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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another Full Day Adventure

Testing out the sled(no dogs attached)

Break time

Helping unhook Sweet Pea

The team

Resting on a hill

Trail conditions were sticky today with temps quite warm for the dogs and in the low 20s. Our day began at 6AM, as usual, when I awoke to walk the little house dog mascots and feed the sled dogs to allow for enough time to pass for them to digest their food before we began the "working" day.

The dogs were loaded and we trucked to the trail head to meet our guests which were coming from another lodge on the Gunflint Trail. Steve and Jack, a dad and his 6 year old son, would enjoy a day out on the trail with the Points Unknown sled dogs.

The line-up included Klaus and Tuloon in lead which is becoming the norm. Sweet Pea and Phoenix were in point position. Zulu stayed home because he was sore from the previous adventure and I wanted him to have a day to rest. It was very hard to leave him behind, being the king leader of the kennel, but it was for his own good. Then Ilu and Icoa were placed at wheel. Those two are just plain work horses which allows me to excuse the less than proper behavior, at times, on the trail. Little Miss Icoa likes to act a bit snotty to her son, Ilu and he is "talking" back so they have an occasional snotty exchange but the raising of my voice is enough to put them back on track. Even though I find it annoying and would like them to stick strictly to their work while on the trail, it is quite comical to watch.

I was very proud of how patient the dogs were today. They are getting into a routine and are also becoming more easily accepting of last minute changes in the plans. Just as we were all hooked up to go and I was about to pull my snow hook, I heard a little voice, "my toes are cold". I told the dogs to "take a break" while I took off little boots and placed toe warmers in socks then stuffed little feet back into the wool blanket lined sled bag. The dogs remained quiet and in place, except for the occasional exchange between Ilu and Icoa as they tried to take over each other's spots in the line-up which is so typical of those two. So then it was off we went.

On our return trip, Jack got back on the runners with me for a while and was excited that he was driving a 6 dog team. He said his feet were cold but when asked if he wanted to get back in the sled bag to warm them up, he quickly said "no". After his turn was over, Dad got a chance back on the runners. I watched the little head poking out of the sled bag nod a time or two then Jack was fast asleep. We then mushed silently through the snow covered pine lined trails back to the truck.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

First Full Day Dog Mushing Adventure

Truly a winter wonderland

One of our guests holding the team during a break

Lunch break on the trail

The dogs got a snack of venison during our break

Our return

Yesterday, we at Points Unknown had our first clients for our Gunflint Lodge programs Full Day Dog Mushing Adventure. Our guests were visiting from North Carolina and wanted to do a dog sledding adventure for their 10th wedding anniversary.

The day with our clients began at 9AM when they arrived to help load the dogs for their adventure. We then traveled about 45 minutes to the trail head. Being an adventure and not a "ride" our guest were fully involved with their experience and helped unload and harness dogs. We then loaded the sleds with lunch, a first aid kit, a satellite phone, our dog tie-outs and we were on our way.

On the way in to our destination, our guests remained tucked away in the sled bags while Helen and I talked about the history of dog mushing, the training of sled dogs and other various dog related topics. The trail began as a wide forest road and slowly dwindled to a windy bush trail that ended at the Brule River. The bush trail portion of the trip was the most impressive to our guests. Once at the river, we tied out the dogs, turned the sleds around and then ate lunch that included hot chocolate, warm cider, biscuits with meat and cheese and a tasty pork chili, all prepared by the lodge.

On the way back to the trucks we invited our client back on the runners with us to get a different perspective to add to their experience. At times, everyone seemed speechless by the beauty of the snow weighing heavy on the trees and the entranced by the quite sound of the sled runners gliding over the trail as the dogs kept a steady beat with their steps.

When we returned to the dog truck, our guests were given the choice to end their adventure and return to the lodge or help load the truck and unload upon our arrival back at the dog yard. They chose to continue on with us as we finished up the chores of loading and unloading. They had grown close to the dogs during our day on the trail and appeared to have a great respect for them and the job they did for us on the trail.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas and Puppy Update

Dog yard clean-up day

Tuloon and the pups

Zodiak is a solid boy

Zodi and Oken are almost as big as their mom

Oken has a build like grandpa Zulu; long and lanky

Pups at play

Zala is very much like Tuloon, however it appears that she will be larger.

