Tag Archive for Sweden

Dog Sledding in Sweden

After being lucky enough to join the dog sledding trip at the last minute I had no pre-conceived ideas as to what to expect, all I can say after doing it is…it was amazing!

The peace and tranquillity that you experience is second to none and the camaraderie amongst the group really made this trip a once in a lifetime experience.

After meeting the group at the airport there was the initial drama, after as one member of the group lost her passport and tickets before we even checked in! Frantically phoning the hotel to see if she had left them there the night before, she realised that she had put them in a very safe place; in the hidden compartment of her bag, of course! With two hours to spare we made the most of the last minute shopping and snack buying!

After a 2 hour flight to Stockholm, the group piled off the plane and queued up to go through the passport control, where upon Kirsty, who had previously lost her passport announced she couldn’t find it again! Drama ensued again, apart from this time it wasn’t hidden in the secret pocket! Thankfully the passport control staff and local police saved the day and were very helpful and escorted her back on to the plane where it was finally found in the pocket of the seat! Phew! It was then time for a well-deserved lunch.

Our next flight up to Kiruna, 200kms above the Arctic Circle was stress free. We were greeted by Kent and Jordana, our amazing leaders for the week, who whisked us away to our hotel in Kiruna, and after a speedy check in we headed down to the bar for our briefing and a well deserve drink. We also had to make the most of our last shower, as we would be reliant on wet wipes for the rest of the trip.

The following day we stopped off at the world famous ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, and had a great guided tour. This hotel was the first of its kind in the world, and is re built from scratch every year using large blocks of ice cut from the Torne River, which is located next to the Ice Hotel and each block is completely unique. Artists from all over the world bid to have their designs picked for the luxury rooms which are built in their own individual style. The hotel is kept at a constant -5°C, I’m not too sure I’d want to stay there!

We then continued on to the kennels to meet our furry friends for the rest of the weeks challenge, and after a hearty lunch it was time to be kitted out in our warm weather gear and have a full safety breifing briefing on how to harness the dogs, and how to drive the sled. With Kent hurling himself on to the ground whilst being pulled along by Jordana, they finally showed us what to do if you tipped your sled over. we were hanging on his every word whilst trying not to cry with laughter, most of us failed in this task.

It was then time for us to actually put what we’d just learnt to practice, and we very slowly harnessed up all of our very excited dogs, and by the time we were finished the sound of them barking was like nothing I have ever heard before. After a final check we were off, most of us started slowly, worried about tipping over, but after about 10 minutes of getting used to the speed of the sled and figuring out how to brake, all of the worries disappeared! As far as the eye could see we were surrounded by a thick blanket of snow, which glistened in the sunshine that we were lucky enough to have all week. The pine trees popped out, to add an extra dimension to the perfect Christmassy landscape, and to top it off we occasionally had a reindeer running by…what more could you ask for.

The thing that got me the most was the complete silence, the only noises that you heard were the dogs paws pounding through the soft powder snow, the whooshing of the sled and the occasional shout if someone got distracted and fell off their sled – which happened quite a lot at the start of the trip! We got used to stopping and waiting for the person to right their sled  and then once they were up and ready and had managed to remove their snow anchor, we would trundle off again. We were only out for 25kms today which was our shortest run as we had to get back to the cabin before dark. I say cabin but what I really mean is an uninsulated traditional wooden tepee, with only a central log fire for heating. But before we could get settled in our ‘luxurious abode’ for the evening it was time to take care of the dogs. We had to unharness them, put them back in their kennels, prepare their food, clear up the poo in their kennels and then finally chop the wood for our fire that would keep us warm tonight.

We all piled into the tepee, as by this point the temperature had dropped to -25°, so it was a welcome relief to have a hot dinner waiting for us and a lit fire to warm our extremities. We all made a last minute dash for the loo which was a hut on the other side of the yard before being physically tucked into our 2 sleeping bags that we would have to use tonight. I am so glad that they provided an extra one, as I do remember waking up, I think it was with Rob’s snoring and feeling ice on my buff that was over my face for warmth. Brrrrr…

The next day after a good night sleep it was time to set off in to the wilderness and this time we weren’t coming back, well not for four days anyway! The next four days were a totally amazing experience as  we mushed over 200kms. We chopped fire wood, in fact Jamie was a demon when it came to chopping anything, however Kate did give him a run for his money when it came to chopping the dog meat. I have to say I was a pansy when it came to slopping the dog food into the bowls, so we helped each other out when there were tasks that other members of the group struggled with.

