2014 Trip One, March 1, Ely Dog Sledding

Ely Minnesota
Saturday March 1, 2014

The day started with kennel care (feeding the dogs and cleaning the kennel area) at 7:40 AM with the temperature in the mid minus twenties. Let me just say that there are six people on this journey. Only one went to kennel care this AM and it was not a female.

Colin fed us another wonderful meal of breakfast burritos with bacon, eggs, spinach, salsa, cheese, etc. We packed up for a day of dog sledding. Winds were to hit the high teens and temperatures to peak out at minus six. Who knows what reality was.

Greg hitching Isis and Stoney.

Greg hitching Isis and Stoney.

We, in general, kept warm. The wisdom of dressing in layers with the wicking bottom layer, fleece or wool next layer with the outer wind protective shell has worked fine. We have been using hand and foot warmers also though. I have not seen anything to keep the icicles from forming on my eyelashes.

Chris and Ed and our team

Chris and Ed and our team

We left the lodge a little after ten. Today Chris and I were in the lead sled. We had been in position two yesterday. We made a lunch stop from 1:30 to 2:15 and were back to the lodge at 4 pm. In between were grand times of riding the sled through the forest and on White Iron Lake. Even now, Chris and I say “We did it” with a real sense of satisfaction and achievement.

Up close and personal

Up close and personal

Lunch was at the “base camp”. This was a tented enclosure with a wood stove to heat up lunch. The dogs remained outside. Lunch was quesadillas and brats and ramen noodles.

Lunch at base camp

Lunch at base camp

The lake ride is smoother but windy with deep, loose snow on either side of the trail. The wind has blown over portions of the trail making the tree branches Greg stuck in the snow a few days ago invaluable guideposts. The trail is not perfectly smooth, so you lurch from side to side and periodically worry about tipping over.

Lunch time

Lunch time

In the woods, we are protected from the wind but face (literally) tree branches, or sharp corners that might tip you or jam you into a tree with a sudden stop. When you are jammed, and it does happen, you need to carefully pull/push/tug at the sled to unjam it without letting the dogs pull it out of your control and dumping you in the snow. At that point, you yell “Loose Sled” and hope the guide in front of you can stop it or that your team stops when it pulls up to the sled in front of you.

The woods also has hills. Up where you help to push the sled. Down where you ride the brake HARD to keep control and not run over the dogs. The trail is not much wider than the sled, making it hard to get real purchase in the snow to push the sled when needed.

This makes the experience seem hard. But hard is not correct term. It was a challenge that we enjoyed. It pushed us out of our comfort zone but we succeeded. The thrill was constant. The scenery beautiful. The weather freaking cold but dealt with.

Coming onto the  lake from the woods

Coming onto the lake from the woods

We are thankful to our guides, Colin and Greg, who broke the trail, chased loose sleds, encouraged us, and made wise decisions in times of uncertainty. They shepherded us through thick and thin; they had in-depth and wide-ranging knowledge and skills; They cooked great breakfasts and on trail lunches. Finally, we thank them for their for their camaraderie.

Our dogs were great. Isis and Stoney as leads, Lomi as middle, and Yukon and Pecan as wheels. They pulled the sled, the two of us, and some gear. The dogs may have nipped at each other, but they were affectionate and friendly to us. Petting them put them in paroxysms of joy.

The team resting at lunch time

The team resting at lunch time

The evening meal was enchiladas, salad and corn bread. Our dessert was a cake shaped like an igloo-thanks to Ted the chef.
After dinner, the six of us received our “Dogsled Diploma” attesting to our outstanding accomplishment.

Finally, the six of us watched the video “North to the Pole”. I probably have not said enough about Wintergreen. This place was founded by Paul and Susan Schurke. In March and April of 1986, Paul Schurke and Will Steger (of Ely MN) led an 8 person team to the North Pole. This was the first dog sled expedition to travel without resupply to the North Pole since Robert Peary did it in 1909.

These people, including Ann Bancroft of MN, faced excruciating conditions. Two members had to drop out due to injuries before actually making the North Pole. The video put this expedition in clear focus for us. This lodge, Wintergreen, is run by Paul and Susan Schurke. Paul was one of the two leaders of the 1986 effort and continues to lead various Arctic explorations to this day.

We met Sue again this afternoon and she discussed how she hand-made the garments worn by the team members on this expedition. Their first child was less than a year old when the expedition took off. Sue’s patterns formed the basis for a clothing company that has made the rental outfits Chris and I had on during the trip.

So, yes this trip was fantastic in many ways. I am sure I have left numerous items out. But I also specifically want to thank Sarah, Eileen, Rebecca and Patty for the great times we shared. May your further travels be as precious in your memory as this one.

Ed and Chris 3/1/14 10:15 pm
-18 degrees and dropping

Categories: road trip, travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “2014 Trip One, March 1, Ely Dog Sledding

  1. Jude

    Beautiful writing, Ed.
    Wonderful experience.
    Thanks for sharing the stories.

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