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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Final Run and Time to Pack

Trees placed in the lake to hook the dog pickets among the rotting snow

The High Cliffs above the dog play yard

The hill going down to the dog yard

Loading up the truck

Our last guests of the 2007-2008 mushing season at Gunflint Lodge were taken on wooded trail runs this morning. They had booked their adventure in October and were crossing their fingers that the snow would hold out for their dog sled trip today. Temps are in the low 40s and the snow is poor quality, however there is still snow. One good rain would do away with the remaining snow at this point.

The time has come to pack up and head home until next winter. I find myself growing sentimental today. It was a wonderful season. The beauty of the area is breathtaking. Just add running the sled dogs to being in this peaceful wilderness setting and there is nothing that compares. I watched as the dogs grew stronger throughout the season, to the point where I could only walk one at a time to the play area on their days off for fear of being dragged. I met many wonderful people that share my passion for the wilderness as well as those who also love dogs. I was able to share my dogs and wilderness adventures with all of our guests. All of this just adds to what I consider the "good life."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Final Lake Run of the Season

Me and Icoa after our run

The dogs' reaction to the blast caught on camera

The 2007-2008 season Points Unknown "A" team

At the start

Journey at 10 mos old

Dipping snow

Our AM run in the white-out

Our PM run in the sun with Journey in lead with Klaus for the first time on the lake

Breaking trail on the lake after a new snowfall

Arkansas guest in the afternoon

Arkansas guests in the morning

Phoenix just never stops pulling, even at rest

Our last Gunflint Lake runs of the season happened last Thursday with guests from Arkansas who had never before been on a dog sled. Funny, considering these guests from Arkansas where my parents and nephew! They have been visiting the sled dogs for years, however never in the winter. This time, they got to see them actually do what they were bred to do versus just watching them run around the back yard playing and then snuggling up to them for attention. They did do a lot of the snuggling, however working was the main focus.

Weather for the day was rather strange with temps in the upper 20s, clouds, heavy wind, horizontal snow fall and white-out conditions in the morning and temps in the lower 30s, nice big puffy clouds, blue skies and lighter wind during the afternoon run. My poor nephew, not acclimated to the Minnesota winter, spent the entire morning run in the sled bag covered all the way up while my Dad spent quite a bit of time braving it on the runners with me. Thankfully, Andy did get a chance the next day to take a quick wooded trail run when the conditions were less hostile.

My mom had the perfect conditions for her afternoon run and spent most of the time on the runners, helping to drive the team.

In a much earlier post I mentioned that, during a snowgo trip to scout for trails we happened upon an old railroad grade that was still smoldering from the Ham Lake fire that happened last summer and devastated 75,000 acres of wilderness. The Forest Service decided to blast some holes in this railroad grade to try and mitigate the possibility of a new fire sparking out of the burning ashes. They did this blasting on the last lake run of our season. As we approached Camper’s Island, which is within a ¼ mile of the railroad grade on the mainland, we were met by a Forest Ranger on a snowmobile who warned us of the blast. He waited until we mushed around the island and began to head back before he radioed the ok the begin blast. It was kind of him to consider how the blast would affect the dogs. I told him that it shouldn’t be a problem and that having the dogs exposed to new things just makes them more adaptable. And it wasn’t a problem at all. The dogs just looked in the direction of the blast, sped up for a moment but didn’t seem to be frightened and in seconds were right back to their normal pace. The dogs have come a long way this winter as a team and their reaction to the blast just solidified my feelings of content and awe over how they have performed this season, physically and mentally.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Season Coming to an End

Resting in the shade

Smiley guests. 5 Year old Jack helped drive the team back to the lodge.

The beginnings of a Subaru commercial

Journey and Tuloon wait patiently to go

Sweet Pea is the only one not so keen on being one of five dogs in the back

Today was one of our last Gunflint Lake Runs. Despite temps in the mid 40s, the dogs did wonderfully. Thankfully it was cloudy. We took lots of breaks during our 22 mile run with two sets of clients today and attempted to keep the team relatively slow. Once at our turn -around point, the dogs rested in the shade until they told us they were ready to go.

