Sweden, February 2024: Icehotel, Dogsledding and Skis


A bit oddly, the first thing I noticed in Jokkmokk were the toilet holders at the hostel.

I am always impressed when I see some common household item that's been done in a way that's different and simpler than expected. Like a bathtub plug I had seen in Japan a couple of years ago, which was simply a rubber covered metal ball. Usually, the bathtub plug needs to match the size of the bathtub drain. But a sphere will work with a wide variety of drain sizes. Clever.

In the hostel the toilet paper was on a metal rod with little discs on the end, lying on a metal frame.

Toilet paper holder

No need to insert the part holding the paper roll into some slots in the wall holder or pushing some spring-loaded contraption into two holes on the sides. And it will still roll easily. (Yes, there are also toilet paper holders that have no moving parts and you simply slide the toilet roll on from the side. But that doesn't change the fact that I had never seen this variant of toilet roll holder and was impressed by its simplicity.)

Anyway, it's probably time to write about dogsledding.

Which isn't easy this time, as it was nice.

There weren't any serious problems or significant issues.

That's good for a vacation, but somewhat dull to write about. Near-disasters make better stories.

And 'nice' is a somewhat loaded word anyway. It seems like there's a saying in parts of Germany: "Nett ist der kleine Bruder von Scheiße" (Essentially: "Nice is shitty's little brother.") Meaning that labeling something as 'nice' often means "I didn't like it much. Actually, I think it's shit. But I'm not sufficiently excited about it to argue, so I'll day "Yeah, nice." and hope that closes the topic.")

So I think I should better state that when I say it was a nice trip, I mean it in the dictionary sense of "giving pleasure or satisfaction".

Anyway, moving on...

Logistically, the trip was an easy one this year.

We started out at the guest house in Jokkmokk and returned there by the end of the trip.

This allowed us to leave all the baggage that we wouldn't need on the dog sledding trip, like regular shoes, a fresh set of clothes, laptops and various chargers, at the guest house.

(In the previous year, we had gone from Saltoluokta to Jokkmokk, so we couldn't simply leave out extra stuff at Saltoluokta. Stina from the dog sledding company had to transport out gear to Jokkmokk after she brought new supplies and dog food to Saltoluokta.)

I met up with the other clients on the dog sledding trip during dinner at the Åsgård hostel.

Meeting at that hostel was another bonus of starting in Jokkmokk, as the dinner was prepared by Caisa, who does very good dinners.

Caisa used to run the Åsgård hostel, but it's now run by two other people. I think that Caisa mentioned that she sold the hostel to them, but I'm not sure how STF (Swedish Tourist Organization) actually works and whether they, as an organization, own the place or whether it acts more like a franchise and the places are individually owned. Or whether it's a mixture of both.

It doesn't seem to make much sense to run the remote huts in private ownership (and as far as I recall, the wardens there change every couple of months), but maybe the larger hostels in Kvikkjokk and Jokkmokk are privately run and operated.

In any case, Caisa doesn't run the place anymore, but she still does dinners for groups (such as ours) and that's fantastic.

We were four clients on the trip. Julian, a video editor who came originally from France, but is now working mostly in London and Barcelona, Tania from the Netherlands, who works at a large petrochemical company and also volunteers at an animal shelter, and Theresa from Germany, working for a company that makes audio equipment.

It was a relaxed and easy-going group, but none of them had ever been dogsledding before.

Which, fortunately, didn't turn out to be a problem. There weren't any difficulties on the trail due to inexperience or nervousness around the dogs. The few minor issues we had on the trail (like one lead dog going left around a tree and the other going to the right, or the one where a team turned right at a T-junction where Matti had turned left) could have happened to anyone and were quickly sorted out.

Next morning, Stina picked us up from the hostel and drove us to the dog kennel.

After being fitted with some dogsledding gear (like proper boots, trousers, jackets and gloves), we were ready for the usual pre-sledding instructions.

Sledding instructions

Which can be summarized as:

There might be more to it, but these are the core elements you need to get going. The dogs will handle most of the other stuff anyway.

My team consisted of Gus, Dallas, Flow, Sofia and Elsie.

My dog team

The order on the notepad isn't relevant. For the first half of the trip, I was running with Elise and Sofia in lead, Flow running alone in the middle and Gus and Dallas in wheel. Later I put Flow in lead and Elsie went to the middle position.

The only one of the dogs that I already knew was Gus, who had been on my team in 2022 and 2023. It's good to have Gus on the team, as he's a reliable wheel dog and also a dog that likes people. When, for example, all dogs are still resting in the morning and I walked to my sled because I wanted to put the sleeping bag in, most of the dogs remained curled up, while Gus was usually the one getting up, wanting to be cuddled. Or at least noticed.

Gus wanting to say hello

Dallas, the other wheel dog looks a bit like a carbon copy of Gus, although I have no idea whether they are related. But they were easy to distinguish. The dog demanding all the attention will be Gus. (On the trail there was another, more obvious, way to distinguish them. Dallas was the one who was always running with pink booties on the back legs. And, on a similar note, Sofia is easy to identify on most 'on the trail' pictures by wearing yellow booties (on most days - she had pink booties on the first day).

When starting out from the kennel, Stina always released four dogs at the same time, one from each team. (I didn't pay attention to that, but I think Matti went and collected the dogs for his own team himself.)

Releasing the dogs

Everyone got a new addition to their sled at the same time, which avoided the problem of having one team all ready to go, while the other sleds haven't any dogs yet. In most other cases I've either seen it done by sled team, so everyone helps harnessing and putting the dogs in front of one sled, then going on to the next sled. Often this means that there are fewer people to handle the dogs for each subsequent sled, as anyone with a 'full set of dogs' in front of the sled needs to stay on the sled and stand on the brake. So it's best to start with the least experienced client and end with the sled of the most experience one. Or, alternatively, it's done in a chaotic fashion, by simply grabbing the next dog nearby, check which one it is and then, after harnessing it, put it in front of the sled it belongs to.

