Dogsledding in the Tombstones, Part Two

The Yukon River, where we spent our first 3 days mushing and camping.

Tuesday, we go for a day trip up the river (easier than moving camp).  We have to deal with a lot of jumbled ice and places where snow has avalanched off the river bank, covering the trail;  as well, warm weather has made the track soft and sled handling difficult.  Somehow I pick the one bit of flat ice to go flying off my sled, landing hard on my tailbone.  For a few moments I’m afraid that I may have compressed a disc, but soon realize that it’s just the muscles in my lower back seizing.  I stretch as best I can and continue, but the rest of the week will be too strenuous to allow much recovery.

We don’t go as far as hoped because the heat is too much for the dogs.  Back in camp Chris (wonder woman!) produces well-laced margaritas and snacks before dinner.  The boys re-evaluate their camping technique and decide to use both sleeping bags.  I ask Susan to let me know if she is cold, as I have extra clothing, but  she toughs it out, sleeping poorly and shivering a lot.

On Wednesday we drive back to the campground in Dawson, all of us showing much improvement in our mushing skills.  We decide not to put up the tents because there is a cook shelter in the campground with plastic over the windows and doors.  We gather wood for the stove and turn the shelter into a drying room for gear and a warm refuge for us.

To get to the Tombstones on Thursday we have to drive up the Dempster Highway.  This means loading dogs. sled and skimmers into the trucks.  Loading the dogs into their individual compartments on the trucks creates almost as much chaos as hitching them to the sleds.

Alaskan huskies are basically mutts, the result of breeding huskies to other breeds.  Smaller than you would expect (the odd one reaches 100 lbs, but most weigh a lot less), some with short hair, some long, thick coats, thin coats, blue eyes, brown eyes, mixed eyes, all different colours, most with semi-floppy ears – they are a motley lot.  They know and want to do only one thing: pull.

As we drive up the highway we gain elevation and finally enter Tombstones Park.  It’s a beautiful area where snow-wrapped mountains cast a magical spell without overpowering the valley visitor.

It takes more than an hour after we pull into a parking area to unload dogs, sleds, skimmers and snow machines, get packed, harnessed, hitched and ready to travel.  Nothing happens quickly on a sledding trip.

Susan controls her team as she waits for the final dog to be hitched up.

The West Hart River valley is broad, showing the typical U shape of glacial carving.  Mushing here is much easier than on the Yukon River, the trail going up and down gentle slopes, with few trees to worry about.

We go in about 11 miles to the first stand of trees – needed for tying out the dogs as well as offering some shelter for us.  We will camp here 3 nights.

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