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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oake Lake Run

Icoa smiles for the camera

Sandy, a past Points Unknown advanced women's adventure participant, joined us yesterday with Corey, a beginner musher, for a run on Oake Lake. Temps were in the upper teens with sunny and bright blue skies. Neil sat out this run and took all of these beautiful photos.

Sandy and Corey's team consisted of Phoenix and Tuloon in lead, Zala in points and Zodiak and Sweet Pea in wheel.

Phoenix spots something off to the right.

And he goes directly for it.

As Sandy shouts "Haw" which means to go left , he turns on a dime which is unusual because the leaders typically only take commands from their full time musher.


My team consisted of Oken and Klaus in lead, Journey in point and Icoa and McKenzie in wheel.


Sandy and team

Corey was the passenger for the first half of the trip

Our baby Oken in single lead! (Oken is now 2 years old)

Klaus has been testing me for the past few runs and attempted to do so again for this run. He has been refusing to take commands which is so unlike him. Something had to be done, as I was tired of waiting for him to respond so decided he would be removed from lead until I can analyze the issue and come up with a solution. Oken got his chance at single lead and knocked my socks off! I fully expected him to be a bit concerned making it necessary for me to go up and give him a pep talk. No pep talk needed; just lots of praise from the runners as he ran straight ahead on the lake. I didn't want to overwhelm him with too many commands so he was only given two. He took them flawlessly! Good job, Oken!

Oken with Journey and Klaus behind.

Corey takes a turn on the runners.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Points Unknown Reading List

Expansive view of Gunflint Lake and Canada beyond as seen from the High Cliffs. Adventures begin when exploring in the wilderness. The addition of dog team travel makes for a truly spiritual experience.

We've put together a short list of wilderness adventure books we've enjoyed over the years, hoping that you might enjoy them too. This compilation was done by one of our returning dog mushing adventure guests. Thanks so much, Sandy J.!

"The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness" by James Campbell

"Shadows on the Koyukuk: An Alaskan Native's Life Along the River" by Sidney Huntington

"Alaska's Wolf Man: The 1915-55 Wilderness Adventures of Frank Glaser" by Jim Rearden

"The Wolves of Alaska: A Fact-Based Saga" by Jim Rearden (currently out of print)

"Ordinary Wolves" by Seth Kantner

"Running North: A Yukon Adventure" by Ann Mariah Cook

"Riding the Wild Side of Denali: Adventures with Horses and Huskies" by Miki Collins and Julie Collins

"Trapline Twins" by Julie Collins

Saturday, February 20, 2010

McKenzie Skijoring

Kenzie and Rich
Photo by Rich Baker

Beautiful scenery on the trail
Photo by Rich Baker

McKenzie has had a few fun skijoring outings with Rich in the past couple of weeks. Today, he worked double duty when he went skijoring in the morning and ran in the team with clients in the afternoon. Tomorrow will be the same but this time, it will be a 5K fun skijor run in the morning and a run with the team and guests in the afternoon.

This evening he and Sweet Pea enjoyed some couch time with us but we put him to bed early so he could get some extra rest and be prepared for his big day tomorrow!

Ilu on the Sidelines

Smiley Ilu

Mr. Enthusiastic is on the sidelines for one more week. Last week while running around in the yard, Ilu, a 4 year old Canadian Inuit Dog, went down to the ground screaming. This happened so suddenly and within an hour after feeding that we thought instantly of stomach bloat and rushed him to the vet without any further thought. After further investigation, it was discovered that it wasn't a bloat, thank goodness, but a lower back sprain, of all things. He must have twisted his back while running on the ice.

After several days on anti-inflammatory medications and narcotics for the pain, he is almost back to normal but not quite as bouncy. One more week of rest should be enough then he can get back in harness. You can only imagine the protesting at hook up time when he is the only dog left in the kennel! Poor Ilu.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pull Training Dates Announced!

Yes! That IS a Standard Poodle behind two German Shepherds!

After several inquires about our spring Pull Training Classes, we are happy to report that the dates have been posted! Please visit the Points Unknown website for details.

You don't have to have a northern breed dog to attend! Any dog over 6 months old with an adult weight of over 30lbs that wants something fun to do will work just fine. We'll teach you what you need to know to train them to pull so that you can apply it to sledding, carting, skijoring or canicross hiking!