Releasing one dog per team allows everyone to be ready at about the same time. (The only potential issue is that everyone is essentially on their own, so if anyone has a problem, there's at first no assistance available. But Matti is likely to get his team organized quickly and then he can help the clients.)

Dog teams mostly ready

In a remarkably short time, we were ready to go.

Of course, by that time it had gotten noisy. Partly because our dogs wanted to get going, but even more because the dogs still in the kennel, which wouldn't be on the tour, made clear how much they disliked that.

Dog staying at the kennel

In my team, Flow was most eager to go and kept jumping up and down.

Flow eager to go

If he appears about twice as large as the dogs in front of him, that's not because Flow is a giant dog, but because he's not standing on the ground, jumping up almost his own height.

Flow in normal position

That's a more realistic image of his height and position (when standing on the ground).

After a while, Dallas also got a bit overexcited. And Elsie also went out of line to have a look around Tania's sled to see what was going on.

Dallas on hind legs

That was also the time to keep a close eye on Dallas and be ready to yell. When too eager to go, Dallas tried to bite through the neckline (usually not the own neckline, but the one connecting Gus). He didn't bite through it as I did see him snap at it and yelled, but I did have two rather frayed necklines at the wheel position when the trip ended. (And after the first day, I asked Matti to give me some spare necklines, so I could fix things in case one got bitten through. I did need to replace a neckline two days later, but surprisingly it wasn't Dallas but Flow who had bitten his.)

In any case, everyone had a good start and soon we were on the lake in front of the kennel.

The tour had started.

On the first lake

To my surprise, we were going at a brisk pace.

The surprise was not so much the speed we were going, but more the way we let the dogs run.

In many cases, you start the day with standing on the brake a lot.

The reason is that sled dogs essentially have two ways of running - lope and trot (technically there's also walking, which is different, but that is of little relevance in front of the sled). In human terms, it's a bit like the difference between running and jogging.

Sled dogs love to lope (basically kicking out with both back legs at the same time).

If you don't interfere, the dogs will lope.

But there are two downsides to this.

First of all, loping dogs will tire faster. So you have a fast run at first, but then the dogs will be worn out. If the dogs trot, they can keep that up forever. Of course, not really forever, but they can do about 150 km per day, which is often more than the driver on the back of the sled can handle.

Ideally, you want the dogs to trot. And to encourage that, you brake a lot at the beginning of the day, so the dogs stop loping and start walking. (With the obvious downside that you waste a lot of the dog's energy by slowing the sled down. But at the end of the day, that's worth it.)

The other reason for discouraging the dogs to lope is the risk of injury. As the front legs go (mostly) straight down when loping, there's a risk that the dog will hit soft snow or a hole in the path, get stuck and then become injured when they are pulled further along with the rest of the team. When trotting, they put the legs on the ground at an angle, so if there's some issue, the leg will not sink straight in.

That's the theory.

But in this case, we were on a well-used trail across the lake (and through the subsequent forest), so the risk of hitting a hole or a soft patch was low.

And while the whole thing about the dogs getting tired when loping is certainly true, it wasn't much of an issue at the distances we were going. While loping is mostly used on short distance sprint races, where the race is over before the dogs get exhausted, many of such sprint races have distances up to 40 km. Our daily distances were a bit more than 30 km. And while our dogs, as well trained as they were, weren't exactly trained racing dogs, we did have a long lunch break every day. So it was unlikely that we would exhaust them by letting them lope at the start of the day.

However, I've rarely started a dog sledding day by letting the dogs choose their own speed and gait, so going at 'full speed ahead' was exciting.

And also a bit unexpected, as we had small teams of five dogs each.

I'm usually happiest with a team of eight dogs and consider six dogs too few for any long tour. So I had my reservations about the size of the team. But the dogs had no problems pulling the sled.

That's partly because we had light sleds. We would only be out for six days, so we didn't have to bring as much food as on the longer tours. And there was a food depot on one of the places where we would be stopping, so we didn't need to have a full six day supply. More importantly, we would be staying at existing accommodations, so there was no need to bring tents, an oven, fuel and other stuff with us.

Most of us had one bag of dry food, one cardboard box of sausages, a sleeping bag and their personal gear on the sled. And, except for some stuff that was distributed over all sleds, like human food, dog blankets or feeding bowls, that was all.

And while the speed of the sled doesn't really increase much by adding more dogs, I didn't expect five dogs being able to pull the sled this easily (because even with a light sled, there's the weight of the sled and the weight of me adding up to the resistance the sled has on the ground).

Soon we were across the lake and in the forest.

Dogsledding on wide forest path

And then across a couple of lakes again.

Dogsledding on lake

In the morning, the sky was still overcast, but it got sunnier in the afternoon.

We did travel on a somewhat convoluted route on that first day.

Our destination was a large 'yurt' style tent that Matti and Stina had set up in a forest a couple of weeks earlier.

However, the 'as the crow flies' distance to that was about 5 km. And even though we weren't able to take the most direct route, as there is a hill called 'Slalombacken' in the way and we went around that, the distance by dog sled would have been around 17 km, which would have been a short run.

Instead, we went on some double-eight shaped route to the left and right of the primary trail to have a longer trip.

Which is fine. I'm doing dogsledding because I like dogsledding. It's not as much about going places. Great scenery is a bonus, but it's not at the core of the activity. Consequently, I don't mind going in circles, as long as I'm going. If I want to go somewhere specific, I'll take a snowmobile...

It also meant having Siberian Jays for lunch.

