Dog sledding in the arctic
T, the host who helps runs the affairs of the Abisko.net hostel had given everyone clear instructions to be up and ready in our suits by early morning. Most of the guests had signed up to go dog sledding (well in advance, I may add), and there was definitely a sense of purpose in the air at 7am on this cold winter day :-) We had some of our Parisian cereal for breakfast, put on our multiple layers again and trudged out to our meeting spot. We were given a detailed ‘how-to’ on dog-sledding – starting from how to stand on the sled, how to turn, brake, stop, what to do when we fall off the sled (very useful!), what to do when someone else falls off the sled in front of you, and so on.
We were then asked to brave it and enter the cages where these large, barking, and powerful dogs were hanging – 3 or 4 to a cage. The Alaskan and Siberian huskies are original sled dogs – they love the cold, the snow and a brisk exercise. They knew it was almost time for their morning jog and were raring to go! Maybe it was the protection of the space-suit or the fact that there would always be several layers between the dogs’ teeth and my skin, for the first time I volunteered to go close to a dog and put on his harness. With that done, we brought them out by their leash and hooked them up to the sleds in specific positions. Some were leaders, some were workers and each was happiest in his own place. Once hooked up, 3 or 4 dogs to each sled, off we went. Since we were three more than the number of sleds available, Uday, I and another person got a chance to ride on a snowmobile for a bit, zipping through the track and non-track, cutting across fields of virgin snow, ducking under bare branches, getting to see vistas we wouldn’t have while on a sled. After a bit, we switched with others and took off on our own individual sleds. My sled had 3 dogs and it took all my weight on the brake and the handles to keep them steady when not running. One of the rascals absolutely hated stopping along the way and each time we did (to wait for someone who had fallen ahead of us), he would lurch forward, pulling the entire sled and me up and forwards by a few meters. Uday had a sled with 4 very powerful dogs and during one of our stops, he turned around to tell me something and in that split second, they recognized that he wasn’t in full control and lurched forward and took off, leaving Uday running after them. Around the corner he went running only to see that they had dislodged themselves from the sled too and had run free! He had to push the empty sled the next 100-200 meters until he found Andreas, our guide holding the insatiable dogs that had found their brief, but sweet freedom. As if that was just the morning adventure they had wanted, the satisfied pack behaved very well for the rest of the ride. It was exhilarating riding down hills at a rapid clip, the sled often off the ground, landing with a thud each time it touched down. I even forgot that I was cold and it didn’t matter that I could barely keep my clasp on the handles after a point of time.
After a good lunch, we went to check out the local store (the only one) to get some basics – bread, milk, yoghurt, fruits & the like. I was quite exhausted by our morning’s adventures and decided to nap for a bit in the afternoon while Uday stepped out with his photography gear. Actually, I did step out with him a couple of times but had to return each time either because we had forgotten something or because we needed another layer. The third time around, I took it as a hint and stayed put and went for a power nap. For our second day in Abisko, we had to move to a 6-bed shared room and fortunately for us, we had three very friendly young women from Italy and an older Belgian gentleman for roommates. After the snooze, the girls and I were prepping to go for the very first time to the sauna, when a triumphant Uday returned with an uncontrolled look of glee announcing his luck!
Uday had seen his first ever Aurora – all by himself! Tomas said it was rather rare to see them so early in the evening (~ 6pm). What can I say?!
All this talk of the auroras that Uday had seen just an hour ago got us quite enthusiastic, and the sauna experience was soon forgotten. Now newly encouraged, despite the increasing clouds, that night after dinner, Uday and I set out for a walk on Kungsleden, or the King’s Trail. Our new Italian friends tagged along, all of us hoping (and almost determined!) to see some magic.
This 440km trail starts in Abisko and goes all the way along the Norway-Sweden border to the south, ending near the literal Arctic Circle. This is supposed to be a great summer hike and is normally done in 4 weeks. While we were putting our endless layers on, we met a French man planning to embark on the trail that night, and ski the entire way. He had sled filled with supplies strapped and tied to his back. Serious adventure! – and he was planning to do this entire trail in just 2 weeks!
So with our eyes glued to the skies, watching the sensual moon make her way across the horizon, we watched with dismay the dense clouds moving in rapidly. We had walked just a km or so into the trail when we stopped to take pictures of the moon, throwing gnarly and yet elegant silhouettes of bare trees on the pristine white snow.
A few more meters on came a clearing. We stopped as if that had been our destination all along. The photographers fixed their tripods and cameras, while others (read me) continued to gaze, willing the skies to open up just a little bit. And open, it did. Just enough to grace us with the most intense green orb of bright light we had been waiting for. It lasted just a few minutes before the clouds won again, but that had been enough.
We had had our show. The Arctic Gods had just thrown a splash of bright, green cheer on us. We walked back home, yet again on a high. On the way, after the clouds closed in even more, Uday pulled out two little candles from his pocket and came up with these last few pictures from that night.
End of Part 3 of the Northern Lights series
Follow the journey – here’s 4 – Day trip to Narvik in Norway