Let's Go Dogsledding!

To tell the truth, I never thought a dogsledding trek would be my cup of tea.  It conjures up images for me of too cold, too uncomfortable and too wet. So, then my intrepid friend Kay went dogsledding and had the time of her life, and she doesn't relish cold either!  So I thought well maybe, just maybe, I'm not getting the complete picture.  Maybe I am missing something here. 

I was winging my way to fulfill another childhood dream:  a dogsledding trek in the beautiful mountains of Montana. For years I had visions of white powder transforming the world into a winter wonderland. However, climate change had another agenda in mind. As the wheels were lowered for our descent at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport I noticed the Bridger, Crazy and Gallatin mountains had plenty of snow, but the ground in the valley was bare brown. Crap!  My childhood friend who lives in the area had called Chico Hot Springs Resort ahead of time and yes, there was snow on the trails, and the ride would go on as scheduled. Phew!

Greeted by owner Hannah.

The morning of December 12, four of us piled into a van and started down Paradise Valley to hook up with Absaroka Dogsled Treks. Owner, Hannah greeted us, had us sign releases, and checked our wardrobe to make certain we were dressed appropriately.  If we weren’t, there was an ample supply of winter gear in many sizes that could be borrowed.  It was a sunny day, probably in the 40’s so we sat out at the picnic tables and pulled on our snow pants and boots.  We were ready for our adventure.

Harnessing up the team.

Three trucks with ventilated kennels for 8 dogs each topped with sleds and endless gear picked us up and for the next half hour we drove up to the staging area where sure enough there was snow.  It was so icy in spots that we made sure we were standing on straw that was spread around.  We were encouraged not to interact with the dogs until after the ride as they were so excited they could hardly contain themselves.  They were barking, yipping, yelping and jumping up and down.  I swear you could have heard the chorus at Old Faithful!

Hooking up the dogs is a labor-intensive process.  They are handled one at a time and harnessed into their running position. Then a long chain with an anchor-like claw is placed in the ice/snow to hold each team in place so they don’t take off immediately.  I took advantage of this time to shoot some pics of the grizzly bear warning sign and make the acquaintance of a video photographor who was going to be along on our trip.  His camera had a lens that was at least 20 feet long (not quite)!

Finally it was time to get on board.  I chose the seat as I had just finished 6 weeks of physical therapy on my right shoulder from rotator cuff tendonitis so I figured I had a better chance of escaping injury.  My friend, Pat, stood in front of the musher and with the command, “buddy up!” we were off like greased lightning!  We had to navigate a narrow trail uphill to get to the main road and I felt as though I was on a roller coaster.  We whizzed along, ice and dog poop flying but my sunglasses provided protection.  Occasionally the dogs would grab a mouthful of snow for a quick drink while running. The temperature was perfect and the scenery glorious.  Every once in a while the sled would tend to want to skid to the left on the icy trail, but we’d all lean right and self-correct.  A 6 mile round-trip was what we “tenderfoots” chose but longer adventures are available.

All too soon the ride was over and it was our turn to greet the dogs.  They were hungry and plenty thirsty.  We all piled into the trucks and headed back to the ranch where there was sunshine and 60 degree temps!  After pulling off our snow clothes we headed for the restaurant and had a good lunch and then it was off to the hot springs pool.

What a great day; try it.


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