Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska
Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Bundle Up! Packing Tips for an Alaskan Winter Adventure
When it comes to packing for an Alaskan dog sledding adventure, the name of the game is staying warm and dry. With temperatures that can plunge below zero degrees Fahrenheit even during the day, having the right cold weather gear is absolutely essential for comfort and safety. Don't let the prospect of bundling up deter you - with some smart packing strategies, you can gear up for the elements while still traveling light.
Your outerwear is your first line of defense against the arctic chill. Look for a sturdy winter parka rated to at least -15°F, the colder the better. Synthetic and down insulation will keep you toasty, while a waterproof and windproof shell blocks out moisture and wind. Hand and foot warmers are nice extras. Waterproof snow pants will keep your legs dry, and insulated bibs offer even more coverage. Warm winter boots with solid traction are a must for tromping through snow - sorel and kamik are great brands to check out. Thermal underwear creates a base layer to retain heat. Top it with quick-drying midlayers like fleece and wool. A balaclava, face mask or neck gaiter protects vulnerable areas from frostbite. Don't forget warm gloves that still allow dexterity. Look for glove liners for extra insulation.
The right accessories round out your winter wear. Wool socks with a synthetic liner help keep feet warm and blister-free inside boots. Chemical hot packs for hands and feet provide portable warmth. A winter hat that covers your ears is vital. The sun reflects brightly off snow, so sunglasses and sunscreen are imperative. A scarf or face wrap adds an extra layer and protects skin. Hand and foot warmers slip into gloves and boots for emergency heat. A lightweight down or synthetic jacket layers nicely under your parka.
Packing cubes and compression sacks optimize luggage space. Roll clothes versus folding to conserve room. Wear your bulkiest gear like boots and parkas onboard so they don't monopolize packing space. Consolidate toiletries into small bottles. Paring down to essentials like lip balm with SPF, moisturizer and first aid cream saves weight and space. Pack layers you can mix and match like base thermals and midweight fleeces.
Once on the sled, additional gear helps maximize comfort. A thermos filled with a hot drink provides warming sips along the trail. Pack high protein snacks like jerky, nuts and nutrition bars that thaw for quick energy boosts. An inflatable seat pad cushions bumps in the sled. Hand and foot warmers carry in pockets for instant heat. A lightweight, packable blanket acts as an extra buffer against the cold. A camera with extra batteries and memory cards captures the magnificent scenery.
What else is in this post?
- Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Bundle Up! Packing Tips for an Alaskan Winter Adventure
- Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Mush, You Huskies! Dog Sledding Basics for First-Timers
- Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Trail Etiquette - Respecting the Iditarod and Following Sled Dog Commands
- Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Majestic Mountains and Frozen Lakes - Scoping Out Dog Sled Routes
- Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Northern Lights 101 - Aurora Science and Viewing Tips
- Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Chasing the Light - Booking Northern Lights Tours and Locations
- Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Winter Camping Under the Stars - Keeping Warm on Overnight Expeditions
- Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Back Home with Memories - Processing Your Alaskan Dog Sledding Experience
Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Mush, You Huskies! Dog Sledding Basics for First-Timers
Dog sledding captures the essence of the great Alaskan wilderness. Gliding silently across snow-covered landscapes behind a team of eager huskies connects us to ancient traditions. From the Yukon Quest to recreational tours, dog sledding offers an immersive winter experience like no other. For first-timers, understanding the basics ensures an unforgettable adventure.
Sled dogs aren’t pets; they’re working athletes driven by instinct. Sledding fulfills their primal need to run and pull. The bond between musher and dog relies on respect, trust and communication. Well-trained teams respond to voice commands conveying direction or encouragement. Mushers guide the sled with subtle shifts of body weight. Braking is managed by a foot pedal or drag mat acting on the runners. Proper dog care and training develop a team attuned to their musher.
Before heading out, take time to meet the dogs and observe as they’re harnessed. Note the organized chaos as dogs are hooked two-by-two into a fan formation. This strategic arrangement capitalizes on the strengths of lead dogs upfront to guide and set pace. Swing dogs add power in the middle. Wheel dogs at the rear provide braking and stability. It’s a meticulously designed system.
