Job offer: Searching for a Doghandler

Natalie Groote is an Arctic wilderness Dog Sled guide in Sweden, she escaped from Frankfurt in Germany to live her dream and shares her story here along with an interesting job opportunity to those of you looking for your own way out of the rat race. — Matt

Natalie

I would like to tell you a little story.

6 years ago I decided to move from Germany to the arctic circle in Swedish Lapland. 2500 km away. I came here alone with 4 kids, 5 horses and a dog. I wanted to live in the nature. I wanted to decide myself.

And I wanted to live my dream to have my own husky team. I did it. Now I own a little Kennel of 13 Siberians. I love it, 8 month of snow and temperatures down to -40 degrees are ideal for doing what I do.

Living and working outside in the wilderness is always a special experience, sometimes wonderful, sometimes hard but never boring. With your dogs you are part of the team, leader of the pack.

You are out in the cold and feel very small under the enormous sky and the northern lights, but at the same time you are a part of nature.

To stay warm in this conditions I wear merino wool underwear and shoes with a wool lining. If it is very cold, I change my socks a few times a day. Over our feet we lose about 1 liter of water every day!

I decided to share my life with the dogs with some guests. It`s a lifestyle, you cannot just do a little dog-sledding. You love it and do it a lot or you leave it.

Now I found my paradise in Jämtland, a part of Sweden near the norwegian border, near the mountains. A lot of wild animals are living here, especially a lot of bears. The wilderness begins beside my house.

I will buy some more dogs this summer. This will be more fun and more work. Therefore I am looking after a person who wants to help me over the next season as a dog-handler and guide (September 18 to April 19).

Do you want to join into the adventure and work with this amazing animals?

I need help with feeding the dogs and cleaning the dog yards. We train them with an ATV and with the sled. We have to prepare the tracks with the snowskooter and organise the tours.

Do you like cat´s or dogs better?

You will be using snow machines and ATV´s and spend a lot of time with the dogs.  If you are looking for a simple, rewarding and fulfilling life then this could be the chance for you.

You should be able to work in a team and have some experience with sled dogs, be calm and friendly with animals and humans and like to work with guests.

For more details please contact Natalie by email

Hygiene and it´s increased important in the field

In the field, that is, when you are living out in the woods, on an expedition or otherwise not at home with home comforts exposes us to additional problems not usually encountered at home.  Good hygiene become more important than it is at home.

For a start, hygiene is harder to enforce as you wont have a bathroom to use or a tap to quickly wash your hands.

In the Arctic, even when cabin´s are available, it is extremely rare to encounter one with running water from a tap let alone a hot tap.  This is because the temperature is so consistently low that pipes freeze, then burst.  People in the north look to other ways to keep clean such as a sauna if available.

If no obvious means of washing are available, we must look for other ways.

Indoor, flushing toilet´s are also something of a rarity for the same reasons, an outhouse is the standard up here and is simply a small cabin, just large enough to sit down in and a seat over a hole in the ground.  A good one will have a polystyrene seat (actually really nice to sit on even in extreme cold)

Picture this, Your stomach is rumbling, you bowls are loudly protesting and you have a uneasy feeling that something is about to happen.  You realise that you need to get to a toilet, quickly.

You first have to get out of bed which is a depressing prospect in itself as it is warm in there and cold out.  You get dressed and prepare to go to the outhouse.

First you have to put your thermal underwear on, then your socks, trousers, jumpers, coat, hat, gloves and boots.  This can take 5 minutes and all the time, the urgency of a visit to the outhouse is increasing and when ill, you may run out of time while getting dressed and then you have an even bigger problem to deal with as you will now have to find a way to wash your clothing too.

Then you have to get out side and make your way in the dark, to the outhouse.  Once inside, you notice that the cold is biting on exposed skin and your hands are hurting due to the cold.

The general advice for ¨how to shit in the arctic¨ is simple, you do it quickly but not so quickly that you do not finish the job properly.  Repeat visits to the latrine or outhouse are a thing to be avoided if at all possible.

You sit down and wait for business to care of itself, it could be -40 degrees centigrade but your bowels do not care.  It is important to not rush this and you do not want to have to come back to repeat this any time soon.

Once finished, there is no tap to wash your hands, it is so cold, the thought of putting water on your skin is almost unthinkable anyway.  At this point, an alcohol based anti bacterial hand gel is the best option as your only means of preparing hot water is to fill up a billy can of water and heat it up on the wood stove, this will likely take 20 minutes or so.