Before that is misunderstood: We didn't eat them for lunch. But we had them as 'guests'.

Matti has some places where he knows that Siberian Jays are likely to be around, so we had lunch at one of them and threw some breadcrumbs to attract them.

Siberian Jay Siberian Jay

If I hadn't done tours with Matti before, I would have assumed that part of the reason for the strangely winding route had also been a safety consideration. The lunch place was only about 4 km from the starting point and most of it was across lakes, so if any problems had developed on the first morning, we could have quickly returned to the kennel. Or Stina could have reached us with a snowmobile in a couple of minutes.

But on the tours starting in Saltoluokta, we also had people with no previous experience in dog sledding and we didn't do any detours from the direct route to the next hut, so I doubt that having people without dogsledding experience was a factor this time.

While the weather was still overcast during the lunch break, the sun came out in the afternoon, so we had a much sunnier run then.

Running after lunch

As is evident from the way the snow on the side of the trail looks, this picture was taken when starting from the lunch spot. When having a break, the dog collars are unclipped, so the dogs have a wider range of movement. Then they often rest or dig in the deeper snow beside the trail.

A bit further down we rejoined one of the wider 'designated trails' (the Sårvatsvägen - I think it's most likely a long-distance cross-country skiing trail), which had been recently groomed. Driving there with a dog sled felt like pure luxury. Fantastic conditions. (Though skiers will presumably not like that, because dogsledding on it isn't going to do the loipe any good.)

Freshly groomed trail Freshly groomed trail

By the time we got close to the tent, the sun was almost setting. (But then, it was in mid-February, so sunset was around 4 pm.)

Late in the day on the trail

A happy day of dogsledding.

Happy on the sled

Setting up for the night was easy.

Stake-out lines (to which the dogs are attached at night) were already set up, so we simply had to take the dogs off the tugline, remove their harnesses and attach the dogs to the stake-out line.

Dogs on stake-out lines

And then carry our gear (mainly the sleeping bag) to the tent.

I forgot to take any good picture of the tent itself, so it only shows up in the background of some pictures, such as this ones.

Scenery around tent Scenery around tent

In a way, the tent turned out to be the most spacious accommodation we had on the trip.

Technically, the cabins that followed were probably larger. But the yurt didn't have tables, cupboards and chairs inside, so it felt like there was more room available. The tent had the wood stove and a few foldable 'camping beds' in it. And that's it. (And 'camping beds' makes them sound flimsier than they were. They were foldable beds, but massive and sturdy, so it felt more like a 'real bed' than some lightweight camping bed.)

The water for cooking and for providing hydration to the dogs, to accompany their dry food, came directly from the lake.

Boring for water

This should usually go without saying, but Matti proudly (?) presented his ice drill (which seems to be properly called an ice auger) to the camera.

Matti and his ice auger Matti and his ice auger

There's a bit of a story behind this. Last year we spent a night in tents on a lake. And Matti hadn't packed an ice drill. That wasn't an oversight. He knew where he wanted to stop for the night. And he knew that there's a small brook nearby. So he figured it wasn't worth having the additional weight of the ice drill on the sled (and, admittedly, it also takes up a fair amount of space).

Things didn't go quite as planned, though. We had a bad trail with deep, freshly fallen snow (in a beautiful environment, I have to concede, but still a slow trail), so we arrived at the location later than planned. (And as we didn't have an ice drill with us, we didn't have to option of stopping somewhere else.) And then the way to the brook was through deep snow, so the "it's about five minutes walk in this direction" became half an hour. The directions were a bit vague as well. "It's next to the birch tree." isn't that helpful in a forest. It was a spruce forest, so the birch tree did stand out a bit, but that doesn't make finding a specific tree in a forest easy. And it was harder to get down to the brook than expected. (I didn't experience any of this first hand, as I stayed at the camp and was busy sawing a dead tree into small pieces to fire the stove.)

As a result, there was a certain grumpiness in the group that evening, which could have been easily avoided by bringing an ice drill.

So Matti made sure to point out that he did bring an ice drill this time.

Getting water from the lake Getting water from the lake

Getting water was easy and nobody was grumpy in the tent.

Destination for the next day was a hut called Randikojan on the shore of a lake called Rádnávrre.

Weather conditions we similar to the first day.

In the morning the sky was overcast, but clouds moved slowly away during the day, so we had a beautiful sunset when we reached the hut.

The first nine kilometers we went back the way we had come up the previous day.

Heading downhill from the yurt

Then we continued for another two kilometers to arrive at the only problematic part of the trail, where we had to cross the road going from Jokkmokk to Karats.

There isn't much traffic on that road, as there are only about 50 people living in Karats (and many of them not living there in winter), but anyone driving down the road may not expect dog sleds crossing, so it's better to make sure that the road is empty.

There weren't any cars in sight, so we could continue onto the lake on the other side.

Dogsledding across a lake

We went over the lake for another five kilometers or so and then stopped for lunch (no Siberian Jays joining us this time).

Then we were back on another stretch of the cross-country skiing trail that we enjoyed the previous day, going through the woods.

Deluxe trail through te forest

Followed by another easy trail along the shore of another lake.

Dogsledding along a lake shore Dogsledding along a lake shore Dogsledding along a lake shore

Towards the end of the day, there were a couple of kilometers through a forest, before we arrived at our destination in time for sunset.

Randikojan sunset Randikojan sunset Randikojan sunset

Among the huts we visited, this was the nicest one, although I find it difficult to explain why.

The dogs quickly decided on which beds they would take.

When Matti opened up the door, Annie immediately ran in, jumped on one of the beds and curled up to sleep.

Then Kyla went in, tried to jump on the same bed, noticed that there already was a dog on it and went to the other one.

Only then the humans decided where they would sleep.

