Sled Dog Team Makes Practice Run to Treeline
“Halfway to the Record” on Mt. Washington
By Steven Caming of the Mount Washington Auto Road
Steve C. of the Auto Road posing with the sled dog team
“The dogs pulled steadily, cutting the turn just above halfway quite sharply…the snowy surface gave way to ice along the edges at this point on the Mt. Washington Auto Road and as fate and circumstance would have it, I was driving the dogsled as we entered the icy culvert. For a split second I considered jumping off before we crashed into the protruding granite boulders, but remembering the expert’s advice to never let go of the sled, I leaned hard on the outside runner and we miraculously averted any impact, much to the relief of the two humans involved (the dogs continued on their merry way)”.
This was the planned turn around point for our practice run and along the way it became clear that even for an expert musher like Chase Tingle, the ascent was going to be a genuine challenge. For me, the practice run illustrated just how exhilarating it would all be (and how the logistical variables were exponentially increased by the number of dogs, people and weather conditions above treeline during winter).
Considering that the most difficult part was sure to be the top four miles we had yet to tackle (and wouldn’t attempt until March 7, 8 or 9th), it gave pause for reflection as to what we were in for. This would be the first true winter ascent by dog sled of Mt. Washington and it would not be without considerable, but calculated risk.
As someone who has never seen, been on or around a dog sled team before, it was with no small amount of curiosity that I met NH native and sled expert Chase Tingle. We were the only ones to be found at 5:30 am that dark morning and the dogs were all nestled quietly in their cubbyholes in the custom built truck they traveled in.
Musher Chase with the sled dog team - heading up the Auto Road!
The light slowly came up as Tingle methodically laid out the gang line, toggle lines and harnesses. What started out looking like a tangle of indecipherable ropes and cords soon made sense and I quickly learned how to slip on the harness (while the subject dog invariably gave me a look indicating he knew I hadn’t done this before-some were patient-some took advantage of my ignorance by sidestepping the harness at the key moment).
It had all been a quiet process up till then, but as soon as Chase hooked the first dog to the sled, that dog started to howl, while the others remained silent, waiting. Then number two was hitched up and he began to bark and each, in turn, only contributed to the cacophony when attached to the sled. By the time all 10 were hooked on, the sound was deafening, as each dog contributed his or her unique song to the canine symphony. Eventually, each of the team had their rig and little booties on and we were ready to depart.
A view from the back of the sled - Dogsledding with Musher Chase
Interestingly, the moment we took off the dogs went silent, put their heads down settled into a comfortable jog. We had started with two sleds hooked in tandem, but the brake on one gave out just as we began and Tingle quickly switched over to a single sled for us both. It was gray and overcast as we left the base area, but our spirits were high. The eagerness of the dogs and the reality that we were alone on the road at dawn was enough to cast a warm glow over the whole experience…shortly thereafter the warm glow of the sun began to burn through and the summit of Mt. Washington and the northern Presidential range revealed themselves in all their morning glory.
There can be no doubt that these sled dogs enjoy what they are doing…their excitement is palpable as they make their way along the trail. Even to the untrained eye, subtle differences in their gait and style are revealed. Each of these canine athletes has a unique history and personality (at least two are four time Iditarod veterans), and together they form a working unit based on strengths and relationships in the pack.
This event has been undertaken in an effort to not just make history, but raise awareness and funds to help support the more than 130 sled dogs that the Muddy Paws kennel in Jefferson, NH have rescued and care for. Muddy Paw owners Karen Tolin and Neil Beaulieu have been taking in rescue and second chance huskies and giving them a home & job for life while supporting their care with year round dogsled tours.
The couple translated their passion for helping these dogs and the rich history of dogsledding in NH and formed a board of local mushers to create the nonprofit NH Sled Dog Rescue, History & Education Center, also to be located in Jefferson, NH. This new nonprofit will focus on rescuing northern breed dogs in need, preserving NH sled dog artifacts, and educating the public on the history of dogsledding & the care of northern breeds.
On the day Chase Tingle and I make the first winter summit attempt we will be following in the historic “pawprints” of Arthur Walden and his famed Chinook team, who were first to reach the peak on March 30, 1926, followed by the first and only woman, Florence Clark, in April 1932 and then Jean Bryar and Bill Anarauk in April 1963 and finally Carl Brown in April 1992.
After our practice ascent to just above the 4 mile mark on the Auto Road took one and a half hours, I contacted the Auto Road base by radio and told them we should be down in about 45 minutes. Much to my surprise we were back at the bottom fifteen minutes later (after a truly thrilling downhill run), with two human and 10 smiling dog faces, all eager to come back in a couple of weeks and finish what we started! Do you want to go yourself? Check out those auctions (ending soon) at: Auction #1 Auction #2
Dogsledding - Dashing Down the Auto Road
For more information, check out www.dogslednh.com or email Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel at email@example.com Individuals or companies wishing to sponsor the teams or be involved in the ebay auction for the two available dog sled seats going to halfway on event day should contact Karen Tolin at 603-545-4533.
Thanks to the Mount Washington Auto Road and Steve Caming for their incredible support of this adventure!