On Four Feet in the Wilderness – Dog Sledding Sweden

There is little that compares to the magical experience of dog sledding Sweden and its intertwined relationship to its different elements. The connection to the dogs and the surrounding nature carries with a magic that is hard to describe. Physically the adventure piques all the senses as you mush your way over the snow clad landscape, with only the sound from the breathing pack and the animals’ paws as they forge their way through heavy snowed forests and over wide open mountainside. Dog sledding in Sweden can be made in shapes of longer or shorter tours. An adventure like this one over two days really gets you in a wilderness mood, a mood hard to come by any other way!

Dog sledding Sweden | Photo: Nicklas Blom
There is little that compares to the magical experience of dog sledding Sweden and its intertwined relationship to its different elements. Photo: Nicklas Blom

Dog Sledding Sweden’s Winter Clad Landscape

I head out to Vålådalen in the southern Åre mountains, the last frontier as it’s sometimes referred to, where civilisation draws to a close and the wilderness begins. I’m about to embark on a unique adventure, an overnight dog sled safari in Sweden, to the cabins in the foothills of the Gruvsmällen mountain, which lie at an altitude of approximately 1 246 metres above sea level.

The dogs are euphoric when we head out to them in their enclosures. The sheer energy oozes out of them as they realise that they very soon will be running in the wild with their pack. This is the epitome of “a dog´s life”. Wilderness, the pack, the freedom. The lead dog, the matriarch, called Hilla, stands with a calm authority as she watches the rest of the pack animals zealously throwing themselves around with boundless energy, while tangling themselves in the gang lines. Hilla knows that the time to run is close, but not yet. She patiently waits and watches attentively as I tie down the last of the items and stand ready to release the sleds break.

By now the dogs have worked themselves into a euphoric frenzy, the noise deafening from their barking and yapping. Four teams of dog sleds, totaling 25 animals are tugging frantically at the lines, all but one, Hilla, the lead dog, as she waits for my command. The guide and handler gives me the thumbs up checking to see if I am ready, I return the signal with a double thumbs up and cheesy smile. It’s go time!

The brake is released from the snow and the dogs set off at a frenetic pace, their paws clawing the snow reminding me of cartoon animations I watched as a child. The acceleration from the dogs taking off catches me off guard and I nearly lose my balance on the sled. Within a few moments the dogs go silent as they get into their rhythm of their work. The only sounds I hear after the cacophony of noise a few moments ago is that of the animals breathing and the sound of the wooden sled gliding over the ice. I look up and start taking in the surroundings. This, is freedom. The type of freedom that deafens with its undisturbed silence which is something that can only be experienced in rugged wilderness. It’s the freedom that restores the soul to life.

The wind chill slowly starts biting into my cheeks as the wind rushes past us. The winter trail has been cut through the forests and winds its way through the pine trees that loom over us, heavily laden with the recent snows. The trail is constantly changing as it climbs its way up the mountain and some of the turns are so sharp that I lose track of the lead dogs as they hurl their way around them. The trees start thinning and becoming more sinuous, crooked and weather beaten, signs of the harsher weather they experience at such altitudes. We reach the end of the treeline and keep heading onwards, passing a few nordic skiers who cast a few jealous looks in our direction as we mush past them.

"Heading North" – Nicklas Blom travels alone with his dog sled through the Scandinavian mountain range.

Well-deserved Rest for Dogs and Mushers Alike

We eventually make our way with the dog sleds to the cabin, appearing like a fairy tale ahead of us. I can barely believe that this is where we will be spending the night. The first thing we do is take care of our canine friends. Dog sledding is not like a scooter safari where one can just turn off the machine and climb off. We form a “stake out” with the dogs. A wire line where every animal is tied in facing each other where they have the chance to reaffirm their bonds and remain in close physical contact with each other. The dogs love physical contact and it’s our duty to reward each one with encouragement, a few scratches behind the ear and then carefully check the paws on each one of them to make sure that they have not damaged them while pulling the dog sleds over sharp ice or other obstacles.

The day slowly draws to a close and the heavens take centre stage, presenting a sunset like only the northern alpine landscape can create, the dogs receive their hard earned dinner and we settle in to make ours. I peer out the window as the leader of the pack, Hilla, prepares her resting spot for the night, giving the area a test lie down before rising again, spinning a few more times and lying down for the night. I feel tired just watching her and return my attention to inside of the cabin and the crackling fireplace. We’ve eaten to our heart’s content on a menu of sliced reindeer meat and hot coffee. The rest of the crew sit silently staring into the fire and process the many sights and sounds of the day’s dog sledding adventure in Sweden and the rugged wilderness. One of the dogs outside lets out a small yelp but other than that, the mountains are calm and we all sit silently as sleep slowly takes over and we head to our respective bunks for the night.

Dog sledding Sweden | Photo: Nicklas Blom
Dog sledding Sweden | Photo: Nicklas Blom

Homeward Bound with Dogs & Sleds

I wake up the next morning with the group discussing the weather forecast for the day and busying themselves with their morning tasks. I hop out of my bunk and get cracking with the day. The dogs joyfully greet us as we head out to chop firewood and fetch water for the next guests in the cabin. The same procedure as the morning before awaits us as we tie each dog into the gang line and head off, the acceleration of the dog sled once again surprising me. The route down is a more adventurous as the route up as we happen upon a moose peacefully grazing. If Hilla wanted she could have easily chosen to let her hunting instinct take over and chase after it, but a sharp “NO!” command changes her mind and she buckles down, lowers her head and marches onwards. The moose has gotten me curious and the guide explains that there are more than just moose in the area, that there are even lynx, wolverine and even bear around, although seldom seen.

We continue onwards with our dog sleds, taking a different loop home and after a few hours we arrive back in Vålådalen, which almost seems surreal after the magical time away. I help release the dogs from the lines and thank each of my four legged friends for their work from the last two days and their contribution to the amazing dog sledding adventure in the Swedish wilderness.

Dog sledding Sweden | Photo: Nicklas Blom
The sound from the euphoric dogs waiting to take off is almost deafening.

HERE’S THE SKINNY

ACTIVITY

Dog sledding

SEASON

Winter, Early spring

SKILL LEVEL

Easy-medium

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE

No previous experience or knowledge is required, but a degree of fitness and a fair chunk of good humour is good to have.

SLED DOGS

Alaskan Husky’s are the most common breed of sled dogs, which are a blended breed of Siberian Husky’s and other working breeds of dogs. There is no definite breed that’s preferred and often animals are chosen to suit the conditions or preferences. A team of dogs can vary from two up till 16 animals.

GUIDED TOURS

There are numerous organisers of tours in Jämtland Härjedalen and many offer trips ranging from a couple of hours through to numerous days. 

If you can’t wait to go on adventure with the author of this story – musher Nicklas Blom you can reach him on info@nicklasblom.com.

READING TIPS

Jack London, Helge Ingstad and swede Harry Macfie are names of authors that every dog sledding interested person needs to know.

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