Visit our Photo Albums!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Musher Get-A-Way

Slushy snowshoe prints

Gazing into the woods

One of the rare white pines on the parcel, just a baby

Down the trail

Off Irish Creek Road, looking toward the Swamp River Valley and Canada beyond

From the Arrowhead Trail Lake Superior can be seen

Beauty of ice

Gorgeous day on the shore of Lake Superior

Do something in the winter without the sled dogs? As folks in Minnesota say, "You Betcha!". I needed to get away and relax for a day without the dogs. Of course, I love being with my sled dogs. At the same time, it's important to rejuvenate myself, clear my head and spend some time alone in the kind of peace and solitude one can only find in the wilderness without the otherwise welcome demands put upon me by being in the company of my magnificent sled dogs; just for a day.

Having a parcel of land off the Arrowhead Trail north of Grand Marais, MN that will someday be the site of the Points Unknown; Dog-Based Adventure' Educational Center and B&B, I wanted to spend some time scouting by snowshoe to continue my search for the perfect building site. It will be a very long process and with the current economy, may take an extra couple of years than originally planned, however it is a dream that will become a reality.

It was a gorgeous day with blue skies and big fluffy clouds floating overhead. Before heading up the Arrowhead Trail, I stopped at a very quaint little store just before the Arrowhead turn-off on Highway 61. The Chicago Bay Marketplace just opened within the past couple of years and I discovered it for the first time last year. Sandwiches, bread, pastries and other homemade delicacies can be found here, along with a wide variety of organic and non organic grocery items. It is an inconspicuous little store, not quickly catching the eye of the passing tourists. The owner told me that the locals are keeping her very busy, much busier than she had even would have imagined. I had a homemade ham and Swiss sandwich, a glass of milk and a brownie to go. This would give me quite enough energy for my afternoon snowshoe.

Snowshoeing was hard-going due to the temps having been in the 50s for the past few days. This day was no exception. The snow felt more like slush. I sank in consistently eighteen inches and at times found myself down over two feet but, with the mission at hand, I was happy to be out, spending the day in the woods and letting go of any and all cares. After snowshoeing, I found myself falling fast asleep on the tailgate of my truck as I watched those big fluffy clouds passing by.

Upon my return down Highway 61, I spotted piles of wonderfully blue ice chunks that had come from the recent shoreline breakup of Lake Superior. This made for a beautiful and peaceful rest stop as I snapped photos of my glorious find.

The dogs were happy to see me upon my return. I had only been gone since their breakfast time but they knew I was not on site all day and met me with smiling faces.

My solitary snowshoe adventure happened just in time. The following day, after temps had been in the 50s and then over night things froze up again, I was out on the trail with the dogs and had my foot hyper extend when it slipped off my brake and got sucked under my drag pad. I am not a good patient and fight to sit still with my foot wrapped, elevated and iced as all of my dog yard chores get done for me by the wonderful people around me. My dog sledding season is over as I nurse my very stretched muscles and ligaments back to proper health. Liz, Jon and Don, our Points Unknown musher crew continue to take our guests out on the trails until the deterioration causes those trails to be unsafe for dog sled travel. With temps warming up again into the 40s and rain on the way, I would imagine the dog sledding season will be over for everyone up here on the Gunflint Trail very soon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Record Donations!

Plane dropping pink streamers on the mushers

Erik bringing his runaway back before the run began

Liz and team

Karen and team

Don and team

Saturday the 14th of March was the Mush for a Cure 2009. There were 32 teams in attendance, up almost 20 teams from last year! The donations were also up from around $14,000 in 2008 to over $23,000! Points Unknown mushers, Liz Parrish, Karen DeBoise and Don Deckert raised close to $2,000 for this cause and despite the 52 degree temps, had great fun during the run, resting their dogs in the shade when necessary.

Jon and I were giving tours during the event but were able to break away during the lunch hour to catch the beginning of the fun run. All of the teams were parked out on the Gunflint Lake in front of the Gunflint Pines Resort and Campground. A small plane flew above, dropping pink streamers on the ice while the teams prepared to take off. Right before the gun shot, a single dog ran down the trail. Several of us tried to catch him but were unsuccessful. The owner hopped on a snowmobile and finally rounded him up so that his entire team would be ready for the start. The teams had to begin in a sleeping bag with their boots off. Once they heard the gun shot, they had to get out of the sleeping bag, put on their boots and hook up their dogs then they were off.

