Thursday, November 29, 2012

Grand Mesa Outtakes

Ok, the truth... Max & Zorro do have "brotherly tiffs" - don't all siblings? The outtakes from Monday, our third day of skijoring last weekend at Grand Mesa:
The beginning of an inappropriate discussion on the trail.
I thought I caught it and corrected the incident through motivational speaking. I thought.....
Skijoring defined:
  1. 98% Siberian assisted cross country skiing - fun, fast & far!
  2. 2% motivational speaker, peace negotiator and referee!
The outtakes typically come in 4 types of increasing escalation:
  • I notice one or both of Max & Zorro starting an "inappropriate conversation" on the trail. Usually a couple shouts of "hey!" followed by either a "Zorro forward" or "Max forward" or "Max, Zorro forward" (depending on who is starting the conversation or if it is both ways) and everyone gets back in line and the skijoring continues. Successful episode of a Motivational Speaker.
  • The prior tactic does not work and the "inappropriate conversation" continues or slightly escalates. In this case, a "wait" command as I snowplow into a forced stop and then I use the command "Max, Zorro focus!" Focus almost always works as it is their command to turn around and lock eyes on me (and most often a treat will follow if you focus properly). The focus typically erases the original conversation and we exchange happy talk before starting up again. Another successful episode of a Motivational Speaker.
  • "Focus" fails (gasp, yes, it has a few times :-) ... Ok, plant my butt on the ground and commence a Team Organization Meeting to discuss the semantics of skijoring and safety risks of chipping at each other on the trail. No chance to resume skijoring fun with the human planted on the ground! After discussing skijoring in the Team Organization Meeting, we will finish with happy talk and pets as a threesome - everyone must make one happy gesture to the other two! Successful episode of a Peace Negotiator.
  • On rare occasions, the conversation & antics escalate quicker than I can employ tactic number 2 ("wait" and "focus"). In this case the Siberian ears are closed to motivational speaking or peace negotiation and it is an all out sibling rivalry. The rivalry typically escalates into a Siberian posture & wrestle match and I quickly (while on skis) need to transform myself into a referee and dive into the foray to separate everyone in order to start a very serious Team Organization Meeting. A rare and unfortunate episode as Referee.
Well, back to Monday... As the photo above shows, an "inappropriate conversation" broke out on the trail. As you can see, this was a two-way conversation. I swear I caught it soon enough with a quick "HEY!" followed by "Max, Zorro Forward!" with an immediate "Good Forward! Good Forward Max, Good Forward Zorro!" once they corrected. We seemed to be moving just fine again and I was happily reflecting on another successful episode of motivational speaking. Foolish human, here is what transpired minutes later...
1) A slight fishtail from Zorro, a slight fishtail from Max.
2) Calls from the musher to "correct & forward!"
3) "What musher?" as they lock eyes and take the conversation to another level.
4) BOOM! A full-blown Siberian wrestling tumbleweed breaks out on the trail!
[watch on youtube if problems below]

Now, don't be panicked, this extreme escalated "wrestling tumbleweed" rarely happens! Typically only 1 to 3 times in an entire season. But it is a doozy when it does happen! Thank Dog the motivational speaking and peace negotiation tactics almost always work and the referee rarely has to come out.

And, all is ok, here we are in PERFECT form less than 30 minutes later - we had a serious Team Organization Meeting after the wrestling tumbleweed event and then I took the team on an uphill section of trail to get everyone back under control and concentrating on skijoring. Once everyone was back in sync, I uncorked everyone into a fast sprint up a slight incline and into a perfect left turn - ah, the 98% is soooo fun!
Cutting loose into a fast gallop up a slight incline and
into a perfect left at the fork in the trail!
[watch on youtube if problems below]

Oh, those silly Siberians and their outtakes... :-)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Grandest Mesa

All eyes on the musher, "What's
" they ask with focus!
"We had the GRANDEST time skijoring at Grand Mesa last weekend!"

The conditions are still too dry to skijor on the trails around our home, so we went searching for good snow somewhere in Colorado. Thanks to the Grand Mesa Nordic Council, we discovered that Grand Mesa was the trail system closest to home with good, skiable terrain. We knew of the existence of cross country trails on Grand Mesa, but we had never been there before. So, a little exploration on Google Maps, an inspection of the trail maps from the Grand Mesa Nordic Council, a little GPS mapping on Google Earth and we hit the road to skijor Grand Mesa last Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Wow, this certainly was some of the best snow in what has been a pretty dry November across Colorado!