There probably needs to be a short explanation about the two dogs.

Kyla is easiest to explain. She was in heat during the trip, so it would have caused unrest (and presumably a few slipped collars) if she would have stayed outside with the other dogs. So she was allowed to come inside, which she seemed to like a lot. (On the last day, when it was feeding time, we opened the door to the cabin to let her out, in the assumption she would go to the other dogs. But she simply went out for a quick pee, turned around and went back to bed.)

Annie (full name Annie Lennox) is a bit of an oddity.

She was also with us on the dog sledding trip in 2022 and I wrote about her, so I'll just copy what I wrote about her there:

Annie isn't a sled dog. Neither by breed nor by job description.

Annie is a border collie, which essentially means she's a bundle of energy wrapped in a fur cover.

Her job is mainly to act as a kind of unleashed lead dog (which seems to be called "loose leader"), running ahead of the teams and looking for the best trail.

As my sled was the last one in the running order, I usually was far behind Matti's sled (and quite often far behind everyone's sled...), so I didn't see much of her during the trip, but when I did see Annie, she was running back and forth in front of Matti's team like some black and white lightning. (While I didn't get to see that, Annie is also a big fan of snowmobiles, as they go faster than dog sleds and she really enjoys running along with them.)

The dog in the second picture below is Kyla.

Randikojan hut inside Randikojan hut with Kyla inside

The hut had two regular beds at ground level and a sleeping platform under the roof.

Which requires careful temperature management, as this means that if you fire up the stove and it's nice and cozy at ground level, it will be too hot to sleep on the sleeping platform. And when it's a nice temperature up there, it gets a bit chilly down below. As everyone had warm sleeping bags (and the cabin cools down at night anyway), it was better to stop feeding the stove after dinner and let the whole room cool down a bit.

The hut doesn't have as many modern features as it seems on first glance.

While there are some wires and a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, there's usually no electrical power available.

People using the cabin in summertime sometime bring batteries (and sometimes solar panels) with them, but we didn't have either.

But the chandelier looked great, especially once we fully stocked it with candles (yes, these are real candles, not LED imitations in the image above), and gave the place a somewhat festive feel.

As usual, Annie made sure next morning that everything started out well organized.

It seems like Annie considers sled dogs to be some sort of sheep.

And as a border collie, she needs to make sure that none of them leaves 'the flock'.

When people are putting things on the sled (even though nobody had started harnessing the dogs or even laying out the tuglines), Annie is ready.

Lying on the trail in front of all the other dogs and watching.

Making sure that nobody strays or gets lost.

I tried to step behind Annie and take a picture of her lying in front of all the other dogs from the other side, but, of course, this didn't work.

The moment I stepped behind her, she got up, ran past me and crouched on the ground about five meters behind me.

Because otherwise I wasn't in her field of view. And that wasn't to be tolerated, since that meant not everything and everyone was in place. And, in the best style of well behaved herding dogs, she was blocking the forward trail, giving a clear indication that, really, she would prefer me to go back from where I came from and not continue.

While she's a relaxed dog inside a cabin, once she's outside she is highly focused on her job.

Annie watching the other dogs Annie watching the other dogs Annie watching the other dogs

The weather pattern (overcast in the morning, sun coming out in the afternoon) didn't hold the next day.

While we started out with overcast skies again, we didn't get any sun later that day, but got snow instead.

The first half of the day, we headed back on the trail that we used the previous day, going slightly past the place where we had lunch. We didn't stop at the same place, though, but turned away from the lake and about 2 km along a trail next to a river called Pärlälven.

There we stopped at a wooden shelter that seemed familiar.

Paerlaelven River shelter

We had stopped there in the previous year for lunch when returning to Jokkmokk.

It was a good place to stop here this time, as, by the time we stopped, it had started to snow.

Snow at Paerlaelven River shelter Snow at Paerlaelven River shelter

And while food preparation was outside, it was pleasant to be able to sit under the roof and eat without getting snowed on.

While we had been eating, Dallas managed to get blood on his fur somehow.

Bloody cheek

We didn't manage to determine what happened. There wasn't any wound (the blood was on top of the fur) and there was no blood on the snow (so it wasn't a bleeding paw that Dallas tried to lick clean). Matti assumed that it was blood coming from some injury to the tongue. One of the mysteries on the trail.

After lunch, we followed the trail along the river a bit longer and then continued along a trail running in parallel to the road that we crossed the previous day. As before, there was hardly any traffic on it, but when there was, it was startling.

The road is only 50 meters beside the trail, but there are some trees between the road and the trail and you don't see where the road is.

When dogsledding along the trail, it feels like you are in the middle of a large forest, far away from everything.

If a car suddenly drives right past you, even when you know that there's a road, it's feels strange.

Trail parallel to BD 747 road

A bit further, we turned off the main trail and along a smaller path through the woods (and away from the road).

Trail to Juksaure cabin

I had come this way in the previous year, but it was much easier this time.

A year earlier, nobody had gone to Juksaure cabin for a while and it had recently snowed, so there wasn't much of a trail. Only a snow-covered section between trees on both sides. Process was slow and Matti's dogs had their work cut out for them, trying to make a trail through the snow. (Last year, I was running the last sled, so I had the easiest job of all, as there were four teams ahead of me, flattening the snow a lot. This time, everyone had an easy job here.)

We arrived at Juksaure cabin, which is a (somewhat rustic) hunting cabin.

As a dogsledding destination, it was probably the one that was most convenient for me.

The trail runs up to the cabin, so it's inconvenient to 'park' the dogs there for the night. It's better to run the dog past the cabin, with the lead team stopping close to the outhouse, as the ground is more level there. (Well, not really level, there's a dip at some point, but you can stop one team before the dip and one after it and then all dogs will be on level ground.)

