Today was our day for what is always the highlight for most if not all of our guests – a day of dog sledding on Lake Laberge with Ned and Jeninne Cathers of Cathers Wilderness Adventures.
The temperature was about -24° (-11°F) when we arrived, with a very slight north wind. That’s pretty much a perfect day for good snow conditions and comfortable dogs. There was a bit of confusion at our end about where we were to meet the Cathers, but we got it sorted out fairly quickly, and when we arrived, the four teams of huskies were ready to go, and being very vocal about what they’d like to see happen as soon as possible.
Ned tried to give the group some instructions, but his choir made that really difficult, so they moved down onto the lake where Ned could be heard 🙂
Seeing most of the people walking away did nothing to calm the dogs down!
Two snowmobiles were used to bring the dogs and sleds across the lake from the Cathers’ home, and then down onto the lake once we were all ready. Keeping them up in the trees until needed provides shelter and a bit of confinement.
It takes a while to get everybody organized and ready to go.
This is the team that Jeremy and I would take, with Cirrus and her mother Storm in lead.
Next in line in our team was Pipe, a handsome, powerful, and independent boy. Exactly the sort of husky that I’m particularly drawn to.
All set to be off on the adventure!
Oh no, a flat tire!! But it was okay – they self-heal quickly 🙂
And the first team is off headed east towards the south end of Richthofen Island, which we’d circle.
How “Yukon” is that scene? The vibe was as wonderful as the scenery – good company and wonderful dogs on an adventure amid stunning scenery.
Team number four on the way, with me in the sled so I can take photos more easily. Snowmobiles are okay, but given a choice, I’ll pick a dog sled every time. As soon as you start moving, huskies go dead quiet. You can yell like hell that you want to get going, but once the humans listen to you, work is the focus. Like snowmobiles, though, their exhaust is quite foul!
Ned, Jennine, and handler Bob were always nearby on the snowmobiles when any advice or assistance was needed by any of the rookie mushers.
Some conversation, some encouragement to the dogs, and a whole lot of just listening to the sound of the runners on the hard snow, and marvelling at the experience.
I don’t recall ever being around to the east side of Richthofen Island, where the ruins of the Middle Laberge Roadhouse can still be seen.
Back on the west side of the island, heading south.
When the trail split, the call “GEE!” would get Smoke and Cirrus to lead the team to the right. Often, Cirrus would glance back to make sure that she made the right choice, and always got “good work!” or “good job!” in response. This is the relationship that I love most about this sport.
We took a bit of a shortcut, which took us past this team.
Pulling into the bay where we’d make a lengthy stop for lunch.
I didn’t see any dogs who looked like they needed, or even particularly wanted, to stop 🙂
But, the sun was warm, and everyone soon settled down. This is my boy Pipe again.
I quickly discovered that my beautiful little lead dog, Cirrus, is as soft and cuddly at break time as she is smart and hard-working when it’s time to get the sled going.
A fire was soon going…
..the hot chocolate and apple cider was poured…
…and hot dogs were cooking. Everything tastes better over and around a campfire, doesn’t it?
While some of the kids stayed alert to what was going on around the camp…
…others couldn’t have cared less.
In 1989, Jeninne decided to run the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest race, and at 18, became the youngest person to ever finish the race. That also made Ned and Jeninne the first father-daughter team to run the race. She went on to run the race 5 more times, and has plenty of stories from the trails to keep people entertained, as well as being a very efficient hostess as well.
Ned first ran the Quest the year before Jeninne, and ran it a total of 10 times. In 1997, he won the award that impresses me the most, the Vet’s Choice Award for the best dog care during the race.
The dogs were the first ones to start hinting that it might be about time to break camp and get going again.
Cirrus completed her “Most Adorable Husky” package with the most wonderful voice a husky can have. It wasn’t a bark, it wasn’t a howl, she was talking, encouraging us to get our stuff together and hit the trail.
It really takes a video to show you the sounds and the feel of mushing, so here’s a bit of the preparations for, and the start of, the return trip.
I only shot a few photos on the way back to the truck.
We spent a lot time talking back in the forest. It had been an absolutely perfect day, and it felt like nobody wanted it to end. But, end it did.
Tomorrow, the Yukon Quest begins, and that will be our focus for the day, in the dog yard, at the start line, and then out along the Takhini River.