Sunday, June 22, 2008

Canicross Hike at Gunpowder Falls (Masemore)

A small water fall on the Gunpowder River.

On Saturday, Eric and I met up with several canicross hikers and their dogs to head off on an approximately 3.5 mile hike along the Gunpowder River in Gunpowder Falls State Park. With temps that were supposed to reach into the mid to low 80s in the surrounding towns and low humidity, the forecast was perfect. Arriving at the trail head at about 8 am, it was almost sweater weather along the river where the temperatures rarely get out of the 70s. Perfect weather for a group canicross hike.

What is canicrossing? Canicrossing is a dog-powered sport involving cross country running, hiking or walking while your dog pulls you. It requires the dog to learn basic commands such as "hike," "on by," "line out," "whoa," and "easy." When canicrossing, the human wears a special belt that attaches to the tug loop on the dog's x-back harness by a line which usually has an integrated shock absorber that absorbs energy during starts and stops. To learn more about canicrossing and our Canicross Hikes, visit our website.

For this particular canicross hike, we met at the Masemore parking area off of Masemore Road, adjacent to historic Foster's Masemore Mill which is now a private residence. The former Masemore Mill was built by Christoper Walker and Nicholas Foster in 1797, converted to a residence in 1944 and later purchased by the State.

In attendance for our canicross hike we had: Okemo, a pure white Siberian mix, Cooper, a black Labrador Retriever, Pearl, a white Siberian Husky, and Sobo, a red and white Siberian Husky. Thus, our hiking party (at least the canine portion) was black, red and white.

Okemo waits at the trail head.

Gunpowder Falls State Park is truly a gem of a park located in central Maryland. The Park was established in 1960 to preserve the stream and river valleys of the Big and Little Gunpowder Falls. Nearly 18,000 acres are protected from the Maryland-Pennsylvania line to the Chesapeake Bay. Saturday's canicross hike was in the Hereford Area of Gunpowder Falls which is one of five designated recreation areas in the Park. The area's over 3500 acres feature a scenic wilderness setting reminiscent of Western Maryland but located only about 20 miles from downtown Baltimore. The geography of the Hereford area is unique, featuring a rugged gorge like valley and prominent schist rock outcroppings.

"A River Runs Through It"

We began our hike along the Gunpowder South trail, directly adjacent to the Gunpowder River. The wrought iron Masemore Road Bridge was built in 1898. We followed the Gunpowder South trail for approximately 500 feet upriver to the Highland trail.

Turning up hill to follow the Highland trail, the Highland trail is dominated by Mountain Laurel. Along the way, we came to a large overturned tree that had recently fallen. Making our way around the tree, we managed to make a slight wrong turn and end up on an old, and now closed, trail. We quickly realized our mistake and retraced our path to the blue blazed Highland Trail.

Pearl, wearing the saddle for his dog pack, spots something in the woods

Okemo pulls hard as we ascend the Highland trail.

Betty (and Cooper, he's black so he blends in this photo) in the dappled sunlight

Winding up and down, we crawled under and over several down trees until we reached a small creek, Bush Cabin Run, which runs into the Gunpowder Falls River.

It's limbo time....

Climbing up again the trail winds through a mature hardwood forest eventually coming to a power line cut. As we crossed the power line cut, the trailed widens significantly, leading through stands of pine and cedar.

The power line cut

Sobo demonstrates a perfect "line out."

At about one mile, we reached Falls Road and a small parking lot. Taking an informal poll, we opted to cross Falls Road and get back on the trail which leads down hill. Along the river, the dogs swam and played in the river.

Pearl could not wait to dive in for a swim!

At about 2.5 miles, the trail turns into a jumble of rocks which requires quite a bit of scrambling and climbing. During these rough stretches, I like to "de-power" the dog that I am canicrossing with so that he/she is not pulling. Thus, instead of hooking to the tug loop on Okemo's harness, I move the line to connect, instead, to his collar. I also unhook the line from the dog's harness during swim breaks and other rest breaks.

