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Sky High Wilderness Ranch-11

My Yukon trip included a visit to Sky High Wilderness Ranch, about half an hour outside of Whitehorse, where a variety of activities are on offer depending on the season. Dog-mushing, guided snow machine tours and adventures, wilderness camping, horseback riding, hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and relaxing in a gorgeous natural setting keep the ranch open year-round. Owners Gary and Trudy Burdess maintain a kennel of 150 dogs (and 24 horses). The lodge and cabins are rustic and phone/TV-free for ultimate enjoyment of nature.

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I felt nearly as excited as the dogs in anticipation of an afternoon dog-mushing adventure. The tour that I was booked on heads along well-groomed trails and over frozen Fish Lake.

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After a hearty lunch of chili and bannock (all lovingly prepared by Trudy on the day of my visit), our group changed into cold-weather gear and boots. The moment a human being approaches the dogs, they become excited and can be heard yelping from one end of the kennel to the other.

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Our guide prepared us for the journey by demonstrating the braking system (always keep your hand on the grip!), how to call the dogs for slowing down and stopping, communicating with the guide and anchoring the sled in case of a photo op or needed break.

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We also had the privilege of harnessing a dog. Feeling the husky’s soft paws and gentle spirit as I put him into the harness really struck a raw emotion from within. After all, this animal was raring to go, just dying to get out onto the snow with his mates. He obviously understood what my involvement here indicated.

Huskies

Everything seemed ready to go, each of us set up with a sled and four-dog team. However, a few moments into the tour and I suddenly didn’t feel anywhere close to comfortable. While not a fast ride, the sled felt slippery and the dogs just don’t understand stop. It’s go-time from the moment you hold the harness. I’d hit a pole with the sled and started slipping. One little scream emitted from my body, and I knew this wouldn’t be my forte.

I talked to the guide, who saw my predicament, anchored the sled, and got the rest of the group ready to go. I’d felt a pang of regret not being able to do the tour, and perhaps it is an easy activity, however it’s not for everyone!

What I did do was help to unharness one or two dogs, whom I felt terribly about as they were just as excited as I was at the onset of this sunny afternoon.

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I ventured to the lodge for a sit down and cup of tea. Changing into another coat and losing the ski pants and heavy-duty boots offered a chance to walk more comfortably around the ranch, where I was easily distracted by ravens, Stellar’s Jays, and a litter of six-week old puppies.

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One of the tour operators later headed over to look after the pups, so I was able to enter the pen and hug a couple of them, their soft tiny paws close to my chest. They are irresistibly adorable; no other words to describe them.

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Gary explained over a second cup of tea that the majority of dog sled companies in the world use a two-person sled, where one person sits in the ‘basket’ while the other person steers. This isn’t always the safest method. In fact, Sky High built a custom sled with three seats that an experienced dog-mushing guide operates while two people can sit back and chill, a tour that must be reserved in advance.

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Would I try a second time? Sure. But in the meantime, I had some fun on the back of a snowmobile, courtesy of Gary, who brought me to a creek with fresh lynx and rabbit tracks in the snow, allowing my breath to be taken away yet again, this time by the pristine beauty of the mountains.

Visit Sky High’s website for detailed tour information. My near-dog-mushing adventure was courtesy of Sky High Wilderness Ranch and Tourism Yukon.

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