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Around Ottawa, Canada, travel, Weekend Getaways

Dog Sledding – the exhilaration of a day with the dogs

Dog Sledding in Otter Lake, Quebec – the exhilaration of a day with the dogs

dog sledding adventures

Imagine getting out of your car to the excited sounds of sled dogs howling with anticipation, their excitement beyond palpable!  Your heart skips a beat and your breath speeds up as you know what is to come!  Welcome to Escapade-Eskimo – this is the real deal in dog sledding adventures.  I literally stepped out of the car and into a dream.  (Dog sledding has been on my bucket list for ever!)  While only 1 1/2 hours north of Ottawa, the surrounding are like being in a snow globe with a fresh dusting of snow covering every surface in a coat of white.

We were greeted by Sylvain, owner and chief musher at Escapade-Eskimo in Otter Lake, Quebec.  Dog sledding has been in his family for decades and he has been driving dog sled teams since he was 8 years old.  You can see how he still loves it as he talks about the history of his dogs, their breeding and heritage, his eyes lighting up as he tells stories of the people he has taken on what can only be described as a quintessential Canadian experience!  Bucket listers – this adventure is for you!

dog sledding in Otter Lake Quebec

We loaded the dogs into the custom built trailer, sleds tied to the roof of the truck, and headed out to another part of the property where the trails weave through the forest, over bridges and water and through some pristine Canadian wilderness.  The excitement levels grow to beyond electric as one by one, the dogs are unloaded and hooked to the sleighs.  They know the routine and thrive on it but for me, there was nothing routine about the experience.  It was exhilarating from the moment we parked the car!  As the dogs excitement levels grew, we could hardly hear Sylvain give out the instructions for the trail.  The dogs barking and wolf like howls grew louder as each moment passed.  Right from the get-go, we were able to drive our own team of 6 dogs – and while they appear small, don’t be fooled.  They are unbelievably strong!  The sleds needed to be tied to a tree to prevent them from taking off – the sleigh literally levitating as the dogs strained against their harnesses and ropes.   The noise reached a fever pitch as the lead dog was brought out.  It was go time!

dog sledding holidays

We were a caravan of 3 teams – a total of 18 dogs hyped up on excitement, driving adrenaline levels through the roof.  The teams ahead took off and all of a sudden, my heart was beating outside of my chest.  I released the rope and we shot forward, all the pent up energy going off like an explosion.  We were flying along the trail.  It was like time was standing still yet the world was racing past me at warp speed!  If you want a picture for living in the moment, try driving a team of dogs through the Canadian snow, ever sensation on overdrive as you rocket along – this is the ultimate in the moment experience!

dog sledding experiences

The dog sled is a pretty simple contraption – the sleigh is out front of the driver with the handle, foot boards and claw brake coming out the back.  The foot boards, basically extensions of the the sleigh rails/runners, are narrow.  Looking down, all I could see were my boots as they flew over the snow.  I was white-knuckling the handle as I balanced myself along the trail, holding on as if my life depended on it.  If it was cold, I didn’t even notice as the adrenaline just kept pumping.  My heart thumped outside of my chest as we raced along the snow.  I was working almost as hard as the dog team.  We navigated through the trails, regrouping from time to time to make sure everyone was still good.  In spite of how excited the dogs were, I was so surprised at how responsive they were…yelling WHOA and stepping on the claw brake, and we came to a stop.  When we stopped, many of them lay in the snow, others ate it.  Every muscle seemed to be twitching, and with the slightest shift of bodyweight on the sleigh and lift of brake, they were off and running again, wind and snow flying in my face.  In a word – exhilarating!

dog sledding Ottawa

There is a lot going on with the dog sled.  You are constantly watching the trail up ahead, your dogs and the ropes.  Your sleigh can easily overtake the dogs going down hill so you need to watch, applying some pressure on the claw brake if the line slackens, momentarily balancing on the one foot board as the other foot pumps the brake.  Your dogs are running as fast as their legs can go.  Their only focus is on running and they are putting everything into it.  I can hardly believe it possible, but the experience constantly gets taken up a notch, every sense tingling as the team crosses rivers and negotiates corners, flying down hills a million miles an hour!  The sound of the claw grating against the snow and ice rings out, the slack that has developed on the line goes taunt and you can relax for a moment.  My hands tighten on the handle bar as I balance myself, moving my foot back to the boards.  So much races through my head at once – there is so much to pay attention to!  Eyes up ahead to watch where the dogs are going and the overwhelming need to look down so that my foot actually reconnects with the boards. They say the dogs travel between 10 – 15 km/hr (6-10 mph), but when you are up there, wind in your face, if feels so much faster.

dog sled mushing

Half way through the dog sledding experience, I swapped being the “musher” to being a passenger.  I relaxed in the sleigh as I got carried along.  It was amazing to me how fast it cooled down once I was no longer driving.  I buried myself further into the blanket and watched as the 24 legs galloped in front of me.  By the time we were finished, I was already craving going back out.  It was a rush every step of the way.  The dogs were amazing, each one displaying their own personality.  It was was so much quieter as we loaded them back up into the trailer to take them home.

I loved the sage and knowing looks of the older dogs, contented in a great afternoon in the snow.  Such a contrast to the younger dogs, hardly able to contain their excitement, eager to get out and run again.  These dogs, athletes really, were all so personable and friendly.  After the ride, we went into the dog pens to take some photos.  They were just like pets, wanting their bellies rubbed and ears scratched.  I could have easily brought any of them home with me.

Before heading out to Escapade-Eskimo, I asked a friend about her dog sledding experience.  She told me I was in for the time of my life and no matter what, don’t let go!  She was right on both parts and unquestionably….I had the time of my life!

