Husky dogsledding and seeing the Northern Lights when you are a wheelchair user?  Not possible surely?

Oh yes, it is possible.  I did all of this and ate some very random food!  The staff that I contacted via email at the STF Abisko Mountain Station https://www.swedishtouristassociation.com/facilities/stf-abisko-mountain-station/  in, Sweden, were super helpful and thanks to the help, it became possible.

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First of all, the lodge is wheelchair accessible.  They have one wheelchair accessible room on the lower ground floor which does not have any adaptations, just it is big enough for a wheelchair and I visited in my manual wheelchair so the doorway was wide enough of me to get in. Curiously enough though, there is a disabled toilet on the ground floor near the restaurant!

The wheelchair accessible room is accessed via a rather old-fashioned lift, which I suspect is mainly used by hotels staff e.g. chambermaids but inside the lodge the ground floor is totally wheelchair accessible and there is a permanent ramp as soon as you go in.  The reception has no lower section though.

The dining room is on the ground floor and so it is wheelchair accessible.  The entrance to the Lodge is level but it is important to note that the Lodge transport, which collected us from Kiruna airport, is a standard minibus and not wheelchair accessible.  There are plenty of vehicles adapted for the snow, but not one adapted for wheelchair users!

I really wanted to go to Abisko because I had read many times that this place offers one of the best opportunities of seeing the Northern Lights due to the microclimate created by its lake and surrounding mountains. When we got there, we were greeted by a receptionist who was thrilled to tell us about how last night i.e. the night before we got there, was one of the best displays of Northern Lights seen for 50 Years. Great.  Not really what we were interested in hearing about!  That 1st evening, we decided to see how my wheelchair would fare in the snowy conditions.  It actually wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I expected, and we managed to move across the compacted snow with little difficulty.  However, there was too much light pollution in the area close to the Lodge where we were and I wasn’t confident to venture any further so we returned to the Lodge.

The next day, my husband went ice fishing and I stayed in the room.  When he returned, we tried to go sledging on the grounds around the Lodge.  The plan was that I would transfer onto a sledge and my husband would pull me along.  This was a lot easier said than done and I quickly lost my balance, fell out of the sledge and flailed around in the snow!  We soon gave up on that and that 2nd night it was quite bad weather conditions so there were no Northern Lights and we stayed in the Lodge, played cards and enjoyed a meal of Arctic char which is a type of fish and it was served with some random berry type things.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur last day was definitely the best day.  There was due to be an eclipse around midday and we were going to be husky dog sledging.  We were picked up from the Lodge by the husky dog sledge operator and taken to where the trail started.  The trip leader was a total dog lover and as I am also a dog lover, she enthusiastically helped me onto the sledge and then brought a lot of the dogs over to meet me.  I loved it!

The sledge itself was quite easy to be on, I leaned back on the frame of the sledge, was covered in blankets and my husband sat in front of me and I held onto a mixture of him and the frame of the sledge.

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The dogs were really keen to set off and barked and yowled whilst they waited to set off.  Just seeing how excited they were made me more excited and definitely reassured me that this was something they wanted to do and not at all cruel.  With a jerk, the sledge set off and we were pulled through a winter wonderland snowy landscape.  It was utterly fantastic.  Snowy mountains rose up to the left and all around us was a beautiful scene of snow-capped trees and bushes.

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Halfway through the trip, we stopped and they helped me into a traditional teepee where we were given a hot drink.  It was about that moment that they eclipse started so we watched the sun slowly being covered up by the shadow of the moon.  Spectacular.  Sitting in the teepee, with the snowy landscape and the dogs in the foreground was just amazing.

They helped me back to the sledge, which was a lot easier than getting to the teepee as it was downhill so I slithered on my bottom most of the way!

Once we returned to the starting point, I had another opportunity to stroke the dogs but they were far more interested in the food that they knew they were going to receive!

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In the evening, we had booked to go to the sky station.  It was our last chance to see the Northern Lights.  The staff at the mountain lodge had arranged for me to be picked up directly from the Lodge as usually you are expected to walk to the starting point for the cable cars.  They had told me that it was about 200 m but it was a lot further than that!  When we arrived at the cable cars, the operators stop the cable cars so that I would have more time to clamber in, and then my wheelchair was put into the cable car directly behind me so that it would arrive at pretty much the same time as me and I could be transferred directly into it.  Again, that the top they stopped the cable cars completely so that I had time to climb out of the car and get into my wheelchair.  I was very pleased to see that it all looked like level access up there.

At this point I should mention that nobody warned us just how exceedingly cold it was going to get as we travelled up on the cable car.  At the start of the journey my husband and I were enjoying the journey but by halfway up we were almost crying from the cold and we couldn’t wait for the journey to be over.  If you do this, make sure you put on every single layer that you have because it gets ridiculously cold as you ascend through the darkness.

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At the top, there is the sky station where they serve very welcome hot drinks and I think some food too.  I think you can book to go there for dinner if you wish.  We sat inside and 1 of the staff who worked behind the counter said that he would let us know as soon as the Northern Lights appeared, and to help us get to a good viewing position.  He was as good as his word.  Excitedly, we flattened waited in the sky station, peering out of the large windows, into the dark night.  Then suddenly there was a commotion and everybody started rushing outside.  The staff member came over, grabbed me and my wheelchair, and started pushing us outside, calling for people to make way and letters through.  He pushed us right to the edge of the viewing platform, and there, swirling above us, was an amazing display of green vapours.  They moved around the sky, appearing and disappearing and we need to move our position quite regularly in order to keep a good view.  It was truly breath-taking.  They disappeared for quite a time and we were just about to head back indoors when they reappeared, dancing tantalisingly over our heads.  Some people laid down in the snow to watch the display but I just craned my neck upwards like most people.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe did try to photograph the lights but I think you need specialist equipment to take this kind of photo.  The only photo we have is of me looking excitedly upwards as I watched the Northern Lights swirl overhead.  The display lasted about half-an-hour, then we went back inside just in case there was another display.  I risked a trip to the outdoor toilet, and I wish I hadn’t!  With the amount of money that the sky station makes, it is quite disgusting that they have not invested in proper toilets.  There is definitely no disabled toilet and the toilets that there are do not have lights and are dirty and smelly.  You need to have leg strength to hover because you definitely do not want to come into contact with any surface there!

Eventually, we took the cable car back down with my wheelchair following us.  It did not feel the cold going down as I guess it got warmer as you descended, although warmer is probably not the right word to use, just less freezing cold!

I am so glad that we saw the Northern Lights.  They really were spectacular and if we hadn’t seen them, then we would have been very disappointed.  I would definitely recommend this experience to wheelchair users, but with the caveat that you need to be able to get into unadapted vehicles and be able to transfer on to the cable car and the husky sledge if you are planning to also do that experience.  It is definitely worth the trip and it is an incredibly rewarding experience that you will remember forever.

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