Our friend and Much Better Adventurer, Pete McEwan, recently returned from an epic 5-day hut-to-hut dog sledding expedition in Norway. “City boy” Pete regales us with tales from his Arctic adventure, the joys of bonding with your pack, and the shame of coming a cropper 15-minutes in. Here’s his story…

When the opportunity to go on a dog sledding expedition through Tromso in Northern Norway came my way, I gratefully accepted.

With minimal physical preparation and a furious last-minute packing session, I boarded a flight to Tromso.

When I arrived, I was met by a smiling Tromso Vilmarkssenter representative who bundled my belongings into the van. I met two of my companions who both had dog sledding experience.

They both comforted me by saying that I would pick it up in no time and I shouldn’t worry. Naturally, I did the opposite. The Tromso Vilmarkssenter representative looked at me with a wry smile and said: “Don’t worry, we’ll look after you, city boy.” This left me partially amused, and my ego partially bruised. It was all starting to feel a little more real, and that curious combination of fear and excitement was beginning to settle in.

Around 15 minutes into my first dog sledding experience, I’m just starting to think to myself “Hey, I’m getting the hang of this.” Just as that thought left my mind, my whole sled toppled, and I found myself in what you might describe as a pickle.

The dog sledding centre was a quaint scattering of traditional Sami tents sitting alongside a newly built state-of-the-art conference centre. First, we were introduced to the family of 300 Alaskan Huskies, who by the looks and sounds of it, were rather happy to see us.

dog-sledding-norway

welcome-to-vill-dog-sledding-norway

After getting acquainted with some of our new enthusiastic teammates, we were given a briefing on everything we would need to know before our expedition. We were told that we would be responsible for feeding, harnessing and controlling our own pack of huskies for the duration of the five days. On top of that, the dogs were apparently ‘on heat’, meaning they were friskier than usual.

Whilst we were receiving what would prove to be some critical information regarding tents, I admittedly let me my mind wander and peered outside at the dog-yard. I observed the pups engaging in charming scraps, flirtations and conversations. Love was clearly in the air.

I quickly reminded myself to pay attention. I was about to go on a 5-day dog sled expedition in the Arctic Circle, after all. After spending the night next to a spluttering log-fire in the lavish Laavu’s (the Sami word for tent), we embarked on our expedition. Torkil and Tove, the rugged mother and son owners of the centre, loaded up a select few Huskies who would be our companions on the journey.

the-husky-truck-dog-sledding-tromso

Upon arrival, the first challenge was attaching the harnesses. It sounds like a menial task, but controlling these muscular pulling machines was not easy.

I curse under my breath as I was slowly but surely failing to harness one of my lead dogs. I observe Torkil, the 28-year-old sledding veteran, calmly preparing his elite pack. He commanded the respect of a strict but caring headmaster. I, on the other hand, was a doe-eyed substitute teacher, and my class were quickly getting the measure of me.

Once all the dogs were harnessed, it was clear they knew what would happen next. A chorus of ecstatic howls filled the air. As soon as Torkil instructed us to take our foot off the brake, the incessant barking was traded with the crunch of sled and paw hammering through wet snow.

dog-sledding-arctic-circle

dog-sledding-norway

Around 15 minutes into my first dog sledding experience, I’m just starting to think to myself “Hey, I’m getting the hang of this.” Just as that thought left my mind, my whole sled toppled, and I found myself in what you might describe as a pickle.

dog-sled-fail-norway

Thankfully, the enthusiastic guide Alejandro promptly came to my rescue, but not before making the most of what was admittedly a fantastic photo opportunity. That bruised ego I mentioned earlier was coming up in all sorts blues and greens.

The rest of the day was spent meandering through forests and charging across vast, Arctic tundras. We finally pulled up at our camping spot for the night. Tove, the firm woman of few words, gestured that we would be camping here.

The process of ‘setting up camp’ was not a simple one. First, we would dig a hole in the snow and secure the lines that we would attach our dogs to. Then we would remove the dog’s harnesses. As soon as the dog’s had their harnesses removed, they all jumped at the opportunity for romance, bless them.

Roya was a sucker for a belly rub. She would lay on her back, all fours in the air whilst giving a pleading look. Luckily for Roya, I was a sucker for issuing belly rubs, so we worked well together.

Once the dogs were secured, it was time to issue them with a bowl of dried food and a hunk of composite meat. After that, it was tent time. My tent partner Mikael and I levelled the snow and erected our top-of-the-range Arctic standard tents.

