After a late night wandering the streets of Longyearbyen, under the midnight sun, I was up early. Waiting in the crisp Arctic morning air, my breath visible despite it being June, I could see the tour van driving towards the guesthouse that I was staying in. This was the start of an amazing day in Svalbard.
I had wanted to go dog sledding for a long time. Probably because it is so different to anything that I had grown up with in Australia. I hadn’t really seen snow until I was in my mid-twenties. Now I found myself in the Arctic Circle, pootling along in a van, heading towards a glacier just outside of Longyearbyen with my guide from Green Dog tours. Tourists aren't allowed outside the town due to the Polar Bear risk. With permission I could have hired a rifle for protection but I thought it was best to go with a guide this time. Polar bears would have been lining up to eat someone as inexperienced as me.
The Green Dog setup kennels are about 10 minutes outside of Longyearbyen. The guides were relaxed and didn’t seem in a rush, which I was always appreciate. There’s nothing worse than feeling like they can’t wait to get rid of you and get the next group in. I said hello to a couple of the dogs hanging around that were well practiced in the extraction of attention from unsuspecting tourists. Kitted out with a snow suit, boots, gloves and a hat we headed back to the van. A short winding road took us up to the glacier where the dogs were waiting.
Meet the dogs
The dogs were instantly excited as soon as we got out of the van, they obviously knew that they were about to go have some fun. The noise level suddenly picked up and our guide had to raise his voice as he spoke to us. I was driving a sled with 6 dogs and my fiance was sitting in the front. After a quick safety brief, instructions on how to operate the brake and give commands to the dogs, we were off. The chaotic noise of dogs barking that had filled the air was now replaced with a gentle ‘whoosh’ as we glided across the snow. The dogs were incredibly powerful and I struggled to slow them down to avoid running into the back of the sled in front. Their excitement and noise was now transformed into movement and power.
It wasn’t long before I couldn’t see any sign of humans and the scenery turned completely monochromatic. The dark lower sections of the surrounding mountains were contrasted with the pure white snow on top, struggling to survive in the 24-hour sunlight of the summer months. The dogs loved the deeper snow and every time I had to slow them down I felt bad. Stopping to give them a rest, I suspected it was actually the humans that needed it more, I could really take in this untouched wild landscape. The morning mist had cleared and blue sky was starting to break through, making for a magical scene.
The explorer returns
The steep downhill section leading back to our starting point was exhilarating and really got the heart racing. I had to jump on the brakes when the sled started to go faster than the dogs, risking running over them. Before I knew it we were back at the beginning saying goodbye to the dogs who seemed satisfied for now. Feeling like an explorer of old, I returned to the safety of the town for a hearty meal.
I will never forget this unique opportunity to experience such a simple and natural form of transport whilst being in a wild environment unlike any I had seen before. Although Svalbard is an expensive place to visit and this dog-sledding tour cost over £100 for only four hours, I would pay it all over again. Next time I want to book a multi-day dog-sledding trip perhaps in the Autumn months when daylight is scarce and the northern Lights dance in the sky above the dogs. Doesn’t that sound like an adventure?
Written by: Chris Dellaca
Chris Dellaca is a social media professional and amateur photographer currently living in London and traveling as much as he can. His travels are documented on his blog ThatLondonguy.com and more travel photos can be found on Instagram @thatlondon_guy
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