‘What­ever you do, never let go of the sled!’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Iknew the knuck­les of my hands be­neath the thick gloves were white. As I gripped the birch­wood han­dle in front of me, ev­ery mus­cle in my body tensed and I won­dered if ev­ery­one else was feel­ing like me. I was ter­ri­fied, but at the same time elated, de­lighted and, like the 200 or so dogs strain­ing at their teth­ers and bark­ing loudly in an­tic­i­pa­tion, ea­ger to get go­ing.

Dur­ing our two days of train­ing, we had fa­mil­iarised our­selves with our kit, put up our tents and learnt how to mit­i­gate for the worst of the weather. We had packed and repacked our ruck­sacks, loaded up with shov­els and axes, stoves and knives, hunks of frozen meat and ra­tion packs. And now we were here, in the Scan­di­na­vian Arc­tic, as the pale sun be­gan to break through the cloud and light up a land­scape swathed in snow.

It was April. Back in Bri­tain, the first leaves were un­furl­ing, blue­bells were be­gin­ning to make an ap­pear­ance among the celandines and wood anemones, and the dawn cho­rus was be­com­ing ri­otous. But here, north of the Arc­tic cir­cle, there were no signs of spring; winter held on with its frozen grip and for the next four days and nights we would be at its mercy.

I had been in­vited to be part of an ex­pe­di­tion that is or­gan­ised ev­ery year by the Swedish cloth­ing com­pany Fjall­raven. The par­tic­i­pants – 28 men and women from as far afield as South Korea, Viet­nam and New Or­leans, as well as Europe – had com­peted to be here by tak­ing part in an on­line vot­ing cam­paign. The suc­cess­ful can­di­dates are flown, all ex­penses paid, to Swe­den for a truly im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence of the Arc­tic wilder­ness.

Cyn­ics might dis­miss it as a clever mar­ket­ing cam­paign, and the or­gan­is­ers ad­mit that part of the aim is to have their kit tested by lots of peo­ple in the en­vi­ron­ment for which it is de­signed (each of us was clothed head to toe in ev­ery­thing we needed). The main hope, how­ever, was that we would be­come am­bas­sadors, not for the cloth­ing range, but for the Arc­tic it­self.

Our first day was spent largely in a class­room, lis­ten­ing to a lec­ture by the for­mi­da­ble Jo­han. “If you love na­ture,” he said, “you have to love it all, what­ever the con­di­tions. The Arc­tic is beau­ti­ful, but its dan­gers are very real – and it de­mands re­spect. You can’t rely on other peo­ple. You must take re­spon­si­bil­ity for your­self, your kit and ul­ti­mately for your en­vi­ron­ment. Do that, and you will learn what a truly spe­cial place the Arc­tic is and un­der­stand why it is so im­por­tant that it’s pro­tected.”

We had been or­gan­ised into teams of four, each with a des­ig­nated dog sled driver who would be our guide and teacher. Amanda was in charge of our team. A young Nor­we­gian with flaw­less English, she was whip­pet-thin but strong as an ox, and had been work­ing with sled dogs for the past 12 years. Each team mem­ber was then given a sled and a team of six huskies – not the big, fluffy grey dogs that the word husky con­jures up, but mon­grels: a tough, hardy mix of Siberian husky, Green­land dog and hunt­ing dog. Bred for stamina, speed and strength, what they look like is nei­ther here nor there, said Amanda. My six were in­deed a rag-tag bunch of all shapes and sizes, but they proved to be not just strong and speedy, but in­fin­itely pa­tient too.

Sud­denly the first team was off, stream­ing across the snow, up a bank and into the trees. My dogs leapt for­ward, those at the front strain­ing so hard that my sled be­gan to move, de­spite me stand­ing on the brake and The de­fin­i­tive winter boot is back. Strap your­self into a pair of th­ese iconic calf-length ones and head north. the snow an­chor be­ing jammed deep into the white stuff un­der foot. Amanda had to grab the dogs to stop them tear­ing off in hot pur­suit.