Left: the elevation sign at the County Line Trailhead in Grand Mesa.
Right: the winter "nordic race schedule" for Grand Mesa.
The approach to Grand Mesa is quite shocking and impressive:

(1) From the north you begin the approach from Mesa, CO at an elevation of only 5600 feet. Mesa is completely dry with no evidence of snow anywhere; but the map says "20 miles to the trailhead." How can that be? Only 20 miles and it looks like the middle of summer in Mesa?!? Well, in the next 20 miles, you ascend up 5200 feet and, yes, you find wonderful snow at the County Line trailhead at 10,839 feet elevation in Grand Mesa!
(2) From the south you begin the approach from Cedaredge, CO at an elevation of 6200 feet. Even more baffling than the approach from Mesa - Cedaredge is also completely dry but the map says "15 miles to the trailhead." But, it happens again... You quickly ascend up 4600 feet in 15 miles and "wow - wonderful snow at the trailhead."

Needless to say, the approach (from either the south or the north) to the Grand Mesa trailheads is quite GRAND indeed! We enjoyed 3 wonderful days of skijoring on & off the trails starting at the County Line Trailhead at 10,839 feet in Grand Mesa. Highlights of each day below:

Day 1: Exploration Day

The first day we explored the main trails at County Line. Since we had never been here before, we wanted to get a feel for the primary terrain and trails before going deeper into the backcountry on Day 2. Max & Zorro were quite excited to see the snow all around us and were raring to go. Here's a video of our "sprinting uphill start" to the day - wheeeee!

Off we go - sprinting up a slight incline as we begin our
exploration of the main trails.
[watch on youtube if the video is not shown below]

There is nothing quite like going uphill on skis without having to work - just hang on and let the Huskies go! The majority of our first day was spent on either groomed trails (as shown in the video above) or on established single track trails, as shown below. A fun day seeing what Grand Mesa had to offer!
Following an existing "single track" as we got further back into the County Line trails and out-skied the
groomed section of trails.
Vital Stats for Day 1: 9 miles, 1000 feet of elevation gain and 17 MPH top speed.

Day 2: Off Road Day

Day 2 was "ok, enough of the easy groomed stuff, let's get off road and do some real skijoring!" We skijored to the fringes of what we explored on Day 1 and then got off the main trails and into the backcountry trails - powder shots below!
Beginning our backcountry exploration on the "Outer Loop" trail. One set of narrow tracks to show us
the way. The trail is too narrow to skijor side-by-side, so we are "single file skijoring" letting Zorro
have a chance to run in the lead.
No more "existing tracks" - Max & Zorro breaking trail as we continue exploring further off
the beaten track.
"Wow - untouched, pristine deep snow!" Zorro is maneuvering himself to hop in line behind Max
and let Max and his snow stilts (long legs) break trail for all of us!
We spent about 9 miles "off road" on this day. To get back to the trailhead, we had to get back on the groomed trails. After traveling 9 miles off road and breaking trail, a "groomed trail" is an easy Siberian sprint track. Here's a great video of a fast uphill sprint as Max and Zorro find the groomed trail to be a "walk in the park" after our backcountry explorations.

Back to groomed trails - off we go! Note the perfect "right" as
we approach the fork in the road and I call out a 'right' command.
[again, watch on youtube if the video is not showing below]

Vital Stats for Day 2: 11.3 miles, 1400 feet of elevation gain and 15 MPH top speed (it's hard to hit really fast speeds when you are breaking trail).

Day 3: Cool Down Day

Since we had to drive back home on Monday, we used this third day as our "cool down" day of the weekend. We stayed exclusively on the groomed section of trails and did a 7.4 mile sprint around the main loops covering a modest 350 feet of elevation and hitting a top speed of 18 MPH. A perfect Siberian Cool Down outing to finish the weekend!
Back at the trailhead at the completion of Day 3.
Max & Zorro paying close attention as I hand out
the "end of run" hot dog treats!
As I said in the beginning - we had the GRANDEST time skijoring at Grand Mesa - this was the Grandest Mesa we've ever encountered in Colorado!

Total Stats for the weekend: 27.7 miles, 2750 feet of elevation gain and a top speed of 18 MPH. Woo!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wolf Creek Weekend

Max: "Doing my favorite thing - rolling a snow angel to cool off during our break."
Zorro: "Rodents under the snow, rodents under the snow! Dive, Dive - Bombs Away!"
Classic Zorro doing his patented "head first rodent dive" into the snow. Notice the back legs
up in the air - a perfect form dive from Zorro!
We had a great Friday & Saturday skijoring at Wolf Creek Pass (near the Wolf Creek Ski Resort). If you are not familiar with Wolf Creek, it is the Colorado Ski Resort that gets the most annual snowfall. The snow has been a little lacking closer to home, so we decided to pack the jeep, hit the road and spend two days skijoring around Wolf Creek.

