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Challenge reports 2006

Challenge reports 2006

These accounts from our 2006 dog sledging volunteers will give you a flavour of their Arctic adventures in aid of the Friends!

Sledging group 2006

The participants for the 2006 sponsored dog sledge were:

Jane Chisholm

Jane Chisholm

I have read innumerable accounts of polar exploration and now I had the chance to get a glimpse for myself of the Arctic. The bonus (or downside, depending on how you looked at it) was that the 250 Km journey, through some of the most beautiful and varied scenery in Norway, was to be by traditional dog-sledge.

Deciding I could rise to the prerequisites for the challenge - physical fitness and the ability to raise £3000 - but less confident in my aptitude for canine bonding, I signed on. A lively email correspondence emerged among the growing roll of participants and, by the time we met at Heathrow I felt I knew almost everyone. That same evening we were in Gargia, 350 Km inside the Arctic Circle, being presented with our kit: one-piece snowsuits, voluminous but very light boots, and windproof mittens. I was surprised that we needed little other clothing but, then, it could have been much colder.

The art of attaching my dogs to the sledge was a steep learning curve for me. They would wait in patient sympathy as I struggled with their harnesses and then conspire to loop the traces into fiendish knots at every opportunity.

Our first day was the hardest for many; we climbed from Gargia onto the plateau at about 400 m and here gained a brief experience of the rapid change in weather conditions that can occur. For the remainder of the week it was astonishingly mild. Gliding (often in silence) across frozen lakes was a fantastic experience and so was the downward run through the forest outside Gargia on the last day, even if I did precipitate a collision which nearly deposited the Friends' Chairman halfway up a tree!

Each morning Per-Thore, our expert dog-handler stalked down the line of sledgers, checking our preparation. The dogs would begin barking and yelping as he passed, knowing that they were nearing the moment to go. The noise crescendoed until, as he climbed majestically onto his sledge, the volume seemed to rival the stage appearance of a rock-star. Then silence descended as we bolted off.

I've gained my glimpse of the Polar Regions, some of the trials that the explorers I had studied so avidly had experienced (I like to think that they had some laughs too, such as we had in abundance) and I've raised money for SPRI. That gives me much pleasure and satisfaction.

Cathy Cooper

Cathy Cooper

This challenge has been the realization of a dream for me. I took a cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula in 1999 and had wanted to visit the Arctic but not as a tourist. I wanted to experience it like an explorer.

I didn't imagine for once that I would be able to make a journey by dogs and sledge but when I heard that Friends of SPRI were looking for volunteers, I jumped at the chance.

The trip has been an adventure beyond compare. It was full of thrills and spills and hard work. I fell off the sledge into snowdrifts and was dragged along the ice with my Arctic suit around my ankles whilst attempting to spend a penny. This was the only time I managed to hold onto the sledge when the dogs took off.

There was a great sense of camaraderie within the group and everyone mucked in together with the various tasks. How many people have stood in the middle of a frozen lake with a giant corkscrew making holes to collect fresh water? How many people have heard over seventy dogs howling to the moon in unison?

On the last day of sledging, we glided as one. The only sounds were the gentle swish of the runners, the soft drumming of paw pads and rhythmic panting of the dogs. We were all lost in our thoughts.

The quiet solitude was rudely awakened when we reached the forest and careered downhill using all the skills we had learned to stay on board. My own skills were in jeopardy when I crashed into Dr Wilson's sledge and rammed him against a tree.

My week of sledging was fantastic fun in the most beautiful area of Arctic Norway. I achieved many skills including patience, a sense of humour and of course handling a team of dogs and a sledge. I also made some very good friends.

The dogs were wonderful and the relationship I built up with them was very special. They didn't always do what I wanted but I give them full marks for putting up with a novice like me and always greeting me with a friendly wag. I was very sad to say goodbye to them.

The whole experience has left me with a yearning to do it again and that can't be bad.

For a fuller version of Cathy's experiences visit

Philip Jeffs

Philip Jeffs

It is hard to know how to do justice to the incredible event I've just competed in. It was, without any doubt, the greatest adventure of my life.

The months leading up to the challenge were long and arduous. First I had to raise the sponsorship, and also had to get fit enough. Then, after months of fundraising and training it was here.