We were equipped with a range of boil-in-the-bag meals. I would have paid top dollar for one of these meals in a restaurant. The first day we tucked into a mouth-watering Norwegian entree of reindeer stew in a bacon cream sauce, followed by cod poached in a spicy fresh tomato sauce.

That night, I was woken by the howl of a lone husky. It conjured up romantic images of Nansen-style expeditions in my dozy, semi-lucid state. When that one howl was accompanied by 50 more, this romantic image was shattered and replaced with a concern as to whether this would be a nightly occurrence. Spoiler alert, it was.

The next morning, we rose to an absolute belter of a day. The previous night’s physical and mental fog meant we hadn’t fully appreciated our surroundings. As we poked our heads out of our tent, we were treated to views of snow-capped mountains and sprawling frozen lakes.  

dog-sledding-arctic-tundra

cuddles-dog-sledding-norway

tent-arctic-circle-norway

The beaming sun forced us to don suntan lotion, lip balm and sunglasses. The bitter winds made us thankful for our magnificently warm clothing.

That evening, Tove and Torkil had a surprise in store. We pulled up to a small Sami village (which Torkil endearingly referred to as a city) that comprised of about five huts and (to our surprise) a wood-fired sauna.

After the hounds were fed and settled, Torkil transported us by snowmobile to the sauna. He then produced a case of literally ice-cold beers. Everyone’s eyes, (including my own I imagine), lit up. He was full of surprises, that man.

So we sat in the sauna and sipped our beers whilst Torkil recounted stories from his various dog sled races, including the infamous Finnmark and the Iditarod.

fresh-out-of-the-sauna-dog-sledding-norway

dog-sledding-norway

fresh-tracks-dog-sledding-norway

We were all feeling mighty zen as we wandered through the 11’oclock sunset towards our tents, before devouring our second gourmet, boil-in-the-bag meals.

No amount of howling could have kept me awake that night. Hopefully my tent partner Mikael could say the same about my snoring.

Mikael and I got into quite a morning routine. We would boil some water for breakfast, drink two or three coffees, and sit and chat for half an hour or so. Thankfully no-one seemed to be in a hurry in the morning.

The dry air, daily physical exertion and minimal amounts of non-frozen drinking water meant that our morning dehydrating ritual was not a good idea, as illustrated by the patches of dark yellow snow surrounding our campsite.

But thankfully, Mikael and I bonded over our shared caffeine addiction. And the coffee tasted damn good.

morning-coffee-dog-sledding-norway

I was also starting to tune into my pack of dogs. My team consisted of two boys up the front, two surly steady-eddies who set the pace. Behind them was two energetic and particularly lusty females. The powerhouses, I called them.

Behind them was a shy but utterly adorable female named Roya. Roya was a sucker for a belly rub. She would lay on her back, all fours in the air whilst giving a pleading look. Luckily for Roya, I was a sucker for issuing belly rubs, so we worked well together.

Getting to know a pack of impeccably trained huskies over the total of six days was one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had on an adventure.  

belly-rub-dog-sledding-norway

the-sled-dog-sledding-tromso

dog-sledding-norway

The following three days took us along the reindeer herding border separating Sweden and Norway. Whilst sledding, you have a lot of time to yourself. Sometimes I would think and sled, and sometimes I would just sled.

The rhythm of the dog’s feet tapping on the ground, the crunching of the sled on the snow and soothing whistle of the wind had a therapeutic effect on the mind. I felt a million miles away from any form of modern noise.

We camped next to a large frozen lake on the final day. We had woken up to another cloudless, crystal-blue morning. Tove had risen earlier than the rest of the team to dig a hole in the ice so that we could all try ice-fishing.

After the excitement of catching some small guppy’s had worn off, Torkil brought us all round and asked for our feedback from the trip. Every member of the team predictably left glowing verbal reviews.

camp-dog-sledding-arctic-circle

It was at this point that my thoughts turned retrospective. It was incredible that an under-prepared ‘city boy’ like myself could simply rock up with a smile and inappropriate footwear, and could safely embark on an adventure that could have potentially been deadly only 50 years before. Everything from the food to the quality of the guiding and equipment was flawless.

Upon returning to the centre, the newly-bonded group of humans and hounds reluctantly parted ways after a merry debrief over a reindeer soup, around a Laavu campfire.

As I packed my bag for my return flight, I felt completely de-stressed, with only a small tinge of sorrow that I didn’t have a Roya-shaped hole in my luggage.  

roya-dog-sledding-norway

*All photos courtesy of Pete McEwan.

Be like Pete and head out on your own dog sledding trip or seek the Northern Lights on an epic winter adventure with only the best local guides and hosts.