We were all gaining in confidence and even starting to run alongside our sleds to help the dogs out up the hills. I even thought it would be a good idea to hang off the back of the sled whilst trying to get a good shot of Nick’s dogs and promptly ended up face down being dragged through the snow whilst desperately trying to put the brake down. I did get the shot so it was well worth it!

Our evenings in the cabins were spent talking about what we had seen during the day and trying to outdo each other with the highlights of the day. This was until Barry came up with a corker of a story which included a flying reindeer that he had encountered. At this point we all started looking around for the illegal substances he must have taken to concoct a story like this…”a flying reindeer”, we all said in unison! The story began as Barry came around a corner, there was a reindeer standing in his path and the only place for it to go was towards him… the next thing he knew it was sitting on his sled. Sitting may have been a bit of an exaggeration but I couldn’t figure out when I came round the very same bend there was a very dazed and confused reindeer trying to figure out what had just happened! Barry was standing there, mouth ajar, also wondering what had just hit him…I think the answer in this case was a flying reindeer! Then next thing we know we are being called outside to have a look at one of the most breathtaking things I have ever seen, the natural phenomenon of the Northern lights. We had seen it the previous night, just faintly, but this was amazing and so much brighter than I had ever imagined. A real once in a life time experience. It didn’t matter that it was -25° outside – we didn’t feel the cold. I really didn’t want to go back inside but it was either that or freeze to death!

I could go on forever with other highlights – if you are sitting on the fence, what are you waiting for, sign up today! It is not the most physically demanding of our challenge portfolio but it tested me to my limits in other ways. The group of people on this trip were fabulous and it would be an absolute pleasure to travel with each and everyone of them again.

You can also find out more about the Dog Sledding Challenge by clicking here. If you have any questions on this challenge, please contact Kathryn, our Ops Manager on kathryn@charitychallenge.com. To see more information about the array of amazing challenges we have, please visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all our challenge news, please subscribe to this blog. You can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Valentine’s Day all around the world

It’s that time of the year again! For many people, St Valentine’s day can feel monotonous and commercial, all fluffy pink love hearts and cherubs, and teenagers sending each other Justin Bieber themed E-cards! However, outside of the UK and the US, there are still places where the festival of love is celebrated in more traditional, unique and frankly bizarre ways! So if you’re looking for inspiration for new ways to mark the ‘day of lovers’, then read on…

In Brazil, Valentine’s day is not traditionally celebrated on February 14th, since the nation is still in the throes of the Rio Carnival. Instead, they celebrate the “Dia dos Namoradas”, otherwise known as the “Day of Lovers” on June 12th, on this day a feast and parties are held to celebrate the patron saint of romance and matchmaking.

If your approach to St Valentines day mirrors Brazil’s work hard, party harder ethic, then you should check out our Brazil Trek and Kayak Challenge! This is one of our most unique and varied challenge – the combined elements of rainforest trekking and sea kayaking make this a very tough challenge! But on the completion of your challenge in Rio, you will definitely have reason to celebrate! And of course, what better place to celebrate with your Valentine than underneath a Rio sunset?

Romanians also don’t traditionally celebrate Valentine’s Day, they instead celebrate “Dragobete”, a more earthy rural festival on February 24th that denotes a celebration of lovers, spring and new life. It’s a day when traditionally “birds get betrothed” i.e. Start building their nests’, girls collect snow to melt for magic potions and children sing songs of spring. It is also said that if during a couple’s dance, one lover steps over the foot of another, then that lover will play the dominant role in the relationship! So if you’re planning on going out clubbing this evening to celebrate St Valentines, take note!

If you find these medieval notions of magic potions and rural living romantic, then you should defiantly check out our Trek Transylvania, where you and your beloved one could journey through rugged landscapes in a tough challenge that culminates in a visit to the enigmatic Dracula’s Castle.

China celebrates two Valentine’s Days, the first being the 14th of February St Valentines Day that we all know and love (or hate!). The second day of celebration of love is a little more unusual and falls on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. This day – known as “Qi Xi” or “Magpie Festival” comes from a Chinese legend over 2000 years old – and is the ultimate story of star crossed lovers! Like all folk tales, there are many variations of the Qixi Festival legend, but the basic story is usually the same: Niulang – a cow herder, and Zhinv – a weaver girl who is also the daughter of the Goddess of Heavan, meet on earth and get married. When the Goddess discovers this she orders her daughter back to heaven. The cowherd followed her there and in anger the Goddess cuts a river into the sky – the Milky Way, thus separating the two lovers. But once a year, all the magpies of the world fly up to the Milky Way to bridge the river and allow the two lovers to meet.

