When I heard I’d be driving my own team of huskies in Svalbard I was excited but nervous: what if the dogs lead me into a ditch? Worse still, what if I accidentally run one of them over?
I’m a naturally clumsy person so the likelihood of one of these things happening is more than possible. But luckily, I discovered that husky dogs are very intelligent, trained to understand commands and have a great aptitude for spatial awareness. So really the question I should have asked myself was ‘how will the dogs handle me?’
Firstly, to go dog sledding I always thought there needed to be snow, but I was wrong, you can still go dog sledding without snow but you do it on WHEELS! Because of this, I should really be calling it husky carting or something, but I’ll stick with husky sledding for the sake of tradition.
After getting changed into super sexy hi vis attire, the experience of greeting the huskies was one of insanely loud barking and wagging tails – they are extremely excited to see visitors and they all compete against each other by trying their utmost to get attention.
It was really cute to see each dog with its own doghouse complete with a wooden plaque inscribed with its own name. Each pack of dogs are named with a theme in mind; like copper, silver, and gold for metals, and another pack were named after planets; Venus, Mars and Pluto (even though technically Pluto is no longer a planet). Giving them a theme makes remembering their names so much easier, something which can be difficult when the owners have over 100 dogs to look after!
We also got the chance to see and hold some newly born huskies.
The first thing we had to do was gather the husky dogs to the sleds, which as it turns out, is more difficult than driving the team of huskies (also known as ‘mushing’) because they are so powerful and energetic. We did this by securing the dogs between our legs before putting on its harness. Usually at this stage you’re able to discover who the really intelligent dogs are because they’ll lift up their paws and almost dress themselves. As you can imagine, I was seriously impressed by this. However, most of the time the dogs were too excited and jumped up and down every time I tried to put on their harness. I narrowly escaped a head-butt.
Jasper, our guide demonstrating how to put the harness on the dogs. He did it with such ease, but I on the other hand…
Interestingly, the most intelligent dogs are strategically placed at the front of the sled as they are the ones who essentially direct where the other dogs needs to go, and the back dogs are the strongest ones and are therefore usually the biggest in the pack.
Once the slapstick task of getting the dogs attached to the sled had been accomplished we were ready to go. I was standing at the back of the cart holding onto the handlebars and my friend Katie was sitting in the front seat probably feeling more scared than I was because she was putting her trust in my ability to steer the dogs. An ability which I had no previous experience of doing.
We ran up and down the side of the banking to fetch them water
To make driving easier, we were provided with three easy to follow commands, they were:
- Gee: meaning turn to the right
- Haw: meaning turn to the left
- Whao: meaning stop
I was probably erring on the side of caution as the noise or word I used the most was ‘Whao’ which is supposed to be spoken in a really, deep stern voice. I was really impressed by how responsive the dogs were to my commands but admittedly, I didn’t want to take any chances so I was also quite liberal with using my breaks! During our safari I noticed other people using teams of husky dogs and was later told that some of the locals keep a few for private to use as a mode of transport. Living in such a unique and protected place the dogs can be preferable to cars or snowmobiles because they don’t damage the environment with the release of carbon emissions.
However, the dogs did release their own gas… yep that’s right, the dogs kept farting in our faces as they ran gleefully along Adventdalen, and it especially hit poor Katie who was sitting right behind them on the seat in front of me! But as we turned around to return back to camp, Katie and I switched places so it was time for me to endure my share of doggy pooping which was further accentuated by the speed we were travelling at. Aside from the wiffy presents that the dogs kept generously dropping, it was really spectacular sitting back on a seat shaped like a deck chair, enjoying the supremely beautiful Arctic scenery of snow-capped mountains, clear sky and the odd reindeer.
A big kiss goodbye!
Though there are lot’s of ways to explore the Arctic, none will be quite as joyous as spending a few hours at the back of these furry fellas!