Climbing aboard the sled takes a bit of finesse. Many are low to the ground, requiring you to swing a leg over while sliding onto the cargo bed. Take care not to step on sled components or tangled lines as dogs may bolt forward. Once seated, wrap a blanket or coat around your lower body and tuck it underneath you. This creates insulation from the frozen ground. Tell the musher you’re set; many offer passengers a ride-along experience.
As the dogs leap forward, prepare for an exhilarating start. Grip tightly and lean into curves as the sled careens over the snow. Enjoy the quiet tranquility once the team hits its stride in smooth bursts of speed. Relax and become one with the motion. Stopping the sled relies on the dogs’ ability to dig in and slow momentum. Prepare for some jolts before coming to a halt.
Stay seated whenever the sled is in motion. Sudden standing or movements disrupt the dogs’ focus. Don’t pet or distract teams during breaks; mushers require their full attention. Follow all instructions to ensure an informative, safe ride. Let your musher know if you need to stop or take a break. And dress for the conditions – a cold passenger makes for an unpleasant trip.
Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Trail Etiquette - Respecting the Iditarod and Following Sled Dog Commands
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race stands as the ultimate test of endurance for man and beast. Steeped in history, the annual 1,000 mile journey commemorates the 1925 serum run that delivered life-saving medicine to Nome. Today’s competitive mushers and dogs retrace the original trail in a grueling race against the elements. For recreational riders, observing sled dog trail etiquette shows respect.
On the trail, right of way goes to the musher. Whether training for the big race or giving tourist rides, their focus stays fixed on the dog team. Give sleds ample space to pass, staying to the side. Avoid sudden movements or noises that could break their concentration or startle dogs. Never approach a sled or team. Wait for the musher’s cue that contact is okay.
Other cues encourage pace like "Let's go!" or "All right!". Don't mimic these - dogs may mistake your voice for their musher's, causing confusion. Instead, enjoy the unique communication guiding the graceful sled.
Hooked up two-by-two, dogs工作 as a cohesive unit. Trust goes both ways between musher and the team. Show the same respect by keeping your distance and avoiding disruptions. You'll better appreciate the synchronicity of a working sled dog pack.
Along the trail, be alert to signs of fatigue. Heavy panting, body posture and refusal to pull signal a dog in distress. Inform the musher immediately if you notice struggling dogs. Their health and safety comes first.
Watching an Iditarod team train can inspire your own recreational ride. Yet don't forget these athlete dogs complete thousand mile journeys, whereas your sled likely covers just a few scenic miles. Keep a reasonable pace tailored to your own team's fitness and experience level.
Iditarod mushers brave bitter temperatures and harsh terrain. For amateurs, err on the side of caution. Monitor dogs closely for signs of cold stress like shivering or lifting paws. End your run if conditions deteriorate. No sightseeing tour is worth risking your team’s wellbeing.
Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Majestic Mountains and Frozen Lakes - Scoping Out Dog Sled Routes
Alaska boasts endless spectacular scenery, but choosing the right dog sledding route reveals the most breathtaking vistas. Thoughtful planning and research ensure your journey takes in ice-blue glaciers, towering peaks and pristine wilderness.
The remote splendor of Denali National Park offers a top choice. Here, sled dog trails deliver close-up views of North America's mightiest mountain. On clear days, the snowcapped summit of Denali emerges above the clouds. Meandering routes trace forested hillslopes rich with spruce, birch and aspen. Wide valleys cradle the park's braided river system. Crisscrossing snowmachine tracks platter the valley floor, providing musher wayfinding when obscured by snowfall.
Alternatively, scenic moderates like Hatcher Pass accessed from Palmer present a vigorous but achievable adventure. Mushers follow the Little Susitna River north, with the Talkeetna Mountains filling the horizon. Trails wind through broad arctic meadows studded with copses of stunted spruce. The valley climbs towards Hatcher Pass, opening panoramas of snowy ridgelines and hanging glaciers as it tops 2,000 feet elevation. Lakes dot the landscape, luminous blue and etched into ice.
