It was supposed to be the introduction to exploring Spitsbergen: dog sledding or mushing, before sailing around the archipelago on an expedition ship. Alas - a strike at SAS resulted in a two day delay, and I arrived on the evening of the day on which I was supposed to be out with the dogs. Fortunately, it was possible to squeeze a half-day dog sledding excursion in the following day, just before we had to board the ship. After a surprisingly good first night with the help of a very good eye mask effectively cutting out the permanent light, I have an early breakfast. It turns out we leave later than expected, and when we finally get on the way, I am happy to be out, and realize I only have a vague idea about what I am about to do, and what I will feel about dogs pulling my sledge and me.
We first get a briefing, wear our special clothes and shoes, and feel very warm when we step out into the early May sun where temperatures reach freezing point. We drive into a white world, almost to the very end of the road near Mine number 7, which I have seen the day before during the final descent into Longyearbyen airport. Then, it was enveloped in clouds; now, we arrive under a deep blue sky. It turns out that we stop right under the mountain in which the mine entrance is located. We are greeted by three poles in a pyramid shape, from which three seals are hanging in the air. When we walk around the sheds, we see wooden kennels with huskies. We meet the Dutch caretaker, who explains us that females are separated from males. All kennels have the names of the dog on them, and we are invited to greet the dogs. As soon as we start walking around, they understand that there is a chance they will be elected to pull us, and they get very excited. Amid barking and caressing, we admire the beautiful beasts, some of whom jump up to us.
Before we can set off, we learn how to put a harness around the dogs, and our guide tells us that teams of dogs have been carefully selected to be in front, middle or rear position. Putting the harness and walking the dogs to the sleds, and attaching them, turns out to be easier than we thought. We then get an explanation of how to handle the sleds, how to brake and bend in curves, and off we go. Sooner than I thought possible, I get used to letting the brake go, hanging in the curves, and just enjoying the feeling of sliding through a wonder-world of snow and mountains without the sound of an engine. Mushing the dogs turns out to be quite easy, and sitting on the deer skin a better possibility to take pictures. Whenever we stop, the pulling of the dogs continues, and it seems they have great fun running through the snow. Where we often have to slow down in the beginning, our dogs turn out to become slower towards the end. I see their tongues hanging out of their mouths. When we are back at the kennels, the dogs seem pretty tired, and we make sure we thank them for their hard work pulling our sledges through the spectacular winter landscape of Spitsbergen.
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