Backpacking Trip Report: Spring Break In the Gila

Area: Gila Wilderness

State: New Mexico

Mileage: 35

Days: 3

Type: Loop

For spring break I decided to avoid the typical college student destinations and instead go backpacking. My roomate decided he also wanted to do something and would be trying backpacking for the first time.Our route was basically to head up the west fork of the Gila river and eventually come back down the middle fork. We did not set a specific point for crossing over between the canyons.

The first thing we noticed about this trip was the amount of river crossings. It seemed as though I crossed the river every 200 yards. Definately not a trip for those who like to keep their feet dry. Luckily, the water was never much higher than our knees.

The first day we went something like 10-12 miles, but I think our average speed was about 1.5 miles an hour due to the river crossings. We were exhausted after the the first day, our own fault for driving the last 24 hours straight.

Late that night it started snowing and when we finally awoke, there was approximately five inches of snow on the ground. We were not really expecting this much snow for the trip based upon the dry winter and being from Wisconsin, it wasn’t too much to handle; although we did decide to take our shortest route option.

The second day was characterized by blowing snow and a climb out of the west fork valley at Hell’s hole. Temperatures were in the mid 20’s F and wind gusts were probably in the 20-30 mph range. Eventually we made it to some more sheltered areas and found a great spot to rest near Prior Cabin. We continued another 2 miles before finding a decent spot to camp at.

The second night was by far the coldest night I have ever camped in. The temperature dropped down to -2F and I was literally frozen. I ended up starting a fire in the middle of the night and dragging my bag out next to it. Miraculously I kept ash from burning holes in it. We ended up cooking breakfast at 4:30 and started hiking at about 6. The first few miles were painful as my boots were frozen stiff even after sitting by the fire for a few hours.

The third day was definately the highlight of the trip as we made our way to the Meadows on the middle fork of the Gila River. We had an amazing view from above and quickly forgot about the temperature.(It was still in the single digits).

Anyhow, we proceeded down the canyon side and into the river valley on our hike out. It was clear blue skies and the sun was beginning to warm things up. At about 2 in the afternoon, the temperature was 70F and were both in shorts. At this point, we wished we would have taken one of the longer route options, but I guess thats how things go.

Eventually we made it near Jordan Hot Springs, but I wasn’t impressed and somewhat disgusted with the impact on the canyon there. It looked like a park… So we kept on hiking until Little Bear Canyon and began a little climb back to our car at West Fork Trailhead.

Overall, I definately enjoyed this trip. I really wish the temperatures would have been a little nicer throughout, but that’s how March is.

Trip Report: Appalachian Trail Across NJ

Location: New Jersey

State: New Jersey

Miles: 72

Days: 5

Type: Shuttle

Pre-Trip Bar Night

I busted out of work like a bird from cage at 4:12 pm—a whole 18 minutes early. The week had been an agonized dripping of seconds, all 432000 of them. Finally freed, I hopped on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (that I-76 for those of you who aren’t from these parts) and drove like a solitary snail in a herd of snails until I got to Bethlehem, PA.

Arriving early, I decided to drive around town and check it out. Bad move. I got lost pretty quickly and ended up driving aimlessly around town. It’s a burnt out steel town and I was reminded very much of Lackawanna, NY, where Bethlehem Steel pulled out 30-40 years ago and left the hulking shells of useless buildings, the blackened-rust coke ovens and thousands of unemployed families, lots of run down houses and a whole bunch of bars, the last item a stark reminder of why I was there in the first place!

So I finally got unlost and made my way to the Bethlehem Brew Works. The lovely spindle was sitting at the restaurant’s waiting station with one of those flashy-buzzy thingies, all dressed up and ready to hit the trail. She’s confused, that one. Last time I saw her she was wearing a short kilt, leather jacket and little black boots at the campground. . . So I sat down and we chatted for a few minutes and CrazyPace showed up with Mrs. CrazyPace. We were promptly seated and just after our drinks were delivered Pennsy came in followed shortly by ENS.

