Monday, August 11, 2008

A Month of Adventures (Week Two): The Northeast Kingdom and Mt. Pisgah

View from the front windows of our cabin in West Glover, VT

This past Saturday is was time for Eric and I and the sled pets to move on from the wonderful Green Mountains of Vermont to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont for our second week of vacation. As we packed, we were sad to leave (especially sad to leave our excellent internet coverage) but also excited to experience the Northeast Kingdom (NEK) of Vermont.

Contrary to popular belief, the NEK is not in the United Kingdom nor is it a Canadian province. The NEK is, as it sounds, in the north east corner of Vermont, nestled up against the Canadian border to the north and New Hampshire to the east.

On Sunday, Eric and I set off for a canicross hike up Mt. Pisgah in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with Zoe, Sobo, and Acadia. This hike is notably easier (shorter with less elevation change) than our recent hike up Mt. Abe in the Green Mountains.

Sled puppy, Acadia, managed to hike both up and down this time, although she did nap at the summit.

Sled puppy, Acadia, napping at the top of Mt. Pisgah

And then she woke up...

Eric, Zoe, Sobo and a squirmy Acadia at the top of Mount Pisgah

We reached the summit approximately 1.5 hours after starting out. As we climbed (and climbed and climbed some more), Pisgah certainly seemed to live up to it's biblical origins and I done thought I'd see the "promised land" if I climbed much further. All joking aside, Mt. Pisgah does offer views of biblical proportions once you reach the top.

From the top of Mount Pisgah

Eric and the pups at the summit

Sobo resting in the shadows

To reach Mt. Pisgah, we drove from our cabin in West Glover, Vermont to Westmore, VT along the shores of Lake Willoughby.

The hike itself was approximately 3.5 miles round trip and about 2751 feet of total elevation change. Along the way, there were several sheer drop offs with views of Lake Willoughby. Mt. Pisgah defines the eastern wall of Willoughby Gap on the eastern side of Lake Willoughby, a land locked glacial fjord that is both a National Natural Landmark and a designated natural area by the State of Vermont.

Resting at the top of Mount Pisgah with Zoe and Sobo

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Month of Adventures (Week One): Working Pack Dog

Working Pack Dog: Acadia sleeps in my backpack

With clearing skies, yesterday, Eric and I along with Sobo, Okemo, and Acadia set off for a canicross hike up Mt. Abraham in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Canicross is a dog-powered sport involving cross country hiking or running while your dog pulls you. It requires the dog to know basic dog sledding commands such as gee, haw, on by, and line out and it requires the dog to pull. The hiker wears a canicross belt around his or her waist, the dog wears a dog sledding harness (we use x-back harnesses), and the dog is connected to the hiker with a 7-8 foot line usually with an integrated shock absorber. The shock absorber, absorbs energy and takes the shock off of the hiker and dog during starts and stops.

Our hiking guide, 100 Classic Hikes of the Northeast, euphemistically described this hike as "a favorite first hike for families." Clearly, they were not referring to out of shape lowlanders. All kidding aside, Eric and I spend a lot of time hiking with the dogs and found this hike to be difficult both in terms of the elevation gain and the terrain (boulders) for the last .2-.3 miles.

Mt. Abraham is 4006 feet high with a total climb of approximately 1700 feet over 2.3 miles. Round trip, the hike was 5.6 miles and it took us approximately 6 hours of hiking with a break at the summit to eat lunch and enjoy the views.

After driving to Lincoln Gap, we harnessed the dogs into their x-back dog sledding harnesses, hooked them up to our canicross belts, and set off. The dogs pulled consistently up the rough and, at times, muddy trail. Because there were many trees in the trail along our route, we used directional dog sledding commands such as "gee" and "haw" to tell the dogs to go left or right around the trees.

The first 1.3 miles of the hike is a mostly up hill albeit fairly gentle (for Vermont) and winding climb towards the Battell Shelter through a pine forest. Throughout the hike, we could smell the pungent pine scent of the trees making the entire hike smell like one giant Christmas Tree.

Sobo demonstrates "line out"

Okemo pulls hard up hill.

A moss covered downed tree

A cluster of mushrooms along the trail

We stopped briefly at the Battell Shelter to rest and take a few photos. Back on the trail, the sign for Mt. Abraham pointed upward and indicated there was another .9 of a mile to the summit. The last .9 of a mile took us over 1.5 hours to do. It's a tough stretch of trail that our guide book described as "a bit of scrambling on a few slabs" of rock. Given this surprisingly gentle description, Eric and I were unprepared for the long, tough, scramble up nearly vertical slabs of rock. Complicating things further, due to the heavy rains, the rock slabs were wet and hence a bit slippery in several places. The dogs, however, did wonderful, pulling hard up the uneven terrain and following our "easy," "whoa," and "wait" commands nicely.