Which means that the last team stops right next to the cabin. And that happened to be mine.

So I had the shortest walk to bring my gear into the cabin.

And I could see 'my team' right outside the window.

Dogs seen through Juksaure cabin window

The cabin at Juksaure isn't small. It might be the one with the largest floor area that we stayed in this time. But inside it feels a bit cramped.

Inside of Juksaure cabin

That's partly because there's a massive table in there, with large benches on both sides, which takes up almost all the space inside, leaving not much room for people. And also because the building is a bit squat. The low ceiling not only makes it feel smaller, but also means that, unlike in the other cabins, there's no room for bunk beds. Or, indeed, any individual beds at all. There's one large, flat area with mattresses side by side, providing a continuous sleeping surface. Which, actually, works surprisingly well, if you share it with dogs, as it's much easier for the dogs to find a spot between the humans than when they need to share a bed of regular width with a human. But the sleeping area takes up a large part of the room, so that the inside of the cabin feels like it's a table and a sleeping area, leaving hardly any room for anything else.

Juksaure cabin was this time the easiest place for fetching water.

Due to the fresh snow last year, it was impossible to walk to the river without snowshoes. And even they kept sinking in. Now there was a good and firm path down to the river, where you could walk normally.

Water near Juksaure cabin

But the main advantage was that you could go right to an open section of the river and didn't have to drill for water.

The drilling isn't the critical element here. It's the small hole.

Usually, you scoop the water out of the hole with a little plastic scoop and fill the water containers that way.

Which takes a while.

Here you could hold a water container into the river and fill it quickly.

Nice and easy.

So far we had the trails mostly to ourselves.

We did see the occasional car going by and someone with a snowmobile on a lake, fishing. We didn't encounter anyone along the route.

That would be different on the following day.

Theoretically, though we didn't do that, we could have even known in advance when we would meet people and where along the trail.

The reason for that was that there was a race going on, called the Ice Ultra.

It's a five-day race, covering at least a marathon distance on each of the first four days. (50 km, 42 km, 42 km and 65 km).

The last day is comparatively easy - a 15 km final stretch to Jokkmokk. (I assume the idea behind this is that runners can enjoy reaching the destination and cross the finish line running. And not stumbling and staggering towards it, barely able to walk anymore. (Although, after having run about 200 km on the previous four days, the legs will be somewhat heavy in any case.)

I assume that the reason is essentially the same as for having a mandatory eight-hour rest at White Mountain during the Iditarod dog sled race. The idea is that the teams are in good shape when they arrive at the finish line and not look like they are about to fall over.

The Ice Ultra isn't a stand-alone event, but one of a series of four races, the Desert Ultra, the Jungle Ultra, the Mountain Ultra and the Ice Ultra.

All the runners are carrying GPS trackers and Matti had an app on his phone, showing the current position of all participants. So he could have seen on the phone when we would encounter runners on the trail, but I doubt that he did.

Except for the fact that the runner had to cover more than 200 km on snow trails, they had a comparatively easy run this year. Temperatures were around -5°C, which is warm for February. And it wasn't snowing either. At that time of year, temperatures are often around -30°C (in January, it went down to -47°C). With the 'warm' weather they could run in comparatively 'light' winter gear.

Meeting Ice Marathon Runners Meeting Ice Marathon Runners

I guess we met about a dozen Ice Ultra runners along the way and went by a few checkpoints.

The race is extremely well set-up, with teepees as checkpoints every five kilometers or so, providing a place to warm up and provide water and medical help were needed. It's a lot of effort for the organizers to set this up, but participating in the Ice Ultra isn't cheap either. Participating costs £3300. And, as far as I can tell, there is no prize money. So there's no hope to make some of the money back by winning the race. All you get is a medal and (possibly) a t-shirt. And even then the t-shirt is only optional and you are encouraged to have the organizers making a donation to a charity instead. It's a lot of money to spend for torturing yourself and being out in the cold, without having anything to show except the satisfaction of having done it. But, on the other hand, I was in the same environment, covering about the same distance on a dog sled, staying in cabins without electricity, but with outhouses instead, sharing my bed with dogs. And paying for it. So, except for the 'torturing yourself' part of running, who am I to argue?

Some of the runners were focused and passed by with a short 'Hey', but others stopped, took out their phones and made pictures. One of them went by with a heartfelt "You have it so much easier!"

During lunch (bacon and sausages grilled over an open fire) we had a guest. One of the locals who was doing logistics for the race, taking down checkpoints after all the runners had passed and driving the equipment with a snowmobile to the next location where it needed to be set-up. The runners were also allowed "night bags" of up to six kg, containing stuff like a sleeping bag or camp shoes, which needed to be transported between the camps at the end of each stage.

Lunch beside running trail Lunch beside running trail Lunch beside running trail

As far as I recall, the race was partly responsible for the somewhat strange route we had taken, with a number of sections where we returned along the trail way that we had come the previous day. Matti mentioned at some point that he had to re-arrange the schedule as some cabin had not been available on a specific day. I assume that was Laxholmen, to where we were heading and where the runners had spent the previous night. Looking at the map, it seems like it would be possible to go from Randikojan cabin (where we had been two nights ago) directly to Laxholmen, without needing to go back for half a day and then stay at Juksaure cabin. But then we would have been in Laxholmen a day earlier and that would have conflicted with the schedule of the Ice Ultra.

But in any case, we were heading to Laxholmen now.

Matti had a 3 meter long 'selfie stick' on his sled, so I used that to take some pictures from a different view point than usual.

Dog sleddding seen from 3m above Dog sleddding seen from 3m above Dog sleddding seen from 3m above
Dog sleddding seen from 3m above Dog sleddding seen from 3m above

In the afternoon we passed the small village of Karats, where the road that we had crossed two days earlier and with which we had been running in parallel for some time, ends.