We parked a bunch of pub grub and couple of beers, compliments of CrazyPace and the magic gift certificate, and then me and spindle hit the road. We drove about an hour to Delaware Water Gap, dropped my car and then headed up to Waywayanda Sate Park, loaded up our gear and hiked about a half mile in to the Wayawayanda Shelter: arriving at home for the night shortly after midnight. We quickly set up the tent and discovered that the bear box was broken, so we hung a bag and called it a night.

Day 1

We were up early, but it was cold as hell so we hunkered down in our sleeping bag for a while. There was no hurry since ENS and Cap’nBobo were supposed to meet us at the shelter around 9:00 so breakfast and coffee was a pretty lazy affair. After everything was packed and ready I ran back to the car to refill my water and swap out a few gear items while spindle lazed about and read the trail journal at the shelter. I came back and we hung out a bit. ENS and Bobo were running late, but they finally showed up at 9:45, just as we were getting ready to start without them. Introductions were made as neither Michele nor I had hiked with Cap’nBobo. In fact the only thing I really knew about Bobo was this little tidbit of hiker hearsay wisdom: Cap’nBobo packs in the fun! And judging by the size of his pack I was not inclined to count myself amongst the disbelievers.

So we hiked. I was more than a little surprised at the beauty of the landscape and the feeling of remoteness. We were in New Jersey after all, the Armpit of America; yet, the air was serene and pure. It was a perfect day: sunny and cool with very little wind, and even with the late start I was confident that we would make our target before dusk since it was the second shortest day of the trip, coming in at right around 13 miles, and the elevation profile was fairly level, with one big drop followed by gradual climbing for a few miles on the other side of the valley and another descent to the shelter at the end of the day.

The miles passed easily under my feet and before I knew it noon was upon us. We had covered a little over four miles and stopped to lunch in the sun on a rock with a view. The break was short, but fuel is always good, and we started out again, only to find a side trail to a Vista about ten minutes away. When we got to the vista there were some day hikers there, one guy had two toddlers with him. One of the kids was in awe of us as his father explained that we were backpackers and spindle was tickled pink when the lad said, “You mean they sleep outside? Where are their sleeping bags?”

The rest of the day was spent crossing over farms and swamps. I picked a good time of year to do this stretch of trail since I imagine that hikers coming in at the height of thru traffic—late June to early August—must suffer greatly from a constant aerial assault by midges and mosquitoes. On the other hand, we did see two pairs of hunters. I believe it was junior day since they both pairings appeared to be father and son and only the youngsters were armed. Fortunately we had plenty of blaze orange going on, and so we were able to avoid being mistaken for deer . . .

Moving toward evening we topped the last hill and were rewarded with an amazing view as the horizon began to slowly swallow the sun like a snake working on the hindquarters of a frog. (Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite so violent but it was certainly just as natural.) A quick break allowed us to take in the view and snap a few pictures, but with the sun going down and more than a mile to go it wasn’t very long before we were on our way again.

We moved pretty quickly after that and got into the Pochuck shelter just before the last light of day dropped faded into darkness. Camp was set up quickly and dinner was just starting when a headlamp came bouncing toward us from the trail and in no time at all CrazyPace appeared. He had hiked in about four miles from a road crossing since he’d had other obligations during the day. After CP arrived and everyone had eaten, spindle busted out the Trailgaritas and Cap’nBobo treated us to a potable delight known as TurkeyTea™®: 12 parts wild turkey, 1 part tea and a sprinkle of sugar. Nice! The rest of the evening passed inside the shelter, with some entertaining conversation, including harassment phone calls to Pennsy (who couldn’t make it because of homeowner issues) and PhantomSoul (who couldn’t make it because of hang over issues), as well as the industrious log sawing of ENS who dosed a bit in between servings of TurkeyTea™® . . .