Eric resting with all three pups at the Battell Shelter

Are we there yet?

Approaching the top

Unfortunately, we reached the summit just as the clouds began rolling in over the mountain so the views were slightly less spectacular than they could have been. Reaching the summit, our eight week old puppy, Acadia, was clearly pooped. She immediately curled up next to Eric (her favorite person on the face of the earth) and went to sleep not even to be roused by the smell of our sandwiches or chips.

Sleepy Acadia

More views from the top

Sobo, Okemo and me at the top of Mt. Abe

Eric, Sobo, and Okemo at the top of Mt. Abe

Acadia curled up in my backpack.

Sobo and Okemo, however, were still clearly good to go on and summit Lincoln Peak, Mt. Ellen, Camels Hump, etc. Our plan for the day, however, was to return to our vehicle parked at Lincoln Gap the way we had come up so after a brief respite we set down the steep and challenging terrain. In some respects, going down steeply, especially with two motivated sled dogs pulling along and one sleepy puppy is far tougher than going up. For the descent (and most all descents) we usually "de-power" the dogs since we do not want them pulling us down and off the mountain. Thus, instead of hooking to their harness tugs (and thereby telling them to pull), we connect the line to their collars (thereby communicating "do not pull."). We also had plenty of opportunities to work on the "whoa" and "easy" commands on the way down.

A "de-powered" Okemo and Sobo

Views from the top

Sobo rests at the top of Mt. Abe

Before we left the top of the mountain, it was clear to us that little puppy butt, Acadia, was tired when she crawled into my back pack and went soundly to sleep. Since we figured it might be easier to carry her down the first steep, scramble over the rock slabs, Eric zipped her into my backpack, leaving room for her head to peak out of the top, and we all set off down the mountain joking that Acadia was working on her "working pack dog title." Do the miles count if the dog rides in the pack? All kidding aside, we would love to have Acadia earn a real working pack dog title when she is a little older just as her father, Orion, has.

Heading down, Eric and I returned to our dog truck parked at Lincoln Gap about 2.5 hours after leaving the top of Mt. Abe with sore knees and two tired adult sled dogs and one not so tired because she slept in the back for the ride down, sled pup.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Month of Adventures (Week One): Sled Dogs and Blackberries

Blackberries. Yum!

So on this, our fourth day of vacation, Eric and I and the four legged members of the Maryland Sled Dog Adventures team, decided to hang close to the house in Lincoln, Vermont.

We began the morning with a light breakfast of biscuits and apple butter. Eric made the biscuits and the crab apple butter was made from the tree in our front yard at home in Baltimore and brought along. Eric's biscuits were light, fluffy and delish! Yum!

After breakfast, Eric and I watched several big thundershowers move through the area. The views from up here, even in inclement weather, are absolutely amazing. When the rain began to let up at about 11:00 am, we decided to take Acadia and Zoe and head into Bristol for some lunch. After a short walk around the Bristol town green with the pups, Eric and I lunched at the Snap restaurant.

Returning back to the house a short time later we took a brief hike with the dogs between thundershowers. As the rains threatened to move in (although they never did), we decided it was time to turn back. After arriving back at the house with no more than about five rain drops having fallen, it was on to blackberry picking. For the past several days, Eric has been scouting the property for good blackberry patches with ripe blackberries.

The meadows surrounding the house

Eric did most of the picking but as you can see from the photos the pups "helped" especially Okemo who has developed quite a taste for blackberries.

Okemo "helps" pick blackberries

Why ever would I want to eat blackberries wonders Sobo?

Eric picking blackberries

Acadia and Eric showing off the "fruits of their labor."

Acadia and Eric

While Eric picked blackberries, I photographed some of the wildflowers in the meadows around the house and watched a new set of storm clouds move in. Shortly after the picking was done, a severe thundershower moved through.

Black Eyed Susan (The Maryland State Flower)


Joe-pye weed with a Bumble Bee


Mountains ringed in clouds

Storm clouds movin' in...

"And the thunder rolls..."

After dinner, I took the blackberries Eric had picked and made them into a yummy cinnamon blackberry cobbler using a recipe from epicurious.