PUWAWA 2010 Part VIII; Good Byes

Cheryl says her good byes to White Feather and Topa

The Points Unknown Women's Advanced Winter Adventure was great fun. Many new lessons were learned by all. The participants did an amazing job as did the dogs. Scott and Chris, our extremely appreciated staff for this trip, provided never ending assistance and support.

Our guests spoke of a continuation in training for next season, an added adventure. What will it be; Yurt to yurt by dog team, navigating through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with the dogs? We'll put our heads together and come up with an exciting new challenge.

After the solo runs, our adventures packed up their gear and said their good byes to the dogs. We then brought all gear out to the waiting vehicle by snomo as our guests snowshoed out, getting closer to civilization with every step. This is always the hard part for us; returning to civilization where the pace is so very different and unappealing but necessary at the moment. Some day, not soon enough, Points Unknown kennel and its mushers will be permanently located in the northwoods where the only traffic jam could be waiting for a moose to cross the trail and the only lights seen at night will be those naturally placed in the sky.

PUWAWA 2010 Part VII; Solo Runs

Jen begins hooking up her leaders.

The dogs waited so patiently.

Jen returns from her run. Smiles all around!

Lilly and Zala

Sandy hooks Zodiak up to the tug line.

Sandy carefully wraps the quick release around the handle bars while still standing on the snow hook.

Off they go!

Cheryl finishes hooking up her dogs to the sled

At Points Unknown, we structure our programs in steps with each step designed to provide the necessary information to achieve a successful end result. Our participants began last season when they attended a step by step "beginner" dog mushing adventure with us. This year's adventure was to be a continuation of their training with each new step designed to challenge them. Since each person is different, each challenge is different to some extent. Our final "destination" for the weekend were the solo runs. Each women would be teamed up with the appropriate dogs and would use their newly gained knowledge in a 6 mile dog sled run in the wilderness alone.

The dogs know this trail. The participants now know this trail after using it for the past two adventures. They know how to safely run a dog sled and what to do in the event of a dog tangle or other altercation. Because our dogs are so dear to us and because we want our participants to succeed, we will not put a guest musher in a position we don't feel they are ready to tackle. These women were ready. We know exactly how long it takes to make this journey on dog sled and would be ready and waiting with the snowmobile should that time lapse without the appearance of a musher and team.

They needed to be totally self sufficient from beginning to end. Up until this time, they had worked in teams. We would only assist them by standing on the snow hook as they hooked up their team. This assistance would not have been "allowed", however the day previous, we had a quick release fail and thankfully the musher was standing on the hook at the time. We didn't want to risk another quick release failure and have the team lost right out of the chute.

Our mushers were greeted with a bit of new fallen snow so the trail would be fresh for the first musher out. Jen went first and methodically harnessed her dogs and began to set up the sled. Zala and Lilly were her leaders. Both have come a long way with their leading abilities this season and seemed to work very well together. Zala has gotten over many of the training issues we had during our fall training and now keeps the line tight at hook up and avoids dashing off the trail after critters. After Klaus' trail incident in a previous post, I hesitate to say "never". Sweet Pea and Frankie were her wheel dogs. We watched as Jen carefully pulled her quick release and removed the snow hook from the packed snow. Off they went!

Just like clockwork, they returned having had no incidents to speak of while out on the trail. Sandy was up next. Tuloon and Phoenix would be her leaders with Zodiak in wheel alone. This group would provide enough power for her solo adventure. The dogs were very well behaved for their guest mushers. Zodiak, who becomes very impatient at hook up and sometimes tries to bite the line, was a complete gentleman with Sandy. She carefully hooked up the dogs after having harnessed them and secured the sled. Step by step, she released the sled from its security; pull quick release and wrap around handle bars then pull hook. They're off!

Sandy, too, returned without a report of an issue. Her goal for the weekend was to not lose the team. Mission accomplished!

Cheryl was last up. Klaus, Oken and Journey would lead her on her solo trek into the wilderness. Her hook up was text book. Great job! The majority of things that can go wrong are at hook up when the dogs are so excited and the adrenaline is pumping. Everyone remained calm and collected which also transfers to the dogs. Down the trail they headed!