You go back to the cabin, get undressed, get back into bed and then as you breath a sign of relief, your bowels again begin to protest and you need to get back to the outhouse.

When you are ill, this can go on for days, you get very little sleep and the amount of time and energy you expend just going to the toilet is staggering.

With most stomach upset´s, colds and flu´s, your energy will be low anyway, this will simply make it even worse than it is at home and our ability to look after ourselves is greatly diminished.  Firewood still needs to be collected and prepared, food still needs to be acquired and cooked, the wood stove still needs to be fed and water still needs to be collected and prepared.

It is therefore much more important that we maintain a good level of hygiene when out in the field to help us to avoid bacterial and viral infections at all costs.

Getting sick out in the field is so much worse and potentially more dangerous than it is when at home.

Antibacterial hand gel will only get you so far, it is not enough on it´s own but it is extremely useful.  You need to clean your whole body to get rid of the build up of grime and remove the conditions for bacteria to breed in.  Armpits, groin, hands, feet and face seem particularly prone to this and an infection in any of these areas can turn into a serious problem.

Wet wipes or baby wipes tend to leave a slimy residue behind and seem to just push the grime around instead of actually cleaning you so I do not recommend these.

I have found that the easiest and most satisfying method is to heat up about 1 liter of water then add 1.5 liters of cold water to that.  This is probably more than is needed and you could get away with less.  Then with some soap and a wet flannel or small towel, you just wet the flannel in soapy water and wash yourself with it.

You usually cannot not just strip off entirely because of the cold but you can do a bit of your body at a time, only undressing that part of your body and then replacing clothing as you move onto the next bit.

You will feel much better too, something about being dirty has a really negative effect on our mood and once clean you feel refreshed and like a new person.

If anybody in your group is sick, keep them well away from any food preparation and give them a small bottle of anti bacterial hand gel to use throughout the day.  You don´t want them to pass on whatever it is that is making them sick by touching things like equipment and door handles.

Get their water for them so that they do not infect the water supply.

Ultimately, washing is all about routine, the sooner you get into a new routine the cleaner and fresher you are going to feel and the less likely you are to pick up an illness.  Don´t go days and days without washing and if in the cold north, do not be fooled into thinking that bacteria and viruses cannot survive the cold, they can as they use you as a giant heat source to stay warm.

Once on a canoe trip in Scotland of all places, I made the mistake of drinking some bad water while in a rush.  I did not have time to properly filter and boil the water so I just dropped a purification tablet into the water.  That night, I had the most explosive and debilitating diarrhea of my life and sometimes you just cannot control it, when it comes, it comes, weather you are ready for it or not.

It turned out that the purification tablet was out of date and not effective.

I got no sleep, despite being exhausted, the next day I could not eat and could barely drink but had to cover many more miles of hard paddling into the wind.

It was horrible, trust me.

I think what it really boils down to is motivation, a lot of people just think ¨I can´t be bothered with this and i´ll be alright¨.  The chances are that you won´t be alright and even if you do not pick up and infection, you will smell bad and feel bad at the same time so make a point of washing every day, You will feel better for it.

In the Arctic, some advice against the cold is to not wash exposed area´s of skin as the oily residue that builds up on your skin helps to protect against the cold.

I have put this to the test and found that it made no difference at all to me.

Keep yourself clean, maintain a high standard of hygiene and take extra care to avoid passing on an illness if it all possible, at all costs because coming down with the run´s or the flu while out in the field can be a major nuisance at best and a life threatening problem at worse and can usually be avoided by good hygiene and good camp discipline.

Arctic Winter Shelters – The Snow Grave

The snow grave or snow trench is perhaps the easiest and most practical of all natural shelters in the Arctic.

It is fast to build, requires little in the way of materials and tools and will get you out of the biting wind fast.

This shelter can be built in the dark, which is a near constant companion in the winter and the act of building it itself will warm you to some extent.

Essentially, you need to dig a grave in the snow then lay some pine boughs in the bottom for insulation.  This is all.

It is not a warm shelter but it is perhaps a “less cold” shelter.  It is true that cold air sinks and will sink into your snow grave or snow trench but it also protects you from the wind.  It is probable that the cold air filling your snow grave will be less cold than the wind chill introduced by being exposed to the wind.

It helps to have a snow shovel of course but you can dig this with gloved hands, a bowl, a plate, or any other digging implement that you can think of.