For more information on how to experience dog sledding for yourself, check out Escapade-Eskimo’s website.  They have a range of packages to choose from for all ages including a 2K loop for little kids.  At the end of season, they have a very special 4 day winter expedition, traveling to the north and sledding through black spruce woodland, staying with northern outfitters and includes ice fishing experiences.  This is a very limited opportunity expedition that will offer a once in a lifetime experience in the art of dog sledding and true northern experiences.

I would like to thank Sylvain of Escapade-Eskimo for this experience.  While the experience was provided for me, the exhilaration and excitement were all my own!  An extra special thanks to my amazing dog team: Oukiok, Kopak, Apout, Voulk, Kounak and Kanuk – you were a thrill a moment and your excitement was infectious!

dog sled trailer and sleighs

Directions to Escapade-Eskimo – approximately 1.5 hours north of Ottawa in Otter Lake, Quebec, Escapade-Eskimo is best reached by car.  Click on the link for a map with directions.

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About Anita Mac

The bucket list just keeps growing! The more I cross off - the more exciting new destinations and activities I find! I have been fortunate enough to travel a considerable distance over the years. My love of many things, including travel, cycling, kayaking and photography fit together like hand and glove. I have to keep asking myself....where to next? I am happy to share my travels and photography through my blogs: http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com and http://anitamacphotos.wordpress.com Hope you enjoy them as much as I do! On to the next adventure!

Discussion

38 thoughts on “Dog Sledding – the exhilaration of a day with the dogs

  1. Very jealous!!! This has been on my bucket list way too long! Great photos.

    Posted by Annette | January 23, 2013, 12:24 pm
  2. Looks fun :)

    Posted by Bashar A. | January 23, 2013, 1:08 pm
  3. What a Blast – love your captures – thanks for sharing! Have a Great One:)

    Posted by cravesadventure | January 23, 2013, 1:57 pm
  4. You can do that also in Lapland, Finland

    Posted by reijosfood | January 23, 2013, 2:24 pm
  5. Great photos and now I have to add this to my bucket list!!

    Posted by Travel Spirit | January 23, 2013, 2:36 pm
  6. What gorgeous dogs, this has been on my bucket list for years too and looks fabulous!

    Posted by Lucy Dodsworth | January 23, 2013, 3:17 pm
  7. Looks like fun! I love dogs!!

    Posted by Jodi | January 23, 2013, 9:36 pm
  8. Amazing photos and it looks like so much fun! As I sit in 30C heat and high humidity of an Australian summer it seems an incredible activity – my daughter (who swam with sea lions today…..) would adore it.

    Thanks for posting!

    Posted by frugalfirstclasstravel | January 24, 2013, 12:59 am
    • It must seem a little abstract if it is 30 above freezing! We are in a deep free at the moment – yesterday we were at -27C! And yes….I am pretty sure your daughter would love the adventure with the dogs. It was very special.

      Posted by Anita Mac | January 24, 2013, 4:35 pm
  9. This reminds me of the movie Balto – it was my brothers favorite movie as a kid and we spent quite a lot of time looking for the Balto statue in Central Park (though it was in the day before smart phones, so we never found it).

    Posted by wanderoneday | January 24, 2013, 2:25 pm
    • I never saw Balto. Snow Dogs with Cuba Gooding Jr is what really cemented by dream to try dog sledding. And even before that, I don’t remember the name…but I believe there was a movie about the Iditarod…my imagination never stood a chance!

      Posted by Anita Mac | January 24, 2013, 4:37 pm
  10. How cool! Wouldn’t want to be doing that today, though!

    Posted by drawandshoot | January 24, 2013, 3:41 pm
  11. Ohhh, this is on my bucket list! LOVE it!

    Posted by The World Wanderer (@TheWrldWanderer) | January 24, 2013, 5:09 pm
  12. Wow, I am totally stoked after reading this (and also talking to you about the experience). In March on a trip to Manitoba, I plan to cross off my bucket list item – “seeing the northern lights” but my days up in the great white north will also include a dog sled excursion… It seems now I might enjoy the adventure of it just as much too… Can’t wait.
    stay adventurous, Craig

    Posted by craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) | January 24, 2013, 9:35 pm
    • So excited for you Craig that you are going to see the Northern Lights! I really want to stow away in your bog – a trip to Northern Manitoba is high on my bucket list! You are going to love the dogs…glad I was able to share some of my excitement with you. You are going to have a blast. Can’t wait to hear about your experience!

      Posted by Anita Mac | January 26, 2013, 8:43 am
  13. LOVE IT! Mush. Was there with you all the way. Have been researching dog sledding trips and will be taking a look at Escapade Eskimo website. Thanks Anita.

    Posted by Tracey | January 24, 2013, 10:16 pm
    • You will have to give it a go Tracey! Sylvain was fantastic at going through the entire experience with us – from loading the dogs into the trailer, hitching to the sleigh and my favourite – driving the team! He also has an over night trip where you head out in the afternoon. When you come back, he has a fabulous hot tub you can soak in. We couldn’t stay to feed the dogs, but those staying over night can take part…it is the full experience! And of course, the best part….you get to go out with the dogs again the next morning!

      Posted by Anita Mac | January 26, 2013, 8:46 am
  14. This looks and sounds like GREAT fun! :)

    Posted by Robin | January 31, 2013, 6:09 pm
  15. LOVE this – I have this on my list as well. It sounds like you had an amazing time!!

    Posted by valcitygal | February 10, 2013, 5:25 pm
    • It was awesome! My heart was pounding outside my chest as the dogs ran the trails. You have to do it. It is exhilarating! So glad I had the chance to do it for an afternoon. Would love to try a multi day with all the gear and all the overnighting entails!

      Posted by Anita Mac | February 13, 2013, 2:44 pm

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