I kept a close eye on the clock. Hmmm. Cheryl's team seemed to be past due by about 10 minutes. I would give them a few more minutes before heading out on the snowmobile. I headed into the cabin to quickly change into some warmer clothes and then as I started the machine, Cheryl and team came down the trail towards the cabin. Cheryl was missing her hat and was a bit snowy but seemed fine as did all of the dogs. I was anxious to hear the story behind it.

Do you recall the mention of that challenging ninety degree turn on trail mentioned in a previous post? This would be the point on the return trip that Cheryl had a bit more challenge added to her solo adventure. The tree at the corner appeared to have knocked her off the runners and she lost the team! But only momentarily were they detached as she ran after them shouting "Whoa!" and they did! Good dogs! The hat flew off her head when she landed softly into the snow bank. This added adventure created more challenges for her and the team but they worked their way through it and it ended on a very good note. This is just considered to be one of those things that can happen when dog mushing. How you handle it is where the success lies. All in all, Cheryl had a very successful run.

I'm sure each participant learned quite a lot about themselves while out on the trail alone with the dogs or in their reflections after the trip. This is what it's all about.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

PUWAWA 2010 Part VI; Lunch on the Trail

Temporary picket line.

Frankie, Tuloon and Phoenix

Lunch on the trail

Fryin' up the cornbread

Relaxing run back

Concentrating Musher

Lunch on the trail with the dogs teams was on the schedule for our guests' third day of adventure. Due to the ice and wind storm earlier in the season, our trail system was not as long as we had hoped so everyone got some free time in the morning prior to preparations for our dog sled run.

We helped load the snowmobile tow-behind with all necessary items for Scott's surprise meal on the trail. (Or so we thought) He would travel on ahead of us, set up and be waiting with a warm and wonderful meal upon our arrival.

There was something brewing in the dog yard on the Inuit Dog side of the picket line. Icoa and Ilu, mother and son, had been doing more bickering than usual. Someone was in a bad mood. I was to run the lead team as one of our advanced mushers wanted to take some photos. Due to the looming Inuit Dog issue, this was a good plan. At hook up, those two did their usual bickering - "get on your side", "stay off my side", "I'm tired of your attitude", etc. But this time it went a little further and they broke into a fight. The best thing to do in this situation, unless someone seems to be injured, is to just get the team moving. The momentum will force them on their own sides of the line and redirect their attention to something more constructive. These two never have serious fights where wounds are created. They just put on a good show. And they continued their "show" for almost the entire first half of the run.

This type of mood affects the musher and the other dogs. And this could be why, completely out of the blue, Klaus, my never wavering, arrow straight leader, did something he has never done. (Never say never.) Without hesitation, both Klaus and Oken prick their ears up, look to the left and head directly into the woods. They were on edge and heard something and began to take us in to see what it was. They received an instantaneous verbal correction and it then dawned on them that they were in pretty big trouble. Oken, never wanting to be accused of doing something wrong was horrified by my reaction to his decision to take us into the woods and quickly sprung back in place. Klaus, we'll never know why, began to come back to me through the woods and met with our poorly behaved Inuit Dog pair who then attempted to show him why he had just made such a poor decision. We had a total mess. This is all part of the adventure folks! When working with dogs, just about anything can happen, even with those dogs that are well trained and generally predictable.

After asking my passenger to come back and stand on my snow hook (when the snow hook is sunk and someone stands in front of the prongs sunk into the snow, it is virtually impossible, if conditions are favorable, for the team to move ahead), with Chris' help, from two sleds back, I was able to wade through the mess and untangle all of the dogs. Thankfully, even though it looked as though Klaus may have gotten himself into a terrible mess with the Inuit Dogs, their appeared to be no injuries. I discussed with every offender why their choices were not acceptable. As I waited for the dogs to be quiet and still so we could continue on the trek to our beautiful lunch spot in the woods, I took a deep breathe.