Zala and Oken

Zodi and grandpa Zulu

The bunch

Tuloon, the princess, with Oken

Zala and Zodi

Aunt Sweet Pea and Oken

Its been a bit difficult to be away from family over the holidays, however phone calls to those living far away have kept us close. When growing up, my immediate family always lived a great distance from the other relatives and traveling over the holidays became the tradition. With family in Ohio and Pennsylvania we always had at least a 12 hour drive from wherever we were living at the time. A US Forest Service family moves a lot and we found ourselves traveling to visit family from places that included Michigan, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. My parents now live in Arkansas where my dad recently retired from the US Forest Service. My brother, his wife and my nephew also live there. My parents and nephew will make the traditional pilgrimage to Ohio and Pennsylvania tomorrow and here's wishing them safe travels.

Helen, one of my musher team members at Gunflint Lodge this winter, and I treated ourselves to a wonderful Christmas dinner at the lodge last evening. What a treat. This morning dog chores were done, as usual then I took this day off to do a clean up around the dog yard before I ran the dogs. Straw in most houses was wet and needed to be changed and hauled into the woods. While doing this, the dogs got to be in the fenced play area in groups so they could reconnect with each other. Living on chains this winter, they haven't had many opportunities to play together and its so important that they have this time to do so.

Conditions still aren't the best for hauling clients on the main trail but we did receive a bit of new snow over night. Temps were close to 30 degrees F today, making trail conditions a bit sticky. The famous Highland Dog Sled Trail Hill (more like a chute) was not as fast as it has been due to the sticky conditions and with the new snow, the rocks down this chute were as predominant. Let's all hope for snow!

The puppies are growing like weeds and seem so big and bulky compared to little tiny Tuloon who is finally beginning to get her winter coat back after losing it after the pups were born.

The puppies' guard hairs are beginning to grow and undercoat has gotten even more dense and grown longer. They are just beautiful (if I do say so myself) and their personalities are blossoming. They are solid pups. Its hard to believe that these 13 week old babies will be 6 months old my the time we head back from our winter Gunflint Lodge adventure.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Puppies and Kids

Meeting dogs and learning to harness

Klaus makes a great demo dog

Zodiak greeting a young client

Oken isn't quite sure what to think of being in the air but talk about a happy customer!

Zodiak putting on the charm

Temps were down around 10 degrees F today which was a nice change from the upper 20s and 30s of a couple days ago. All together, I think we only received about 5 inches of snow in our "winter storm warning" of upwards of 14 inches expected. Geez. Oh well. We'll make due.

Three of our clients today were kids. What fun. I believe the youngest was 9 years old with the oldest around 14. All three got to drive their own 2 dog team around a short loop, assisted by Helen on the steep down hill portion(she rode on the sled with them) with my assistance of the remainder. My assistance involved a lot of running from point to point. Helen, however, does get the award for the most running today. After each downhill assist, she then ran to the other end of the loop to offer assistance then she had to walk all the way back up the hill - 3 times - to meet the new young mushers and help them make the proper trail back.

The puppies, of course, are a big hit. Everybody wants to see the puppies. There is no lacking for socialization for this bunch of pups and they just eat it up.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Intro to Dog Mushing

Copper all bundled up on top of the couch

Blue lounging on the papasan chair

Frankie and Lily take a client around a short loop.

The "Dog Shack"

The temps dropped into the 20s and it snowed lightly all day. We had a booked day with 4 clients in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. Due to the current trail and lake conditions, we can only currently offer an Intro to Dog Mushing experience around a short loop that includes an educational kennel tour. The guests don't seem to mind the lack of options right now and their smiles and eagerness to ask questions and participate are telling us that they are satisfied with their experience.

With this type of experience, its also nice for the dogs as two different dogs get to take one client on each short run. Everyone gets a turn to double lead. I do think they're wondering why its over so quickly but the time will come, when conditions are right, that they will be glad they get some shorter runs now and then.

The little mascots, Copper and Blue look forward to their long evening walk when I take the short trek down to the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center to check my email and update the blog. Its a nice large room and Blue gets to chase after the ball as I type. Copper, however, waits by the door for visitors. That's his thing.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tipi Set-Up

Peeling the Tipi poles

Hoisting the poles

Tying the poles

View from inside the pole structure as it is being tied

Hoisting the canvas with the last Tipi pole

Stretching the canvas

Pinning the canvas with hand made wooden pins while on top of a hand made ladder system consisting of a thick pine branch and rope tying the branch to two of the poles

Admiring the stretched canvas

Installing the Tipi liner

The view looking to the East


Temps are unbearably warm at 38 degrees. It was raining this evening, however we are under a winter storm warning with the expectation of receiving 10-12 inches of snow by Sunday evening.

Programs at Gunflint Lodge officially began yesterday. With the lack of snow and warm temps (38 degrees today), our offered adventures are limited, however we are under a winter storm warming with expectations of 10-12 inches of snow by Sunday evening.