To celebrate this day, lovers visit the Temple of the Matchmaker and pray for love, happiness, and marriage. Singles also visit the temple to ask for luck in love. It is also traditional for young girls to carve melons and offer up fruit to the deities on this day.

If legends of star crossed lovers inspire you, then take a look at our Great Wall Discovery Challenge, where you and your lover will have to overcome 1000s of steps to reach your destiny.

In Scandinavia, couples here will exchange “lover’s cards” on February 14, and like us, indulge in the commercial St Valentines day. But they do have a poetic and quirky card tradition known as the “gaekkebrev”, whereby the man sending this special card will write a rhyme for the lady to whom he’s sending it, but instead of writing his name he will sign off with a dot for each letter of his name. The puzzle is then for the lady receiving the card to guess the name of the sender. If she can guess correctly, her prize will be an Easter egg at Easter. But if she doesn’t guess, she owes the sender an Easter egg instead!

If this puzzling addition to Valentine’s Day brings out your competitive side, then check out our Dog Sledding Challenge in Sweden, where you’ll need to figure out how to successfully drive your own team of huskies, mushing over 200kms through beautiful, frozen landscapes. And as our Swedish Ground handler Jordana puts it “What could be more romantic than cuddling together on reindeer pelts by open fire whilst hearing the sleddogs howl to the northern lights and full moon!”

So there really is 100 different words and ways to say “I love you!”

Here at charity challenge, we think there is nothing more romantic or love affirming than taking on a challenge of a lifetime together – supporting each other up the mountains, sleeping together under the stars, taking in the most beautiful views in the world! You can see the top 5 list of Charity Challenges most romantic challenges here.

To see the many other amazing challenges we offer, you can visit our website at www.charitychallenge.com. To keep up to date on all Charity Challenge news, please enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Top 5 Romantic Challenges of 2012!

Happy Valentines Day everybody! In honour of St Valentine, we’ve put together a list of our top 5 most romantic challenges…

5) Etna Volcanic Adventure – coming in at number 5 is the Etna Volcanic Adventure, a challenge so hot that it’s literally bursting at the seams! (The last eruption was literally last week). With breath-taking scenery, real Italian Spaghetti, isolated shepherd huts in the wilderness and the chance to sleep under the stars, there was no way this challenge was not going to make the list! This long weekend challenge might not be as gruelling as some of our other challenges, but the fact that you need to carry sizeable rucksacks whilst trekking adds a whole new dimension to the trek (in fact, this is a perfect challenge to take your other half on, as you could do with someone to help you carry your bags!) Also this challenge is currently on special £75 promotion!

4) Great Wall Discovery – Anyone who’s seen the sun setting over the Great Wall will know why this challenge makes the list. It’s a truly unforgettable sight, especially if you have somebody to share it with. China is also the country steeped in myths and legends where beautiful Chinese lanterns light the sky. This challenge also has a £100 off offer running on it, and what makes a more romantic valentines gift than a discounted trek across one of the wonders of the world!

3) Kilimanjaro Summit Climb – On the surface this challenge may not seem as romantic as the previous two, but this is the challenge that has brought together the most couples out of our entire challenge catalogue! A few years back we even had a proposal at the summit of Kilimanjaro. And standing in footprints of past celebrities (Gary Barlow, Cheryl Cole and Chris Moyles to name but a few!), with the backdrop of a stunning African landscape and an inescapable long walk back down, you’re really not going to say no! Kilimanjaro is our most favoured challenge and we have various expedition dates throughout the year, click here to see them (note: all challenges with the red stars by them are currently on special promotion!)

2) Escambray Encounter – this is on the list for all the singletons out there, who are currently ripping petals of roses and ceremonially burning their ex’s stuff. We have it on good authority that our Escambray Encounter Trek is the ultimate challenge for people looking to have a fun trek. The city of Havana is alive at any time of day or night with music and street parties, the locals are friendly and there is even rumoured to be a free bar on offer to challengers once they’ve completed the gruelling trek! It’s not too late to sign up to our three current departure dates in November of this year and in 2013

1) Dog Sledding Challenge – This challenge had to be number one for so many reasons. As our Sweden Ground handler Jordana put it “What could be more romantic than cuddling together on reindeer pelts by open fire whilst hearing the sleddogs howl to the northern lights and full moon!” We simply couldn’t think of anything, which is why this challenge tops the list and gains the title of Valentines Challenge of 2012! So for the ultimate Valentines gesture, click here to view and book onto one of our upcoming Dog Sledding Challenges!

