Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Alaska Flightseeing and Dogsledding Adventure Provides Plenty of Thrills

When our cruise ship arrived in Juneau, Alaska, we decided the best way to experience this frozen land was from the air in a helicopter and then skimming the top layer of snow on a dogsledding adventure. Views of glaciers and mountains were simply spectacular, but the greatest thrill was mushing a team of dogs through the immense whiteness.

Hitched up and ready to go!
When it was time for our dogsled run, we were cautioned not to jump anxiously into the sled, a long wooden contraption with a low-slung seat in front and standing spot for the driver in back. “There’s a proper technique so you won’t capsize,” John said. Passengers get in one leg at a time and then slide onto the seat. The driver puts his feet on the runners, holds onto the bar, and operates the brake with his foot—gently, for a smooth stop.

A team of nine dogs was harnessed to a sled that John drove, behind which our sled was tethered. The whole apparatus skimmed along the snow--Norris is a wide open glacier with plenty of space to roam--giving us a thrilling taste of an actual mushing adventure.

Riding in the sled behind a team of dogs
Larry and I took turns driving (shifting weight to keep the sled on track) and riding (snapping photos when we weren’t tipping sideways), our exchanges punctuated by the constant yapping of the dogs when they weren’t pulling the sled. As incredible as it sounds, we stopped several times to let the dogs pant out the heat. Sled dogs work best in zero to minus 40 degrees F, and the unseasonably warm temperature had made the snow soft with deep ruts, Still, we managed to stay upright for our 25-minute ride.

Compared to racing in the Iditarod, where teams of 12 to 16 dogs pull sleds at speeds up to 14 miles per hour over more than 1150 miles of mountains, rivers, forests, and glaciers, our run was a mere stroll. Afterwards, the dogs settled down and enjoyed our attentions. We petted them and marveled at the change in demeanor. “They are bred to work, to pull sleds,” said John. “That’s what they love to do.”

Flying over icy blue glaciers from Juneau
After an hour on the glacier, helicopters returned to pick us up. Once again we soared over glacier-carved mountain peaks and deep blue crevasses. This stunning adventure was a highlight of our Alaskan tour.

If You Go: Many visitors arrive in Juneau by cruise ship (as we did, since the city is only accessible by air or water). Book this three-hour glacier dog sled adventure from early May till the end of August. Dress warmly and in layers; wear sunglasses. Booties are provided to help you walk in the snow.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

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