Day 2

I woke up with the first light. There’s something special about watching the light slide over the world with slow increase, and I probably would have gotten up to watch the sunrise had we not been half way down the Western slope of Pochuck Mountain. As it was, I spent a good hour snuggled up in my sleeping bag (is there a common theme developing here?) and listened to the wind and the scuffling as the rest of the crew gradually came alive. I finally got up and CrazyPace was on the move. He had retrieved the food bags from the bear box and I quickly set about making oatmeal, hot cocoa and coffee. ENS was up too, and he was hell-bent on providing some entertainment as he fired up his new white gas stove. The ensuing fireball treated us to a magically dazzling display of light and heat disbursement, and offered a good lesson in priming techniques.

We finally got under way around 9:00: not as early as I had hoped. CrazyPace was only heading back out to the road. ENS and Bobo were staying with us for about 13 miles, but spindle and I were looking to haul our carcasses nearly 17 miles to the Rutherford Shelter. I’m not saying that 17 miles is a monstrous hike, but we were hoping to get in while the lights were still on and avoid hiking in the dark . . .

Anyhow, we hoofed it down the hill and followed the trail into a wildlife refuge area, skirting the edge of a small marsh until we turned onto a brief road walk. The sun was up and the day was warming and we made pretty good time since the trail covered mostly the same rolling farmland/swamp terrain that we had seen the previous day. We were back to CrazyPace’s car in a little bit under two hours. We waited around for a few minutes and PhantomSoul showed up. He had arranged to meet us so that he could pick up some tires that CrazyPace was holding for him, and he brought us a dozen doughnuts and a box of coffee. Second breakfast!! For his efforts, I have dubbed him PhantomSoul, minor god of Food Delivery. (Thanks George, I owe you one.)

Second breakfast complete, CP and PS parted and the four remaining hikers were back at it: more hills and a farms and swamps. At a road crossing we met a couple of dayhikers, one of whom was wearing a suit and tie. He told how he likes to dress up for hikes and has worn Star Wars costumes and such. “Strange guy, I thought. But then again I once hiked in a grass skirt and coconut bra so I guess I’m not one to talk . . .

All day long we had been catching glimpses of the High Point Monument on the ridge in the distance, and now I tried to pick up my pace to match ENS as the looming phallus grew ever nearer, but that boy can really move and there was no way my stumpy little legs could keep up with his long stride. spindle was keeping pretty close behind me, but Cap’nBobo had started to fall back. He’d been out of action for a while, and the big mileage combined with the pack-O-fun was starting to get the best of him.

Stopping at Gemmer Road we waited for him to catch up. We rested up for about twenty minutes and as we started out again, Bobo gave ENS his car keys and told us not to wait anymore because he didn’t want to hold up our progress. I said farewell, since I wouldn’t be seeing him again on this trip, and started the long slow ascent up Kittatiny Mountain.

The terrain began a significant shift at this point, the rolling hills and soft trail turned rocky and hard. The mean-spirited, ankle-biting rocks of Northern Pennsylvania have quite a reputation in AT Lore, but we quickly discovered that the foot-grinding madness begins in New Jersey. The next 56 miles of trail were prepared to bear witness to this simple fact, and neither spindle nor I will contest it.

We climbed on, reaching the confluence with the side trail to the High Point Shelter around 3:30. About a half mile further on there was an intersecting trail that led up to the High Point Monument. A brief discussion over whether or not to take the side trip ensued, and ENS decided that he would run up the hill for a look, while me and spindle planned to skip it in the interest of covering some miles while the light was still good so we said good-bye to ENS . . . and then there were two . . .

Reaching the top of the hill we found a flat clearing and both of us called home to check in. Shortly after that we came to a raised wooden platform so we went up for a view, which we shared with a couple of tourons, just a quick stop to look around and then back under way. About a half-an-hour later we reached NJ Rt 23, which was where Cap’nBobo had parked his truck. We stopped to look around, wondering which truck was his and considering breaking into it since we knew that Bobo had a case of beer inside. We decided against the break-in plan and took a moment to look at the map instead. Three-and-a-half miles to go and the sun already threatening to set, we started out again. But just as we were about to head back into the woods we heard ENS calling us as he came running down the hill . . . WITH THE KEYS!!

