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A Glimpse into the Life of Antarctic Exploration: Husky Sledding at Glacier 3000

Posted on: 20th February 2018 | Category: Boarding life, School Life, Sport, Winter Camp

If you’ve ever wanted to experience a little slice of what life would have been like for legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton, then wait till the next time that high winds and freezing blizzards are forecast, and head up to Switzerland’s Glacier 3000 for a shot of husky-sledding…

Our insight into the traditional transportation method of Antarctic exploring took place over a century after Shackleton boarded his ship, The Endurance, to begin his ill-fated Trans-Antarctic expedition.

Boarding our own coach, the Jacky Voyages, on what we hoped would be a rather less dramatic day out, we were stylish, if perhaps not entirely practical.

In fact, rarely, I’m sure, has husky-sledding looked so glamorous: our girls donned their colourful ski wear, faces framed by brilliantly gaudy faux fur hoods, and some bravely forsaking ski goggles for stylish aviators.

With skipper Rolando at the helm, the Jacky Voyages sailed bravely through the rippling snow, higher and higher up the steep mountain pass, wending through evergreens cloaked in white, sleet slashing the windows. Toasty warm inside, we observed with some trepidation the waves of snow on both port and starboard side growing deeper and deeper.

Undaunted, Rolando steered us safely into the safe harbour of the Col du Pillon car park, a sea of white powder that had some of us wishing we’d brought our skis along too.

Somewhat dissimilarly to Shackleton’s early twentieth century transportation methods, we then crowded onto the Glacier 3000 cable car, a vast and hugely impressively piece of engineering that not only accommodated our twenty-three intrepid Surval explorers with ease, but a howl of huskies too (I googled it: that is the actual collective noun for a group of huskies!).

No wading through snow for us (yet); the cable car whisked us through the dense white cloud, past the formidable rock faces of the half-way point, up to the windswept heights of the glacier itself.

It was freezing.

Tiny shards of ice stabbed any exposed skin and stuck to the glass of our goggles; the wind was vicious, as we descended to the sled spot by chairlift.

But it takes more than a spot of snow and a chilly breeze to stop our female explorers from capturing the moment; all great expeditions should be photographed for prosperity, and despite the Antarctic-like conditions (or so it felt, anyway), bare hands were soon braving the bitter cold to snap photos of one another posing glamorously in the aforementioned aviators, or making snow angels in the puffs of powder.

(I would like to imagine that all Antarctic explorers take the time to make a few snow angels on their travels.)

Finally, to the sledding itself. There were nine beautiful huskies, quite slight, with vivid, expressive eyes gleaming in their thickly furred faces. After the comparative comfort and luxury of our Jacky Voyages vessel, the two-person toboggan was completely basic – a simple wooden curved seat, known as the basket, the base of which rested on the snow itself, with two runners flanking either side, and a driving bow (a.k.a. the handle), which the musher (a.k.a. the driver) holds on to.

Into the basket scrambled our first two adventurers, and with a signal on the gang-line from the musher, they were away.

Watching the eight-dog sled rapidly fade into the thick cloud was incredibly evocative; we were only ten minutes by foot and chairlift to the warmth of the Glacier 3000 restaurant, yet we felt utterly cut off from civilisation and totally exposed to the chilling indifference of the elements. The red poles marking the nearby ski piste were smothered by the dense fog. The lone husky left behind, tethered to a pole in the snow, howled forlornly.

As the shadowy figures of the eight huskies re-emerged through the cloud, the sled sliding gracefully behind the cantering dogs, we saw that our explorers’ coats and hats and hair were all white with snow. The next pair waiting to go pulled their fur hoods more tightly around their faces, and adjusted their aviators.

“That was totally worth it!” one of the girls enthused, clambering out of the basket, adding more practically, “Can I go and get a hot chocolate now?”

By the time the turn of the two teacher-explorers rolled round, we both felt like frostbite was setting in, in hands and feet respectively.

“Maybe I’ll give it a miss,” I suggested, busily clapping my hands together in a futile attempt to get some feeling back in them, and eyeing the snow-lined wooden sled dubiously.

“No, you have to do it,” Angeles urged us both. “You’ll love it!”

Every expedition needs a team-member who stays upbeat and resilient in the face of hardship and adversity. It was impossible to resist Angeles’ – and co-sledder Ana Claudia’s – charming enthusiasm. Madame Hily and I clambered into the basket, and I clung onto Madame Hily for warmth. With a jangle of the gangline, the dogs set off, and I was immediately grateful to our girls for making us go.

What was most striking was the sense of peace that stirred in me: we were in the Alps; atop a glacier; in a snowstorm; and yet as we slid silently over the soft snow, and gazed at the pricked ears of the huskies as they galloped bravely through the blizzard, there was just such a wonderful calm, not dissimilar to the sensation of skiing through weightless powder.

Suddenly, I felt a presence beside me, and looked right to discover the lone husky, successfully broken free from his tether, and joyously come to rejoin his buddies. Galloping merrily along, he peered in at me with a friendly, rather mischievous expression (“You can’t keep me tied up,” his twinkling eyes appeared to say), before catching up with the rest of his crew up ahead.

It’s true what they say. You can’t keep a good dog down.

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