Travelling via Alta, in Arctic Norway, we arrived at the small settlement of Gargia and spent the evening being dished out with survival gear. We had our first meal of reindeer! The next morning we awoke to an amazing sight - 72 huskies tethered to chains. I cannot replicate the collective howling of 72 huskies, but trust me it's a sound once heard you never forget. We had breakfast, donned our arctic gear, were allocated a sled and a team of four dogs each - and were off.

We travelled over hilly terrain, frozen lakes and treeless plateaux where the bitter wind got up and blew the snow into a white-out. The dogs kept a straight line even though we couldn't see the next sled in front. After many hours of physical exertion we would arrive at our overnight camps which consisted of a few basic cabins (often no electricity, heating, or facilities). Before any sleep, however, the chores needed to be completed: unharnessing and harnessing our dogs, feeding dogs, drilling through ice for drinking water, cooking meals etc. Good teamwork was essential. Next morning was a repeat performance.

The last day was the best. After going uphill during the previous two days we went downhill through a pine forest all the way to Gargia. Easy we thought, no problem... Wrong! We had teams overturning, sleds in trees (me included), and general mayhem all the way down but what an adrenaline rush. We all came through battered, bruised, and with a big grin on our faces, and if we had been offered the chance to do that day again everyone would!

We unloaded the sleds and made our way to the cabins for the last time. It was done silently and with a lot of emotion. We had started as 12 individuals and finished as the 2006 challenge team who had completed the event. We felt enormous pride and a real sense that our lives would never be the same again.

For a fuller version of Phil's experiences visit

Rie Inoue

Rie Inoue

The moment I saw the advert of the dog sledge challenge in Arctic Norway, I knew I had to do it. This is the real opportunity to make my dream come true as I always wanted to go to the Polar Regions. It is even better that I can travel on the dog sledge as I love dogs! I had a vague anxiety about the dog sledge itself as well as travelling with people whom I had never met before. But when I first saw the narrow runners of the sled on which we had to stand all the time, it all became clear - what have I signed up for! Of course, no turning back now. I clung onto the sled and off I went.

As soon as we started all the worry was gone with the clear air of Finmark. Under the direction of the expedition leaders, we travelled in the most magnificent white land, flat fields, up hills, down hills, on the frozen lake, on the frozen river and among the forests. Sometimes light snow fell on us, sometimes loose snow was blown on the ground surface by the wind but mostly the sun was shining on us. Each of us had four dogs and we quickly became a team. Though I did not have much authority over them. The dogs were so well trained and they knew what was what while I was clueless. They were apparently "the boss". Their excitement was clear every morning when the expedition leader got on his sled. They knew what was happening. They love running.

Our group was also fabulous. We worked together, helped each other and became friends. The accommodation was more sophisticated than I expected yet some cabins did not have running water or sink or electricity, which made me think of others before me (doesn't happen always) and how wasteful our life in the city is. It was amusing that we walked around with the shining torch on our heads.

Nightly briefing was most interesting and entertaining. We talked over the day, good and bad, honestly. I was also fascinated by the story of Saami culture and use of the dogs.

All and all, I enjoyed every second of it and I would love to do it all over again. I know that every one of us is thinking the same.

Judy Skelton

Judy Skelton

A collection of indellible sensual impressions of the trip.


From the air, winter Norway, reminiscent of the famous sweaters, is a pattern of black (bare trees) and white (snow), with here and there a red or yellow house providing a little patch of colour. At ground level it's the same, with the colour coming from us in our blue Arctic suits and variety of woolly hats or, if you want to be more basic, spilt dog rations and yellow snow.

Although the full shimmering spectacle of the northern lights eluded most of us, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a green smudge across a small part of the sky on our first evening.

High up, where there are no trees, we discovered whites aren't all the same. There was the basic white of the snow for miles around but also the bright colour of the distant hill picked out from its neighbours by the sun and the shining icy white pattern made by the wind on the surface of the snow.


There really was only one contender for the 'smell of the trip', and it got everywhere, even into items of clothing never taken out of the luggage during the entire journey. It was the all-pervading smell of dog. Not as sweet as 'all the perfumes of Arabia' but, if my experience is typical, we will all have taken a nostalgic sniff before consigning our clothes to the washing machine on getting home.


Two extremes: the deafening concerted howling of 71 dogs, harnessed and ready to go, which, unbelievably, still has a crescendo in reserve for when their lord and master languidly steps into his sledge at the head of the column then the sudden silence as we set off, broken only by the soft swishing of sledge runners on snow.

We enjoyed the absence of unnatural sounds, such as cars and aeroplanes (with the exception of the occasional skidoo).


