Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden

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Lapland, March 14th - 28th 2008

An overdue report.

There are more than eighty dogs at Snowtrail Dogcamp. By the end of my stay I still haven't sorted them all out, but I meet old friends and make some new ones too.

The cute puppy I photographed romping through the snow is now a full-grown adult, but he still has one floppy ear: see! I'm delighted to learn that my beloved boisterous Wille has become a good lead dog, and that gentle, handsome Reno is the father of beautiful yearlings Nice, Cannes, Marseilles and the lupine Monaco.

Other new additions include affectionate brothers Bilbo and Smeagol, identical save for Bilbo's longer, fluffier coat.

And the puppies, the puppies! Puppies eleven weeks old, teeny miniature sled dogs with stubby legs and huge feet. Five-week-old finger-nibblers that clamber into your lap and doze off as you warm their icy paws.

The younger pups live near the dogfood kitchen, and if there's a possibility of food in the offing they line up along the wire of their pen and cry for it. The littlest puppy, Mowgli, is small enough to get his head through the wire in his excitement and too fluffy to retrieve it without assistance.

All these and more have to be fed and cleaned out, starting from 8AM. There may be anything from three to a dozen people at work, depending on how helpful the current batch of tourists is feeling and how many Cabin Crew are available (some stay for a season, some just for a few weeks like me). The dogs are chained up so they can't steal or fight over each other's food, then their breakfast - the remains of last night's supper, with water - is dished out. Afterwards we clean out the pens using a highly specialised piece of equipment known technically as a 'shit-scraper', release the dogs, and head for a well-deserved breakfast in the cabin.

After breakfast all is frantic activity as the sleds and teams are prepared for the guests to go out. More chaining and unchaining, this time of dogs who know what's going on and are wildly, noisily excited. We help the tourists identify, fetch and harness the dogs they'll be using to the line of sleds. There's always a getaway or two.

Lotti, the camp owner, leads the way on a sled or a snowmobile. She takes one of the Crew along to help out in case 'something happen' - a sled tips over, or a dog gets tired and needs to be carried. It's rather nerve-wracking to sit poised for action, knowing that at any moment you might have to leap up and do something. On one occasion the dogs take the wrong trail and I have to try and turn them round without their getting all mixed up and starting a fight - at which I fail, and get bitten. But it's also fantastic and awesome to be out in that snowy landscape.

If you're not the lucky helper out with the teams, you get to release the snowhook and watch the dogs streak off down the trail - past the nose of semi-retired Jerry, who always wonders why he isn't going too. In the strange silence when they've gone there are plenty of tasks back at the camp: replacing the hay in the kennels, sweeping snow off the fences, clipping claws.

Lunch is typically soup and knäckebröd (which is Swedish for Ryvita) with cheese. More odd jobs follow, then it's time to go through the chain, feed, release routine again. The dogs' dinner consists of meat, fish, biscuits and table scraps, and as it falls into the metal bowls I'm reminded of how, in the Asterix books, particularly unappetising food is served with a 'SPLATSCH'.

The leftovers are mixed with water for the next day's breakfast, meat and fish are fetched from the freezer to melt in the old enamel bath for next day's dinner, and the kitchen is cleaned. If you're really lucky there's time for a shower or a brief sit-down before supper.

There is always time to play with puppies.

I have brought a 700-page Tom Wolfe novel and a cross stitch project to occupy myself until the generator goes off at nine, but everyone else has a laptop and is internet-enabled. One evening we all sit around drinking White Russians and watching 50 First Dates on DVD as snow falls in the minus-10 night outside.

Towards the end of my holiday Bart from Belgium and I take a German couple on an overnight expedition, staying in a cabin in the woods. We take sleeping-bags, food and seventeen dogs - four each for the tourists, nine and the big sled for us.

Our journey out takes two and a half hours, the longest I've ever been continuously on the trail and, when Bart lets me mush on some of the flat straight bits, the most dogs I've ever controlled. When we arrive at the cabin we unharness the dogs and hook them up in a line, boy / girl / boy / girl so they won't fight, to chains fastened along the ground.

The dogs immediately scrabble themselves comfortable nests in the snow and curl up in balls, just like in The Call of the Wild. I think this is my Best Thing of the holiday - they look so sweet.

It won't be dark for three or four hours and I wonder how we're going to entertain ourselves until then. I soon know: starting the fire, chopping wood, drilling a hole in the ice to draw water from the lake, carrying water to the cabin, starting the sauna. By dusk we're only too glad to take advantage of the sauna, heat up some pasta and crawl into our sleeping-bags.

Although there's a fully-working sauna the chemical toilet leaves a lot to be desired, so before bed I take a torch and set off unwillingly to find a secluded spot and expose my bare arse to the sub-zero air.

Outside the cabin, seventeen pairs of green dog-eyes glitter at me and there are more stars than I've ever seen in my life.

It's so cold at the cabin that my photosensitive glasses take nearly an hour to adjust after coming in from the sunlight, and in the morning there's ice on the lenses. But the morning is bright and Bart decides to take the dogs on a trail he hasn't tried them with before, twisting sharply up and down through the trees.

Just a couple of days later I am saying my farewells to friends human and canine, doing my last ever 10PM puppy-feed, and sitting behind Hannah on the snowmobile as she takes me down to the car park. We drive to Kiruna airport with an orange sun rising above the snow-covered hills and I'm off to Gatwick via Stockholm, leaving Lapland to melt into Spring without me.

There are more than eighty dogs at Snowtrail Dogcamp. And I love them all.

Tags: huskies
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