We arrived at our destination and it was breathtakingly beautiful! We could see the cook stoves that had been set up off the trail and wondered what was in store for us. But first, we had to secure our teams and make sure the dogs had their snack before we could go any further. We tied our teams down using quick releases attached to trees. Our teams were then secure enough to leave them and set up our temporary picket lines. The snowshoes we brought along made this job much easier. With harnesses left on, each dog was placed on the picket line and when we ran out of room, those remaining dogs got a tree tie out of their very own. We then began unwrapping and chopping the frozen "dog meat"; 1/3 beef heart, 1/3 beef liver, 1/3 pork trimmings. Each dog got a half a pound, give or take and then nestled down for a nap while we began nosing around the cook stoves. Scott would return shortly, something about no eating utensils and cups? No problem, we had an interesting journey as well and could wait a little longer to eat our lunch.

Bison and White Bean Ragu and cornbread were on the menu and hot chocolate, limeade and water. Of course no trail lunch could be complete without dessert. Left over pound cake fried in butter fit the bill.

With warm food in our stomachs we slowly prepared the sleds for the journey back to the cabin. The dogs seemed to enjoy the layover and were ready to head back on the trail, as well. The return trip was uneventful and we just enjoyed the quiet beauty of the woods and the pale blue sky. The swishing sound of the sled runners was accompanied by the dogs' footsteps in a perfect relaxing rhythm. How nice.

PUWAWA 2010 Part V; Cozy Cabin, Good Food, Good Company

French toast with local and freshly frozen strawberries, Pastureland butter and Wild Country Maple Syrup.

Our evening meal time.

Phoenix cuddles up with Jen.

Scott with the chocolate bottomed cheese cake.

It's Topa and White Feather's turn.

Our evenings were spent discussing the day's events and making plans for the following day during an exceptional meal prepared by our northwoods chef. Scott has a strong value for natural local and seasonal foods. This weekend's adventure would provide but a preview of Scott Pampuch's thoughtfully prepared cuisine.

A few of the sled dogs were invited in to join us. Oh, how the others howled in disapproval! They'll get their turn.

Most nights, exhaustion set in almost before dessert but, of course, our sweet tooth won the battle and the sugar allowed us to keep our energy up for one last conversation.

Because this is a women's event and because we've heard that they snore rather loudly, the "boys" slept outside in their own private accommodations in the woods; two four season tents. With the proper gear, winter camping can be very comfortable. Our 4 inch thick foam sled pads make for a nice bed and provide more than enough insulation to keep a person with a good winter sleeping bag warm throughout the night. It helps to heat water and fill Nalgene bottles and place them in the sleeping bag about an hour before bedtime. Many mornings, I've had water still warm enough to have hot chocolate or tea.

Hearty breakfasts were made each morning to give us all enough energy to start our day, working hard with the sled dogs in the cold outdoors.

PUWAWA 2010 Part IV; Afternoon Run

Phoenix frantically digs an upside down hole as he tries to contain his excitement.

From left, Topa, Oken, White Feather and Phoenix.

Tuloon and Phoenix lead Sandy's team as they make their way through the thick pine forest.

Jen stops to rest her team lead by Oken and Klaus

Ilu and Icoa look back to encouragement as we travel through a hardwood forest.

We were greeted by a beautiful day and snow covered trees.

The first big run of the weekend! The dogs waited in anticipation as our advanced mushers prepared the sleds and then began harnessing the dogs for our afternoon run. I would go out in the lead sled as a passenger. One of our guests would be the musher on the lead team while our other two guests would take turns running the second team. Chris would follow behind to help with any potential issues, with a smaller team.

Everyone did such a wonderful job. You would not have known that they hadn't been mushing since their visit with us last winter. The gang lines were kept tight on the downhills, our mushers were observant of issues with dogs and the infamous ninety degree angle turn was executed successfully by all.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

PUWAWA 2010 Part III; Trail Clearing Experience

Narrow bush trails

Scott is not only talented in the kitchen, he also runs a mean chainsaw.

Since trail clearing can be a big part of dog mushing, it was decided that this type of experience would become part of our adventure for the morning. We arose to bright blue, sunny skies. The dogs were fed their soaked mixture of a 32/20 Power Edge Redpaw Kibble, Annamaet's Impact powder, which is a 43% protein powder and Redpaw's Balanced Formula fat. Hmmm Hmmm good! A heavily baited water is also offered after the dogs receive their food, whether they decide to drink it or not. Interestingly enough, many pass on this delicious soup and manage to stay hydrated by dipping snow along the trail.

