Photo: Jennifer Polland /Business Insider
Last year I went dog sledding in Montana.I’ll admit I was apprehensive about it at first — I was worried about the dogs and the cold, and it just didn’t seem like my kind of thing — but it proved to be one of the most exhilarating and memorable experiences of my life.
Dog sledding allows you to explore untouched backcountry terrain that would otherwise be inaccessible, since snowmobiles are not allowed, the snow is too deep, and the distance too far to walk.
There are five outfitters in Montana devoted exclusively to dog sledding. I went with Absaroka Dogsled Treks, based at the Chico Hot Springs resort in Pray, Montana. They offer 6-, 10-, and 18-mile treks through snowy mountain passes in the Absaroka Mountain Range. I went on the 10-mile Yukon Trek, which followed Mill Creek through the snowy Gallatin Forest and took about six hours.
It’s not cheap — prices range from $120 to $320 per person — but it’s a unique experience that’s totally worth it.
Named after the natural hot springs, Chico has catered to cowboys, prospectors, and adventurers who came to soak in the warm and soothing waters.
We then drove for about an hour through windy mountainous roads to reach the trail head, which traverses the Gallatin National Forest. It was chilly, but I was bundled up in ski gear.
Each sled weighs about 40 pounds and holds two people who take turns mushing (driving the sled) and sitting in the basket. The owner of Absaroka Dogsled Treks, Mark Nardin, makes the wooden sleds himself.
The handlers then began unloading the dogs from the truck and lining them up along the harnesses. Six to 10 dogs pull each sled, depending on the weight of the sled.
The very obedient and well-trained dogs are a mix of Siberian and Alaskan Huskies. Each dog is placed at a specific spot on the harness based on size, age, training, and leadership abilities. The front two dogs — the lead dogs — are usually the most experienced and strongest.
The dogs howled and barked while they were gearing up for the trip — a deafening sound amidst the quiet woods. But it wasn't from discomfort. Instead, they seemed excited.
As soon as we kicked off our journey, there was near silence: just the sound of the dogs panting and the sled dragging quietly along the snow.
The dogs proceeded along the snow-covered trail. You could hear the sounds of running water coming from Mill Creek, which flanked the trail.
Although we didn't see any wildlife on our trip, we saw signs that it exists in abundance there. The guides pointed out bobcat tracks along the trail. They also told us that they've seen bison, elk, otters, mountain goats, coyotes, and wolves.
We passed lots of snow-covered mountains, many of which seemed bare since they had been ravaged by forest fires the season before.
But it was easy to get lost in the natural beauty of the Gallatin Forest. I realised that I would never have been able to have had this experience without the dog sled since there's essentially no other way to reach this remote area.
While we rested and ate our lunch, the dogs also rested and ate their lunch: hunks of raw beef. The trainers told us that while they're running, the dogs can eat — and burn — 6,000 calories per day.
The guides set up our picnic lunch in the snow: French onion soup, bread, cheese, vegetables, and hot drinks.
At the end of the journey, the dogs seemed tired but calm and happy. They're beautiful dogs that are easy to fall in love with.
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