The sunlight plays off of a "de-powered" Okemo as we scramble over rocks.

Coming to a nice large rock jutting into the river we again paused to let the pups swim. The views of the river and the solitude of the forest, were well worth the extra effort. Proceeding slowly, we climbed over the rocks and eventually reached Falls Road.

Pearl, a Portuguese Water Dog in Siberian Clothes!

An agility dog in the making? Pearl demonstrates excellent balance.

"How's the water?" asks Cooper.

A small water fall.

Water cascades through the gorge.

Shortly after crossing Falls Road we found a small beach where the dogs could swim. And swim they did. Pearl viewed the River as his own private lap pool! I've never seen a Siberian enjoy swimming quite so much. I even stripped off my boots and waded into the icy cold water. After a break with snacks for us and the pups, we headed off along an easy stretch of the Gunpowder South Trail.

"Oh, Mr. Fishies where are you?" asks Sobo.

"Ah, my own private swim spa...can you turn the current down a bit?"

Eric, Okemo and Sobo rest along the River.

Cooper demonstrates a perfect "sit" for Betty.

A bright orange Day Lily along the trail casts a shadow on Okemo.

The last half mile of this hike is an easy (and level) stroll along the Gunpowder and is a popular stretch of river with fly fishermen. Along the way, we saw several fishermen, two kayakers and a couple of hikers. After the hike, we rested at the trail head, letting the dogs swim and wade in the River.

Sobo pulls hard on the way back to the trail head.

"You want me to put my head where?"

If all of this looks like fun to you, our next canicross hike is July 12th. All dogs are welcome at our hikes, not just northern breeds. Visit the Upcoming Events section of our website to learn more and register. You may also visit the Canicross Hikes section of our Tours page to learn more about canicrossing. Newcomers are welcome to join us with their dogs on leash instead of canicrossing. Dog packers are also welcome. Email for more information.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Splendor: The First Day of Summer

Our Oak Leaf hydrangea is in full bloom.

With unseasonably cool temperatures for the middle of June (which in Maryland means highs in the mid to upper 70s and no humidity), it's hard to believe the first day of summer has arrived. But it has and the signs are everywhere that Summer officially begins after seven this evening. Before you know, it will be early fall and we will begin our sled dogs' training regime to get them ready to run dog sledding tours and rides this coming fall, winter and spring. To check out our Summer dog sledding opportunities and upcoming Fall and Winter dog sledding opportunities visit our website.

One of our Lace Cap Hydrangeas just beginning to bloom.

Our second Lace Cap hydrangea with buds but no blooms

Bright and showy petunias enliven the dog yard

A vibrant orange Day Lily begins to open near the mailbox.

This edible flower (an herb) is Blue Hyssop

Look hard, there is a tomato in this photo...

Bright pink Impatiens grace the edge of our flagstone patio

Not quite "Red Hot Chili Peppers"

Summer sunlight filters over Sobo

Zoe alertly watches the summer "action" (i.e., her brothers)

Summer blueberries grace Eric's breakfast cereal

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Canicross Hike at Prettyboy Reservoir and Hemlock Gorge

The trail ahead...

Early Sunday morning Eric and I set off with our two canicross partners, Zoe and Sobo, to explore a new (to us) trail system around Prettyboy Reservoir in Northern Baltimore County. The hike is mainly on fire roads surrounding the reservoir so the trails are nice and wide. For short distances, the trail does narrow to a single track footpath.

Our route was to be an approximately 4 mile loop, however, due to many wrong turns and inaccurate instructions in our hiking guide, our route ended up being close to six miles round trip with an addition 2.5 miles of hiking into the Hemlock Gorge to visit one of our favorite swimming holes.