The goal was to open up an existing connection to one of our main dog sledding routes. This would give our mushers a new experience on an even narrower bush trail with their dog teams. The parade began with the snowmobile towing a sled filled with gear followed by five people on snowshoes. This trail would be well packed!

We made our way down the obvious and open route until we hit a dead end and could no longer find the trail. It seemed to have just vanished. It made sense to then head out to make our connection from the other end. After many sweepers were lopped and a large downed pine tree was cut up and removed from the trail, we found ourselves yet again, at another dead end. This made no sense but since we were on a schedule, needing to get out on the trail with the dogs after lunch, we abandoned our trail connection and began the trek back to the cabin. First, we wanted to see if the dogs were on their toes back at the cabin and began to howl. No response. Either everyone was sleeping or we were in a valley and our howls could not be heard. Chris and I returned on the snowmobile with all of the gear as Jen, Cheryl, Sandy and Scott made their way back on snowshoes in a direction that should have been a shortcut through the woods.

Chris was dropped off with his snowshoes at our original dead end to see if he could snowshoe the connection while we waited for everyone else to make their way back. Chris returned shortly with news that it took only a ten minute snowshoe hike to make the connection! He also indicated that there was a fresh snowshoe trail heading parallel to the main trail which would not bring our adventurers directly back to the cabin but on a much longer journey where they would find themselves on the Arrowhead trail, some two miles out of the way, or if they traveled in a wide circle, as often happens when lost in the woods, they could end up on Highway 61 along Lake Superior which was about seven miles south! We had lots of daylight left and knew we would have no trouble finding them since they left such an obvious trail in the snow. We began to load up the snowmobile tow-behind with additional gear, adding a back pack to carry items in once the snowmobile could go no further and just as we were about to leave the dog yard, we heard howls coming from up the trail. It was our snowshoers and they had found the way back!

We had told everyone that if they wandered out on the trails around the cabin they could always howl to try and get a response from the dogs to help direct them back. Apparently, however, the portion of the trail traveled was in a valley and the howls could not be heard just as our howls to the dogs could not be heard at the point of beginning for our snowshoers. Ultimately, a compass and map would have been the way to solve this problem. Thankfully, the group decided to backtrack after the trek became longer than expected. It was at this point that they ran into Chris' snowshoe track that was just made while connecting the trail and they followed it back to the main trail. And thankfully, it was also winter where tracking lost adventurers is much easier. Had there not been snow on the ground, our guests would have been encouraged to follow the main trail rather than cut through the woods without a compass and map, not to mention the knowledge of how to use both!

Scott served a hearty lunch and everyone rested as mental preparations were made for our afternoon dog sled run.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

PUWAWA 2010 Part II; Guest Arrival and Refresher

Everyone familiarizes themselves with the sled. The stomping in of the snowhook is practiced.

Each person spent time visiting with the dogs, making new friends and rekindling old friendships. Cheryl is reminded that Ilu is a handful!

Each dog gets a chance to lead their two dog team and musher around a small loop so that everyone can get their sled legs back from last season's adventure.

White Feather waits her turn.

Our guests arrived at 2PM on the dot. When we saw them coming around the corner we wondered if they had left the bulk of their gear back at their vehicles and were delighted to hear that they had learned something from last year. The knowledge gained was that they needed only less than half of what they brought, so packed accordingly!

Their first refresher was at the truck where we hooked the team up and went over components of the sled. Once the gear was loaded we began our run into the cabin with our guests following on snowshoes.

Scott had prepared some wonderful snacks for our hungry snowshoers that included bison sausage from a Minnesota Bison farm as well as some local cheeses. After a brief orientation, out into the dog yard we went. Harnessing the dogs was on the agenda and another refresher on the components of the sled so that we could then get each new musher out on a small team to regain their sled legs. It was nice to see the confidence come back as each person navigated through the steps for safely running a small team of sled dogs.

Darkness soon came and we went inside to enjoy the wonderful cooking creations Scott had prepared. The air was crisp and the sky was clear and bright with stars as we all rested comfortably in our cozy and rustic abode soothed by the heat from the woodstove and the low hum of the propane lights. Outside the dogs howled a joyous chorus, welcoming old friends and in anticipation of the adventures to come.