Northern Lights shining over Britain

British Stargazers as far north Yorkshire and Northumberland have been delighted by the spectacular Northen Lights in the last few days and experts say that there could be even more impressive sights to come! We’ve got our fingers crossed in the Charity Challenge office that they might even be visible as far south as London!

The Northern Lights are a unique phenomenon, first discovered in 1621 by Pierre Gassendi, a French scientist, who named the lights “Aurora Boreas” – After the Roman goddess of dawn and the Greek name for the north wind. The colourful display may look heavenly and serene, but in reality they are caused by bursts of electrically charged particles which are given off by the Sun, these particles interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, causing explosions of magnetic energy which translate to our eyes as bright fluorescent colours.

It’s unusual to see the Aurora Boreas this far south, according to the experts the skies across the north of England were lit up because the solar storm, caused by the eruption of particles, was particularly powerful, making the Aurora Boreas that much more visible across the southern hemisphere. On Monday night, people living in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Scotland witnessed the spectacular display of eerie green light hovering over the northern horizon. If skies are clear the dazzling show is expected to be visible for the next few nights!

Some out our current challengers have been lucky enough to see this particular display of the Aurora Boreas in its more natural habitat of Sweden, whilst taking the Dog sledding challenge. For many people, seeing the Aurora Boreas is a once in a lifetime opportunity! 

“Seeing the Northern lights was one of the most awe inspiring moments of my life – they were beautiful and so peaceful out in the icy tundra!” Emma – Op’s manager

Dog sledding is one of our most popular and unique challenges, as not only do you have the opportunity to witness the wonder of the Northern Lights, you also learn to work with and take care of your own team of huskies, as you drive them mushing over 200kms through beautiful, frozen landscapes. This challenge has a simple and nostalgic quality (despite the fact that dog sledding is very hard work!) that puts it at the top of a lot of people’s challenge wish-lists.

If you’re one of these people, and you want to make your dream a reality, click here to see all our current departure dates (please note all out 2012 dates are booked up, but we do have some places on the 2013 challenges). Please click on the date you are interested in to get the day-by-day itinerary, fact file, kit list, q&a, costs, images and lots more.

To keep up to date on all our challenge news, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the orange RSS button, you can also enter your email address into the adjacent box to subscribe to our mailing list.

Charity Challenge Dog Sledding Journal 2011

To go Dog Sledding in the Arctic is to go on an adventure very few other people do. Charity Challenge’s Head of Operations accompanied by a trusted friend and guinea pig for the trip, Phil Booker conducted a reconnaissance trip to assess our new Dog Sledding Challenge. For both, this was a whole new experience with no pre-conceptions at all about what would be involved. The following is what Phil had to say about it all:

January 2011; I am preparing to go on the proverbial “trip of a lifetime” of which strangely, I’ve had several.

The most obvious, but not the only challenge in the Arctic, is the environment, and the imagination was working overtime. Miles and miles of snow and ice, blizzard conditions, piercing cold, polar bears and penguins, I was expecting it all. A little bit of homework soon revealed we were not likely to come across the latter two but the others were all probable.

Charity Challenge provided a list of essential and potential clothing and equipment needs. At this point, we had no idea how many dogs we would have on each sled and how far and in what conditions we would have to carry our luggage. That said, it was critical to prepare for the worst (read coldest!).

Perhaps the most difficult balance to make was to avoid overspending on items of clothing and equipment that would never be used again. For this, I soon discovered Army Surplus stores were perfect.

One of the stipulations made by local guides and official sledding operators, Kent and Jordana, was that cotton is pretty much a no-go area and you might be surprised at how much we rely on cotton in the UK. Thick wool it was then. So looking like pre-sheared sheep, off we trundled to Kiruna, the northern most city in Sweden.

Flying into Kiruna Airport at the dead of night (being the last two people to leave the airport that night, we literally turned the lights out) we first met Kent and Jordana the next morning after a comfortable night’s stay at a local hotel.

The previous night’s temperature, recorded at the airport, had been -19c, so we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by early morning sun and a balmy -13c. Packed into a car that resembled a tank we soon discovered that special driving skills were required to negotiate this snow-covered landscape effectively and Kent showed us the full range.

A couple of hours later at Kent and Jordana’s base camp and kennels, also called home, we had our first meeting with their veritable menagerie of Alaskan Huskies. If the snow wasn’t melting, our hearts soon were.

