Dog sledding and moon haloes


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Europe » Finland » Lapland » Ivalo
December 12th 2013
Published: December 13th 2013
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After breakfast this morning we piled into the Ford Transit for our visit to the Siberia Husky Farm that is owned by the local dog whisperer, Tinja. We were really, really looking forward to going dog-sledding. We tried to go dog-sledding when we were in Alaska, but bad weather conditions prevented us from being helicoptered up onto the Mendenhall Glacier from Juneau to the dog sledding venue. Today the weather was quite good and the husky farm was much more accessible as it can be reached by road.

When we arrived all of the dogs started going crazy with excitement, sort of like - the tourists have arrived and we are going sledding!! Tinja welcomed us to her farm and started introducing us to the dogs. We were told that all of the Siberian Huskies and Malamutes were quite friendly with humans, but we should avoid going too near to the wolf dogs as they are, of course, somewhat wilder.

Next we were shown how to fit the dog's harnesses and then how to harness the dogs to the sleds. Some of the dogs were very easy to harness, just about pushing their own heads through the harness and then lifting their legs to be put through the leg holes. Some of the younger dogs were just so keen to get going that it made harnessing them a bit of a challenge as they wriggled with excitement!!

With the sleds ready to go it was just a matter of the passengers being tucked into the sleds and the drivers stepping astride the runners and then ... the ropes were untied and we were off. And, oh boy, were we off; the dogs took off at a great pace because they were so excited to be on their way at last. The two lead dogs (actually two young bitches) on our team were a bit over-excited and got themselves so tangled up that the next two dogs in the team ran over the top of them. One of Tinja's helpers had to get the team untangled for us.

The first time that Bernie tried to use the brake he got a bit miss-footed when he tried to get his foot back on the runner and he fell off. No damage done he jumped back on and we continued off into the forest and the terrain became a bit more difficult with humps, hills and turns to be negotiated. All a bit too challenging a bit to quickly and Bernie was off again!! After that though, with Bernie starting to get the hang of it, we rocketed along behind Tinja and her team of dogs.

With the other three sleds falling behind we stopped for a while so that Tinja could swap a couple of dogs to even out the strength of the teams. We continued a bit further into the forest and then we were given the opportunity to swap drivers. Bernie was tucked into the sled and I took over the driving. Wow, this is the hardest, but most fun thing I have ever had a go at. Way better than trying to downhill ski or waterski. The dog's enthusiasm and joie de vivre gets under your skin and it's such an adrenalin rush that you forget how hard it is as you kick or run on the uphill bits to help out the dogs and move from side to side to (try to) steer the sled.

Despite the fact that I was having the most fun ever, I proved to be pretty hopeless at it. Not to be outdone by Bernie, I managed to fall off five times!! A couple of times I kept hanging onto the sled being dragged along on my knees thinking in vain that I could make a good recovery and get my feet back onto the runners. As if!! My steering was dreadful and the poor dogs were basically pulling a snow plough rather than a sled as I did some serious track widening for the teams following.

The last time that I came off it was on a particularly challenging section (really!) and not only did I fall off, the dogs kept careering along over a hummock and around a corner and spilled Bernie and his camera face first out into the snow. I missed that because I was already wallowing around in the snow myself trying to get my feet back under me. By this stage I was utterly exhausted so I relinquished the driving responsibilities back to Bernie who returned us to the farm without any more falls or spills.

Back at the farm we were encouraged to give all the dogs on our team a pat to say thank-you for the work that they had done.After petting the dogs we helped to unhook them from the sleds and return them to their runs. Once they were in their runs we moved around amongst them to take their harnesses off. Once again some of the dogs were really helpful and came over to have their harnesses taken off then pulled their heads back out of the harness and lifted their feet to assist. Others were a bit more oh, alright, take it off if you must. It was quite difficult to remove the harness because after all of the pulling the harness is quite anchored into their thick coats.

And then were were done, but what a thrilling experience!! Bernie reckons with just a bit more training he could enter the Iditarod. Yeah, right. I was just so thrilled that this was such an all inclusive package. We didn't just rock up to find the dogs already harnessed and then get tucked into a sled to be taken for a ride - we helped with everything; harnessing the dogs, driving the team and looking after the dogs at the end after all of their hard work. Fantastic!!