From there, we had less than an hour to go across a lake before we reached Laxholmen island, our destination for the day.

On the lake towards Laxholmen

No sunny skies that afternoon, but no snow either. An easy run towards Laxholmen.

Although that day had featured the only really tricky spot of the whole tour.

We needed to turn form the side path leading to Juksaure cabin to the right onto the main trail.

Dog sleds can't really do 90° turns. (Well, they can, but not easily and not when following other dog sleds.)

When we had to make the turn, the dogs 'cut the corner' and went through a patch of deep, soft snow.

Which caused multiple problems.

First of all, the first dogs hitting the soft patch had to slow down or got stuck, so unless the driver stood on the brake of the sled, the next dogs ran into them, so there was a pile-up of dogs in front of the sled, with lines going slack.

Then the sleds came at an angle from the firm snow on the path onto the soft snow, so sleds fell over.

This meant the driver had to try to get the sled upright again, which isn't easy (even with light sleds) when standing in deep snow.

Even with the sleds being upright again, the dogs couldn't pull much, so the driver usually stood in deep snow and pushed the sled to help the dogs.

But once the dogs were on the firm snow of the main trail, they were back to full pulling power, which meant that the driver (who was not standing on the sled, but in the deep snow and pushing) was being pulled behind the sled along the trail and needed to stop the team somehow.

It all worked out in the end, but it was a bit chaotic.

I could be smug about it, as I managed to get through without any issues. But that's not because I'm a good and experienced dog sled driver, but mainly because I was the last in line and did see where the others struggled. So I went into the corner standing firmly on the brake (so the dogs would not pile up with the risk of being entangled), I did try to turn the sled as straight as possible into the soft spot, so that it wouldn't be on firm snow on one side and on soft snow on the other side, causing it to tip over. And the moment I did see my lead dogs getting on the trail, I made sure that I was standing on the sled and helping it forward by pedaling, instead of getting off and pushing.

All of which I was only able to do as I've seen the others struggle ahead of me. If I had been on the second sled, I would have had the same issues as everyone else.

(And, realistically, I can't even congratulate me on being observant and learning from it. `The main factor of me having no problems at that corner was probably that I was the last in line and when my team went through the spot, the soft snow was already compacted by the teams ahead of me. An indication of that is that the following day, when we did the corner in the opposite direction, nobody had any problems there.)


We arrived at Laxholmen and the first thing we saw was a nice and roomy cabin.

Laxholmen community cabin

It wasn't the one we were staying in, though.

The large cabin was the community cabin, with a kitchen and a number of tables inside, which is, according to their web site "suitable for conferences, courses, parties and birthday parties". There are no beds inside and, more importantly, no dogs are allowed in there.

We stayed in a much smaller cabin close to it.

Laxholmen sleeping cabin

(But at least, as it was the first cabin when coming from the lake, my sled, as the last sled in line, ended up next to the cabin. So it was easy for me to bring in gear from my sled.)

The cabin was small, but, essentially, sufficient.

But two of the chairs were broken (we could manage, as there were others, but still, it's unusual to find stuff in cabins in a bad state). And the bunk beds were a bit sub-optimal.

The cabins have a low ceiling, but the bunk beds have been assembled with standard dimensions.

So there's lots of headroom for the person in the lower bed. But whoever uses the upper bed can't even sit up in bed. Or, depending on size, even roll over while lying in bed without hitting the ceiling.

Interior in Laxholmen cabin

It's somewhat odd, as that could have easily been solved by attaching the upper bed 20 centimeter lower to the support posts.

There was, which is untypical for accommodation in northern Sweden, an air of not caring around the place.

It also applied to the toilets.

I'm not talking about the fact that the place had the longest walk to the toilet.

That was kind of given, as the whole island is a holiday camp with nine cabins (and the community cabin and a sauna), so the toilets are located in the center of the island. That's the fairest for everyone, but it also means that it isn't close to any of the cabins. (All the other places we've been to had only one cabin, so the outhouse was specifically for that cabin.)

What was surprising was the snow in the toilet.

Snowy toilet

I haven't seen any other outhouse in Sweden that was constructed in a way that allowed snow to blow in and cover the 'seating area'.

I have seen outhouses that were snowed in and where it took a while to shovel a path to be able to get to be able to open the door.

But not an outhouse with such a large ventilation gap between the walls and the roofs that allowed snow to blow in.

In addition, I wondered why the snow hadn't been removed. This was the place were the Ice Ultra runners had spent the previous night (and the 'toilet seat' itself had been cleared from snow). With all the effort in organizing the race, it was surprising that nobody had bothered to take a broom and get the snow out of the toilets. Odd that.

At least Annie appreciated that it was a long way to the toilets. It gave her more opportunity to despair about mankind.

The reason for this is a bit complicated.

Annie likes to play fetch.

'Like' is probably too weak a word for it. She's mad about playing fetch. Bordering on insane.

One of the basic rules on the tour, which is almost as essential as "Don't let go of the sled" is "Do not throw a stick. Ever."

Annie is a nice dog, but when she plays "fetch" she turns into a fanatic.

A fanatic dog is a danger for humans and itself.

It's a bit like the scene in Lord of the Rings where Gollum gets the ring back and is happy again. Even though he's falling into lava and dying seconds later.

In the movie, Gollum falls into the lava after a fight.

If you throw a stick into the lava, Annie wouldn't need to fall in. She would happily jump right after it.

Of course, I don't know that.

I've never thrown a stick for Annie to fetch.

But it's pretty much how Matti describes it.

In reality, Annie wouldn't jump into lava. Mostly because there's not much of that in Sweden.

