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.