Ah, sweetness! ENS opened the truck and as the three of us stood around drinking beer, a little old couple pulled into the parking lot and drove right up to us. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Backseat Bobo!! Everyone’s favorite clown came bounding out of the car and we were all reunited long enough to say cheers, take a couple of celebratory photos and part at the trailhead as originally intended.

Then I grabbed a couple of beers for the road as spindle and I turned tail and headed for the hills. The daylight died quickly and we were soon hiking in the dark. I haven’t done any night-hiking previously, but be could see Lake Rutherford down the hill to our left, sleeping peacefully, and the AT was pretty easy to follow; albeit, the going was slow. But when we got to the side trail leading to the shelter it was an entirely different story. The blue blazes were nearly impossible to see. We threaded our way down the hill slowly, navigating by instinct, a cut log here or there indicating that we were still on course. And after what seemed like an eternity we emerged into a clearing with a picknick table, a bear box and a shelter: 17 more miles down, dinner and goodnight.

Day 3

A thru-hiker had come in during the wee hours. He slogged into the shelter for a nap. He was up before dawn and I chatted with him for a few moments before he was off again. Spindle rolled out of bed and we watched the sun rise over lake Rutherford as we prepared breakfast. We got started pretty early for a change, and that was a good thing since I had planned another big mileage day at about 15 and –a-half.

We took the first four miles rather quickly and stopped at the next Shelter for a mid-morning snack. Ever-curious, spindle went poking around in the bear box and voila! BIG SCORE!! Someone had left a container of lemonade mix behind. We dumped some sugary sweetness into our water bottles and enjoyed cold lemonade for the next few hours.

By now I’d gotten my trail legs on. I had developed a nasty blister and my feet were killing me, but my legs had forgotten their soreness early in the day and I was making pretty good time. spindle was going a bit slower, trying to take it easy on her foot, having just gotten out of her cast the week before, so I broke out my MP3 player and let the Beastie Boys carry me up hill.

The rocky terrain continued as we made our way along the roller coaster ridgeline. We passed a solo hiker going the other way and continued on, the stunted rhythm of occasional gun blasts in the distance reminding us that it was the opening day of black bear season in NJ.

Around mid-day we climbed up the top of Sunrise Mountain and stopped for lunch at the rest area there. While we were there I learned a valuable lesson: do not pack in little plastic jelly tubs stolen from diners. The two that I had left had exploded in my food bag, making a sticky mess of the items that shared zip-lock space with them. L While we were finishing up our lunch another hiker came by, she was playing pass the keys with the hiker we had passed earlier and apparently heading for the road-crossing at Rt 206. She babbled crazily for a bit but eventually she got far enough ahead of us that we didn’t have to deal with her any more.

More hiking and distant gunshot ensued until around 4:00. I stepped out onto Rt 206 and stopped dead in my tracks, struck dumb with awe and wonderment. A single beam of light shot down from the heavens, spotlighting a small, plain-looking building. I heard the chorus of angels singing Hosannas as I read the sign:
coffee, breakfast sandwiches and hot subs

spindle came walking up behind me a few minutes later and stood there as well. After a moment she asked, “Do you want to stop or do you want to keep going?” Hell yeah I wanted to stop. There was no way I was going to pass up a hot sub and a bottle of Gatorade at this juncture. Daylight be damned! Our hot ham subs were amazing, Gatorade is always good and we picked up a couple of bagels for breakfast. Fed and refreshed we started up the steepest climb of the day with the sun going down and four miles to go before we hit the Brink Road Shelter.

It got dark quickly and this was our longest stint of night hiking, probably about three miles in total darkness. The trail was also infrequently blazed in this area, so we were flying on instinct again, looking for sawed off blow downs and open lanes. Our progress was slow but we stayed on the trail and eventually strolled into the shelter just before the rain began to fall. Perfect timing! We snacked and drank trailgaritas and I drank a beer that I had left over from the previous day and fell asleep listening to the rain on the roof of the shelter.