Transporting the dogs to the lake has been amusing this season. Not wanting to start up my large diesel cube van and attempt to drive it down a very slippery slope to the lake a few times a week, I have been taking two trips with my Subaru. It would make a great commercial for Subaru. I routinely fit five large Alaskan Huskies in the back then I go back for a second load for the final two which are Inuit Dogs. The dogs have loved the change in routine from running out of the dog yard and seem to enjoy their short car rides every week.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Another Exciting Addition to the Program!

One of the many lake runs available from Points Unknown at Gunflint Lodge

Wooded Trails Galore!

Swampy areas along creeks are another diverse feature of our available runs

Rocky cliffs add to the beautiful scenery that surrounds us here in the northwoods

Points Unknown is currently working on a program with Gunflint Lodge that will cater to dog mushers and their own teams!

The idea will be to offer customized guided adventures based on the abilities and experience level of both musher and their own dog team, be it a team of two or a larger team of ten or more.

The Points Unknown mushers will spend time getting to know each musher/dog team then will customize a trip. The options are endless - Stay in the cabins while your dogs sleep soundly in their dog boxes, camp on the lake with your dogs, winter camping trips, day trips, lake adventures, wooded trail adventures, lake/woods combinations, BWCAW trips or share an interest and we'll see what we can do!

We will also be offering "ala carte" workshops such as wilderness survival, navigation with map and compass, specialized workshops for the beginner musher and more.

We're thrilled to be able to offer such a diverse program at the premiere location for dog mushing experiences, Gunflint Lodge, Grand Marais, MN, USA

Mush for a Cure

Erik pulling ahead of an eight dog racing team in the "Mush for a Cure" fun run.

Erik's "trap-line" team

Don with his Siberian team

Over the weekend, the Mush for a Cure took place with the starting point on Gunflint Lake. Twenty teams showed their support by running their dogs in this "fun run" and over $14,000 was raised for Breast Cancer research.

While Helen and I waited with our teams in front of Gunflint Lodge for our guests to arrive for their adventure we were able to watch the teams run by. Two of our own, Erik and Don, ran in this fun run. Erik ran with a vintage sled and five dogs in the typical trap-line tradition of single file. Don ran his Siberians with a small sprint sled. It was a shot gun start then folks had to get out of their sleeping bags, put their gear on, harness their dogs, hook them up then go! Erik pulled into the lead directly in front of the lodge as he passed an eight dog racing team with his five dog trap-line team. Everyone was a winner at the awards ceremony for this fun run that raised so much money for such a wonderful cause.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's Coming Up for the Winter of 2009??

Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventure at the Points Unknown Cabin

Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventure at Gunflint Lodge

Points Unknown Couples Winter Adventure

This adventure will be similar in format to our Women's Winter Adventure at the Gunflint Lodge only for couples!

Points Unknown Mother/Daughter Winter Adventures at Gunflint Lodge

This adventure is also similar in format to our Women's Winter Adventure at the Gunflint Lodge.

Points Unknown "Bring Your Own Dog" Winter Adventure at Gunflint Lodge

This adventure will be all about teaching your own dog to pull. This skill can then be incorporated into many year 'round adventures back at home with your canine companion such as canicross hiking, skijoring, carting and pulling a small kick sled.

Points Unknown "Bring Your Own Team" Guided Adventures at Gunflint Lodge

This adventure will be offered throughout the winter season at the lodge. Bring your own team of sled dogs and choose from a number of different guided tours of the local trails and lake systems. Adventures are customized to your experience level and your team's abilities.


Monday, March 10, 2008

PUWWA2008 March Adventure at Gunflint Lodge

Gunflint Lodge

The Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventure 2008 at Gunflint Lodge was held March 6th through March 9th. We had six participants traveling from places as far away as California and Michigan and those traveling just out their back door, from central Minnesota.

Red Paddle Bistro in Gunflint Lodge

After an orientation that included staff and participant introductions and everyone had some time to settle in, we all met for some social time at the Red Paddle Bistro within the lodge.