For coastal scenery minus the crowds, try secluded routes east of Seward. Here, the Kenai Mountains slope straight from sea level, their flanks enveloped in ice and snow. Trails undulate between sparkling inlets, rocky beaches and misty forest. The famously turquoise Exit Glacier terminating at Resurrection Bay offers a stunning half-day outing. Or head farther from the road system to portions of the historic Iditarod trail, traversing the same frozen waters as the life-saving 1925 serum run.
Scoping routes using trail maps and experienced guides ensures your custom adventure matches your fitness and experience. Consider the length, terrain and elevation gain. Easy loops close to town make ideal first outings. Save rigorous, committing routes crossing major summits or passes for those ready for a true backcountry challenge. Your guide tailors pacing and mileage to meet your goals and abilities.
Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Northern Lights 101 - Aurora Science and Viewing Tips
The mesmerizing glow of the northern lights captures our imagination unlike any other natural phenomenon. Also known as the aurora borealis, this celestial light show awes viewers with its fluid shapes and colors undulating across the night sky. But what causes these mysterious displays? Understanding the science behind the auroras helps you appreciate their magic and maximize your viewing experience.
The northern lights originate when charged solar particles expelled from the sun interact with gases in Earth's upper atmosphere about 60 to 200 miles above the planet's surface. These high-energy particles collide with atmospheric gases like oxygen and nitrogen, “exciting” their electrons and causing them to temporarily jump to a higher energy state. As the electrons return to their original lower energy orbit, they release photons in the form of visible light.
Different gases produce unique colors based on their wavelength. The most common green and yellow hues come from oxygen atoms, while purples and blues come from ionized nitrogen molecules. Red auroras occur when high altitude oxygen takes on a scarlet glow. Since gases are more concentrated at extreme northern and southern latitudes, the auroras hover around the Arctic and Antarctic circles. But during solar storms they can sometimes be glimpsed as far south as the northern U.S.
Viewing the northern lights requires luck, patience and the right conditions. Dark, clear nights are ideal, so aim for the new moon around the September equinox or March equinox when skies tend to be crystal clear. Head to high-latitude destinations like Alaska, Iceland and northern Scandinavia. Escape light pollution by venturing into the wilderness or seeking vantage points away from city glare.
Scan the northern horizon for a subtle glow signaling the start of a display. Outbursts of light called auroral arcs first appear overhead. As solar wind fluctuations intensify, look for the celestial spectacle to unfold in rippling vertical bands reaching towards the horizon. Photographing the lights requires manual camera settings and tripods for long exposures. Using a guide can radically improve your chances of seeing the elusive lights.
Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Chasing the Light - Booking Northern Lights Tours and Locations
Seeing the northern lights is often described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But with the right guide, you can dramatically increase your chances of witnessing the celestial phenomenon. Booking a northern lights tour eliminates the guesswork and delivers you to optimal viewing locations when activity peaks.
Popular spots for seeing the aurora include Alaska, northern Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Alaska offers prime auroral visibility due to its high latitude location directly under the auroral oval. Fairbanks provides a central base for accessing vast wilderness areas like the Chena River State Recreation Site. Guided tours transport you away from light pollution to set up for an evening of viewing.
Iceland’s remote terrain also provides fantastic northern lights sightings. Reykjavik serves as a gateway to tours venturing into the countryside. Chasing clear skies, guides lead groups to places like Thingvellir National Park, dotted with volcanic peaks. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon also promises stunning photo backdrops combining the glowing lights with blue-hued icebergs.
Seeking the ultimate display? Head for the dazzling displays over Lapland, Finland near the Arctic Circle. In this northernmost region, the auroras can be witnessed up to 200 nights a year during peak season. Tour companies in Rovaniemi offer nightly excursions to rural areas outside the city. You may even spot the lights while riding on a sled drawn by local reindeer.
Booking through a reputable guide optimizes your experience. Choose companies with trained Aurora Hunters watching weather patterns and solar activity. They time outings around peak activity and cloud cover forecasts. Seek small group tours of 12 or less to allow flexibility. Private tours ensure the experience caters to you.