Day 4

We breakfasted on the previous night’s intended dinner and bagels since Jo-To-Go had precluded the need to cook the night before. The rain had all but stopped by morning; although, the wind was strong and there was some occasional drizzle. We packed up and broke out the rain gear just be on the safe side, heading up the mountain with our earliest start yet. We hit the top of the ridge quickly and the wind came at us like the wind. The exposed rock face left us completely unprotected and at times the gusts knocked us off balance as the water continued to blow around, but we could see the lightening edge of the storm to the West and the strong winds promised to carry off the threat of rain if nothing else.

Overall the day was uneventful: a good piece of fire road walking with the big wind keeping us company. The original plan had been to hike nearly 19 miles on Day 4, stopping at a backpacker campsite in Worthington State Forest, but some last minute research before the trip revealed a hostel at Camp Mohican. There were some nice overlooks on this section, and at one point some a hint of snow filtered around us as we crossed a very narrow shelf.

All in all we made excellent time, arriving at Camp Mohican around 3:00. We went to check in and there was a big vat of vegetarian chili on, so we sat down to a second lunch, complete with sodas. Then we trucked up to the hostel building where we took hot showers and laughed at the ‘lightweight’ gear ads in an old copy of Backpacker Magazine from April of 1980. They were also making a big stink about those newfangled internal frame packs. The article brought a smile to my face a few minutes later as I was rummaging through my (virtually frameless) Granite Gear Vapor Trail. After that we ordered a monstrous Sicilian Pizza, drank Trailgaritas and discovered the miracle of the hot Nalgene massage. Now THAT was sweet!

Day 5

We were up early again and had reheated pizza for breakfast along with coffee and hot cocoa. This was the shortest day of the trip and we wanted to get out early in order to complete our shuttle and try to get home before the holiday rush hour traffic settled in. It was also by far the coldest day. As we turned off the road at the trail crossing there were icicles forming on some of the twigs that brushed against a small bridged stream.

The miles passed easily. My legs felt great and I ignored the sore soles of my feet. Once we hit the ridgeline we had fairly constant views of the Delaware River. At one point we climbed a small peak where a pair of photographers had their equipment set up. They were all bundled up in parkas and facemasks and big honkin’ gloves. We stopped long enough to take a couple of pictures and say hello but that was it. The wind was whipping through there like nobody’s business and it was cold as hell. I had no intention of standing around and catching hypothermia. Yet despite the chill it was an absolutely gorgeous day, and once we got out of the wind it wasn’t so bad.

So we hiked on down the other side of the hill to Sunfish Pond: a small glacial lake, picture perfect in every way, and a very popular destination in fair weather. On this occasion we had the whole lake to ourselves, and I stopped to take pictures as we scrambled amongst the rocks along the water’s edge.

Beyond the pond we stopped for an early lunch just past the backpacker campsite, which had been our previous day’s destination in the original trip plan, and then followed waterfall-laden Dunnfield Creek out the rest of the way until we hit I-80. As we crossed the Delaware on the I-80 bridge I found myself wishing we had taken a hint from General George Washington and found a canoe to ferry us across. This bridge walking business is for the birds.

That’s all folks!

What I learned:

Cap’nBobo packs in the fun!!
New Jersey isn’t so bad after all . . . if you can get past the F***ing jug-handles.
Little plastic jelly tubs explode under pack strap pressure.
My new hand spun wool hats kicks some major ass. (Thanks spindle)
It really is the little things that count, like a ham sub or doughnuts or a hot shower.
You’ll never get cold with 11 pounds of high quality goose down in an REI Quarterdome.
Night hiking sucks when you forget to change the batteries in your headlamp.
New Jersey has its fair share of rocks.
ENS is ALL leg.
All the AT shelters in NJ have bear boxes.
Cap’nBobo packs in the fun!!

Trip Report: Rattlesnake Lake

Location Econfina Section Florida Trail (Rattlesnake Lake Site)

State: Florida
Miles: 10
Days: 2
Type: In and Out

I just returned from an overnight backpacking trip to Rattlesnake Lake. This trip was an effort to reach other backpacking enthusiast in the area and get them together. I posted information about this trek and made some phone calls and ended up with three of us and K.C. along for the trip. The hiking was roughly five miles in and five miles out. The trip was a success.

