February 05, 2013
The dogs are all snugly back in their houses after another successful foray into the heart of Denali's wilderness. Twenty-five dogs and four of their human companions just completed a nine day patrol connecting the north boundary of the wilderness to the trail along the park road via the Toklat River. We stayed in historic cabins the entire trip, with project work along the way. We hauled a Knaack box and fuel locker from the Sushana cabin (they'd been dropped there in by a fall patrol using a utility terrain vehicle) to the Lower Toklat cabin, 20 miles away. The Knaack box will be used as rodent and bear proof storage for dog food and other provisions. The fuel locker will provide outside storage for all flammable items, further protecting our historic cabins from accidental destruction by fire.
Photo: The Knaack box en route to its new home
Photo: The Knaack box and fuel locker successfully delivered to the Lower Toklat cabin
We were also bringing odds and ends to various other cabins and establishing the trail for visitors. The dogs did a fantastic job breaking trail almost the whole way - we had a trail until a little past the Sushana cabin, then it was nothing but open, wind-swept tundra from there.
The dogs all worked hard, but I would like to highlight our girl Tephra. Among her three brothers Tuya, Pyro, and Lava, she is the smallest in size but certainly not lacking in spunk. At four years old, her brothers have proven to be good leaders especially breaking trail and being in single lead. While Teph has pulled her share in lead, up to this point she has had her sights set more on playing with the dog next to her than the trail ahead. On our day breaking trail from the Lower East Fork cabin to the Lower Toklat cabin, she proved that she too could rise to the occasion in times of need. She started in lead with Spur, her six year old uncle and an experienced trail breaking leader in his own right. However, it is hard for two dogs to share one snowshoe trail. After seeing them pushing each other around, fighting to be in the middle of the tracks, I decided to let Tephra try her nose at leading. She did great. The conditions were rough - warm weather has created a breakable crust that gave way to deep unconsolidated snow. But "Tough Stuff" powered through it all, with hardly a glance back, and an incredible willingness to leap up with a taught tug line after every break. She certainly got the gold star for the day.
Photo: Tephra in single lead following a snowshoer (at the front of the team, in the right side of the photo)
After delivering the Knaack box and fuel locker to Lower Toklat, we proceeded up to the Toklat River 23 miles to the Upper Toklat cabin. It was a new trail for all human members of the team, so it was exciting to see the beautiful terrain and be able to explore a little with our canine companions.
Photo: Mushing south along the Toklat River
We drove through the ghost town of the Toklat road camp and reveled in the small bit of sunshine we found. Even though the previous patrol had put trail in from headquarters to the Plains of Murie, our trip out along the park road still involved a lot of trailbreaking due to the constantly changing conditions we face. That being said, we were able to follow our tracks pretty closely. 124 sled, ski, and snowshoe miles later, the humans are glad to be snugly back in their beds too.
Photo: Skijouring and avoiding overflow on the Teklanika River