Rob's Blog Archive

January 1, 2012

Learning the Ropes for Untracked Territory










It was about a year ago.  I had gotten to the abandoned ski area early and tracked with snowshoes a trail for the dogs.  This was for mushing demonstrations for Missoula Girl Scouts.  I got the sled down, laid out lines and harnesses, set up droplines (tie lines attached to the truck), and pulled out food and water buckets, poop scooper, and poop bucket.  My poop bucket is actually labeled “feces” on every visible surface.   It’s important not to mix this up with food or water buckets.  Additionally, the girls should be taught proper words to use in front of their parents---I know they’ll learn the word “shit” to use with their friends.  But I digress. 

I then went and talked to the woman in charge of this for my schedule.  The girls had been divided into groups and these rotated between several winter pastimes, mushing being one.  I planned to let each group of girls see the four dogs I had with me, then hook them up and cover the few tenths of a mile I had tracked out with the snowshoes.  Being a four dog string, I figured I’d be able to turn the dogs around easily.  Then I’d head back.

Beginning to end, there were problems.  The dogs didn’t care about following the tracks in the open ski area.  Once we hit a cat track, they did follow the trail I had laid in, but they really didn’t have a lot of choice.  And they weren’t particularly enthusiastic when we hit a steep section.  Finally, on the way back, Tanner decided that he’d rather head to the cafeteria than the dog truck. 

I got a real wake up call about how hard heading out into totally untracked terrain is going to be----and I still want to sled into the Bob Marshall wilderness and see the Chinese Wall.  The only good news was that sledding in the Bob will probably be more like a cat track with the dogs having only limited options than an open ski area.  Still, there’s a lot of stuff to work out before my trip to the Bob. 

So this year, that’s my big goal.  I want to develop my technique for dogsledding on  untracked snow.  First, I plan to sled up some of the local hills.  With luck, we’ll hit the top of Fawn Peak and Mt. Henry sometime in January.  I’m also hoping to do some of these shake-down runs with somebody else, just like I’ll be doing in The Bob.  With all this, I’m going to learn a lot. 

All of which has me pretty excited.  Ultimately, my biggest joy from the dogs or mountains or physics or Taekwon-do comes from learning something new.  And with the realization of my ignorance of backcountry technique, I have one more opportunity to learn---and play a bit with the dogs at the same time.  I think it’s going to be a good year!

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