Toni drove us back into Inari where we had lunch at Siida, the Sami Museum and Nature Centre. After we had eaten we had time to look at the exhibitions which provided an excellent insight into the history and culture of the Sami people. Historically these people roamed nomadically across vast areas of Lapland. Because Lapland encompasses the northernmost parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the most northwesterly part of Russia they have been displaced from their traditional lands by the creation of official Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish borders and events like World War II when the German troops retreated from Russia through Lapland. Today the Sami reindeer herders have permanent homes and manage their herds within a much smaller area.

After a very full day Toni drove us back to the hotel where we had just half and hour before our dinner tonight out in the small kota (hut) by the lake. The kota has a fire pit in the centre and bench seats around the perimeter lined with reindeer skins. It was like an upmarket campfire with a roof over our heads and benches to sit on rather than the ground or camp stools. Mushroom soup, reindeer stew (reindeer for lunch AND dinner today!) and blueberry slice with vanilla custard. Not a bad feast to eat by a campfire. Well, OK, all the food was cooked in the kitchen, we only ate it outside, but it did make it taste even better eating it by the light of the campfire!!

When we had finished eating, Toni gave us just 20 minutes to put on extra clothes and collect our camera gear so that he could take us out on the snowmobiles in search of the aurora. I put so many layers of clothing on that I was feeling a bit claustrophobic as we headed off. I was more than happy for Bernie to take charge of driving our snowmobile in the dark; I'm such a chicken that I was feeling a bit stressed about going out on them in the dark with only one prior experience on a snowmobile. Of course Bernie wasn't bothered at all and zoomed along behind Toni at (I thought) a terrifying 25-30 kilometres per hour. The only positive thing I can think to say is that the reflection of the light from the headlights looked like diamonds sparkling in the snow.

We stopped out on the lake and set up our tripods and cameras. There was a bit of a haze in the sky tonight and no sign of any auroral activity BUT we were treated to some moon haloes. Toni told us that what we were seeing was a 22° halo in combination with a Parry arc above and yet another optic phenomenon below. Tony told us that he hadn't seen such a combination of optic phenomena for about ten years. The sky at this latitude is full of surprises.

This evening we had a Japanese Australian guest along with us. She was not coping very well with the cold so we packed up our gear and raced back to the hotel at an even more terrifying 50 kph!! Thank goodness that was the fastest that we went. At the back Matt kept dropping behind so that he could then go faster to catch up. He was quite proud of the fact that he got his snowmobile up to 85 kph. Sophia was not quite as excited about it. I can't even think about the fact that these machines are capable of a top speed of 160 kph. That just sounds suicidal to me.

I have to say that I was just as well pleased to be back at the hotel because my fingers and toes were starting to feel pretty cold too. It was minus eight degrees and racing along on the snowmobiles makes it feel even colder. I was so tired from such a big day that, once I was out of my onesie and warmed up with a nice hot cup of tea that I couldn't face going back out again. The chances of seeing any auroral activity were low so I decided to take a chance on missing out to go to bed instead. Bernie, Colin and Trudy went back out, despite the temperature dropping to minus 14 degrees. They saw one very faint auroral arc on the horizon, but it didn't develop into anything so they packed it in just after midnight.

11,499 steps / 7.83 km




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13th December 2013

The Northern Lights
What an experience and I loved every detail of the sled ride. I'll have to give that a try in the future. Sounds very difficult but glad you had fun!
13th December 2013

Wow. Of ALL your blogs so far I loved today the best. Sounds fantastic. Now you can understand why I love mushing!
13th December 2013

Hi TraBern, I am really enjoying your blog. Just letting you know that it will be 31 degrees here today in Casino . Cheers Judy Ps Bro. Ian just got engaged to a lovely lady called Janelle. He has finally found a keeper!
14th December 2013

Amazing images
So glad you have already experienced seeing the lights. Hopefully there will be more to come. Your adventure sounds very exciting and will give you plenty of stories to share on your return home. love Janet
30th December 2013

Dog Sledding
Tracey, I laughed so much about your dog sled adventures that I nearly fell off my chair!

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