After 22 miles, the teams arrived at Trail Center, a mid trail restaurant and event center. There were prizes awarded to the mushers for the most money raised, the most outrageous pink costume and various others. It was a very successful event and was a lot of fun for mushers, dogs and spectators alike.

We are very proud of all of our mushers for their participation in this event. Liz was in the top five for most money raised. Karen not only won the red lantern award(award for coming in last) but she also won an award for the most outrageous costume. Don's costume was pretty creative as well. He also stopped along the trail to help remove another musher from a snow bank.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Curious Wolf

The curious wolf

Wolf kill site on the trail

I finally got some; photos of the wolf I have been seeing on the dog sledding trail while grooming with the snowmobile! I had seen him before but never this close and for this long. He was suffering from mange. His tail was bare but for a tuft of hair at the tip, however the rest of his coat appeared to be healthy.

In a previous post I mentioned seeing a wolf kill on the trail while out with clients. As I rounded the bend in this same location this morning, with the groomer, I saw remains of the deer and a flash as the wolf tried to run from it and the snowmobile. The snow was deep on the trail from the recent snowfall so he wasn't getting very far very fast. I was within less than 15 feet of him on the snowmobile as he turned back as if to start back at me but in a flash he darted into the woods. I thought my adventure was over......

I continued to groom the trail as the adrenaline in my body lowered. I reflected on the mix of emotions I felt in those few moments during my encounter. I love and respect wolves. They are a natural enemy to dogs. I have scared his kin out of the dog yard so his presence within a couple miles of the dog yard, at that moment, angered me. There has never been a reported incident of a healthy wild wolf attacking a human in the United States. The key word is "healthy". This wolf was not healthy. This thought brought the fear for this wolf to the surface and as his eyes met mine before he darted into the woods, I felt the hair on the back of neck stand up. Once he was out of sight, extreme joy came over me for having seen him, then sadness that he may not live another season due to his condition.

As I was within 100 feet of the main trail after grooming a little used side trail, I saw movement ahead of me. It was him! This curious fella had followed me in the freshly packed trail I had just made for him. That instant I took out my camera, thinking that at any second, I would lose the opportunity as he disappeared into the forest. Instead he stopped and looked at me, then looked back, then sideways, then back at me. He began to head across the trail then he stopped dead center and stared at me again. He began to walk towards me. That was close enough for me so I shouted at him and waved my hands. He slowly continued across the trail. It was then that I put my camera away and quickly drove the snowmobile up to where he had been standing and beyond to continue my trail grooming. I think I was numb at this point and it didn't quite dawn on me that I had just had another encounter with him until I sat down to look at the photos I had taken. Then I revisited those mix of emotions. Overall, having had the interaction with this curious wolf today makes me respect the wild place I call home during the winter months as well as the wild place within myself.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Adventure than Planned!

2007 Tuloon/Bazil puppy, Zodiak has an almost flawless build.

Ilu looks a little plump in this photo, however is fit as a fiddle. You can see from the snow pile up on his coat just how thick and insulating it is.

McKenzie and his pensive stare

Icoa was not fond of having her photo taken today.

Journey is caught off guard by the camera.

Zala poses.

Phoenix and Ilu sit atop their houses

Tuloon is also fond of standing on her house.

Klaus, Oken and Ilu wait patiently for their dinner.

Our guests got more adventure than expected today on the trail. A family of four had planned to do a Gunflint Lake Experience tomorrow. With the forecast of a winter storm, we decided that a change of plans was in order and we took them out on the Highland Trail this morning before the storm arrived. After climbing to one of the highest elevations in the area, we then dropped down into a swamp and up again to highlands. About 1/4 mile off the swamp the dogs ears all perked up and their speed increased dramatically. Down the trail and around the corner was a relatively fresh wolf kill that was strewn along the trail in about a 100 foot section. There were fresh tracks leading from this site into the woods. We imagine that the wolves had left the site when hearing the teams coming along on the trail. The dogs all did a spectacular "on-by", not stopping to inspect or to snatch a piece for themselves. Good Dogs!

To top off the adventures during this run, we, or I should say the dogs, spotted a grouse in the woods and picked up speed down the trail with heads turned trying to catch a glimpse as we sped by. You would think all of this was enough for one run but the deer standing in the middle of the trail around a corner got the dogs going yet a third time.