J.D. Fratzke, Chef Extraordinaire

J.D. Fratzke, formerly the executive chef for Muffuletta on the Park in St. Paul, was with us for the third year in a row, serving up many wonderful creations. J.D. opened his own restaurant in late fall called The Stripe Club Meat and Fish. Since its opening, it has been quite a busy place and most certainly worth checking if in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area.

Lisa, Nina and J.D.

This year we had quite a treat when J.D. brought his entire family along for the adventure. Lisa served as his kitchen assistant and also attended portions of the adventure while 3 1/2 year old Nina was the one in charge.

Karen and her buddy Copper, the Points Unknown mascot

Karen came up for the Chicago area with her team of Siberians to assist with the Intro to Mushing. Kate from the Three Rivers Park District and Erik from the Arrowhead Wilderness School were here for the third year in a row. Kate taught the navigation workshop. The women learned how to navigate in the woods using maps and a compass and also got a shot at starting a fire with only items found in the woods. Erik taught the wilderness survival workshop and focused on how to keep warm in the winter while outdoors.

Practicing the proper technique for securing the snow hook and sled while stopped on the lake.

Our first day was spent out on Gunflint Lake and each participant met the dogs, learned the basics of the sled and then got a chance to run their own six dog team with the musher either on the runners or in the sled for support and assistance.

Break time!

Were we surprised when we stopped for a break at Camper's Island only to be met by Kenny with hot chocolate for all. Kenny has set up an elaborate camp on the island and stays there four days out of the week, all winter long.

Target practice on the lake

Our lake adventure included dodging photographer Layne Kennedy, who was contracted to cover this adventure by Sierra Magazine. One of the participants is a writer for the magazine and will be writing a story on the Points Unknown Women's Winter Adventures to appear in the November/December 2008 issue of the magazine.

Karen and her team of Siberians

Three teams were on the lake in the morning session with one participant and one musher in each. The afternoon session consisted of two teams with one musher and either one or two participants in each sled. During each session, during breaks, participants switched sleds in order to pick up different information from each musher as all mushers do things a little differently.

Two participants enjoying their time on the sled

The subject catching a photo of the photographer

Dinner time

Our days began with full rich breakfasts. Lunches were lighter and consisted of mainly soup and sandwiches and at the end of each busy day, we were met with hearty gourmet dinners. Flourless chocolate torte was always on hand for those wanting a quick chocolate fix.

Lounging in the cabin

Our cabin slept 14 and was large enough for evening lounging. It was common to see deer directly in front of the large picture window in the living room.

Lounging in the hot tub

There was even an outdoor hot tub that was very inviting despite the outdoor temps of single digits on this particular night.

Debra and team

Intro to Dog Mushing was the afternoon workshop on the second day of the adventure. The participants got to the know the dogs better then ran their own three dog team around the dog yard loop supported by the other participants and staff.

Deb and team

The temps were in the mid 20s on this day and the California participant, not being accustomed to the cold temps, commented on how warm it felt.

Claudia is the musher this time around

Off to ski!

The last day of the event was open for those who wanted some free time to try other things not on the agenda for the workshops. The group chose cross country skiing and Kate from Three Rivers Park District was on hand to give everyone a skiing lesson.

Ski Lesson

The ski trail was only a two mile loop, giving those interested in additional adventure time for other things. A few of us climbed the trail to the "high cliffs". This is not an easy task when done in ski boots but just added to the adventure.

Spectacular view below the high cliffs

Once at the top, we had a vast view of Gunflint Lake and Canada to the north.

Climbing down the trail was even more challenging and done best sliding down on our rear-ends while hanging onto branches to slow our travel.

Snow plowing practice

Skis back on, we continued on the rest of our ski.

The Gunflint Northwoods Outfitters is a good place to rent snow shoes and skis and to pick up some souveniers.

Debra and Ilu. What a casanova!

The weekend wrap up was in the dog yard with a last good-bye to the dogs.

Of course we had to get this shot of our California friend and Sierra Club writer. What a great sport!

Our adventure came to an end and while everyone was walking away to their cars, a bald eagle flew over the dog yard. What a way to end the day!