Stefanie Teßner, 13.11.2019
Two extreme athletes, a love story between South Africa and northern Finland and a husky farm with happy dogs. Anna McCormack and Pasi Ikonen live a life like something from an adventure novel. Their farm, “Hetta Huskies”, in the northern Finnish municipality of Enontekiö has made responsible dog breeding its mission statement. This is somewhere where every dog should enjoy its retirement, even if he is no longer capable of peak physical performance. This concept is called “Mush with pride”. We paid the couple a visit and found out what hazards are prevented in the middle of the outback when Elten shoes are worn on the feet of sled dog drivers. A journey of discovery.
There is always a lot to do at Hetta Huskies. Chopping wood, building an extension to the existing timber house or covering hundreds of kilometres in the snowy Finnish landscape with small groups of visitors. Here peak physical performance is required of both man and animal, and this explains why this job is so dangerous. Hetta Huskies is located in the municipality of Enontekiö, in the Finnish part of Lapland, far within the polar region, in one of Europe’s last large areas of wilderness. It is here that Anna and Pasi have fulfilled a dream. They established a particularly animal-friendly husky and safari farm. They look after and feed their dogs with a particular focus on the specific breed, and are also one of the few farms to follow a “no cull” policy when working with old and sick dogs. The couple have not always lived in such a sparsely populated region, with barely 2,000 residents.
By the age of 19 Anna, an outdoor expert and adventurer, had already climbed Indonesia’s tallest volcano in the deepest Sumatran jungle. The tough adventurer has travelled to more than 40 countries and for five years travelled the world taking part in competitions as one of the world’s leading adventure race athletes. Anna and Pasi got to know one another in Tibet, during the “Raid Gauloises”, a well-known 1,000 km race through the Himalayas. Pasi, the first Finn to complete an independent expedition to the South Pole, was captain of the Finnish team and that year managed to claim victory. That was back in 2000. Over the following years their paths repeatedly crossed whenever they came up against one another in races. At some point it became obvious. The pair had fallen in love with one another and Anna immediately moved from hot South Africa to Helsinki. “We are the type of people who give 100% in everything we do,” said the Englishwoman.
Pasi: “We use sustainable wood from our own land and build many things on and inside the house ourselves. When performing this type of work, safety shoes provide me with a great deal of security.”
Charlotte: “I think that dogs will always be part of my life.”
In addition to running the husky farm, Pasi now does a lot for the regional development of Enontekiö, a traditional region inhabited by the Sámi people, who live mainly off reindeer husbandry. The continually growing farm and its employees, the majority of whom work in hazardous working conditions, must also be coordinated. This includes Charlotte. The trained pastry chef originally came into her current job via a sled dog driving apprenticeship. Following spells in Canada and Iceland, she now accompanies Hetta guests on safaris. The work is often physically demanding, especially for a woman: lifting up snow mobiles that have become stuck, pulling dogs around – all applying brains rather than brawn. “You learn pretty quickly how to drive a snow mobile in such a way that you don’t get stuck, as you know that otherwise you will get into difficulties. Brains over brawn,” saiys the pretty sled dog driver.
Things can get even harder for animal-lover Tim in performing his duties on the farm. In addition to the repair and maintenance of the safari equipment, he also takes care of repair jobs on the farm and ensuring a steady supply of wood. The all-rounder is also responsible for all new construction on the farm, which can include everything from small DIY jobs to building entirely new structures. A lot of work, and most importantlyly work that is performed with dangerous tools such as chainsaws or other power tools. Good safety shoes are therefore essential. Sawing up logs, working with wood, transporting dog kennels from A to B: All of this poses great risk to your feet. “My safety shoes must be protective, while also being flexible enough that I can walk in them. Some of the cabins in the wilderness are a day or more’s walk away!” says Tim, lovingly referred to by the others as “man of the woods”.
Tim: “I initially applied for a period of two months. After the first week I was worried that I would be sent straight back home, as I had broken the only quad bike that the farm owned at that point in time,” laughs Tim.
On the incredibly beautiful farm, which lies in the foothills of the Scandinavian mountains, permanent employees come together with temporary seasonal workers and visitors from all around the world. These visitors come, for example, for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the northern lights, to enjoy an adventure holiday in one of the numerous cabins or simply because they love huskies. Some also come to take part in the short intensive sled dog driving courses. Who knows, perhaps one of these visitors won’t be able to leave the incredibly beautiful Arctic dogs afterwards.As was the case with Charlotte. “I really love the fact that I have something different to do every day. My favourite time of year is when I get to lead wilderness tours involving several days away from the farm, with just six guests and 35 dogs,” tells the young sled dog driver. And in addition to this, visitors from all around the world are most welcome at all times.
More information on safaris with Hetta Huskies can be found at: https://www.hettahuskies.com/en