Trip Report: Ely, Minn Dog Sledding Trip

Location: Boundary Waters

State: Minnesota

Miles: 30

Days: 4

Type: Shuttle

The WinterCampers.com crew of Uncle Jim, Matt and Mark were joined by Jason and new comers Aunt Kathy and Paul for a dog sledding trip in Ely, Minnesota.
The group arrived in Ely, MN after a very long drive and settled into the Wintergreen lodge Monday afternoon. After meeting the 57 Canadian Inuit Dogs and our two guides Rob and Steve, we checked over our gear one last time and settled in for bed.
We awoke Tuesday morning bright and early to feed the dogs and load our sleds. We ate breakfast in the lodge, got some last minute instructions from Paul Schurke and we were off! Each sled carried 2 “mushers” who rode on a small platform on the back of the sled plus each sled carried gear. 2 of the sleds were pulled by 6 dogs and the other smaller sled was pulled by 5. Steve and Rob wore XC skis and skied the entire time with a map always in hand.
The dogs that Wintergreen uses are Canadain Inuit Dogs. In a word they are amazing. They have a kennel of about 57 dogs….no 65 as 8 puppies were born while we were there. Each dog weighs about 80lbs and can pull at least twice their weight in payload for hours on end at a steady pace of 6-8mph. The dogs are fed a high energy powder food mixed with a bit of water each morning and a chunk of lard each night but never seemed hungry or ran out of energy. For water the dogs eat snow so you would see the dogs grabbing bites of snow as they plodded their way along the trail. Although the dogs exhibit a pack like mentality amongst themselves they love people and were extremely affectionate. They each had a very distinct personality and did not take us long at all to learn all their names. Once on the move though these dogs are all business and just love to pull. They seem to have a one track mind….”Pull, Pull, Pull….” then when we would reach a hill or get stuck it was…”Pull Harder, Pull Harder…” You actually feel bad to stop them and take a break as they just want to keep going and get very anxious when we did stop. They follow a few simple commands. To launch the sled you would first give the command “Ready” which would get all the dogs up…then “Hike” and the dogs were off. “Whoa” to slow and stop the team, “Gee” to turn right and “Haw” to turn left. Mushing was not just riding on the back of the sled and shouting out commands however and proved to be very challenging. It takes a lot of strength and balance to not only balance on the back of the sled but also to shift your weight and help steer the sled around turns, trees etc. When climbing hills you had to get off and help push the sled up the hill and if you didn’t the dogs would all stop, turn around and look at you as if to say “What the hell?!” The same was also true when going through deep snow, slush, over logs etc. The dogs depended on us almost as much as we depended on them.
We also had our fair share of collisions with trees and falling off the sleds. I believe everyone fell off at least once and some much more then that. Once you fell off of the sled…or performed a controlled dismount….you were very motivated to get back on the sled….first so that you don’t have a run away sled and secondly since usually you had a team of dogs hot on your heels ready to run you over if you did not get out of the path! We had several very close calls and a couple of major collisions due to the terrain and the “staff only” or “double black diamond” trials that we went on.. All in all we covered 24 miles on the trip
The weather on the trip was nearly perfect for the humans on the trip. 30 degrees and perfect blue sky most of the time until our final day when it was a bit breezy and overcast. The dogs were a little warm as they prefer single digit type temps but it was great for us. The Minnesota landscape was beautiful as well….they don’t call it the “Land of a Thousand Lakes” for nothing! 4 of us slept in the Tipi. Jason and Paul built a snow shelter for night one then slept out under the stars with the guides the next night after Paul got a little claustrophobic. Sitting around the campfire one night we heard a pack of wolves out in the distance. The howling wolves was quickly drowned out by the chorus of our dogs joining in.
Our guides Rob and Steve were taking their first trip in a very long time which actually made it a lot of fun as it was something new for them just as it was for us. Although we did not always end up on the trail that we thought we would they still did an excellent job. “Hey Rob…where are we?” “Right here!” Being that some of us were former tour guides ourselves at a tourist attraction here in NY we can definitely appreciate the work that they do. They were extremely helpful and a lot of fun.
The food was cooked over a fire and we had a lot of it. Breakfast was eggs, sausage and bagels cooked in sausage grease…sounds tasty ehh?:) Lunch was trail mix type things, energy bars, dried fruit etc. Dinners were pasta based….beef-a-roo pasta one night and chicken-a-roo pasta the next along with unwrapped wraps for appetizer. One interesting little tid bit is that famed explorer Paul Schurke plans on a stick of butter per person per day! Apparently Wintergreen has some deal worked out with Land O’Lakes Butter:) jk
All in all it was an incredible experience and one that we would recommend to anyone. To book your own trip or to find out more visit www.dogsledding.com and tell them you saw them on WinterCampers.com

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