I have scheduled another 18 mile trip for next weekend. At this point we have roughly six people tentatively signed up for the trek. This is a lot of fun and provides a venue for folks with similar interests and passions to get to know one another and gain experience. It also provides a venue for those with little to no experience to try out backpacking and to learn and gain experience by traveling with backpacking with some more experienced folks.

This past weekend’s trip did encompass some very cold temps. K.C. was not accustomed to the cold temps and I could feel him shivering in the tent next to me. I spent much of last night with my bag unzipped and my arm and a portion of my bag over K.C. I also took my fleece jacket and laid it across K.C. to give him as much warmth as possible. My bag is not very roomy and I spent a cold night myself with the bag unzipped trying to share warmth with my big ole shaggy red dog. My efforts seemed to help as he stopped shivering.

All in all the weekend was a great success. The two guys that accompanied me are both retired and seem to have both been seeking friends to backpack with. They both exchanged contact info and will probably be doing some extended hikes together as they are both retired and enjoy spending time on the trail.

The success and friendships garnered on this trip made it a rousing success for me. It is my goal to start a trekking/adventure club with open invitation trips of variable difficulties. I am hoping, and it looks like it is going to, that this thing will snowball with other members taking some intitiative to plan some trips too.

Hiking Gear


As any experienced hiker will tell you, before you go hiking it is imperative that you know your route and have hiking safety guidelines in mind and know what to do in case of an emergency. The proper maps and directional tools can help make sure that you don’t end up lost or in a dangerous situation. And just like you need the right hiking safety information, you also need the right hiking gear.

Having proper hiking gear, however, does not mean that you have to spend a lot of money on expensive equipment. While experienced, technical hikers may want to invest in more specialized equipment, casual hikers and people who are new to hiking can get away with much less equipment. In fact, for most hikers, good shoes and a good backpack are all you need to have a great hiking experience.

So when it comes to getting the hiking gear you need, start by focusing on a good pair of shoes. A good pair of hiking shoes should be comfortable and sturdy and should give your feet the support they need. Make sure that your shoes fit properly and are not too big or too small. Before you go hiking, try wearing your hiking shoes around for a day to make sure that they don’t rub on your feet or cause your feet to become sore. This may seem like not a big deal, but you don’t want to get out on a hiking trail only to realize when you are half way there that you are developing a blister or your feet are sore.

Day Hiking

With today’s economy, more and more families and individuals are looking for inexpensive ways to have fun and get a little enjoyment out of the weekend. This often means that instead of spending a day at the spa, people are turning to free outdoor activities as a way to get the fun, excitement, and relaxation that they desire. One great way to accomplish this is day hiking. In fact, day hiking can be enjoyed by anyone no matter what their fitness level or age and there are great day hiking areas across the entire nation! But no matter what your skill level is, it is important to be equipped with the proper gear to ensure that your day hiking adventure a safe and fun excursion.

It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned hiker or someone who enjoys a hike only once and a while, you will soon discover that having the right shoes is one of your highest priorities. In fact, the right shoes can make the difference between a successful trip and a miserable outing. So before you set out, make sure that your shoes are sturdy and comfortable and that they fit properly and give you the support that you need. Ask anyone and you will learn that you’ll be glad you took the time to make sure you have shoes that are good for day hiking. Other than that, make sure to take plenty of water, some healthy snacks, and proper sun protection—you’ll be sure to enjoy your day hiking experience!