But she gets so focused on getting the stick, that she'd might bite anyone trying to pick it up. Ignoring the saying about not biting the hand that feeds her, as her world contains only a stick and everything else does not matter.

So nobody throws a stick for Annie.

Which is a constant source of frustration for her.

I assume that from her point of view we're all terminally stupid.

Human throws stick - dog brings stick.

It's the easiest game in the world.

Why does she fail to teach it to us?

When you go to the outhouse, Annie will be there with a stick.

Annie and stick

You ignore it, of course.

So Annie will bring the stick closer to you.

Annie brings stick

Dog will bring stick to human. How can human not understand what human is supposed to do?

The stick is in the middle of the path. Even if human doesn't understand that dog will return stick, human might throw stick away as it's on the path. Then dog can fetch.

Of course, I ignore the stick and walk on.

So Annie grabs the stick and places it on the path again.

Annie and sticj again

Only for me to continue to ignore it.

Annie probably thinks it might be the wrong kind of stick, so she dashes off and gets another one. Maybe I will throw that one.

Annie tries another stick

As that doesn't have the desired effect, she hatches another plan.

Maybe the stick isn't large enough. Human surely wants to throw big stick for Annie!

So she heads off to grab a small tree.

Grabbing a small tree

Unfortunately for her, the tree is still rooted in the ground.

So Annie tries, becoming increasingly desperate, to get (literally) to the root of the problem, by digging down in the snow and trying to bite through the tree.

Annie destroying a tree Annie destroying a tree

It must be really frustrating for Annie.

Lassie can communicate without problems that Timmy has fallen down a well. Or is menaced by a bear. Ot caught in quicksand.

And Annie isn't able to teach us 'throw the stick', even though she properly goes through all the steps used in animal training. Like observing the behavior and giving positive feedback every time an action is performed that even rudimentary leads into the right direction. Every time she drops a stick and someone takes a step closer to the stick, she is really excited and wags her tail. She's really doing anything she can to teach us about throwing the stick.

But none of us ever does.

By now Annie must think that Matti only attracts really stupid clients...

At least the long walk to the outhouse gives her a lot of opportunities to try to teach us.

Without anyone throwing sticks, we get ready the next morning to return to Juksaure Cabin.

Laxholmen was the farthest we got from Jokkmokk and from here we're heading back (following the same trail back that we took to get there, but this time without meeting ultra runners on the way - they are on the last 15 km to the finish line by now).

The weather is really good while we make our way across and along the lakes (first Lake Karats and then Lake Ládunjávrre ).

Sunny and cold

Sunny and cold Sunny and cold Sunny and cold

The sun had come out, so everything looked nice. But the temperature had dropped as well and was now probably around -10°C, which is a good temperature for the dogs. In general, the best temperature for dog sledding is -15°C. That's pleasant for the dogs and not too unpleasant for humans, so it's a good compromise. The dogs are still doing fine at-25°C, but then you need to dress up a bit more on the back of the sled. At -40°C it probably isn't much fun for the dogs anymore either. But above -5°C (which we had for most of the trip), it's already a bit too warm for the dogs. So it was good to have a colder day.

(In general, the temperatures given are somewhat inexact. I had bought a cheap refrigerator/freezer thermometer with me, but that turned out to be so unreliable (such as showing +8°C in night, which it clearly wasn't) that it was useless. I'm not sure whether it was originally that inexact or whether all the shaking on the sled had taken its toll. Maybe I'll try bringing an electronic thermometer next time.)

On the lakes, there was also a fair bit of wind (it's not that noticeable in the picture, but there was a lot of loose snow being blown across the surface).

Snow blown over lake surface Snow blown over lake surfac Snow blown over lake surface

When we went along the forest trail between the two lakes, it was, obviously, less windy, but it was still sunny.

Sunny forest trail

We had our lunch break at the same spot where we stopped the previous day. Partly because it was halfway between our starting point and our destination, so it was a good location to stop there anyway, but also because we already had dug out an area in the snow with a spot to make a fire and 'snow benches' around it, so it was easier to re-use that than to go on for another kilometer and make a new one.

Lunch near trail

After leaving the second lake, it was less than an hour before we turned off the main trail again and followed the smaller side track towards Juksaure cabin.

Days were still short, so it was nearly dusk by the time we arrived there.

Last meters to Juksaure

As everyone had been here before, things went quickly.

Everyone knew where to put things, where to get water and all the rest of it.

Discussions in the evening were fun, but already a bit melancholic.

It was our last day 'out there' and the next day we would already be returning to Jokkmokk and the trip would be over.

Which was a bit sad, as it felt like were ready to start now. Like we had our bit of a warm-up, were getting into the rhythm of things and now could go on a dog sledding tour. So, let's load the sleds with dog food and head out to Saltoluokta and beyond!

But the only place we would be heading the next day was back to the kennel.

Yes, that was the schedule and everything was according to plan, but that night at Juksaure cabin felt more like it should have been the start of the tour, instead of the end of one.

At least the last day was similar to the previous one. Sunny and cold. Not cold enough for that time of year, but at least sufficiently cold for the dogs to run comfortably.

Lake at Juksaure Lake at Juksaure Lake at Juksaure

Although Kyla preferred lying comfortably indoors to running comfortably outdoors.

Kyla being relaxed

It was time to run along the Juksaure side trail towards the main trail one more time.

Trail from Juksaure cabin

When turning onto the main trail, we had a somewhat unusual problem.

While Matti turned left, towards Jokkmokk, the team behind him turned right instead, probably thinking we were going to Laxholmen again. After all, two days earlier we had turned right here. So that had to be the right direction to turn.

The situation was unusual, as, in general, all dog teams follow Matti's team. Sled dogs (essentially) ignore the clients, at least as far as directions are concerned (if in doubt, try shouting 'Gee' or 'Haw' at an intersection and see whether that has any effect). 'Command leads' (lead dogs that follow commands) don't follow the commands of clients. They follow the commands of their owner.

