red foxes, arctic foxes, various owls, wolverines, brown bears, lynx, and musk ox.
They also have wolves.
And they built a guest house in one of the wolf enclosures (they have two wolf enclosures).
The guest house has large panorama windows (but, obviously no open veranda - at least not on the wolf side)
So you can go there, visit the zoo, but when everyone else is leaving at closing time, you can retreat into your guest house, make yourself a cup of tea, sit in your room and watch the wolves.
I did watch the wolves for a while after I arrived. Then I did make a round trough the zoo, having a look at the other animals.
When I returned, it was around closing time (15:00) and I had planned to watch the wolves a bit more. But it turned out that the wolves clearly were professional zoo animals. Within ten minutes after closing time, they all had settled down for a nap.
I'm not sure why. The wolf enclosure at the guest house is not that close to the boardwalk, so the wolves don't notice the visitors much in any case. And there weren't that many visitors at that time of year in any case, so they weren't kept awake by the crowds or the noise. And, in general, the animals ignored the visitors anyway.
Maybe the zoo keepers 'snack' the wolves before they leave, so the wolves are a bit more active before that and know that nothing interesting will happen after.
In any case, between closing time and dusk there wasn't much to see except for sleeping wolves.
So I decided to let sleeping wolves lie and go for dinner at a restaurant in town.
Coming back from dinner was a strange experience (which had nothing to do with the food).
Since the zoo was closed, the main entrance was closed as well, but my room key opened a small door to at the side, so I could let myself into the zoo at night.
Which felt weirder than I can describe.
It felt a bit as if you were allowed to stay in a museum overnight and were trusted with the key to the place, with the implicit assumption that you wouldn't help yourself to a Picasso or two and wouldn't try to improve the Rembrandts by drawing silly glasses on them.
A zoo (like a museum or a church) is a place where you always feel supervised and, at best, tolerated. And here I was trusted with the key to the (animal) kingdom. I could have brought in a motorcycle and raced along the walking trail. Or brought a hundred people and a DJ in for a party. Or made a barbecue out of the musk ox.
Obviously I didn't. And didn't want to. And I am aware that I could have done the same (getting into the zoo at night) by bringing a ladder - it's not like the zoo is surrounded by high security fences. But it still felt odd to be able to let myself into a zoo as if I belonged there. [I have been trying to rephrase the previous sentence to be less awkward, less ambiguous and less open to sarcastic remarks, but didn't manage...]
I was back in the zoo in time for the evening wolf howl.
After relaxing for a while, I went on a night walk through the zoo.
That was also a weird experience. It's safer than walking through a forest at night (at least you weren't likely to encounter any boar or other wild animal on the path) and you can't get lost, so you can also turn off the flashlight for a bit and try to walk in the dark for a bit (before you run into the handrails and decide to turn the light on again).
As the animal enclosures are large, it's sometimes easier to find the animals at night than during the day. Evolution hasn't yet factored the effect of flashlight on reflective retinas in, so two shiny greenish dots in the dark are a dead giveaway where the animals are located.
Mostly the animals looked at me and didn't move much, but one of the red foxes found the spot of light interesting, followed it (mostly staying at the edge of the illuminated area) and tried to see whether there was anything interesting on the ground. It was interesting how silent it moved. Usually it would be too loud to notice, but it was the quiet of the night and I was expecting at least some rustle of the leaves on the ground as the fox moved, but I couldn't hear anything. (There were two other foxes in the same enclosure, but they didn't move around - they stayed well in the background, peeking over some rocks and trying to stay out of sight. Which didn't work as their eyes were shining a bright green, so I knew where they were.)
While the red fox had been active, its white equivalent was asleep when I passed its enclosure and seemed a bit annoyed before going to sleep again.
I also spotted the lynx (which I hadn't seen during the daytime visit) and most of the other animals (oddly enough, the only animals that seemed to give me a "You've woken me in the middle of my sleep and I'm annoyed now" looks where the owls - so they aren't really much of night owls, I suppose), but there usually wasn't enough light to photograph them, so I had an interesting experience, but not many pictures to show here.
Next morning the wolves were active again and the sun was shining to the trees, so I managed a nice 'portrait picture' of one of the wolves.
I don't have any photos that can comfortably follow after that one, so it's time to come to an end.
In any case, the trip was almost over.
I drove to Uppsala, spent the next night there (in a regular hotel - nothing to write about), had a nice morning walk in the woods nearby, drove on to Stockholm and flew home.
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