November 20, 2015
When I was informed that we would be running the dogs in front of carts an impending sense of doom swept over me. Carts? With wheels? Do the brakes work? Won’t they tip over? Any combination of wheels and sled dogs sounded terrifying and I couldn’t help but picture myself crammed between a tree and metal after a disastrous turn with the dog team trying to charge forward. But carts it was. A new addition to the Denali Kennels this fall.
Pyro and Annie lead the cart team up the park road (NPS Photo/ Kristin Gates)
Fall training is an important part of dog mushing. Not only is it a time to get the dogs back into the swing of running after summer vacation, but also a key opportunity to work on and reinforce commands. During fall training a musher’s mode of travel usually allows for more control than you typically have with sleds. On an ATV, for example, when you say “whoa,” you can make sure the dogs stop. You also have enough control to practice more complex commands with the dogs like “gee over” or “haw over” which we use to get the team to run a little further to the right or left.
Cache and Fin in wheel by Riley Creek (NPS Photo/ Jen Raffaeli)
Since we never know exactly when the snow is going to come, it is great to be able to begin training earlier in the fall, independent of the weather. ATVs have been a good answer to the impatient wait for snow, but they are loud and often reluctant to start in the cold. Brakes can fail, parts can freeze, and the finicky machines have given all kennels’ staff a good lesson in basic mechanics. Carts are different. Carts are quiet and like sleds, you don’t have to worry about your cart not starting up. Carts also allow us to travel more places while upholding the wilderness qualities that the kennels seeks to protect.
A close up view of the carts (NPS Photo/ Kristin Gates)
On our first trip with the carts this season, I was relieved to see how solid they are. The carts we use have four wheels, hydraulic brakes, and a ground brake called a “digger.” Their center of gravity is low enough so that you don’t have to worry about tipping on tight turns. You can easily keep even a large team at a stop on firm dirt with the digger. We did have a few white knuckled whirls around icy corners right out of our starting chute, but the ice was more to blame than the carts.
Mixed conditions on the park road in the fall (NPS photo/ Kristin Gates)
The carts allowed for more versatile training. On the ATVs we would work on speed training and building the dogs' fast twitch muscles and with the carts we focused on hard, slow pulling to build up the dogs' slow twitch muscles. Hopefully, we didn’t surprise too many campers as we came silently around corners with our carts at the Riley Creek Campground!
Excited to be on sleds for the first time this season (NPS Photo/ Kristin Gates)
Thanks to our fall season variety of cart and ATV training, the dogs were ready and eager to hit the trails on sleds once the snow finally did come! We can’t wait for the adventures the rest of winter holds in store.
Last updated: November 20, 2015