Trip Report: Ely, Minn Dog Sledding Trip

Location: Boundary Waters

State: Minnesota

Miles: 30

Days: 4

Type: Shuttle

The crew of Uncle Jim, Matt and Mark were joined by Jason and new comers Aunt Kathy and Paul for a dog sledding trip in Ely, Minnesota.
The group arrived in Ely, MN after a very long drive and settled into the Wintergreen lodge Monday afternoon. After meeting the 57 Canadian Inuit Dogs and our two guides Rob and Steve, we checked over our gear one last time and settled in for bed.
We awoke Tuesday morning bright and early to feed the dogs and load our sleds. We ate breakfast in the lodge, got some last minute instructions from Paul Schurke and we were off! Each sled carried 2 “mushers” who rode on a small platform on the back of the sled plus each sled carried gear. 2 of the sleds were pulled by 6 dogs and the other smaller sled was pulled by 5. Steve and Rob wore XC skis and skied the entire time with a map always in hand.
The dogs that Wintergreen uses are Canadain Inuit Dogs. In a word they are amazing. They have a kennel of about 57 dogs….no 65 as 8 puppies were born while we were there. Each dog weighs about 80lbs and can pull at least twice their weight in payload for hours on end at a steady pace of 6-8mph. The dogs are fed a high energy powder food mixed with a bit of water each morning and a chunk of lard each night but never seemed hungry or ran out of energy. For water the dogs eat snow so you would see the dogs grabbing bites of snow as they plodded their way along the trail. Although the dogs exhibit a pack like mentality amongst themselves they love people and were extremely affectionate. They each had a very distinct personality and did not take us long at all to learn all their names. Once on the move though these dogs are all business and just love to pull. They seem to have a one track mind….”Pull, Pull, Pull….” then when we would reach a hill or get stuck it was…”Pull Harder, Pull Harder…” You actually feel bad to stop them and take a break as they just want to keep going and get very anxious when we did stop. They follow a few simple commands. To launch the sled you would first give the command “Ready” which would get all the dogs up…then “Hike” and the dogs were off. “Whoa” to slow and stop the team, “Gee” to turn right and “Haw” to turn left. Mushing was not just riding on the back of the sled and shouting out commands however and proved to be very challenging. It takes a lot of strength and balance to not only balance on the back of the sled but also to shift your weight and help steer the sled around turns, trees etc. When climbing hills you had to get off and help push the sled up the hill and if you didn’t the dogs would all stop, turn around and look at you as if to say “What the hell?!” The same was also true when going through deep snow, slush, over logs etc. The dogs depended on us almost as much as we depended on them.
We also had our fair share of collisions with trees and falling off the sleds. I believe everyone fell off at least once and some much more then that. Once you fell off of the sled…or performed a controlled dismount….you were very motivated to get back on the sled….first so that you don’t have a run away sled and secondly since usually you had a team of dogs hot on your heels ready to run you over if you did not get out of the path! We had several very close calls and a couple of major collisions due to the terrain and the “staff only” or “double black diamond” trials that we went on.. All in all we covered 24 miles on the trip
The weather on the trip was nearly perfect for the humans on the trip. 30 degrees and perfect blue sky most of the time until our final day when it was a bit breezy and overcast. The dogs were a little warm as they prefer single digit type temps but it was great for us. The Minnesota landscape was beautiful as well….they don’t call it the “Land of a Thousand Lakes” for nothing! 4 of us slept in the Tipi. Jason and Paul built a snow shelter for night one then slept out under the stars with the guides the next night after Paul got a little claustrophobic. Sitting around the campfire one night we heard a pack of wolves out in the distance. The howling wolves was quickly drowned out by the chorus of our dogs joining in.
Our guides Rob and Steve were taking their first trip in a very long time which actually made it a lot of fun as it was something new for them just as it was for us. Although we did not always end up on the trail that we thought we would they still did an excellent job. “Hey Rob…where are we?” “Right here!” Being that some of us were former tour guides ourselves at a tourist attraction here in NY we can definitely appreciate the work that they do. They were extremely helpful and a lot of fun.
The food was cooked over a fire and we had a lot of it. Breakfast was eggs, sausage and bagels cooked in sausage grease…sounds tasty ehh?:) Lunch was trail mix type things, energy bars, dried fruit etc. Dinners were pasta based….beef-a-roo pasta one night and chicken-a-roo pasta the next along with unwrapped wraps for appetizer. One interesting little tid bit is that famed explorer Paul Schurke plans on a stick of butter per person per day! Apparently Wintergreen has some deal worked out with Land O’Lakes Butter:) jk
All in all it was an incredible experience and one that we would recommend to anyone. To book your own trip or to find out more visit and tell them you saw them on