The Outdoor Education Department at St David’s College has a unique annual tradition of Husky Sledding expeditions in the Arctic. For over fifteen years now, sixth form pupils have had the chance to take part in an incredible adventure journey though the polar wilderness. This year, a later season expedition allowed us to attempt a high-level mountain crossing of the famous ‘King’s Trail’ in Northern Sweden. It’s a daunting 130km journey that takes five days to complete (assuming the weather and conditions are favourable), staying in remote mountain huts along the way.
After a day of training, where we were lucky enough to see the northern lights before bed time, our local guide decided that this years group were up to the challenge! We checked our kit one last time, sent our last texts and disappeared out of phone reception and wifi for the next five days…
There’s a lot to learn on a Husky expedition. Unlike our well-known Year 10 expeditions, the group have the extra responsibility of looking after the dogs that work so hard to pull the sleds. A daily routine was soon established and morning alarms were set for 05:30. You could be forgiven for thinking that this early start could have been a greater challenge than the actual sledding for some of our 6th Formers, but our guide, Marcus, was a very persuasive man – a genuine Viking (and he carried a huge knife on his belt at all times!). Apparently, we had ‘good conditions’ as it was only -17ᵒC in the mornings – nothing to complain out according to Marcus!
Once up, (and dressed in the same clothes as yesterday), it was outside for some, to feed the dogs (a gruesome mixture of blood-soaked meats and water), while others fetched water, via buckets, from a hole in the ice, or prepared breakfast. Everyone had their own team of dogs to which they all became very attached. These had to be harnessed up, clipped to the sleds and someone then had the delightful job of shovelling up all the dog mess!
Once we were all lined up, Marcus would give the signal; we’d hang on tight, release the brakes and shoot off amidst a deafening riot of barking. The scenery was utterly spectacular at all times – we travelled through forests, mountains, over frozen lakes, along rivers and through seemingly untravelled valleys.
When we arrived at our designated remote mountain hut, the dogs were looked after and fed, more water collected, firewood chopped and kit sorted, before we could go inside, peel off our layers and finally relax by the fireside.
On the trail, everyone did incredibly well. In fact, Ian and Kelly were the only ones to fall off! (Kelly due to tangled dog lines and Ian due to forgetting the brakes and going so fast he nearly overtook the dogs on a downhill section!). What you don’t see in the photographs is the amount of uphill pushing we had to do. It was tough work helping the dogs out on the inclines (of which there were many). However, after four days of gradually climbing and crossing a mountain pass the height of Snowdon, we enjoyed and incredible last day schussing downhill for over 40km, past Sweden’s highest mountain, to reach the roadhead, where we were met by our mini-bus and dog trailer.
Before leaving, we were lucky enough to have time to look around the ‘Ice Hotel’ on our way back to the airport, which made for a fabulous finish for a team that had been looking forward to this expedition since they were in Year 6! It didn’t disappoint. Well done team!