“And through another winter they wandered on the obliterated trails of men who had gone before. Once, they came upon a path blazed through the forest, an ancient path, and the Lost Cabin seemed very near. But the path began nowhere and ended nowhere, and it remained a mystery…”. Jack London.
Our journey begins in the northern part of Ammarnäs, along the road that takes you up the Ammarfjäll mountain in summer, past the Bijergenas reindeer pen, where the King’s Trail begins – or ends. Today, the snow on the summer road hasn’t been cleared, and instead of walking, we’re stood on sleds behind a team of dogs. It’s quiet. Roaring quiet. All you can hear is the swishing sound of the sled gliding across the snow and the dogs panting as we travel the road past Höbäcken. But thirty minutes ago, when we were harnessing our dogs, the sounds were different. Forty dogs brimming with energy, wanting to run. Forty dogs with no other outlet for all that energy but to bark, howl and pick a fight. In a way, it’s the price you pay for harnessing them to a sled. Frustration. But as soon as we’ve released the brakes and begun to move, everything goes quiet.
“The world he had so recently left… seemed very far behind… recollections of marts and galleries and crowded thoroughfares… of good men and dear women he had known, – but they were dim memories of a life he had lived… on some other planet”. Jack London.
A journey into another world
All you can say about this tour – by dogsled into the Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve with the guide Matthias Schnyder – is that it’s a journey into another world. After Höbäcken, there is no mobile coverage. Your Instagram updates will have to wait. Instead, you’ll have to concentrate on what’s really happening. Focus on the experience. In a way, driving your on team of sled dogs is pure mindfulness.
We’re on our way to Vindelkroken, along the frozen river Vindelälven. We’ll spend our first night at Dalovardo and then travel all the way to the Norwegian border, to the summer settlement of Gran Sámi Village. Ingrid and Per Nils Pilto are already waiting for us there. Ingrid, featuring in the book ‘Food Travels’ by Per Morberg, is what we might call a true guardian of the exciting Sámi food culture.
A dog handler’s life
The proverb says: “It’s a dog’s life, hunger and ease”. And maybe that’s how it is to be a dog-handler. Long days. Cold days. Lonely days. But still the rewards – the beauty of the place and the love of the dogs.
“As I say, we came thus through the forest, till the smell of the camp smoke was in our nostrils”. Jack London.
Our guide, Matthias Schnyder, is Swiss but has lived in Sorsele with his family for many years. When Matthias and his wife Barblina were looking for a place where they could start their company, he wanted to move to Yukon, to the home of dog sledding. But Barblina thought Swedish Lapland was better. Just as good for the dogs, but an easier social life and nearer customers in Europe. Today Matthias runs tours from December through to May. He loves his dogs and his life. We love the experience we’re offered. And things get even better when we arrive at Vindelkroken the following day.
Per Nils and Ingrid have prepared dinner. Char, grilled on the wood-fire stove. Snared grouse hang in the hallway – we have them for dinner tomorrow. Later during the week, there’s time for cured fillet of reindeer, gurpi sausages made from smoked reindeer mince, smoked reindeer suovas, blood pancakes, marrowbone and a proper, old-fashioned reindeer hotpot.
“There had been no snow for many days, and the sleds slipped along the hard-packed Yukon trail as easily as if it had been glare ice… I’d like to have you go along”. Jack London
In the Vindelfjällen mountains
Unfortunately, all journeys come to an end. So does this one. We’ll begin our journey back to what we usually refer to as civilisation soon. But I think no one really wants to. We’ve grown accustomed to the simple life. No mobile coverage – just doing uncomplicated things. Like fetching snow and meltwater for the dogs. Like feeding the dogs before we eat ourselves. The dogs are ‘everything’, or at least a priority, just like they were in Jack London’s time. There are so many ways of experiencing a dog team, but travelling where there are no roads, staying with the Sámi Ingrid and Per Nils, who really offer something spectacular in all its simplicity, and being in an area with very little snowmobile traffic – all this makes the trip even more special. To travel by dog in the Vindelfjällen mountains is something ‘new’.
In the old days, Sámi and pioneers skied, following the reindeer or flocks of grouse. Then came the tractor, the car and the snowmobile. But today we’re travelling by dog sled. It feels like it belongs here.
All quotes are taken from Jack London’s ‘The Son of the Wolf and The Call of the Wild’.
For more information on Matthias Schnyder’s dog sledding tours, visit www.outdoor-ticket.com.