Six days dog sledding from Abisko to Nikkoluokta in Swedish Lapland.
Day 1: Abisko to Abiskojaure
Our trip began in Kiruna, where Kate and I spent a night and meet our companions for the next days, Austrians Cordula and Martin, Belgians Astrid and Gus, and our Swiss guide Menno Huber (www.mondhund.ch). Day 1 began with an excessive amount of dog faff as the kennels got two trips underway; or team with 30 dogs and a second group with 48. Final underway for the hour long drive to Abisko with a loaded trailer behind us.
At the other end chaos ensures. Our team are first to leave. Menno had carefully loaded the dogs in order but as clients we don’t yet know which are ours, can’t harness a dog, have never packed a sled, never mind taken control of one with for eager beasts up front. A fall on the ice and a banged head. Dogs in the wrong place. I am dragged of my feet by one. Finally we have an ordered line of sleds restrained by claws and panic lines tied to trees. A brief lesson in breaking follows and we are of with a start in the bright sunshine.
Menno is clear. No pictures allowed en route today as we will be hanging on and learning how to brake rather than fall off. The views to the mountains ahead are stunning, though, and sledding quickly becomes a familiar motion. Brake downhill, kick to help the dogs up. We go over many small ups and downs – good practice and in amenable snow. And it is warm!
At least, it is warm till we get to a lake, which we cross as the sun sets, and suddenly it id’s very cold… but beautiful views and our cabin for the night at Abiskojaure is just the other side.
Menno lines us up outside and more chaos ensues as we learn how to form “the line” – 30 dogs evenly spaced on a neat chain, fixed at either end, tied to sleds to make sure. Then there is sled unpacking, wood chopping, fire lighting, water fetching, cooking an infeasible amount of hot water to melt the dog food (we are carrying 24 x 5kg doggy sausages plus two bags of dry food), cooking dinner, feeding dogs, washing up, preparing breakfast for the dogs… and finally bed. General confusion and Menno making sure everything gets done. We have arrived late this first night and bed time is soon after dinner.
Day 2: Abiskojaure to Alesjaure
Menno has warned us it will take two or three hours to leave; and the dogs need feeding first add they can’t run for two hours after eating. Doggy breakfast first, then, in parallel with hot water for breakfast and flasks, and porridge. I try to work out what is worst, dog meat or porridge, and decide dog meat by a fraction. But our line remains outside in neat array and all ready to go. Breakfast, packing, kit out of
F hut, cleaning, fresh water for the next arrivals. To sleds. Pack, position sleds, harness dogs, dogs to sleds, GO. It is familiar two days later; today is still learning.
It is a relief to be off. We start on the flat, but very soon up a pad with some step sections and much kicking and even walking to be done to get the full sleds up those. Care to hang on to the sled when walking so the dogs don’t take off alone at the top of the hill. Some stops to drink and rest on the way up. The pad is wide and beautiful, and beyond the trail flattens out to easy going and great views.
Lunch is in a wild open spot and after its cold across a lake again. My dogs are slow and leftward leaning and its only later I work out the best order and position for each; and that they are a quick team uphill but not on the flat.
We park up below the hut and the prices gets more familiar; anyway, seen from the hut above later our line is neat!
Kate and I on water duty tonight. Water is a hole in the river 30m or so below the hut, under a bridge. A bucket, a spear to push the bucket under water, a rope, a funnel to get the water in to the two 25 litre containers we have; and a long drag of the containers up slope to the cabin (we can’t carry them). Begin again and sort water for the sauna. There is still a lot of faffing and in the morning a minor exploration when a Spanish guy empties his porridge into the clean water bucket.
A good night’s sleep!
Day 3: Alesjaure to Hukajaure
Fresh snow in the morning to make the going hard work and Astrid gets dumped from her sled first thing. But beautiful…
The day clouds over and we continue, crossing the second team. Menno decides to take the same pad as them, to the west or to the Norwegian border, rather than the original plan, which would have given us trail to break for much of the day; this way he can asst least share the worth with the other guide. Behind, life is easy! At least till there is a hole in the trail and a couple fall through… and it’s a long day – 35km to Hukajaure and happy to arriv ethat evening, quite cold by the time we get there. A really great day.
The cabin is small. We fit both teams – 13 people – in a room for 12 and Gus sleeps in the wood shed, which is fine till someone locks him in and he doesn’t realise till he needs a pee in the morning. Cooking is communal and the dogs are parked up quickly tonight… for the first time things are starting to be a sensible routine and the faff makes sense… especially if 3 hours dog faff means covering 35km in 6 hours or so. Life is good.
Day 4: Hukajaure to Salka
A shorter day, but stunning. Easy morning through a pass in the sunshine and views to Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest peak.
Athe far side a step sideways tricky section after which we are back on the valley of the Kungsleden and take a break for lunch. Easily to our nights accommodation at Salka in the afternoon.
The sky clouds over by Salka, a cluster of huts on a small hill below which we park the usual line of huskies; and there is bird life, and beer in the hut!
Day 5: Salka to Vistas
Day 5 begins with a loose dog who has learned to untie herself from the chain and a nice sunrise.
This is quickly followed by a lot of hard work for Menno as we head uphill through deep soft snow. Some bumps; I fall at one but land in soft snow and the claw falls off and catches with no work on my part. The weather is not so good today; grey and windy with blowing snow – no doubt worse at dog height than human height,but even at human height I can’t always see Menno for sleds ahead. The view ahead is bleak when it’s clear.
Over the other side there are some lengthy sections of sideways and downhill; the latter is just a case of breaking so as not to hit the dogs, but sideways is a more difficult case of weighting the sled on the uphill runner so it dies not slip – there are a few falls on these sections. Finally a steeper section of downhill leads to a hut for lunch.
The afternoon that follows is difficult. Sideways for much of the way, plenty of overturned sleds, soft snow banking under the brakes and at one point Vorlek, Menno’s lead dog doesn’t quite believe where we are going. I manage to stay aboard but am not quite sure how. We drop towards a much lower valley with little snow; this will be our exit from the highlands to Nikkoluokta; and just when we can see the hut of Vistas ahead, there is one final obstacle that Menno won’t let me run, somewhat to my relief. He gets my sled down ok but falls once, and Martin manages some more; the rest of us walk. We are hanky fyi reach the valley floor.
Vistas has nice views; and before we go to bed we find fox prints in the snow and see the northern lights – a great last night in the excellent cabins in this area.
Fox prints near Vistas
Day 6: Vistas to Nikkoluokta
Sadly, our last day. And very different to the others – now down in the valley where freeze thaw cycles have given icy conditions at this time of day. We depart at high speed on icy trails and cover a big distance quickly with much time doesn’t on the brakes – sledding had become an adrenaline support this morning. Beautiful views behind but little time to see them!
A brief stop at a small cabin once inhabited by a nurse who choose to send her days in the wilderness.
Then off again, among the river with the threat of getting wet the consequence of Ann overturned sled in places. Where the ice is blue and hard a fall would be painful but the sledding smooth… I land in a hole but we have no major mishaps and close to Nikkoluokta we also cross slush and water on the lakes over the ice… places here I would not go without the dog teams ahead of me!
There is little shelter for lunch and a cold wind brewing; we carry on and all too soon reach an uninspiring end in a muddy car park in Nikkoluokta, where the team from the kennels outta waiting for us. The dogs are happy to get into their straw-lined compartments; we are not so chuffed about the prospect of our return to civilisation.