The second team should (and normally would) follow Matti's team (and Matti's team was following Annie). Going the wrong way means that the lead dogs have been (the equivalent of) sleeping at the wheel and going by memory. A bit like being halfway on the way to work, only to realize that it's a holiday.

Things were resolved quickly. It was the team right behind Matti (it would have been more effort if that happened to a team further down the line) and the driver of the next team did the right thing and stepped on the brake, before the next team got to the intersection.

Matti only had to secure his sled, go to the sled that went the wrong way, turn it around, wait until that team was again behind his sled. And everything could continue as planned.

Following that short interruption, we were back on track.

Dog sledding through the forest

Progress was speedy, as we were running with nearly empty sleds again.

As we had done on the previous day as well.

When we left Juksaure two days earlier, we had left some dog food there, as we knew we would come back on our way from Laxholmen. Going back from Laxholmen, we didn't carry any food, as we knew there was some stored in Juksaure. So the last two days were without dog food on the sleds.

As a result, we had by far the highest moving average speed on that last day. Although it might have helped that the dogs knew (well, except for the team behind Matti) that they were heading home.

Lunch was again at the little wooden shelter by the river.

Although this time it was sunny and we were not getting snowed in.

River near shelter Making fire Lunch shelter near river

That last lunch on the trail had a bit of everything.

While we weren't carrying any dog food with us anymore, we still had a lot of all sorts of food for humans. So this turned into a sort of 'all you can eat' buffet with everything from grilled bacon and sausages via Croque Monsieur to warm Cinnamon Buns.

Though we still didn't manage to finish all the food - on Matti's tours it's impossible to exhaust the cheese supplies.

There was still one final obstacle to overcome: The BD 747.

While there weren't any cars around when we crossed that road, Matti wasn't taking any chances. He went ahead, secured his team on the other side, and then, like a school crossing guard, stood on the road and told the teams when to move.

Crossing the street

From there, the trail was straight ahead towards the kennel.

Another hour to enjoy the ride.

Usually, I do intentionally exactly this.

Stand on the sled, look at the dogs and the scenery, enjoy the activity and don't try to take pictures or anything else that's distracting.

But I had mounted a camera on the sled, so this time there are some pictures from the last bit.

All in all, I seem pretty content.

Happy on sled

A bit rough, a bit melancholic. But content.

And then it's the final lake and the trail leading up to the kennel.

Arriving at the kennel in Jokkmokk Arriving at the kennel in Jokkmokk

End of tour.

We simply unclip the dogs from the sled - they will run into the kennel, they won't head anywhere else. After all, they're home.

We will take their harnesses off later.

I have to finish the tour with a short sprint, though.

My sled is on a bit of a decline. And after taking all the dogs from the line, it starts sliding backwards down the hill. But I get to it before it goes far and secure it properly.

Going after the sled Going after the sled

Then there's the usual after-tour stuff.

Return the heavy snow boots, go back to the hostel, get a shower, shave, have a final dinner (once again prepared by Caisa), meet everyone again for breakfast, and say my good-byes.

With the qualifiers I gave at the beginning: Nice tour!

Here is some information about the tour.

We didn't quite manage to do cover 200 km in the six days of sledding, but we came close.

Date From To Start End TotalTime Pause MovingTime Distance Avg. Mov.Avg. Min Alt Max Alt Total Asc. Total Des.
20.02.2024 Jokkmokk Lillforsen tent 11:12 15:57 04:45 02:13 02:32 31.30 6.59 12.36 251 370 673 591
21.02.2024 Lillforsen tent Randikojan Cabin 10:53 15:17 04:24 01:51 02:33 32.21 7.32 12.63 269 370 456 509
22.02.2024 Randikojan Cabin Juksaure Cabin 11:41 16:11 04:30 01:56 02:34 31.03 6.90 12.09 275 421 375 302
23.02.2024 Juksaure Cabin Laxholmen Cabin 10:42 15:30 04:48 01:34 03:14 34.76 7.24 10.75 366 455 938 898
24.02.2024 Laxholmen Cabin Juksaure Cabin 11:16 16:16 05:00 01:50 03:10 34.47 6.89 10.89 364 435 1769 1817
25.02.2024 Juksaure Cabin Jokkmokk 11:10 14:56 03:46 01:33 02:13 32.26 8.56 14.55 256 432 1058 1161
Total 27:13 10:57 16:16 196.03 7.20 12.05 251 455 5269 5278

(As usual, deriving ascents and descents from GPS data is tricky. The values fluctuate a lot and if you take the numbers directly from the GPS, they might differ by a meter every second. So while going across a lake, they might be at 300, 301, 299, 300, 299, 300, 301, 301... and so on. And even though the ground is level, if you add up the numbers directly from the GPS, after an hour you might end up with more than 3600 meters of climbing and descending. So a certain amount of filtering is involved, to eliminate the noise from the data and only use data that's plausibly realistic. Which is, of course, somewhat subjective. If you use overly strict filters, you might ignore smaller hills. I am using a filter for altitude data that seems to give realistic data. And, more important to me, I use the same filter for every trip, so at least the effort is comparable. But altitude information should be taken with a grain of salt. (Which is also evident by the fact that we descended nine meters more than we ascended. As we arrived at the same spot that we had started from, these values should ideally be the same.))

Here is a zipped KML file (for viewing in Google Earth) of the trail we took: dogsledding2024.kmz.

And here is a map of the trail:

Map of dogsledding tour 2024


My vacation wasn't quite finished, however.

I spent another couple of days in Sweden, mostly giving cross-country skiing another (feeble) try.

More about that third part of the trip is here.