They didn’t have long to wait. As Amanda gave the hand sig­nal for “OK?” I gave a ner­vous nod and looked back at my team-mates who were giv­ing the thumbs-up. I re­leased the brake and, with a tremen­dous jolt that al­most tipped me off back­wards, my 186-mile (300km) jour­ney be­gan. I’d love to tell you that I was im­me­di­ately cap­ti­vated by the won­der of the land­scape around me, but the truth is I barely no­ticed where I was for the first This Falke base­layer is de­signed with a mois­turewick­ing fab­ric, which will keep you dry and warm re­gard­less of how much it snows. The Fjall­raven Po­lar takes place an­nu­ally, giv­ing or­di­nary peo­ple the chance to com­plete a 186-mile (300km) jour­ney by dogsled through the Arc­tic wilder­ness. Run by the Swedish out­door cloth­ing com­pany Fjall­raven, the week-long ex­pe­di­tion be­gins in Sig­nal­dalen, Nor­way, and ends in Vakkara­jarvi, Swe­den.

Par­tic­i­pants (in­clud­ing two from the UK and Ire­land) are cho­sen on the strength of an on­line ap­pli­ca­tion us­ing video and pho­tographs, Nikon’s freeze/wa­ter/shock­proof KeyMis­sion 170 cam­era is for ad­ven­ture. A classy set of eye-pro­tec­tors. voted on by the public and an ex­pert panel. They must be fit, over 18 and com­fort­able in front of the cam­era. Travel costs are borne by Fjall­raven, which also pro­vides cloth­ing and equip­ment – but com­pe­ti­tion is fierce. Last year, there were 1,468 en­tries for 28 places.

The next Fjall­raven Po­lar takes place from April 9-15 2018, and the win­dow for ap­pli­ca­tions opens on Nov 16 and closes on Dec 14. For more in­for­ma­tion and to ap­ply, see po­lar.fjall­raven. com.

hour or so. Ev­ery part of my brain and body was fo­cused on just stay­ing on the sled.

We weren’t sim­ply pas­sen­gers, sit­ting snug­gled be­neath rein­deer skins as we were whisked through a winter won­der­land, but stand­ing on the run­ners at the back of the sled. There was no di­rect con­tact with the dogs – no reins, as you would have with a horse – but we had to keep a sharp eye on the track ahead, look­ing out for haz­ards, ready to brake or shift our weight on the run­ners to en­able the dogs to turn.

Amanda had told us be­fore we set off that we could only re­ally learn by do­ing it. “The main thing to re­mem­ber,” she said, “is that once the dogs are run­ning, they want to keep run­ning. They get into a rhythm and it is much bet­ter for them if they don’t stop – so you have to get used to drink­ing, eat­ing, putting on ex­tra lay­ers or tak­ing them off while the sled is mov­ing.

“When go­ing up­hill, you’ll need to help the dogs. Use one leg to help push the sled along, like a child’s scooter. On the re­ally steep bits, you’ll need to get off and run, push­ing the sled like a pram. What­ever you do, never let go of it be­cause the dogs will just keep go­ing and you’ll be left with­out a sled!”

At first, it seemed that this learn­ing curve was just too steep. There was so much to take in that I felt over­whelmed, and more than once I fell off the sled, hav­ing mis­judged a rut or a cor­ner. Some­how, I al­ways man­aged to hold on to it – and thanks to the snow and my padded lay­ers of Arc­tic kit, the only thing that got bruised was my ego.

Af­ter three hours or so, we stopped for lunch. The dogs, pant­ing and grin­ning, tongues lolling, were each given a lump of frozen meat for an en­ergy boost. Mean­while, we broke into our ra­tion packs and sat down in the snow, com­par­ing aching mus­cles. We had trav­elled fewer than half the 44 miles (70km) we had planned to cover that day. Some­how, I would have to find re­serves of strength I wasn’t sure I had to carry on for an­other three or four hours.

We packed up, stow­ing our rub­bish care­fully in bags and tak­ing all of it with us. The dogs were as ea­ger as they had been at the start of the day.

That af­ter­noon we

The teams of six huskies would travel 186 miles

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