Monday, March 29, 2010

A different outdoor adventure: Dog Sledding

I realized a long time dream, trying dog sledding. Now I know that to count a day in the outdoors I have to spend at least 5 hours outside but this would be a shame if I didn’t t count this extraordinary experience in my adventures for this year.

This trip was generously sponsored by my friend Adrienne, who I brought to the tour with her two children. We left early from Vancouver and headed to Whistler. After a nice trip through the north shore mountains we arrived to Whistler in the sun. We quickly made it to the agency who had a van waiting for us. The van loaded all 4 of us and picked up some guest at the 4 Seasons hotel. After a quick drive towards Pemberton, we took a left into the Soo valley, a valley I had never heard about but I had actually seen when last summer I climbed Rainbow Mountain. I thought we would have arrived directly at the kennel but instead it was just the launching center for dog sledding. Now I was really hoping we would dog sled for about 2 hours as the brochure made us understood but instead there was a lot of talking but with the dogs around. It was a short and useful introduction to dog sledding and how the dogs live and their features. The interesting part is that they did not have any Siberian huskies but mix races of German Sheppard with Husky and Greyhound. It turns out all the dogs were extremely cute and joy full. To my very pleasant surprise, they wanted us to actually drive the sled, and this was very exciting.
Of course I volunteered immediately to drive the sled. I carefully listened to the instruction. Basically the dogs follow the track so no steering needed but lots of breaking needed because they will run till they are out of juice. The sleds were very simple but very efficient. The main mechanics is a break that you just step on and a metal hook you kick into the ground to anchor yourself. The only tricky part in dog sledding is actually releasing that hook because the dogs feel when you are taking it off and they will just blast away.

I put Adrienne`s two daughters in my assigned sled. We were given four beautiful dogs that were hauling to get moving, a bit like me before climbing. Adrienne and her sleadder started quickly in front of us. I carefully released the hook-anchor from the ground and before the hook was even put back on it s holder we were firing down the trail. I was extremely surprised by the pace we were going at, least 40 km per hour, especially that the route was going downwards. I realized that we had the super dogs and quickly caught up to Adrienne s sled. I had to break many time so the dos did not pass the sled in front of us which could lead to some serious dog fights. It was very relaxing and the pace finally went down because the dogs got a bit tires after the first km. The trail was a simple up and down logging road going along the Soo river a large and nice deep valley stream. It was very enjoyable and the two girls were giggling of happiness.

It is actually quite easy to balance yourself on the sled but the bumpy part gives you some quick adrenalin whips, especially when you have a 3 and a 4 year old in the sled your driving. At one point , the trail does a 180 degrees so you can head back towards the lunch pad, so after 30 min we hit the turnaround point, and we got to be alone on the sled. I was a bit nervous because how would I tell the dogs to do a 180 turn, well the guide told me not to worry and let the magic happened. Adrienne did this part even by herself. So we stopped for a minute to listen to the instructions, and I waited for Adrienne to do her turn, I left about 30 seconds later. We went down a steep part which made me break so I would not sled over the dogs. And there it was the 180 degree turn, without a second of hesitation the dogs just did the turn while I was feeling the sled tipping on the side. I put all my weight on the opposite side so I would not tip. Well we made it just dine, and the girls were laughing of happiness. We steadily made back to base camp while the guide took plenty of nice pictures of us. After the one hour ride we got to give a treat to each of the dogs and even assisted to the reproduction of two of them ( a bonus to the program). The staffs were extremely nice and welcoming and the dogs were very well treated. We safely headed back to Whistler in the Van and a had a great lunch at the old spaghetti factory the first company I ever worked for, as a bus boy.. a long way before my first dog sledding adventure… Next year Yukon!

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