How do I master a 30-day expedition in the wilderness with Siberian huskies?
Have you ever planned on going on a 30-day expedition with ten Siberian huskies? Let me tell you; it takes a lot of preparation; there’s so much to think about. I know this because I’m a musher of purebred Siberian huskies and made this exact trip. We started our expedition at the northernmost part of Norway, Vadsø in Finnmark. After 500 kilometres and one month of sledding, we finished at the Varangerhaløyve national park.
My name is Sanna. I live in Norway with my husband and my pack of huskies. Going on trips with them and testing myself to the limits is what I love. The weather can be rough, which is why I need durable clothes. I got involved with the GORE-TEX Tested for Life Tryouts Challenge; to show people what I love, how hard it is, but also how rewarding it can be!
It all started six years ago when I got my very first husky. There was something special about her. I knew from the beginning that she had great potential. Training a puppy was easy, and I felt we had a strong connection. Challenging myself is totally rewarding because I know that hard work pays off. Even though I see myself as skilled, it is tough to train huskies.
With them, I can go to places where not many people have been before, and this gives me a whole new perspective in life. The Norwegian wilderness was our home for a long time. And even though my husband helped me with the organization, I guided the sleigh and the huskies by myself for 30 days and more than 500 kilometres. The weather in winter can be really rough in Norway, and it changes very quickly. The temperatures varied between -10° and -30°, and the wind howls between 15 and 35m/s. How does one survive? With proper preparation and GORE-TEX gear. The Huskies pulled me and all the equipment through 100-250 centimetres of snow, ice, and frozen lakes.
“With good equipment, clothing, training, and planning, one can do almost anything”
Not all huskies can endure such a long expedition. They need a lot of physical and (maybe even more importantly) mental training. My lead dogs are an essential part of completing this kind of tour: Aurora, my true fast lead dog, is one-of-a-kind. She can lead without a track in total darkness. All of my huskies follow a strict training plan. They could, therefore, complete 3400 km on and off track in every imaginable weather situation before the expedition. With good equipment, clothing, training, and planning, one can do almost anything. Every single husky can run on a track, but the most challenging aspect is when they have to run without it in total darkness, while snow is whirling around. Sometimes powder snow makes it hard to continue because we sink in. Huskies really have to trust the musher because if they are in doubt, they won’t go further. So, the training is both for the huskies and the musher. It’s all about running and pushing the sleigh in deep snow, sometimes even uphill. I always have to keep an eye on them to see if they are doing fine. Are their paws okay? How are their muscles doing?
Before the musher gets any rest or food after a long training tour, the huskies are removed from the harness and get water and food. They get praised for how wonderful and good they are after every stop. It’s all about the connection and bond between the musher and the huskies.
What happened when the polar storm hit us?
A situation I won’t ever forget was the polar storm at the beginning of the expedition. We got hit by the storm, and the snow blanketed the huskies right away. I kept three huskies inside my tent because they were not feeling comfortable, even though they have super thick fur. The storm was loud, and it was impossible to see further than a few meters because of the snow whirling around. The wind was about 22-24 m/s strong. It was honestly the worst weather I have ever seen or felt. The tent had a tiny hole and snow got pressed into the tent. I was cold, but all I could do was wait for the storm to pass. After opening the tent, all I could see was snow; everywhere snow. But the huskies were safe and happy behind a snow wall. The polar storm in Finnmark was so strong that we were stuck there for three days. Thankfully the equipment was good enough to survive. I checked on the dogs often, and all I could see was their heads. But it was okay because the snow protected them. Every hour I shuffled snow; otherwise, they would have been laying too deep. I was just waiting for the storm to pass so we could go further.
What is the right preparation and equipment for an expedition?
Preparation takes plenty of time, and I need to calculate the energy requirement for me and the huskies. Testing the equipment and clothing is also a significant part of the process. I also need to study the map and climate in the specific areas, since I need to know where I am going with my huskies. But what is most important? Definitely having the right gear and equipment because without it, such an expedition can be life-threatening. I mostly use GORE-TEX clothing because it’s the best in every changing weather situation. The harsh polar climate up in northern Norway demands the best gear to protect me from the cold and snow. I wear GORE-TEX insulated pants, a GORE-TEX Pro Primaloft jacket and a GORE-TEX Pro jacket.
I really think that this gear is the best for those rough conditions. Breathability and durability are essential when it comes to choosing clothes for these challenging situations, and when being outside for many hours. I always test clothes on training tours first. If they fit and tackle every kind of weather and the training intensity without issue, they’re perfect for me. I genuinely love my Meindl shoes made of GORE-TEX material too. I even bought a second pair because they keep my feet dry and surprisingly warm at -30°.
How my pregnancy changed a lot
Bergebyløpet at the end of January this year was our team’s first race. It was strange for me to share parts of the training responsibility with my husband instead of doing 100-150 kilometres per week by myself. But I got pregnant back then, and that changed a lot, and I have to accept that fact. How my pack is going to think about our new family member makes me excited and also a little bit nervous. I heard that back in the day, tribe folks used huskies as “babysitters”. I am sure there will be a strong bond between them, and I sincerely hope that our child also wants to become a musher one day.
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