The important things to note are:

  • The hole should be just large enough for your body and kit to lie down in without touching the sides or ends.
  • Dig all the way down to the ground and get rid of as much snow from the bottom as you can
  • This shelter can be constructed one handed should you have an injury preventing the use of one arm
  • The pine boughs should be about 4 fingers deep once compressed as a minimum.
  • You cannot have too many pine boughs, the more you have the better
  • The bottom of a hill is not the best location due to katabic wind but almost anywhere else is fine.

Being prepared and organised in this shelter is important.  Getting out of your +35 degree sleeping bag into -35 degree cold is a painful experience, literally.  The way to do it is quickly.  You get dressed inside your sleeping bag and put gloves in before you get out.  Putting an ungloved hand in the snow to support you as you stand up is very painful.

The faster you get up and out of the snow grave the better, you want to be up, out and moving within a few minutes in order to not suffer too much from the cold.

If you have to spend a second night in one of these shelters and you have the time, build a raised sleeping platform off to one side by compacting some snow and dig the side out a bit more so that you can have a fire next to you while you sleep.  This will be a a huge improvement but will melt the surrounding snow, creating water and ice but as long as you have plenty of pine boughs underneath you, your should remain dry and warm.

Having a fire in snow grave shortens it’s life but is the only realistic way to spend the night if you have no sleeping bag.  The same can be said for any other natural arctic shelter in winter.

If you do not have a sleeping bag or blanket, you must have a fire.

How to Dry your Boots

Wet boots mean cold feet, very cold feet and in the Arctic, dangerously cold feet.

In this post, we will go through a few options on how to dry your boots.

Your feet tend to sweat no matter what the temperature and this introduces moisture into your boots over time.  In the snow, I find that no matter what I do to seal off the top of my boots, snow tends to get in which my body heat melts.  I am first alerted to this by my feet getting cold.

When you are able to get back to a heated cabin, you have a range of options to dry those boots before you have to go back out again.

It is very important that you look after your boots, without them you are in big trouble.

Do not put your boots on or very close to a fire, wood stove of radiator.  Drying boots too fast and too hot damages the leather which can cause it to crack.  Once that happens, they will never be waterproof again.

If the boots have rubber in them, that rubber can melt and even shrink, this means that the boots tighten and in some cases, shrink to the point that you can no longer fit your feet inside!

I was told a story by Lars Falt in which he and a team of fellow Northmen were traversing Northern Sweden by Nordic Ski, it was very cold, -30 c and below, they all had wet boots so at night when they went to bed, they all put their boots by the fire to dry.  During the night, they worked in shifts to keep the fire going while the others slept.  The person on fire watch was supposed to keep an eye on the boots and move them back if they needed it.  In the morning, they all got up and went to put their boots on but they had all shrunk!.

So there they were in the middle of the frozen north unable to put any boots on.  They had to cut the toe off each boot so that they could cram their feet in and wrap the outside with whatever spare clothing that they had.

I laughed at this most amusing scenario but Lars had still not got to the point where he could see the funny side of this pretty serious situation.  They could all have got frostbite and lost their feet.

Do not be the guy who gets frost bit, trench foot or severe pain from having freezing feet.

Dry your boots as a matter of high priority, before you do anything else.

In a heated cabin, I prefer to tie the boot laces of both boots together in a normal shoe lace knot and simply hang them up near the roof of the cabin.  The roof is where all of the hot can be found and there is plenty of space for the air to move freely.  They will usually be dry in no time.

If the boots are particularly wet on the inside, take out the inner’s and put them somewhere warm to dry out.

Another option is to get some paper towels, newspaper or kitchen roll and screw them up into balls and stuff those inside the boots.  This will draw the moisture out and again, they will be dry in no time.

A somewhat more risky option is to light a tealight or other small candle and drop it inside.  The candle flame will generate heat inside the boot and also draw air inside to help drive the moisture out.  This can be problematic is the flame touches the inside of the boot or if you get wax inside.  This technique does work outside though so is a good bit of knowledge to keep in your mental tool kit.

If you are not in a heated cabin or are sleeping outside, your body heat is likely to be the best option.  Brush off the snow and put your boots inside some kind of bag such as your sleeping bag bag (the bag that you stuff your sleeping bag into for storage).  Take that into your sleeping bag with you, your body heat will help to dry it out overnight while you sleep.