There are a ton of cross country ski trails to skijor around the Wolf Creek area (both groomed and ungroomed); but even Wolf Creek is still in "early season" conditions. This meant we had to stick to trails above 10,000 feet elevation. Our best option was Fall Creek Rd - a dirt, forest service road about 5 miles down from the top of Wolf Creek Pass. This trail is lesser used by snowmobiles (so not a lot of traffic to avoid), is groomed early season and has a few ungroomed side trails to explore and get some good powder. The details of the two super-fun days below:

Day 1 - Distance Day:
The first day we went for "distance" by staying on the main trail (Fall Creek Rd). We found ourselves skijoring up & down the following terrain: (1) 3.4 miles up 1000 feet of groomed terrain; (2) 2 miles down ungroomed terrain; take a quick break then (3) 2 miles back up the ungroomed trail; and (4) 3.4 miles quickly down the groomed terrain. The hilarious photo above (with "dive bombing Zorro") is from our break on this day. Some more highlights from the day:
Cruising up the groomed section of Fall Creek Rd. Really nice snow with pretty snow covered
trees all around us.
Coming back up the "ungroomed section" of Fall Creek Rd. The ski tracks we are following
are the tracks we laid on the way down this section before returning. We were laying fresh
tracks this entire section of the trail!
Vital Stats for Day 1: 10.7 miles with 1400 feet of total elevation gain - top speed unknown as I forgot to reset the GPS before starting the run...

Day 2 - Exploration Day:
The second day we went for "powder" by exploring the side trails off the main trail. As with Day 1, we started on the groomed Fall Creek Rd trail. But, unlike Day 1, we decided to explore a few of the side trails and get off the beaten path. We love getting off road to really enjoy unpacked snow - here's what we found:
Getting off Fall Creek Rd and following a single set of existing ski tracks into the woods. We did a
2-3 mile loop on this side trail before returning to go further up the main trail.
"Ahh - untouched snow!" Getting off Fall Creek Rd again onto an untouched side trail! Nothing in
front of us except untouched snow to break trail. We did another 2-3 mile loop laying fresh tracks
through this pristine wilderness.
What happens when you return to a groomed trail after working hard breaking trail or hopping through slightly touched terrain? Well, you find the groomed trail to be a Siberian Speed Track - how easy compared to exploring the side trails! Fun video below of the Siberians hitting some good speeds once they got back on groomed conditions:

Sprinting on Fall Creek Rd.
Notice the shadow of the human throughout the video. I am
simply "standing on the sled runners (skis)" letting the Siberians
do all the work. There's nothing quite like standing on the skis
when the Huskies "get going" and tow you around the trails!
[watch on youtube if the video is not shown below]

Vital Stats for Day 2: 8.3 miles, 1100 feet of elevation gain, 19 MPH top speed.

We are hoping for more snow soon to keep us on the trails closer to home. But, this was an extremely fun 2-day getaway to enjoy the snow Wolf Creek had to offer in the meantime!

Monday, November 12, 2012

If Only

Look what we found today:

Breaking trail above the abandoned Warriors Mark Mine. It sure was nice snow up high...
If only that last picture was representative of the whole outing... If only... Here's most of what we found:

Nice bright sun. Nice untouched trail. But very shallow snow in the mid section of Indiana Creek.
Yikes - ice and rocks. Most of the ice could "hold a husky", but the human would break right
through. The recurring rocks just under the snow made for a challenging outing.
Our plan for the day was to tour around the trails of Indiana Creek. We (mistakenly) assumed the snow from last weekend was enough to make these trails skiable. Oh what a mistake... These trails are very rocky and more like mountain bike trails than jeep trails. We didn't have nearly enough snow for most of the route to safely skijor down without catching and falling on a rock. So, the modified outing:

(1) Skijor up Indiana Creek to the ghost town of Dyersville - taking note that this trail was possible to ski up (carefully) but was not a trail we could take down.
(2) Continue from Dyersville up and past the abandoned Warriors Mark Mine - oh what great conditions we had up high! 
(3) Attempt to connect down from the shelf above Warriors Mark to the opposite side of Indiana Creek (opposite side from our route up), hoping the conditions were better on the other side.
(4) Quickly discover the conditions had too many exposed rocks for downhill skijoring. Off with the skis, load them on my backpack and hike around Warriors Mark for 30 minutes looking for a skiable path down.
(5) Give up on Indiana Creek, put the skis back on and skijor up to Boreas Pass Rd.
(6) Skijor down Boreas to Bakers Tank.

A lot of "backcountry exploring" (on & off skis) to learn that last weekend's storm did not dump enough snow on the technical trails to make them skiable in any down directions. Bummer...

Stats of the Outing: a moderate 7.4 miles (taking the skis off sure slows us down :-) with 2000 feet of elevation gain. Nice elevation gain as we kept thinking, "it must get better higher!" - well, we were right about the "better higher" but wrong assuming "there must be at least one skiable path down".

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What Cold

"Cold - what cold, it's a beautiful day!" declared Max & Zorro on our chilly skijor outing today.

