LOCATION: Punch Bowl Glacier, Girdwood, Alaska
This post is part of my Alaska Trip Series.
Dog sledding originated as a means to get mail and supply from one point to the next. The Iditarod trail in Alaska is particularly famous for this. The most famous historical event was that of the dog Balto. It was 1925, during a diphtheria epidemic in Nome and the nearest serum was in Anchorage. A Norwegian and his lead dog Balto provided help for the sick. Since then, the Iditarod has proved to be a big race for Alaska. The race is run in early March. A team consists of 16 dogs and will run for 9-15 days, sometimes pushing 50-100 miles in a day. Considering Alaska is so known for this race, it seemed fitting that I go dog sledding here and on an actual Iditarod team. The cost was high, but the memories would be substantial.
I arrived at Alpine Air in Girdwood to start my adventure. First we geared up in snow gear and proceeded to board a helicopter. The destination was Punch Bowl Glacier, located in the Chugach Mountains and was 3200 feet above sea level consisting of 700ft of snow on top of 500ft of ice. It was powerful. The helicopter ride in proved to be one of the most gorgeous sights ever. Blue skies, blue glaciers and snow in every direction. As we closed in, I could see the small igloos of the dog range there.
The range consisted of 50 dogs from the 2013 Iditarod champion, Mitch Seavey’s dog team. When we arrived, most were sleeping in the igloo or resting in the snow. Also at the glacier were three men who would camp out for 7 days at a time and then rotate to another group. While up there, we were allowed to meet some of the dogs, play with 7 week old puppies and learn about their habits while in training.
It was then time to gear up for our sled tour. Immediately the dogs went crazy, running around, jumping and barking, you could tell they were meant to run and that they loved and lived for it. One by one, dogs were harnessed into the sled and the power of them together was felt on the rope. One dog could pull four times its weight; that’s a lot of force! The group I had to go with had an odd number of people, so two sat in a sled and the musher mushed, while I had a sled I could stand up in being pulled behind. Even though I would be behind the other sled, I was still able to be in a musher position. The signal for go was “alright,” the signal for right turn was “G,” and the signal for left turn was “Ha.” Upon saying “alright” we were off with an incredible force. I had to move and pivot with the dogs to keep from falling off. It was almost like a water skiing stance. We were traveling at about 6-7 miles per hour but the dogs were easily able to go 20 miles per hour pulling a sled.
The dogs were packed in by lead dogs in the front and turn dogs in the back. As a turn dog, you help guide the sled in a turn easily by taking most of the force of a turn. It was all very thought out and each dog really knew its place in the pack. Each of us had our turn in different sitting spots on the sled. The front spot proved to be the most scenic. Before we knew it, our ride was over. The musher let me remove the harness from a few dogs. Man, were they strong!
The experience is definitely something I will never forget. It was worth every penny for the flightseeing and sledding. I hope I get to do this again someday. Sadly, I didn’t get to bring a puppy back with me, even though I really wanted to.
The dogs getting ready to sled
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? ABSOLUTELY! So worth it!
HOW TO DO THIS: Alpine Air dog sledding: $479 www.alpineairalaska.com