Annika and I are sitting in a car. The sky is mostly blue at temperatures round -20 °C. The side windows are freezing. Longyearbyen lies behind us.
The story has begun in the end of January. I have just learned, that I will work in Longyearbyen / Spitsbergen / Svalbard for a week in March. Annika and I decide to be on vacation there for another week. I ask my colleague Y., who has lived and guided there for several years for tipps what to do. He almost commands us to make a dog sledding tour with Arctic Husky Travellers with an overnight stay at the cabin in the valley Tverrdalen. Oh! It is fantastic! It is soo beautiful there! You have to do it! Soon we booked the tour.
Now Adelheid, our tour guide for the next two days drives us to the dog yard. When we arrive there we go into the house and get an introduction. Adelheid will take one sledge, Annika and I the other. We will both stand on the sledge and work together – steering, braking and helping the dogs when we drive uphill.
Tommy, one of the owners arrives and we get properly dressed. We get huge insulated bibs and enormous anoraks, that Tommy imported from the US. You cannot buy this type of dogsledding equipment in Europe. Then we get a hat, working gloves and mittens that do not look especially warm, but they definitely are. We slip into the warm Kamik boots and then everything goes quite fast.
I have never seen so relaxed dogs like those on Tommy’s dog yard. It is incredible. They are calm, they run around by themselves and then come back. It’s we humans that are busy to prepare everything. No time for photos. We get a last instruction: Take the first descend standing on the left runner and brake with the right foot. That’s important. Now in the final minutes the dogs start howling and off we go!
I do not have time to be nervous or frightened. Annika and I manage the first obstacle, Tommy accompanies us by snowmobile for a short while. We make some stops to check if everything is ok – thumbs up – and get another dog from Adelheids team. Tommy returns and we others continue alone. 17 dogs, two sledges, 3 humans.
Annika and I soon get into the flow and I cannot find words to describe the feeling of sliding through the snow covered valley Bolterdalen with exceptional views on the sunlit Arctic mountains. Annika is standing in front of me, I’m standing in the back. On a straight passage I dare to make some snapshots with my smartphone.
We both have brakes to slow down the dogs when we go downhills. But now we go uphills. We are too heavy for the dogs so I have to push. As soon as I do that the sledge becomes lighter and the dogs faster and I have to run while pushing. Although the snow is not deep I’m really out of breath and have to take short breaks to catch breath again. Fortunately it is only some shorter passages that are steep.
I don’t have a feeling for how long our trip was. Time doesn’t seem to matter while sliding through Svalbard’s Arctic landscape. We arrive at two a clock. While Annika and Adelheid are giving the dogs a snack and put them on the stake out lines I finally have the opportunity to take some photos. From the cabin, the polar bear safe food storage, the dogs and the hazy mountains around. Beautiful and extraordinary.
Being in the Scandinavian mountains in wintertime is nothing new to me, but this is like being in another world. I am standing there, just gazing until I finally do my job: helping the others with the dogs. But finally the dogs are all taken care of and most of them have been fallen asleep with the nose under the tail, because the wind gusts from the mountains are bitter cold.
Now it’s time for us to go inside, take a snack and relax a bit. We still sit there with woollen cap and jacket. It will take hours until the wood fired oven and the gas oven warm up the spacious but cosy living room up to round 15 °C.
Outdoors the full moon has risen above the eastern mountains and illuminates the scenery: A snowy place, 17 dogs and a warm and cosy cabin.
Annika and I go in “tourist mode”. While Adelheid is moving some dogs to protect them from the cold wind and starts preparing dinner we fire the sauna. First we have our bulky jackets on, but the sauna oven is strong and soon the sauna is hot. Then dinner time at 19:00. Adelheid cooked reindeer stew with rice – delicious. And – believe it or not – we even get a glass of white wine.
Now the dogs have rested enough to get their well-deserved dinner. There are not enough bowls for them all, but that does not matter. Sled dogs can be fast eaters and while we portion the food the first ones already have finished their meal.
The dogs are dozing and we are chilling in the cabin. I am reading “Foxi – sledehunden ingen ville ha”, a book about one of Tommi’s dogs. First unwanted it became an outstanding lead dog in a Iditarod race and was at the North Pole, too.
Then it’s bedtime for us as well. It does not take long until I fell aslee…