Pat Ascroft is the first to admit her latest adventure was hair-raising, bitterly cold ... and definitely not to be repeated.
For a younger person going dog sledding for five days in temperatures of down to - 25 degrees C in Lapland would not be for the faint hearted.
For Pat, at a robust 77, the adventure across frozen lakes, rivers and forests was just the latest in a series of exploits which have seen her distance cycling, crewing on a tall ship, trekking in Africa and climbing in Patagonia.
But the Garstang grandmother acknowledges: “It was absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It went to -20 and - 25 when we were crossing lakes. The dogs only know one speed – which is very fast. We did seven hours of sledding a day, but the day was a lot longer than that.”
The last two hours of sledding, when darkness had fallen, were, she said, particularly demanding with absolute concentration needed to steer the route and make sure you did not get tipped off: “Lots of prayer going up – God had a very busy week for me that week. He must have thought when he got me back to Garstang, thank goodness.”
She recalls: “We were out in the wilderness with no electricity. no water, no heat....The one thing we had is a brake which is like a four pronged fork.They say if you fall off. never let go of your sled, because the dogs will just keep going.”
If they did come off party members were advised they should ensure they “took the sled with them ”, tipping it sideways to slow the dogs down. Pat said: “This is where you needed all the upper strength. You are guiding the sled all the time – the dogs are the power, you are the guiding. If you are going to come off take hold of the sled and take it with you. That will stop them. They can’t run if it’s on its side.”
The brake prongs, operated by a foot bar, also proved valuable when going downhill and facing a sharp corner.
Pat confessed: “I did have two close encounters with a tree ..I didn’t come back entirely unscathed. A big tree didn’t give way...I got straight back on my sled.”
As a “musher” Pat was responsible for harnessing and feeding her four dogs and carrying a spare dog, as one of her canine crew had a foot injury.
The huskies – a mix of cross breed Siberian, Alaskan and Alsatian – were not of uniform appearance and certainly did notlook like the none-working huskies seen in movies. They were fed at 7am so they could digest their food before sledding began at 8.30am.
Pat said: “The dogs are the dogs – they are bred to sled. People say did you bond with the dogs?
“Mostly they don’t want you to bond with them – they are very independent.
“They mostly look down, They are really not terribly interested in you.”
She cites how they do not engage in eye contact. The lead dog being the canniest dog “ the one with the brains”: “They know when you are crossing lakes they can tell where the best trail is.”
Pat was very glad she put in extensive training time before leaving the UK, with many sessions at the gym, (Fenton’s in Garstang where she was trained by her niece Jenny Wren), swimming and zumba dancing building up that essential core strength and stamina.
Days she said are very different in the Arctic: “Sound or a lack of sound in the Arctic is one of the things that grabs you. It’s the lack of sound when you are crossing expanses of snow.”
In comparison icy expanses had a different sound: “You can go to quite an icy clink sound. We were in five to six feet of snow and it snowed every day. We never saw the sun. moon, stars or northern lights...I’ve seen northern lights before in Scotland so it doesn’t bother me.”
For cooking a tree had to be chopped down, sawn up into sticks. The whole operation conducted by candlelight or by head torch light. They even chopped wood to make heir own tiny sauna.
For sleeping there were some unlocked bothy huts: “We slept on reindeer skins on ledges in our sleeping bags.”
As for getting dressed for the great outdoors – that as an ordeal in itself. with two base layers, ski pants and ski fleece, padded onesie, a Goretex anorak and more. There were three layers of head and face covering gear including a reindeer skin and goggles on top of Pat’s glasses.
Two pairs of gloves, handwarmers and leather gauntlets were no excuse for not being adept in sled guiding.
The danger of frost bite was ever present: “They would say ‘Have you flicked your nose lately?’”
Another of her abiding memories is of the drink that proved most popular - the hot fruit cordial turned out to be Vimto.
Twelve dogs had to be harnessed for the airport “taxi” : “We arrived at the plane on a sled” .
Visiting an ice hotel was another memorable experience.
As for her gym and keep fit routine, she may not be tackling the Arctic again, but she is definitely keeping up with her classes and training asshe says it’s made her feel so good . Her message to other older people is to get exercising.. it will make you feel so much better.
Pat was in a party of 10 all raising funds for different charities. She is available to give talks on her adventure with any donations welcomed for her chosen charity Mencap and can be contacted on 01995 604139.
Meanwhile as a Wyre Countryside Ranger and a keen member of Garstang Walking Festival she is looking to put her best foot forward at this year’s Festival starting on May 9.