For the dogs it would have to be reindeer meat but for us it was hot ribena and porridge with Norway's delicious raspberry jam which delighted our palates, as did the delicious salmon and (sorry Cathy) reindeer stew.


Though insulated by those blue rubber gloves, the tactile experience of the trip which stands out for me is the unpleasant feeling of squidging thawing blocks of minced reindeer into as smooth as possible a mixture with the soggy dog biscuits. But even this had its reward - the enthusiastic reception given by the dogs to this, for us, unappetising gift.

Duncan Lawie

Duncan Lawie

I was quite worried about my level of fitness in the months before the Friends of SPRI Dog Sledging trip, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had done enough. As a result, my biggest challenge of the week was not a physical one.

The moment I was introduced to my team, the battle for top dog started. I was given a dog known as Tractor, a big, tough hound with a bloodshot eye who could probably have pulled me and my sledge all day on his own. He never wanted to stop running, and at every halt, he yanked at the traces, trying to pull the sledge loose and get going again. In the middle of the week, he took against his neighbour, a beautiful, classic husky, and I found myself leaping through the air, coming down knee-first between the dogs, to stop a brutal fight developing. Gradually, Tractor accepted that I was in charge, and the journey became easier.

My team's desire for affection easily matched their joy in running, and the Arctic landscapes we travelled through ranged from bleak to beautiful. I got a real taste of life in high latitudes, seeing the Northern Lights before we even met the dogs.

For water on Tuesday night, we had to drill into an icebound lake, and then we took a sauna, heated by birch logs, before rolling in the snow on top of the lake.

We crossed 60 kilometres of wilderness on the Wednesday, climbing high above the treeline into a landscape where the windblown ice reflected hazy sunlight.

On Thursday, we spent hours crossing the largest lake in northern Norway, and on Friday we came downhill through an Alpine forest, putting all our new sledging skills to the test, swerving around trees and braking to stop the sledge running over the racing dogs.

My three falls earlier in the week had given me enough practice that I managed to hang on through the precarious moments, kicking the sledge around tight corners and jumping off the runners to help the sledge up the tougher slopes.

It was hard to recall a life not spent dog sledging, and handing in our harnesses at the end of the trek came as a sudden shock - as did the realisation of what my laundry smelt like! The whole week was an unforgettable experience.

Media Coverage

Explorer magazine (Cambridge) Features - David Wilson August 2006
Pennine news Pennine helps a crazy musher June 2006
Travel Trade Gazette Scott set to get his Phil of the Arctic June 2006
DedGood Music Newsletter Keeping with our outdoor theme May 2006
ATPI Journal Husky Challenge May 2006
Eastern Daily Press Silent Freezing World is getting wetter 1st May 2006
BBC Look East

Dave Butler Reports on the Dog Sledging Challenge

Look East logo - click to play film (22MB)
Click to play the video

Windows Media Format, 22MB size - may take a while to download
10th & 11th April 2006
Richmond & Twickenham Times Arctic adventures raise charity funds 7th April 2006
Travel Trade Gazette Fancy joining Phil in his Arctic role? 7th April 2006
Local Guardian (Richmond & Twickenham) Cathy's made of the white stuff 6th April 2006
Richmond & Twickenham Times Arctic challenge is more than just a walk in the park 24th February 2006
Daily Mail Charity begins Abroad 20th December 2005
Pembrokeshire News Scott Companion Descendant heads out on Polar expedition 7th December 2005
BBC News Online (Wales) Explorer descendant's Arctic trek 6th December 2005
Travel Trade Gazette Help Phil's arctic role
Tivy-Side Inspired 30th November 2005
Eastern Daily Press Midlife cr-ice-s but Phil is cool
Carmarthen Journal Alastair's arctic adventure
Cambridge Evening News Volunteers needed for arctic challenge
Tegryn local news Dog Sledge expedition 12th November 2005
Waveney Advertiser Mushing for money 28th October 2005
Professional Contractors' Group Newsletter PCG member to take part in Arctic Dog Sledge 15th September 2005
Cambridge Network Dog sledging volunteers sought 30th August 2005
University of Cambridge Dog Sledging Volunteers Sought 24th August 2005
BBC News Online Arctic sledge adventure on offer 24th August 2005

There were also several radio interviews on BBC Radio Cambridgshire;BBC Radio Pembrokeshire and Beach Radio, Lowestoft.

For copyright reasons, we are unable to reproduce articles from the above sources.