Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Last 2 days.

It's been a long day, and I'm very tired so I hope you'll forgive me if the post seems shorter than it should be.  There is a lot to describe, yet I already hear my bed calling to me.

Yesterday the weather continued off and on nasty, with snow squalls and high winds blowing in seemingly from nowhere, and disappearing as quickly as they arrived.  Since we had received only an inch or so of snow the day before, I decided it was time to switch to my new Dave Klumb Laughing Husky basket sled.  This sled is basically a reproduction of an early 20th century type of sled sometimes referred to as a "traveling sled".  Not so large and cumbersome as the huge freight sleds of the day, but nonetheless large enough to handle plenty of gear for an extended wilderness trip.  My sled has a 6-foot long bed, is 19 inches wide, light weight yet stout enough to handle just about anything I can imagine putting in it.

Of course putting the sled on the trail required a bit of fitting out.  It needed a drag mat and a pair of snow hooks with lines of a length that accommodates the sled.  First, the drag mat.

The drag mat is used to maintain tension on the gangline, making the sled controllable when traveling downhill or over a fast, level trail.  It can also be used to help slow a willing team.  For this sled, I chose to make the drag mat out of a fairly long chunk of well worn snow machine track.  I used short sections of chain (called "drop chains") to attach the mat to the links that attach the bridle to the brake brackets.  To attach the mat I drilled and installed a pair of eye bolts to the underside of the mat, and used a chain tool to crimp S hooks into the eyes and chains.  Here's a photo that may explain things a little more clearly.

Drag mat installed on new traveling basket sled
Snow hooks are basically steel claws used to anchor the team and sled to snow on the trail.  They can also be used to 'hook' a tree, soft soil or anything else that might hold the team.  I install two different styles of hooks on each of my sleds.  On the left side I install a sharp pointed 'ice hook', and on the right side fluted hooks with a lot more surface area in hopes they'll hold in softer snow.

A line runs from the snow hook to the gangline (NEVER to the sled) to anchor the team.  The length of the line is typically just long enough to stretch from the carbiner that attached all the various lines to the bridle of the sled to a position that is convenient for a musher standing on the runners to manipulate the hook while the sled is still moving.  The proper manner of 'setting' a snow hook is to call a "whoa" and just half an instant before the sled stops, plant the hook, allowing forward momentum to help the fins of the hook dig into the snowpack.

I like to use 3-strand, twisted nylon rope when making my own lines (most of my gear is commercially manufactured of other materials).  Nylon is stronger than polyethylene and also offers a bit more stretch.  Some nylon lines can stretch as much as 40% before breaking.  Since I had quite a bit of three-strand, 1/2" nylon rope here at the house, that's what I used to make my snow hook lines.

Each line requires two eye-splices.  On through the eye of the snow hook, and another to fasten into the carabiner between the gangline and bridle.  Spliced eyes are much stronger than knots, so really are far preferable if one knows how to make them.

How to make an eye-splice in twisted line.

With the snow hooks ready to install, I also needed a snub-line.  The snub-line is used to tie the team to a tree or other structure to hold them in place.  To make my snub-line I measured out roughly 20 feet of line, made an eye splice in the standing end (the end attached to the gang line), and a combination of a crown knot and back splices to prevent the working end from raveling.

Crown knot

When snubbing my team, I prefer to use a slippery knot called a 'highwayman's hitch'.  It generally holds well, yet it's very easy to untie when ready to whistle up the dogs.

Highwayman's Hitch for snubbing a team of dogs
Today, I put the sled into service and ran two teams of dogs.  I'm very pleased to report that the sled rides very well indeed.  The drive bow is the perfect height to accommodate my own height, so it's very comfortable.  It glides well over the snow and though a bit stiff (it's still brand spanking new), it is MUCH easier to control than my toboggan sled.

The drag mat I rigged worked well, though it may prove to be a bit more drag than I need.  Time and experience will answer that question, and if need be it's easily shortened with a hacksaw.  I had to both hook down, and even snub down the team a time or two, and all of my new lines served their functions perfectly.

Traveling sled, ready for dogs.
As I noted earlier, I ran two teams today.  The first team included Just and Cassiopeia in lead, Beau and Selene in swing / team, and Capella and Seamus at wheel.

Date, Day, &c:
Tuesday, 12/6/11
Mileage & Speed: 
8.5 miles, max 14.2, average 7.9   Basket sled
Route, Trail & Terrain Conditions: 
Home to Two Rivers Rd parallel to Wood Cutting Rd to Little Chena Ridge Trail to Rod and Julie's feeder to home.  A couple of inches of power on hard packed, icy base.
+5 degrees.  Mostly cloudy
Just - Cassie
Beau - Selene
Capella - Seamus

Very first run for my new "traveling" basket sled, and I couldn't be happier.  The drag I rigged yesterday worked just fine, we didn't break anything that I am aware of, and the sled handles quite nicely, albeit a bit stiff. 

Dogs were well behaved on hook up, left at a high lope, and maintained a good pace throughout the run.  Just and Cassie responded well to cues, though did have to correct mistakes in a couple of places.

Generally it was a very nice "maiden run" for new equipment.

The second team started out with Rose and Denali in lead, Orion and Midnight's Son in swing / team, and Grace and Nels in wheel.  Grace was horribly snarky with Nels, prompting me to exchange her and Midnight's Son before we even got off of our feeder trail and onto the powerline right of way.  That made things work much more smoothly.

Second Team.  Orion and Grace were both jumping with joy at the prospect of a run.

Date, Day, &c:
Tuesday, 12/6/11
Mileage & Speed: 
8.5 Miles, max 12.5, average 7.7
Route, Trail & Terrain Conditions: 
Home to Two Rivers Rd parallel to Wood Cutting Rd to Little Chena Ridge Trail to Rod and Julie's feeder to home.  A couple of inches of power on hard packed, icy base.
+10 degrees.  Mostly cloudy
Rose - Denali
Orion - Midnight's Son (at start, switched very early)
Nels - Grace
It was kind of a rough start as Grace was snarking very badly at Nels, who didn't take it well.  He ended up on the ground being dragged, and I had to stop and snub the rig while I swapped Grace and Midnight's position.  Grace only snarked at Orion a couple of times.  Grace was not on a neckline at the time.

Once we were moving again the team maintained a nice, steady albeit somewhat slow pace even on the wood cutting road, where we had head-on passes with a series of three trucks.  The dogs managed the passes quite well and I was pleased with that. 

Rose and Denali needed Ted's guidance to do the "straight ahead" across the driveway to take the new feeder trail home.  They didn't even try to offer alternative behaviors I could reinforce.  Just stood there with the "dumb" look in their eyes.

After our runs I watered the teams and then made a quick trip to town for my monthly haircut and to pick up my prescriptions at the pharmacy.  Consequently "supper" was late for both the dogs and myself. 

That, my friends, brings us up to the moment.  I'm not sure what your plans are, but I plan to crawl into bed straightaway so I can run dogs some more tomorrow.

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