There was just enough snow for us to make a run up & down Boreas Pass Rd this morning.
How cold, you ask? Well, the thermometer read 2 degrees when we started at the Boreas Pass Winter Trailhead this morning. After about a mile up Boreas, the trail is exposed to winds for large sections at a time. Our route took us most of the way up Boreas, stopping just below tree line. According to the weather report on the radio, the wind chill factor put us at a cool 24 degrees BELOW zero. I could feel it, I thought it was cold - I had icicles forming on my eyebrows and eyelashes. The Siberian Huskies, you wonder? Well here's their report:

"HI! I'm having the best day!" exclaims Max with a nice icicle beard and layer of ice
atop his nose. 
"And the snow is SOOO TASTY!" slurps Zorro with a large "snow beard" after gulping a
bunch of snow to cool off.
"Cold? What Cold?" declares Max as he rolls a snow angel to cool off in the apparently
warm 24 degrees below!
What a bunch of Siberian Goofballs! Does "cold" to a Siberian even exist? I've never seen it...

Vital Stats of the outing: 9.1 mile trot up & down Boreas Pass Rd with a mild 950 feet of elevation gain.

Vacation Albums

One of Max & Zorro's favorite "happenings" on the trails - Getting in so many people's Vacation Albums!

When we are near any busy trailheads, the excitement and interest of the onlookers is always so impressive. We are almost guaranteed to have a least one person pull out a camera and take shots or videos of us skijoring on the trails. Occasionally we will stop and discuss skijoring with interested groups; but, typically, we fly by the crowds and hear the gasps of "Oh My God" or "That is so cool" or "I want to try that" or other excited remarks from the onlookers.

With my new GoPro, I can now get shots of the crowd taking shots of us as we cruise by. Some fun shots from yesterday's outing:
Trotting by a group of 3 onlookers. The lady to the right has her video
camera out recording the event. The comment from the pair on the left,
"Oh My God - look at them go!" :-)
Fast approaching another pair of curious onlookers. I had to include this clip with fully
airborne Zorro sprinting down the trail!
Flying past the same two from the previous clip. You can see the iPhone in the lady's right hand
recording the sprinting machines. The comment I heard as I whizzed by, "I have never seen
anything so cool!
Yesterday's outing found us on Shrine Pass Rd and Lime Creek Rd in the Vail Pass Recreation Area. Max & Zorro were in "mid season form" today even though this was only our 6th outing of the season. We covered more territory on Vail Pass than we ever have in the same amount of time! We were trucking. I can hardly wait to see what "mid season form" will really be this year! A few more shots from the outing...
What a fun shot of the happy huskies! We are at our "break point" and about to get our
hot dog treats before starting back. Such good boys focusing on my every word!
A nice clip of us Max & Zorro towing me along at a nice 11-12 MPH pace.
Sorry the video is a little grainy, I'm still learning how to crop high quality
clips out of my longer GoPro videos...
[see the video on youtube if it is not loading below]

Vital Stats of Yesterday's Outing: 9.6 miles with 1400 feet of elevation gain. Top speed of 17 MPH - the terrain is still "too shallow" in snow for me to really uncork the pair and let them hit their desired top speed (too shallow meaning too dangerous to catch an exposed rock if going 20-26 MPH!)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Deteriorating Conditions

"We need more snow! Where is November? What is this?!?" - that is the conclusion from today's outing cut short by deteriorating conditions...

Our plan was to start near 11,000 feet elevation and find useable snow by remaining on trails in the 11,000 to 12,000 foot range. We used the dog sled, instead of the skis, knowing that the conditions would be sketchy or exposed in places. That was the plan... Here was the reality:

The Good
Early on we found some nice snow-packed trails. Spirits were running high, hoping we'd
find some good distance on this type of terrain.
The Bad
So much for "The Good", we quickly encountered bad patches like this - still passable
but very sketchy.
The Ugly
So much for "The Good" and "The Bad", as we neared tree-line, the sun had really taken its
toll on the trail. It took serious effort by the musher to keep the sled on this skinny line of snow!
The Horrendous
Sledding on dirt, grass & weeds - need I say more?
That last picture sure is horrendous, huh? You might be thinking, "How in the world did we sled on this terrain?" Well.... We got an early start today (on the trails by 8am) so that temperatures were well below freezing. Max & Zorro can pull the sled over "frozen ground" without much extra effort. Frozen grass/weeds is the best as it provides a somewhat slick surface for the sled. We cannot do this for long distances (without damaging the sled), but we can traverse short sections of "no snow" when the ground is frozen.

Needless to say, our plan (stay above 11,000 feet and find snow) was a failure. We had to cut the outing short due to lack of snow and extremely deteriorating conditions. The total outing was a measly 5.3 miles with 850 feel of elevation climbed. We Need More Snow!