Blackberry cobbler

Eating blackberries is exhausting for sled pet, Okemo

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Month of Adventures (Week One): The Ol' Swimming Hole

The New Haven River: Just upstream from Circle Current

After beginning the day with a hearty Vermont country breakfast of frog (french) toast with real Vermont maple syrup, maple and cracked pepper bacon, and strong coffee, Eric and I set off for a visit to some of our favorite swimming holes.

There is something almost biblical and certainly refreshing about submerging ones self into the cold, turbulent waters of the ol' swimming hole on a hot summer day. Eric and I are big supporters of these natural swimming spots, and have explored swimming holes from Maine to Virginia and just about everywhere in between. As a guide for our exploration of various swimmings holes, we use a resource called Swimmingholes.Org. This is a great resource that includes swimming holes throughout the United States and Canada which we've used to locate swimming holes both at home and while traveling.

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin' on the River

Today Eric and I along with Sobo and Acadia ventured out to visit a couple of our favorite swimming holes in the entire state of Vermont.

Sobo watches the river

Last year we discovered two swimming adjacent swimming holes: Bristol Falls and Circle Current on the New Haven River and they fast became our two favorite swimming holes in the state. On a hot summer day, many folks partake of the swimming, cliff dives and whirlpools at Circle Current and Bristol Falls but since this is one of the largest swimming holes in the State there is usually plenty of room for everyone.

Circle current is a wide area in the New Haven river with beautiful clear pools, whirlpools, eddies, natural Jacuzzis, natural water slides and (usually) crystalline water.

"Here fishy! fishies!" a fish eye view of Circle Current

Picnicking spots at Circle Current

Bristol Falls is a large water fall with opportunities for jumping and swimming with relatively easy access out immediately downstream from the falls. There is also a lovely shallow area immediately downstream of the falls for the little ones (pups and kids) to wade and swim. On a hot summer day, there might be nearly a hundred folks enjoying Bristol Falls but since the area is so large, you wouldn't know it. Sunning on the warm rocks is also a welcome respite after a dip in the river's waters.

Looking down on Bristol Falls

When visiting swimming holes, we try and limit ourselves to just two dogs although we have taken all five dogs on occasion. Many times, the entrances to the swimming holes are steep without well defined trails and can be difficult to navigate with four or five dogs. Some swimming holes are accessed almost directly from the road, some by well maintained paths, while others require a bushwhack through the woods to locate. Moreover, good swimming hole etiquette requires one to respect private lands, pack all garbage out, behave appropriately, abide by the particular swimming hole's bathing suit/clothing optional etiquette, and in general leave the place cleaner than when you found it.

The trail to the base of Bristol Falls

This year, our house in Lincoln, Vermont is only about 4 miles from Bristol Falls and Circle Current. We began the day just a little up river from Circle Current where there are nice Jacuzzis, small falls, and slides.

Acadia and I on a rock upstream from Circle Current

A small water fall

Look at all of that water, thinks Acadia.

Sobo watches from shore

Due to the heavy rain the past several days, the river was higher than it was last year and not quite as clear. After sunning on the warm rocks and a quick dip in one of the smaller more manageable Jacuzzis, Eric and I loaded up Acadia and Sobo into their dog boxes and headed down river a bit to Circle Current. Here there is a nice beach and Eric found some color mushrooms to photograph. There is also a nice big flat rock perfect for picnicking.

An interesting mushroom at Circle Current

After a brief stop at Circle Current, we again headed down stream to Bristol Falls. Here, with the water roaring over the falls, folks were jumping from the cliffs. With the two pups, we limited ourselves to wading in the shallow waters a couple of hundred yards downstream from the falls. Since there were a number of other folks at Bristol Falls, we took the opportunity to have Acadia meet some of the other kids and adults. Sobo and Acadia also met a yellow lab and a GSD puppy named, Bear.

Bristol Falls: The rock protrusion half way up the photo is where folks were jumping from

A friendly yellow lab

After our swimming hole adventures, Eric and I made the short drive back to the house where we had a lunch of left over pizza. After lunch, Eric headed out with T-Bone to see if he could locate two ponds on the property where there is supposedly good wildlife spotting for bear, deer and other wildlife. Unfortunately, after a 3 mile trek, Eric returned not having found the pond but with a wet, tired and happy T-Bone.

Dinner was sausages, thyme mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and ice cream with Vermont maple syrup for dessert. After dinner, we relaxed and read. A good day was had by all.