As we set off on our hike the air was resplendent with the sweet smell of wild honeysuckle and heavy with birdsong. Many cardinals, jays, thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, and vireos avail themselves of the great habitat surrounding the reservoir. Rare black walnut and even rarer American Chestnut trees grow in this area. Setting off, we paralleled the Big Gunpowder River for approximately a 1/2 mile. Along the way, we passed several turn off trails to the right which lead down to the river. Throughout the hike, we say many many butterflies.

Pretty Butterfly

After several wrong turns, we exited the trail system onto Grave Run Road near River Valley Ranch, a Christian Youth Camp and spied cows and horses grazing in the pastures surrounding the camp. Heading up hill on a new trail, we wound through the forest, hugging the river. Shortly after passing the ranch, we stopped to let Zoe and Sobo cool off and take a dip in the river.

A bend in the river

A refreshing dip in the river for Zoe.

The post swim shake....

As we made our way along the scenic trails back towards the trail head, the dogs pulled hard.

Sobo pulls steadily up a hill

Along the way we worked on canicross commands with the dogs, primarily "on by" and "hike or let's go." To learn more about the commands mushers use with their dogs, visit the Commands section of our website.

Sobo demonstrates "line out."

Are you interested in learning how to canicross with your own dog? Join us for one of our upcoming Canicross Hikes. To see scheduled hikes, visit the Upcoming Events section of our website. Our group hikes are a great opportunity to get out with your dog, get a little exercise, learn a new trail system, and practice you and your dog's canicross skills. All breeds are welcome at our Canicross Hikes.

After our hike, Eric and I were both hot and sweaty so we decided to visit one of the best swimming holes in the State of Maryland which lies just across the road from our hike and down the Hemlock Trail. The Hemlock Trail is so named because it winds through a centuries old hemlock gorge right along the Big Gunpowder River. The trail is aggressive and tough going at times but the short (one mile or so) hike is worth it once you reach some of the nicest swimming holes central Maryland has to offer. During this part of the hike, there are several streams which must be forded by crossing over slippery foot bridges made of moss covered rocks. As we hiked deeper into the gorge, the river forms several deep swirling pools. Approximately, one mile in we found a lovely pool and waterfall that was just perfect for cooling off.

A small stream empties into the Big Gunpowder River

The hemlocks in this gorge are being managed to prevent HWA
(Hemlock Woody Adelgid disease)

A river runs through it...

Ferns growing on the forest floor

All in all while the hike was not exactly as described in our guide book, a good time was had by all during our hike and subsequent swim in the Hemlock Gorge.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What do sled dogs and mushers do during the summer?

A four month old Sobo stretches out across the AC vent in our floor.

We are frequently asked by our clients: What do the dogs do during the summer? Why, they try to stay cool of course. The dogs, especially Sobo, love to lie on the air conditioning vents. We also garden, swim, take in outdoor concerts, visit dog parks, travel with the dogs, and hike during the warmer months. On cool days, we can sometimes squeeze in a very early morning bikejor.

Okemo says: Why don't the rocks float, Mom?

Sobo takes in an outdoor summer concert at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis.

T-Bone and Sobo romp on the beach at Cape Henlopen State Park during a camping trip.

Sobo and Okemo go for a walk with Eric in Gaysville, Vermont.

So as you can see the dogs stay quite busy during the summer months even if they aren't dog sledding!

As for the mushers, we like to garden, travel, work on our photography skills, and catch up on lost sleep. We are also constantly planning for the upcoming dog sledding season, fixing and maintaining equipment, running pull training clinics, and guiding canicross hikes. Below are some recent photos from our dog yard (aka the garden).

An oak leaf hydrangea in our garden

Evening sunlight illuminates our flagstone wall and a line of hostas.

Lemon thyme growing in the garden

Lettuce growing in the vegetable beds

An ancho pepper plant growing in the vegetable garden

Sobo relaxes under a lilac bush in the garden.

As you can see, both mushers and dogs stay busy during the summer months even if the summer is our "slow" time.