After spending time at Sky High Wilderness Ranch in Whitehorse, Yukon, there’s no doubt in my mind I’m hooked. I love dogsledding anyway, but few times have I had more fun as a travel photographer than I did today.
Mushing is as endemic to the Yukon as ice hockey is to the rest of Canada. There are scads of outfitters, lodges and guides who will happily arrange a dogsledding adventure for individuals and families. Two of the best are Sky High and MukTuk Adventures, run by veteran musher Frank Turner.
Two things to mention. First, these dogs are incredible. They live to work. Never have I seen animals so eager to run. If you doubt that at all, take a look at this quick YouTube video I shot.
Next, the dogs' care. Despite what some would lead you to believe, these incredible animals are healthy, well cared for, and happy. They are raised with love from birth, although there are undoubtedly the rare instances of abuse by mental misfits, I’m sure. The dogs are socialized as puppies by the older animals and by time they are adults, they are eager to join a team. They have practiced running free besides a harnessed team and are ready to pull as soon as they are hitched.
I have spent large chunks of time in the Yukon over the past 15 years and I have heard many a tale of a musher coming into a small bit of change and spending it entirely on his or her dogs.
But, enough about the dogs.
Mushing is pure poetry. The hectic harnessing and preparations, the dogs barking and baying to get started, finally gives way to the trail as one eases his foot off the ‘brake.’ The dogs leap to life once they feel the tension gone and we enter a state of pure grace.
On a wooded trail it is work, steering through turns and negotiating tree limbs. But out on a wide-open lake, as we did today, the only sound you hear is the steady pull of the dogs and the crunching of the sled underfoot. With the clean, crisp Arctic air it is instantly addicting.
Of course, we were all clothed properly, but even so the minus 15F temperatures reminded me to pull up my balaclava, pull down my earflaps and raise the hood of my parka. The Yukon is a very special place, dear to my heart and soul. With only 34,000 people, and 27,000 of them living in Whitehorse, the open space is stunning.
And, so we went, around and across Fish Lake, where at times the wind blew patches of snow off the frozen surface, exposing clear ice, our sleds slipping, sliding and scraping for just a few seconds. Here you can see a view of the Fish Lake, with my able sled team leading me quietly along the trail.
BTW, for you trivia aficionados, the Gee Haw in the title refers to the two directional commands they use with their dogs. Gee means turn right, while Haw means turn left.