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