Our family enjoyed their adventure and felt lucky they got to witness all of the wildlife and signs of wildlife on the trail.

Within an hour of their adventure the winds picked up and then within two hours, the snow began to fall heavily. The snow began quickly collecting on the dogs as they waited for their evening meal. As I type, I can barely see the dog yard through my snow covered window. From what I can see, there appear to be no dogs outside as they are all tucked snugly away in their straw filled dog houses, waiting out the storm.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Weather Extremes

Jon and his Malamute Team

Don and his Siberian Husky Team

We've had some interesting weather this week at the 46 mile point of the Gunflint Trail. I think today was a record for the winter; 45 degrees F. It has been rather balmy the past few days actually. We've had some bright sunny days and today it was overcast. The extreme change in the weather begins tomorrow afternoon when the expected 12 -18 inches of snow begins to fall and it dips down to 5 degrees for a high on Wednesday with -19 expected that night. It's still winter!

While out with guests on the trail during these warm temps we explain why it's important to go much slower than usual and stop often to let the dogs rest even though it appears as though they aren't interested in a rest. It's just too hot for them and they'll overheat quickly. Thankfully, the Highland Trail is mainly deep in the woods where shade is abundant.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mush for a Cure 2009

Mush for a Cure 2008

Don Deckert and team running in the Mush for a Cure 2008

Points Unknown has two mushers that will be "competing" in the 2009 Mush for a Cure (with a third hoping to compete) that begins on Gunflint Lake next Saturday, March 14th.

The musher with the most pledges wins and so does the organization! In an effort to raise money for an excellent cause we are letting all of you know that we are accepting donations to support our mushers who have chosen to run in the Mush for a Cure 2009. If you would like to donate, please send your checks made payable to MUSH FOR A CURE, in care of Points Unknown, 143 South Gunflint Lake, Grand Marais, MN 55604

Best of luck to Don Deckert, Karen DeBoise and possibly Liz Parrish as they raise money to run in the Mush for a Cure next Saturday!

Warm Temps on the Highland Trail

Jon Williams and a guest with his team of eight Malamutes

Don Deckert and a guest with his team of eight Siberian Huskies

Malamute portion of the dog yard

Jon shows our guests from New Jersey how to harness the dogs

The dogs are the best ambassadors!

Jon's dogs lay down obediently when he needs to cut toenails or bootie the longer coated dogs

Jon brings his dogs to the line

This morning temps were already up to nearly 40 degrees F. Not the optimal temperature for working dogs. Our guest mushers, Jon Williams with his team of Malamutes and Don Deckert with his team of Siberian Huskies, took our guests out on the Highland Trail this morning. Due to the high temps, our mushers kept the dogs slower than usual and took many breaks along the way. The dogs didn't seem to think this was necessary, however and would scream to go during each break.

With tongues hanging and tails wagging, the teams made it back to the dog yard with happy guests in their sleds.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dog Sledding on Gunflint Trail

Last month, two Media majors from the University of Minnesota spent some time with us on the trail. They wanted to create a video to add to their resumes. Instead, they pitched it to the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper and it appeared on their website. What a great job they did! This is the video by Gabe Erickson and Matt Guth.

Photos by Don Deckert

Oken in lead next to Klaus. Ilu pokes his head out from wheel

My fearless leader, Klaus

Phoenix, Mr. laid-back

Distractions on Gunflint Lake

Puppy leader and Hailey with her four dog team

One of our distractions

Trout derby in full swing

The bun snatcher, Ilu, playing with mom, Icoa prior to hook up

Oken rests during our lake distractions. Good dog!
(all photos on this post by Don Deckert)

I make a point to mention to our guests that when working with dogs, anything can happen. There may be training moments out there and that is just part of the adventure. Teaching the dogs to be calm and focused around distractions is another welcome training challenge. The more they are exposed to these things, the better they can become at dealing with them.

We had ideal conditions for a distraction training day on Gunflint Lake last week with a trout derby in full force and the herds of deer that hang around the lodge searching for hand outs. In addition, this was Hailey, our kennel helper's, first run with her own team on the lake. We had our work cut out for us in the training department.