The warmer temps did make it easier to set up our Tipi for our Dogsledding/Snowshoe combo adventure. Erik, Points Unknown's third team member this winter, is well versed in Native culture and having lived in a Tipi for three years in the past, he lead the way when it came to our Tipi project for today.

The project began weeks ago when he harvested spruce poles from his woods and skidded them out by dog team. He then brought them to our current site on top of his dog truck and skidded them up to their current location by snowmobile, giving the dogs some needed rest.

We laid the tripod poles on the ground with the north pole and the south pole paralleling each other and the door pole crossing over the two. The three poles were then tied together with a long length of rope left hanging down the middle. One person pulled on the remaining rope while the other lifted the north and south poles and pivoted the south pole to the south to form the third leg of the tripod so that all three poles are now erect. The door pole faces east as tradition dictates.

A draw knife was used to clear the surface of each pole of anything that could cause a tear in the canvas. The poles need to ultimately be peeled but since they are still green, this will happen in the spring.

The remaining poles were then hoisted in place with one person placing the “butt” end in position and holding it with a foot while the other person raises the pole and places it in the appropriate groove created by the other poles at the very top.

Once all of the poles are in place, the remaining rope is then used to tie and cinch up the mass of poles where they come together at the top. This is done by hanging on to the rope and walking around the base of the Tipi while keeping the rope tight and cinching as you go.

The final pole is placed on the ground and the canvas is tied to it. This pole is used to hoist the canvas so that it can them be spread out to cover the entire pole structure. Two additional poles are then used to snag portions of the canvas at the very top that will be movable so that a fire can be built inside the Tipi and have adequate ventilation.

Once the canvas is in place, the two ends come together and are pinned with hand made wooden pins. The door is attached with larger wooden pins and weighted in place by the same.

The interior liner is tied on each pole. This liner goes up from the floor approximately 5 feet. This liner helps create a wind block and allows for proper ventilation. This liner needs to be weighted down on the inside so we used lengths of fallen birch trees. Once we get more snow, we will pack the lower portion of the exterior with snow for insulation and to keep out unwanted drafts.

Tomorrow we will find rocks to use for a fire ring inside the Tipi and we will haul up straw bales for our clients to sit on while warming up after during their adventure.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On the Drive in.....

There has been a lot of moisture in the air the past couple of days and it has come in the form of tiny little ice crystal accumulations on the trees. Quite beautiful.

On the way in to Grand Marais this morning to get supplies and do some internet business I took the above photo.

Trail Scouting

Team at the bush turn around



Happy and tired dogs

End of the run

Yesterday Helen and I took a dog team to check out a trail for one of the Gunflint Lodge adventures. The plow truck had not done the typical job of plowing out a parking area at this particular trailhead which meant we had to drive 4 miles down the minimally plowed road to find a place to turn around so we would at least be pointing in the right direction to return to the lodge.

We met a local musher at the trail who has nice enough to give us the "low down" on the area and what to expect of the trails. After hooking up the dogs we heading down a scenic trail to the Brule River. The trail slowly went from a wide forest road to a bush trail that lead to the river. Since temps have been warm we didn't attempt to cross the river even though a snowmobile had crossed. We stopped for a quick lunch and turned the team around. This spot by the river will make a nice lunch spot for our guests. The total mileage of this adventure is only 12 miles and we figured, with lunch and a slow hook-up, will take a good 4 hours. Time should be added to any photography stops along the way because the area is quite scenic and we go through a moose habitat.

Holiday Gathering and Sleigh Ride

Our Okontoe hosts singing Christmas carols

Beautiful Belgian freight horses


The lodge was kind enough to include the Points Unknown mushers in their holiday festivities. A wonderful potluck feast including Prime Rib was shared in the lodge as the cloudy skies opened up, the wind picked up and the temps dropped drastically.

After dinner, everyone headed over to Okontoe for a sleigh ride. Their massive and majestic Belgian Freight horses pulled sleds filled with up to 14 people effortlessly through red lantern lighted forest trails. Blankets were provided for the ride and were certainly needed on this night as temps were likely downwards of 20 below with heavy winds. We were greeted at a warming shelter heated by a woodstove, with glowing smiles and warm cider and hot chocolate prepared by our host family. The family led us in Christmas carols as folks shared their special holiday memories. It was quite a treat when our hosts performed a beautiful harmonized rendition of “Oh Holy Night”.

The sleigh ride back from the warming shelter was truly magical. The skies were so bright, the Milky Way Galaxy had a predominant presence, unlike the big skies where we live in the off season where stars are faint due to rural town lights and the Milky Way Galaxy is only something you see pictures of in magazines. Top this off with a meteor shower and being in the company of the warm and friendly Gunflint Lodge staff and I would say it was the perfect evening.