CANADA TRAVEL: Running with the pack is ultra cool

Until, of course, the yell of “lean left” comes from behind as the dog-sled you’re sitting on tilts precariously at an almost 45-degree angle and you grab on for dear life and hurl yourself sideways. 

Dog-sledding might be an amazing experience but it’s not all that easy – even if you’re not driving it yourself (years of having terrible balance told me I’d be a much better passenger). 

Thankfully, our team of seven huskies knew exactly what they were doing and, with the exception of the odd over-excited sharp turn, it was the perfect way to travel through the wilderness of Canada’s Yukon territory. 

With snow-covered forests, even more snow-covered mountains and half-frozen rivers with mini icebergs floating along them, there’s no doubt this really is the wild. 

Winter temperatures plunge to -40C and even at a relatively balmy -10C, half an hour outside is a challenge, especially when you’re travelling at speed. 

The icy wind biting at your face is half the fun, but racing back into the Sky High Wilderness Ranch comes with a sense of relief and a chance to warm up again. 

I visited at the end of autumn and, while the sunshine makes it even more stunning to look at, the clear air is bitter. And this really is proper Canada – the North, with a capital N. Landing the previous night at midnight in the city of Whitehorse, 1,500 miles north-west of Vancouver, was rather like arriving on the moon: desolate and very chilly. 

You will absolutely need proper boots, overtrousers, thermals and a hardcore coat – and no, sorry, that thick jacket at the back of your wardrobe really won’t cut it. 

Not that the huskies seem to mind and the deafening cacophony of barks and excited yelps is testament to how much they seem to love to run. The staff know the name of each of their 150 dogs and clearly adore them. 

After reading Jack London’s book The Call Of The Wild just before my trip I’d hoped for a half-Saint Bernard and half-Scottish shepherd, like his main character Buck. 

Sadly there was no sign of a Buck, but the descriptions of sledding seemed even more vivid after a trip on the snow and ice for real. 

The bestselling novel has now been made into a film, which is released on Wednesday and stars Harrison Ford. Half live action and half CGI effects (for the dogs), it tells the story of Buck’s dognapping from a comfortable home in LA to the wilds of the Yukon as a sled dog during Canada’s Klondike Gold Rush. 

The trailer shows men trekking up a mountain pass in blizzards and thick snow – something London himself had to do when he headed north in 1897 to try to make his fortune. 

Some of the estimated 100,000 people who went in search of gold there struck it and were instantly made very rich. Others, like London, didn’t have so much luck. At first anyway. 

After his arduous journey to the Yukon he finally arrived at Dawson City – the place that would become the heart of the gold rush. But as he searched for his fortune, alongside thousands of other hopeful prospectors, he came down with scurvy. 

He was lucky to survive and, despite his brush with death, a love for the desolate and harsh countryside had become deeply ingrained. When he returned home it inspired him to write Call Of The Wild – believed to be based on a real dog called Jack that he met in Dawson City – and he went on to become the first American author to make a million dollars. 

The house he lived in is still in Dawson – well, the bottom half of it is anyway (the top half is in Oakland, California, where he was raised).

His tale of sled-dog Buck has fascinated generations and has already been made for the big screen three times – with Clark Gable in 1935, Charlton Heston in 1972 and Rutger Hauer in 1996. 

Sledding is not just a thing of the past here, in fact it’s a huge part of the culture and every year 50 mushers (sled drivers to you and me) and their dog teams take part in Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse. 

But of course, things have moved on and there are now faster and marginally less precarious ways to see the wilderness than by dog sled. And they’re just as much fun. 

The cryptic description of “Viking Excursion” turned out to be the name of the vehicle. A Viking is a sort of cross between an open-sided car and a snowmobile. Our amazing guide Tobias, from Epic North tours, whipped between trees and up and down icy hills without batting an eyelid as we all clung on for dear life with frozen fingers and equally frozen grins. 

It’s an exhilarating ride with breathtaking views around every corner, especially as the sun began to set behind the mountains.

But of course, the wilderness isn’t all about the scenery – there’s the wild part to look out for, too. Sadly we were too late in the year for the herds of moose and caribou and the bears had already settled down to sleep for their winter hibernation. 

But the eagle-eyed can still spot the signs, from a beaver-gnawed tree by a dam in the river to a deer wandering slowly along a snowy field and a skittish porcupine scuttling into the trees by the side of the road. 

Then there are the eagles themselves. We saw dozens of them in a ravine, soaring effortlessly over the river below or sitting majestically in trees. 

Maybe they can hear the call of the wild. I know I certainly did.


Discover theWorld offers a six-night Yukon holiday in March including three nights at the Northern Light Resort & Spa near Whitehorse with all meals, guided aurora viewing, half-day dog sledding, transfers and winter clothes hire; two nights in Dawson City at the Aurora Inn and one night in Whitehorse at the Coast High Country Inn. From £2,009 pp, based on two sharing and including Air Canada flights from Heathrow to Whitehorse via Vancouver and domestic flights between Whitehorse and Dawson City. discover-the-world. com, 01737 886131., and tourism

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