The dogs didn't seem to be bothered by the dozens of snowmobiles wizzing by but the minute they spotted a deer on the shore, they all took notice. This is where the "on by" command comes into play. It is a useful command to teach the dogs while out on the trail and it means to ignore whatever is catching their attention. Don't mark that tree, don't sniff the dog team we are passing and don't pick up that bag of buns and carry it back to the lodge with you (more on this later). In this case, the dogs were not on the gangline but were on their picket line with harnesses on. Even though they can be in rest mode at this point, they are working and the rules are enforced. You can notice the deer on the shore but there will be no lunging at the picket line and no obnoxious barking. The adults understand this rule, however it took some time for one of the 17 month old pups(Zodiak)to get the idea. We continue to train......

Once the two teams headed out and we got past the majority of the trout derby traffic we could relax and work on some other items. Oken, one of my 17 month old pups, was in lead with Klaus, my seasoned veteran. It was Oken's first time to be in lead with him from hook up to our return and again, we had out work cut out for us!

On this day, we had a snowmobile assist to come along and run interference in case any of the snowmobile traffic came too close. Don, our guest musher, took this position and also acted as "dog team with puppy in lead" helper and photographer. Don helped with a couple of tangles when Oken did a few puppy moves, otherwise just took some nice photos and warned snowmobilers of our approach. Oken is such an eager to please boy, he doesn't always wait to be told what he should do and tries to guess. This means he's thinking. "Oh, I bet she wants me to go THIS way! I'm looking back and see her smiling so I must be a good boy! Uh oh, no smile, ok, well back I go". I can see his potential he just needs to solidly learn the commands, learn patience and focus. All in time. He did quite a good job and even went head-on towards a strange person laying in the snow on the trail to get a photo and did an excellent "on by"! Good boy!

While all of this training was going on, with our guest in the sled, delighting at every training moment, Hailey was behind us with her four dog team, looking like a pro. No problems there.

And that bag of buns I mentioned.......the trout derby was a big party. There were picnics on the lake. Someone snowmobiling along apparently dropped a perfectly good bag of hamburger buns in the middle of the lake and we headed right for them. A quick "on by" command was obeyed by the first four dogs as they trampled the bag, however when we got back to the wheel dogs, all bets were off. Ilu quickly snatched it on the run. He held it proudly in his mouth, ever so softly, and carried it back to the lodge from about a quarter of a mile away. Leave it to an Inuit Dog. I suppose I could frame it in a positive light. Rather than saying he disobeyed my command, I could say that he could not comply as he had a strong desire to keep the lake free of trash and it just wouldn't have been right to leave it there.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another Vet Trip

Tukisi's smiling face

Copper and Blue with the spay patients in the crates

Liz's dog, Utah, shortly after his snow hook injury

This vet trip was planned. It happened a few days after the Run Your Own Iditarod Adventure.

Tukisi had a swollen muzzle over a month ago. After speaking with the vet over the phone it sounded as if it could be a mouth injury caused by a bone or it could be a tooth issue. Antibiotics would be the first course of action to see if this would take care of the problem. We were told that if the swelling came back, then it was a tooth that needed attention. Well, the swelling came back.

Being several hours away from a vet makes planning important. Liz was interested in having two of her girls spayed and also needed to make a trip to visit a friend to bring back some borrowed gear. She would be traveling through Ely, MN and right past the vet. She offered to take Tukisi along and drop him, along with her girls, off for their vet visits then return for them the next day on her way back to the lodge.

All went well. Liz's dogs, Dane and Achoo were spayed and Tukisi underwent a surgery for an abscess and had the tooth removed. Tukisi is now off his round of antibiotics and is feeling well enough to begin chewing on bones again. Liz's girls have spent the last week and a half in the musher apartment as they recover from their spays.

With the little dogs, Copper and Blue, my retired boy Zulu, Dane, Achoo and Utah, who was recuperating from an injury, it has been a little cramped in the apartment but the more the merrier! Aaahh, the life of a dog musher!

Run Your Own Iditarod...Quite the Adventure!

Iditarod Adventure on Gunflint Lake

Written by Liz Parrish, Instructor, Musher, Chief Pooper Scooper

Two spirited souls, Meredith and Lee Ann, met myself, my dogs and each other on Feb. 19 for an adventure quite unlike any other. We had planned a very full 3 days with learning to drive a sled and small teams, education about dog care, travelling by dog team, personal care in the winter wilderness, planning and preparing for and running a 24 hour “mini-Iditarod” consisting of three 4 hour runs broken up by 2 “checkpoints”. The participants were responsible for everything having to do with their teams…feeding, harnessing, hooking up, driving, dog care, booties, etc.

