Pulled out the sled, hitched up eight dogs and took off across the tundra today. We don’t have much snow, but the ground is rock hard. Travel is rough but safe and the dogs were awesome. Felt good to be on the runners again.
Non-mushers (and even some pseudo-mushers) believe snow is crucial to mushing. Absolutely not the case, snow is optional. Too much snow is a hinderance. All a team needs is hard ground with frozen ponds and creeks. Without the danger of getting wet, travel is safe and pleasant. Dogs have great traction with no snow to plow through. A little snow on the ground to grease the runners allows them to move too fast if you’re not careful.
Bumpy travel is the only downside. It’s hard on the knees and the sled. The musher must stay loose and hang on tight. It’s not the smooth ride normally felt on snow. Today’s fragile sleds are probably the biggest reason more mushers don’t enjoy bare ground mushing. Modern sleds are built on flexible thin aluminum runners with light stanchions and minimal beds. They are generally light and limber. Great for moving quickly on a groomed racing trail, but bad for banging and pounding along bare tundra. My main sled is a traditional birch basket sled with 10 foot runners built by my father-in-law 30 years ago. It’s long, tough and made for rough travel. Its length smooths the bumps and aids in crossing small creeks. As long as the dogs can jump the creek, the front of the sled will make it across and the back (where the musher stands) will drop down until the dogs pull the whole thing clear of the creek. It’s not for the novice, but a delightful way to travel the country. Plus, a team generally has the whole country to themselves as snow machine drivers wait for snow and smooth travel.
I started with my eight adults; Luke, Bing, Bernard, Charlie, Lucy, Duncan, Jack and Juliet. All the dogs are over four years of age and older and it was obvious from the beginning. Everyone was hitched up without incident and stood patiently until it was time to go. Leaders were flawless, everyone understood their job well.
I parted with a few adults this summer to pare down to these particular dogs. They have the primary attributes I look for: They pull hard; stand patiently in harness; and don’t get bent out of shape every time they see something new. They will serve as my main team and will train the pups to be true working sled dogs. Pups get their first run tomorrow. Stay tuned.