After a formal introduction to the animals and resisting the temptation to smuggle a couple of puppies into our luggage, we were back in the car (dogs in a tow truck) and off to the village of the indigenous Sami people, where we were to meet the local Elder. The welcome and the hospitality was equally warm as we plotted our first trip, which we discovered to our surprise, was to be later that afternoon, in the dark! In January when we were, there are only about 4 or 5 hours of sunlight per day whereas by March, it is the other way around – only a few hours of darkness per day.

Kent and Jordana carefully and thoroughly talked through our clothing and equipment needs. Any gaps in our armoury were soon filled by extras available from our Guides and in particular by the provision of a thick all-over body suit (think garage mechanic come space suit come Michelin Man) and boots that looked like they had fallen off an Apollo moon mission.

The Safety Talk followed by verbal training was thorough, concise and informative with plenty of time to ask questions, of which there were many. It was clear at this point that the challenge of looking after the dogs and becoming a proficient team leader, whilst controlling a sled with a mind of its own wasn’t going to be simple. However, why come all this way to the Arctic to travel in comfort like a poor person’s Joanna Lumley? Not us!

Within hours, soon after darkness fell, we found ourselves bewildered by a cocophony of yelping and expectant and excited barking, blindly chasing after dogs we had inevitably let slip from our grasp and were then attaching them to the lead that stretched out to the front of our sleds.   Four huskies per team, earplugs essential! In no time at all we were following our guide Kent, into the tree-filled darkness, sticking strictly to the path he led, each sled pulled by the most enthusiastic animals since those that trotted gratefully onto Noah’s Ark.

It is almost impossible to adequately describe what we experienced next. Apart from the sound of the dogs and our own over-excited hearts, the stillness and silence of the terrain enveloped us and held us enthralled. Above us, the sky slowly lit up on the horizon like an effervescent mirror-ball as we had our first sighting of Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights) which made Blackpool look like a dull afternoon in the airing cupboard!

After a few hours reluctantly, we returned to base camp, the cold forgotten and any apprehension dissolved, to a warm place by the fire and our first taste of Reindeer. From then on, it was Reindeer morning noon and night, although it helped to discover the multi-talented Kent was also a former Chef and other options were available.

Over the next four days we took almost total charge of our own dog teams, feeding them, looking after them and they us. We covered almost 200k in surprisingly pleasant conditions, passing through heavily wooded terrain and across large, expansive frozen lakes that seemed never ending.

Once you have confidently commanded the skill of driving your team you have hour upon hour in almost total solitude to soak in the surroundings and to ponder the universe. One tip however, don’t EVER let go of your dog-team if the brakes are not applied or if they are not harnessed or the next thing you may see is four overly energetic Huskies disappearing into the wilderness and it will be your job to run after them up to your hips in snow to catch them again!

Overnight, once we had settled the dogs down for the night and fed them the best dog food I’ve ever seen (yes, you guessed it, Reindeer) it was our turn. Accommodation in wooden cabins was basic but comfortable, although a good sleeping bag is absolutely essential. We helped prepare the food and fetch water from the only thermal water source in the area – so participation is the order of the day. Hot Lingenberry juice is to die for of an evening!

One bonus not to be missed was a visit to the now world famous Ice Hotel just a few kilometres from Kiruna. Imagine settling down for a night’s kip in a giant sculpted freezer and you only just begin to get a flavour of this magnificent building. Each hotel room is carved according to a different theme (I finally got to see some Polar bears) and only lasts a season before the hotel melts back into ground, only to be resurrected the following winter with completely new designs.

By the end of the trip we were satisfyingly exhausted and perhaps looking forward to some home comforts. Kent, our guide on the trek, was simply amazing. Pleasant but firm, serious yet fun, he was a demanding task-master where he needed to be (especially when it comes to the washing up!) but also never forgot this was supposed to be fun as well as a challenge. Both he and Jordana clearly care passionately about their dogs often, it appeared, sacrificing their own comfort.

The world is full of amazing, magnificent places, most of which we never get to experience in person. If the chance to go dog sledding in the Arctic comes along, grab it with at least both hands (and don’t forget not to let go of that sled once you do!). Ten months later, I still miss the silence, I still miss the dogs and I still miss the thrill of sweeping across that majestic terrain. It will live long in the memory.

Philip Booker – October 2011

If this article has inspired you, click here to check out our upcoming the departure dates for the Dog sledding challenge, and click on the date you are interested in for the itinerary, Q&As and costs of the challenge.

If you want to keep up to date on our latest news, promotions and challenges, check the Charity Challenge Website, subscribe to the blog via the RSS button and subscribe to our mailing list by entering your email address in the box on the right hand tool bar.