As usual when running dogs, plans are made in order to be changed, so here’s a recap of what really happened.

Lee Ann and Meredith arrived Thursday afternoon and after introducing them to their teams, we immediately went out for a short run with each of them driving 4 of their 5 assigned dogs on their own team. Nothing like jumping right in – no experience required, we provided that! Our first run was the Highland Trail, which is a steep climb, a beautiful small turning trail running through the woods, and then a fast descent back to the dog yard. They both did great, and started getting their “sled legs” immediately. They jumped into dog chores as soon as we returned, putting the dogs away, feeding, scooping and getting used to the entire dog care routine.

Next morning, an early run before breakfast set the tone for the jam packed day, and helped them work the kinks out of their new-found sled muscles. We did an extension of the Highland Trail which added another mile through a swamp and a tiny wooded trail that the dogs love as it twists and turns. It was spectacular in the early morning cold, and breakfast never tasted so good for dogs or mushers. Friday quickly flew by while learning how to prepare checkpoint drop bags, basics of people and dog care, and a small rest break thrown in for good measure. Friday evening we planned an introductory night run over to Loon Lake, and a showing of the Iditarod 2008 video “De Ja Vu”.

Everything went fine, with even a crash by Lee Ann’s sled going over to Loon Lake being taken in stride. She lost her sled after rounding a curve and dropping onto a plowed road, and it hit my sled as I was stopped ahead of her – knocked me off my sled but I managed to grab the front of her sled and got dragged down the road to the lake. Both teams stopped at the bottom of the road once we hit snow, I got both sleds hooked down and waited for everyone else to catch up! Lee Ann was a trooper and got back on the runners and we continued our trip and finished it without further incident. All’s well that ends well!

Almost, anyway…ending well that is. Turns out one of the dogs (Utah) who was leading Lee Ann’s team was injured in the crash. It seems as my sled tipped over when Lee Ann’s sled hit it, the snowhook on my sled came down and sliced open his side just behind his right shoulder. Stoic and black dog that he is, he didn’t say anything and there was no blood, so nobody found it until the next morning. I took him to a nearby local vet for stitches, putting the proverbial change of plans in motion. Utah is just fine, and as of this writing just got his stitches out and is a much happier camper and no worse for the wear (other than doing some time as a house dog).

Taking a 7 hour “vet trip timeout” into consideration, Meredith and Lee Ann decided they would like to do another night run Saturday night (NOT on the gravel road!) and then do a checkpoint in the dog yard, and Sunday AM doing a long run out on Gunflint Lake as their finale. It was a great plan and worked out fabulously! The night run was flawless, and with a new moon the stars were incredible. The dogs loved it as it was cold and invigorating for them, and not too bone chilling for the people, although it did get down to a brisk -30 or so windchill by morning.

Meredith and Lee Ann bedded the dogs down as they would on the trail upon returning to the dog yard checkpoint, putting straw down and feeding the dogs while harnessed in their teams and then heading in for a quick bite to eat. It was after midnight when they went out to sleep with the dogs, while I stayed inside to sleep with the patient who wasn’t too patient being a conehead. They all piled back into the checkpoint building (musher apartment) about 5 am, with the need to pee and warm up from the cold having become paramount.

We got everyone fed, watered, and set out for Gunflint Lake on a gorgeous sunny day. Everyone did really well getting down the hill to the Lake with the snowmobile assist courtesy of Linda, and then heading out up the lake and taking turns leading. About 2/3 of the way up the lake we ran out of snowmachine trails, and so started breaking trails of our own, got to the far shore and played around the islands, snacked dogs and mushers, and headed back. The participants ended up with a 4+ hour run which included training, frustrations, successes and being “in the zone”…Meredith started trucking on the way back and ran away from Lee Ann and I without realizing it, getting back almost to Gunflint Lodge before figuring out maybe she should wait for us.

Both Lee Ann and Meredith wanted to “do it all”…and they certainly did!! We finished the weekend with nearly 40 miles by dog team, 16 happy hungry and satisfied dogs, and 3 tired, chilly, hungry and exhilarated mushers…mission accomplished! It was thrilling, exhausting, a tremendous learning experience and a great time was had by mushers and dogs alike. When we got back to the dog yard, everybody was quite contented with a very full weekend!

Many thanks to Liz for creating this adventure for Points Unknown, for providing such excellent instruction and for sharing her story in this post.