Our dog teams wait impatiently as sleds are taken one at a time into our camping site in the Tombstones.
The personalities of these dogs are as individual as their looks. My wheel dogs (nearest the sled) are brothers, Whiskey and Mac, who are totally devoted to each other and are very calm, serious pullers. My swing dogs (behind the leaders) are Ali and Hudson. Ali is the mother of many of the dogs on our trip – sort of a queen bee, she goes about her business without fuss and doesn’t tolerate any nonsense. Hudson is a goof ball, always barking and looking around, not the brightest bulb in the sky but good natured and hard working. The two lead dogs are responsible for obeying my commands and getting the other dogs to follow them. Blue, unfortunately, is a space cadet; gazing around, wandering off trail, she shows only occasional interest in working, leaving Strider very much on his own.
Since we will spend 3 nights here, we have to dig good tent pads. My back is too sore to shovel snow, so Paul generously takes over the job.
This is a magical camp site, surrounded by mountains and animal tracks.
Whoa! Where did that cold snap come from? When we woke up this morning the thermometer registered -28 C. I had begged Susan before we went to sleep to wake me if she was cold. She didn’t and consequently shivered all night while I was comfy in my bag (rated to –30). I remember thinking at one point that the night seemed unusually cold, but I just snugged up the bag around my nose and went back to sleep. By morning my 3 fellow campers were thoroughly traumatized.
Today the dogs have to rest, so we get up late and do little. For breakfast, Chris cooks hash browns with bacon, cheese and salsa, and we drink coffee for a couple of hours.
Paul takes the lads snowshoeing, an outing which seems to exhaust them. They are now talking mostly about multiple hot showers and flush toilets.
Susan and I walk along the trail for a while looking for tracks, laughing a bit about the New York city guys.
The afternoon is spend reading…
When we go to bed I give Susan my down parka to wear in her bag. Not wanting to have to breathe through a tiny opening to keep warm, I put on extra clothing. Of course, the night is not very cold, and I wake up in a sweat at midnight.
Saturday is a halcyon day: sun, blue sky, a firm trail and the joy of driving 6 happy dogs through paradise. Well, 6 happy dogs eventually. Blue the day dreamer has been traded to another sled for Esker, a young but very competent animal, well able to take over a lead role. Unfortunately Strider doesn’t like her, snapping and snarling at every stop, and finally just lying down in the snow and refusing to move. So he is demoted to swing and goofy Hudson gets to partner with Esker. Surprisingly he does quite well; at last I have 6 dogs working together!
We run for 11 miles, turn around with some confusion and stuck sleds, have a long stop for lunch and return to camp in a state of bliss. There are few pleasures to rival this historic form of transportation when conditions are good and the feeling of wilderness is profound. I know that I have left a part of myself in this valley.
We have daiquiris and snacks before dinner. Chris asks us what we have missed most on the trip. The 3 Americans speak of soft beds, hot showers and flush toilets. I say simply, “my dog”. I belong in this wilderness – the others are visitors.