Look for guides supplying thermal outerwear, hot drinks and campfire snacks to keep you comfortable. They should provide photography tips for capturing the lights. Expect transportation in heated vehicles suitable for accessing remote viewing spots.
Ultimately, the guide’s patience and enthusiasm can make the difference during fickle displays. Don’t become discouraged by auroras that appear briefly or not at all. Simply being under Arctic skies primes you for a breathtaking show on another night. With an expert guide, you can rebook and retry your luck when conditions align.
Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Winter Camping Under the Stars - Keeping Warm on Overnight Expeditions
For the ultimate immersive dog sledding experience, consider an overnight wilderness camping excursion. Waking up to snow-covered landscapes with ice crystals sparkling under the low winter sun is pure magic. Your faithful sled dogs snooze nearby, curled in the powdery snow. The stillness and silence feels worlds away from civilization. Yet winter camping requires thoughtful preparation. Without proper gear, the bliss can turn dangerous. Staying warm overnight helps ensure the outing remains a memorable highlight.
Foremost, an arctic sleeping bag designed for subzero use is essential. Look for a mummy-style bag rated to at least -20°F with a water-resistant shell and ample down or synthetic fill. The snug, insulated cut blocks drafts while retaining warmth from your body heat. Wearing base layers to sleep adds insulation, but go light to avoid sweating. Change out of any damp thermals before climbing in your bag. An inflatable sleeping pad underneath protects against losing heat to the frozen ground. Self-inflating pads with an R-value over 4 offer optimal shielding.
Your shelter helps hold in heat. Sturdy, four-season tents with sealed seams and rain flies block wind and snow. Freestanding domes resist collapse from snow load. Alternatively, simple windscreens reflect body heat back. Arrange snow walls in a horseshoe shape and face the open side towards an existing windbreak or away from the prevailing breeze. An emergency mylar bivy sack boosts warmth in a pinch.
Insulated winter boots and extra booties give feet a break at camp. Quick-drying liner socks wick moisture, keeping your feet dry and blister-free. Chemical toe warmers provide backup heat. Wool socks layered over polypro liner socks retain warmth even when damp. An insulated water bottle slid inside your sleeping bag keeps water from freezing. Stay hydrated to avoid dehydration that drops body temperature. Drink frequently before you feel thirst.
Fuel your inner furnace all day with calorie-dense snacks from nuts to chocolate and cheese that pack easily. Keep energy levels up. Avoid alcohol that causes blood vessels to dilate, losing heat.
Mush! An Inside Look at Dog Sledding and Seeing the Northern Lights in Magical Alaska - Back Home with Memories - Processing Your Alaskan Dog Sledding Experience
After returning from an amazing Alaskan dog sledding adventure, don't let the magic fade. Actively processing your experiences solidifies the memories and lessons learned. Reflecting on each component - the bitter cold, bonding with the dogs, guides who became friends - cements the emotions felt in the wild. And sharing your story inspires others who dream of their own winter escape.
Savoring photos and videos reignites the thrill of mushing across sparkling snowfields, your trusted Husky team pulling the sled as one. Poring over images spotlights moments you may have overlooked in the blur of activity. Hanging favorite pictures as prints recalls specific locations and vistas traversed. Compiling albums creates an enduring record that immerses you back on the trail.
Preserving gear and clothing worn serves as tactile reminders. Your parka still holds the crisp scent of Alaskan air. Boots caked in snow conjure visions of your guide breaking trail through fresh powder. Display musher hats or gloves to admire their hard-wearing durability in the elements. Items used out in the wilderness hold more meaning than if never taken from the closet.
Reconnecting with sled dogs met along the way keeps their expressive faces fresh. Many tour operators share team photos and backstories online that provide a way to check in on your new furry friends. Seeing them ready for the next adventure renews the empathy developed working together on the sled.
And journaling thoughts while the experience remains vivid cements lessons learned. Record insights about trust, leadership and focus gained watching the cooperation between musher and dogs. Describe parallels between guiding a sled team and challenges faced back home. Reflect on how pushing your own limits revealed untapped strength and resilience. Revisit these passages to recall breakthrough moments with renewed clarity.