The New Mushers – the Blind Leading the Blind

Cathy and I are crazy about huskies. They haven’t quite taken over our lives, but they have a good hold on it We started skijoring with them 3 years ago, but it was just never quite what we were looking for as far as getting out with the dogs.

Back in 1990, I went on a 3-day mushing expedition in the Rockies with Doug Hannah when he was living in Golden, BC (he’s now running his Kingmik Expeditions out of Faro, Yukon). That’s what really started my passion with huskies, and I’ve always wanted to get out on a sled again. But, time and the cost of a sled always stopped that. Driving into Whitehorse on Friday afternoon, though, I met 2 vehicles southbound with sleds on the roof and I decided that a kick-sled might be a good way into it.

In Whitehorse, Duffy’s is the place to go to talk sleds. I’ve known the owner, veteran musher Hans Oettli, for a few years, and it didn’t take long to decide that a kick-sled was just not where I wanted to go. He had one of the classic-style sleds that I like best in stock. Although a junior, I figured it was the right size for Cathy and it would be a good training sled for me, so up on top of the car it went. The full-size toboggan style sled he had was just too much sled to learn on, and it may be possible to rig an extension onto the handlebar if it turns out to be too short.

I had planned to use our skijoring rigging to hook Monty and Kayla up, but it was quickly apparent that that wasn’t going to work properly, so on Saturday we went back to Duffy’s for another $160 worth of ropes and snaps and a better-fitting harness for Monty. I thought I knew what would be needed, but the details actually needed some explaining. We got rigging that will allow us to use both 2 dogs and 4, with the idea of borrowing a couple of dogs occasionally.

On Sunday, we finally headed back to the cabin for our first “launch”. We figured that the WP&YR rail line would be perfect – the dogs know the path, and it’s easy to keep them going the right direction. Well, our learning continued as we discovered that the footing wasn’t good – the packed part of the trail was too indistinct, and the snow on the side of that too soft. So we went up to the top of our kilometer-long driveway which I’ve kept plowed and packed. That worked much better.
Murray and Monty with the new dogsled
There are some challenges ahead, and I think I’m going to see if I can either put Monty and Kayla in an experienced team for a few km, or borrow a couple of experienced team dogs to put on my sled. It’s frustrating to not be able to get Monty to understand what it is exactly that I want – he’s a very bright boy, so I know where the fault for that lies. He did well, but is still justifiably unsure of ther situation. Kayla surprised me in a really good way – she had a huge smile on her face pretty well the whole time. I’d joked that I didn’t need a snow hook because we had Kayla to use as an anchor – that turned out to be not true at all.

The important part of the day is that everyone had fun – both the dogs and Cathy and I were happy and tired at the end of the session. The sled went back on the car so I can give the Copper Haul trail in Whitehorse a try. It’s a really popular trail, and just maybe I’ll get lucky and meet another team – that alone may be enough to show Monty where this is going.

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