Dog days : The life of a Musher

There is just one company in Iceland that specialises in an activity that many people consider to be one of the most exciting experiences life can offer; Dog Sledding. Based in almost the middle of nowhere, but in easy reach from the capital of Reykjavik, Dog Sledding Iceland offer 1 hour tours throughout the day including a chance to glimpse the northern lights on their midnight tour (although this natural phenomena of course can never be guaranteed). Passionate about dogs and fancy learning about the set-up of a run and what it is to be a Musher? Then you should definitely sign up for a 3 hour Adventure Tour. Getting close and personal with the 37 Greenlandic, Alaskan and Siberian Huskies is just magical.

 

Welcome to the kennel

 

The owners, Icelandic Siggi and his partner Klara, are warm people with a genuine passion and love for their dogs. Whilst they focus more of their time on their 2yr old daughter, Mushers Erik and Rike run the kennel together to ensure the dogs are kept at their healthiest and happiest. When there is no more poop to clean, bowls to fill or fur to groom, they provide consistently enthusiastic tours for their customers. It is a test to find out what they don’t know about these dogs as you wizz around the flat, yet beautiful lands of Iceland.
It would be a real shame to join a unique day with this furry family only with the promise of snow. What makes this company special is that they have adapted to run tours on dry land, whatever the weather, all year round.

So, what does it take to live the life of a Musher? After having the privilege of living and working with them for one week, I feel I can enlighten you.
First of all, accepting the Icelandic weather is important. Starting work at 8am sounds reasonable, but when the sun is set to rise over an hour later and it’s less than 10℃ outside, motivation to prise from a warm sleeping bag isn’t always easy.
At the height of winter expect to live by headlight around 18 hours of the day and in the summer, expect the opposite.
These guys follow the snow during the dark months to ensure the dogs are at their most comfortable – did you know Greenlandic dogs can survive temperatures as low as -60℃?
In the light months, when snow is sparse they move their base up to and on top of a glacier.
Which leads me to my next point. A Musher is willing to give up their own comfort for the sake of the dogs which can Include lack of running water, heating and electricity. Housing is situated in anything from a caravan, car or cabin and the ’emergency’ loo (or porta-cabin for visualisation purposes) is used at your own risk.
As for personal hygiene? It really is back to basics; no mirrors and no necessity to impress means a rare change of clothes and one weekly shower is actually quite liberating.

 

Cosy living quarters for a Musher in Autumn
Views from their base in Holmasel – the fields used for dry-land tours

 

A huge, if not the most important, part of Mushing is to learn individual personalities of the dogs and to gain trust and respect from each and every one of them. We can’t forget that these are pack animals that live in a hierarchy, so it is up to the Musher to gain top dog position as it were. Before this is accomplished, they cannot expect any of the 37 dogs to listen to them and in all honesty, what would be their reason to?
Not only that, learning relationships between the dogs – who likes who, who is a trouble maker etc – is important for the safety of everybody and to ensure strong bonds remain.
From what I have personally seen, the Musher definitely becomes one with the dogs. Here are a few of the little beauties…

 

The gorgeous Nukilik weighs in at 50kg
The shy siblings – Hammut and Hurley
Manutok, the only black Greenlandic dog
Always the inquisitive one

 

The life this small family have chosen to live is incredibly special, but not easy and certainly not for the faint-hearted. I have the utmost respect for a lifestyle that requires 24hr attention with little room for error. Add a serious amount of poo to the equation, along with constant enthusiasm and a library of knowledge for the expecting customers and you have to hand it to them; they are amazing at what they do.
Should you be in Iceland craving a taste of a lifestyle still unknown to most, head to Dog Sledding Iceland and please be sure to pet the dogs and shake the Musher’s hands in thanks for keeping such an awe-inspiring, captivating and fascinating sport alive today.

 

The cart used for dry-land tours whilst they wait for the snow
Pretty little Moonlight

 

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