Husky mushing in Lapland: The trip with paw-wheel drive

Amid the wintry wilderness of Swedish Lapland, Katie Grant hooks up with a pack of four dogs and masters the exhilarating art of husky mushing

Another festive season has passed and Father Christmas has once more packed up his red crushed velvet and headed off to – well, wherever he goes when he's not delivering presents to deserving children. Nevertheless, the lure of Lapland has never been stronger, not least with the potential for exceptional displays of the Northern Lights this year.

There's also no shortage of snow at this time of year and it's that which drew me to the Arctic wilderness of Swedish Lapland, to try my hand at mushing my own team of dogs through the snow. I arrived in the village of Kauppinen, near Sweden's most northerly city, Kiruna, and was welcomed into the homely Mushers' Lodge, run by seasoned dog-sledder Jan Borinski.

By mid-afternoon it was already pitch black and the temperature had plummeted to below -30C. The air was crisp and still, though, and – with the benefit of multiple layers of thermals and a sturdy pair of snow boots – felt fresh and invigorating. Still, the darkness won and my body was tricked into tiredness; by 8pm I was tucked up in bed, where I was serenaded by a cacophony of demonic sounding howls and wails emanating from the 70 rowdy huskies residing outside my window. So, less Santa's grotto, more Satan's grotto, then.

At first light, my two fellow mushers and I were introduced to our teams of dogs, which had been entrusted to transport us via the dense forests and frozen lakes of Jukkasjarvi to our wilderness basecamp, 50km to the east. Jenny, Ost, Bico and Jim were creatures possessed, tearing around their enclosure, baring their teeth, barking hysterically and bouncing up and down on the roofs of their kennels like trampolines.

"Walkies!" I announced nervously, attempting to get on their good side. By nature, huskies are athletic and energetic dogs with thick coats and pale, piercing eyes. The practice of using dogs to pull sledges dates back to at least 2000BC. It is thought to have originated in Siberia or North America, before pushing further afield into the frozen corners of the planet. Snow- mobiles present a more convenient mode of transportation these days but, thanks to the cultural significance of sled dogs, husky mushing remains common in Lapland.

My four dogs, having rested for the previous couple of days, slobbered and trembled uncontrollably in anticipation of the day's running. Meanwhile, I battled with a jumble of ropes, legs and tongues and harnessed them up to the front of my sledge, before stepping on to the two skis attached to the back. Jan instructed me to move onto my brake plate as he tugged the anchor which had been holding my dogs back out of the icy ground. While my dogs strained to run forward into the open landscape, I tried to listen to Jan's brief, which was, well, brief: never let go of the sledge; stand on the brake plate when you need to stop; chances are you'll fall off a few times, but don't worry, the snow is soft; and watch out for splashback – the dogs like to go to the loo "on the run" and you'll be first in the firing line when their business flies back.

In our convoy of sledges I was positioned second, just behind Jan. Unable to contain themselves a moment longer, my dogs attempted to take flight prematurely – the fact that I had my full bodyweight pressed firmly on the brake plate did little to deter them. However, their bid for freedom was promptly halted by Jan's sledge, which was blocking their way and which they hurtled directly into.

Turning around to gesture it was time to set off, Jan must have detected a flash of terror in my eyes.

"Don't worry," he assured me, "it's as easy as riding a bike."

With that, he stepped off his brake plate and immediately disappeared into the distance.

"But… I can't ride a bike," I thought, starting to fret.

With my two fellow mushers waiting behind me, their dogs growling with impatience, I had no choice but to take a deep breath and tentatively step off my own brake too. Whoosh! The dogs shot off like a bullet, pounding through the snow, hot on the heels of Jan's leader pack.

I quickly adjusted to the strange sensation of the ground sliding away beneath my feet and my confidence grew as I whizzed smoothly along the track. I had to swerve my body to keep my balance and at times had to duck to avoid the tree branches flying at my face, as the trail became more challenging the further we progressed, taking us along narrow paths, bumpy hills and increasingly tight corners.

"Mush!" I shouted jubilantly at my dogs, urging them forward, though this clearly wasn't necessary – there's little that would have stopped them, I soon realised. The bright whiteness of the desolate landscape rushing past me was dazzling. It seemed as though I'd stepped into a black and white photograph: heavy blankets of pristine snow and ice stretched out endlessly in every direction, broken up only by the dark tree trunks poking out here and there.

Other than occasional reindeer tracks, there was absolutely no sign of life around me: it struck me that, if I were to be separated from Jan (which, given my dogs' propensity to swerve off in whichever direction they fancied, was a distinct possibility), I would be entirely at the mercy of the huskies, reliant on them to transport me to safety.

With icicles dangling from my eyelashes and hair and no feeling in my toes whatsoever, I finally reached the wilderness hut some four hours after our departure. Despite having no running water or electricity, an enormous fire gave it cosy character.

For dinner, mushers and dogs alike all tucked into a deliciously juicy reindeer stew. I put my exhausted dogs to bed in their outdoor kennels and, feeling completely exhausted myself, reflected upon Jan's bike analogy in front of the crackling fire.

I'm not sure what kind of bicycles he's been riding, but never before have I come across one which seemingly conspires to quarter its passenger by travelling forcefully in four opposing directions at once.

That said, it was the charm of these beautiful, drooling beasts that made my trip so exhilarating and memorable.

I'd never felt closer to nature than when they had been bounding through the icy forests, bringing me along with them for the ride. This was the kind of transportation I could get used to.

Travel Essentials

Discover the World (01737 214-250; discover-the-world.co.uk) offers a three-night Husky Wilderness Adventure, which costs from £1,499 per person. The price includes return flights from Heathrow to Kiruna, transfers, one night's full board at Mushers' Lodge, one night's full board at the Wilderness Lodge, a snowmobile safari from Mushers' Lodge to the Icehotel and one night at the Icehotel in Jukkasjarvi, plus use of thermal apparel for the duration of the trip.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people'It’s not that people react badly to it – they really don't care'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleJack Monroe accuses David Cameron of 'misty-eyed rhetoric'
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Group Financial Controller

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible