Sunday, December 26, 2010

18mph in French Gulch

Nothing like snow on the head!
We hit our top speed of the season today: 18mph on a sprint run up and back in French Gulch!

A beautiful, sunny morning in the high country and we had some Christmas dinner to work off (ok, I did maybe not "we"). Max, Zorro and I did a "sprint run" from the French Gulch winter trailhead 3.4 miles up French Gulch and back.

Keep in mind it has not snowed (other than light dustings) the last few days as we skijored through 4 types of terrain (and then back the same route):
  1. Packed, sprint track: French Gulch winter trailhead to junction to Little French Gulch. Most people take this trail as a way to Little French Gulch, so this section of the route was a well-traveled and hard-packed sprint track. We surpassed 18mph on the return route in this section!
  2. Packed powder, narrow track: from Little French Gulch junction (up French Gulch) to the last of the private cabins sprinkled in the gulch. This section is lightly used, but still "used enough" to be packed powder as you traverse past the last of the private cabins in the gulch.
  3. Wind-blown, parallel track: from the last of the private cabins to the fringes of the next open meadow in the gulch. Rarely traveled, you can see a past skiers parallel tracks that have been lightly covered by wind-blown snow over the last few days.
  4. Fresh tracks: through and to the edge of the last "open meadow" in French Gulch (it's all forest and up from here to tree-line, should you proceed ;-)  Guess the humans could not make it this far, we tend to always out-ski the established trails as a Siberian powered skijor machine and blaze fresh tracks & trails on our outings. 
Vital Stats: 6.8 miles; 80 minutes total; 69 minutes moving; 5.9 MPH moving average; 18 MPH top speed (and we maintained a 16-18 mph clip for a significant stretch)!
The "3rd leg": following a infrequently used, wind-blown parallel track from a recent skier. 
The "4th leg": no more tracks, the trail is ours to blaze.
Looking back at where we've been blazing our own trail through the open meadow.
The meadow ends... Beyond this point would be thick forest taking you up until you pass tree-line.
I chose to turn around at this point.
Max says, "what do you mean we are turning around here?!?!! I see all kinds of trails to blaze forward!"

Max says, "fine! But if we must turn around, then I must dig to China in the snow first!"

Friday, December 24, 2010

Exploring Dyersville Ghost Town ... Boo!

Zorro says, "this is great!"

Thursday morning found us skiing to explore the historic ghost town of Dyersville.

The town of Dyersville was inhabited in the late 1800s/early 1900s to work the nearby Warriors Mark Mine. Our goal this Thursday morning was to ski, photograph and perceive both Dyersville and the Warriors Mark Mine. Skiing a success... Photos a success (see below)... Ghosts? No - boo!  ;-)

The route was an interesting contrast in terrain.
  1. The first 2.4 miles was a hard packed, uphill & well traveled cross country ski trail - the Indiana Creek winter trailhead up the Indiana Creek trail until the right turn to Dyersville.
  2. The next 0.5 miles was exhilarating! As soon as we turned off the main trail onto the path to Dyersville, we were met with deep & untouched powder - Max, Zorro and I trailblazing the path to & through Dyersville and up to Warriors Mark Mine.
  3. The snow was so deep in sections that I lost "touch with ground" - that is, multiple times I drove my ski pole into the snow to help propel us upwards and my arm & pole drove straight down past my foot, never connecting with solid ground! Yes, that is the length of my arm plus the length of the ski pole in depth and I never connected with solid earth!
  4. The next 0.5 miles was the return (in the same deep powder) from Warriors Mark Mine back to the main Indiana Creek trail.
  5. The last 2.4 miles was, again, the hard packed & well traveled trail to Indiana Creek winter trailhead. Except this direction was downhill (the elevation delta over this section is about 1000 feet)... Hard packed, occasionally steep and attached to 2 Siberian Engines - yikes, this was a test for my intermediate skiing skills!
Vital Stats: 5.8 miles total; 2hrs 5 min travel time; 93 minutes moving time (lots of time stopped exploring Dyersville & Warriors Mark); 3.8 MPH moving average (that 1 mile of deep/deep powder really slowed our average!); 14 MPH top speed.
The first abandoned cabin of Dyersville.
Continuing on to see more of Dyersville.
Those tracks in front of us are RABBIT TRACKS!
A water crossing to another cabin of Dyersville.
Note the narrow "snow bridge" to the left - this was our path over the ice cold, fast running stream.
Starting up from Dyersville to Warriors Mark Mine.
Fresh, untouched and deepening powder!
The narrowing & deepening trail to Warriors Mark Mine.
Warriors Mark Mine.
The snow was waist deep in the "shallow sections" here.
I did not want to get too close to the mine for fear of what I could not see under the snow...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Indiana Creek to Boreas

Max surveying the route ahead
We got a nice dump of fresh powder on Saturday - that inspired Max, Zorro and I to head out to Indiana Creek for the first time this season on Sunday morning.

Our goal: skijor from the Indiana Creek winter trailhead (in Spruce Valley Ranch) up towards the ghost town of Dyersville then swing up to Boreas Pass Rd and ski down to the Boreas Pass winter trailhead. We have never skied this route before - so GPS in hand and Max & Zorro ready to go and off we went...

The route was a fun, gradual incline with lots of fresh snow as we went up the Indiana Creek trail and passed the right turn that leads to Dyersville. Once we passed the Dyersville turn, the trail is supposed to sweep you up to Boreas Pass Rd quickly (or so I thought). Well, about 10-15 minutes past the Dyersville junction, it sure did not feel like we were 'quickly' or 'sweeping' connecting to Boreas Pass. We stopped, I checked my GPS and asked Max & Zorro "what do you think, the GPS shows we are close to Boreas, should we continue?" You ever heard a Siberian Husky say, "no, let's turn around?" Well, neither have I, so onward we continued in search of Boreas Pass Road. Another 10 minutes or so of pretty steep incline and we popped over a ridge and onto Boreas Pass Road - we made it!!! From here it was familiar ground - cruising down Boreas Pass Road to the Boreas winter trailhead.
The Route (click to enlarge): Indiana Creek winter trailhead [INCR-TH] up towards Dyersville (passing the SVR shooting range [GUN]) through an open meadow [CLEARING] past the right turn to Dyersville [DYERS] up to Boreas Pass Rd [BORJCT] and down to the Boreas winter trailhead [BOREASHEAD].
Since this was our first tour of this route, we intentionally bypassed Dyersville to conserve our energy for anything unexpected. Next time, we'll probably dip down into Dyersville to get some fun winter pictures of this ghost town.

Vital Stats: 8.4 miles total; 2hrs 15 min travel time; 2hrs moving time; 4.2 MPH moving average (deep and wet/sticky snow accounted for the "less than our typical" moving speed).
Max says, "Onward & upward, let's go - no reason to turn around!"
It was a snowy/wintery day - a glimpse of the conditions: fresh powder, active snow & tons of fun!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tons of Fun & then Harassed on Boreas Pass...

Went for a sprint up & back on Boreas Pass on Wed. The first 5/6ths of the tour was EXCELLENT, the last 1/6 was not!

The Route: Start at Boreas Pass Winter Trailhead cruised 5.1 miles up Boreas Pass Road, took a short break, then trucked back down Boreas Pass Road to the trailhead.

Vital Stats: 10.2 miles total, 2.5 hrs total, 2 hrs moving time, 5.1 MPH average, 16 MPH top speed! Why a whole half hour of "stopped time", read on...

The Conditions:
  • Packed snow with less than an inch or two of powder from the trailhead to Bakers Tank (i.e., a "sprint track" for 2/3rds of the route).
  • Increasing, untouched powder from Bakers Tank on (increasing from 2 to 5 inches) - a fun "fresh tracks" run at the upper elevations.
  • TONS of uncontrolled and aggressive dogs as we re-approached the trailhead. Lots of time spent stopped, holding Max & Zorro as we waited (& waited & waited) for horrible dog owners to catch up with their loose, growling dogs to move them by us. It was not possible for us to "on by" ourselves, multiple sets of loose dogs charged into us.
In all, a very fun run with a "sprint track" at the lower/more traveled elevations and a "powder track" at the higher elevations. The horrible people letting aggressive dogs run loose was only a few encounters and it just gave Max, Zorro & I a chance to bond off the side of the trail.
Sprinting back towards the Boreas Pass Trailhead.
Note the packed powder conditions - we are in a 16mph cruise in this stretch!
Sprinting towards the "winter gate" at Boreas Pass Trailhead.

Monday, December 13, 2010

French Gulch Sprint

Pausing & taking in the sights.
Another good wave of snow Friday night to Sunday morning had us ready to hit the trails again early Sunday.

The original plan was to do French Gulch up to French Pass and back (about 8 miles roundtrip and 2000 feet elevation gain). Due to extremely deep snow, we modified our route and did a sprint out & back remaining within French Gulch - a 5.9 mile roundtrip with only a modest 500 feet in elevation.

The Route: French Gulch Winter Trailhead up French Gulch Road hugging French Gulch for just unter 3 miles then returning on the same path.

Vital Stats: 5.9 miles roundtrip, 1h 15m total time, 58m moving time, 6.1 MPH average, 16 MPH top speed!
The "turnaround point" - no sign of the official trail, powder in excess of 4 feet deep!
Zorro exploring deep into the snow.
Max coming up for air.
Max using Zorro as a step stool to get a peek at the "path ahead"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lead Dog Gone Loco...

Tuesday brought a surprise dump of significantly more snow than forecasted, so Wednesday had Max, Zorro and I itching for some powder.

Remember now, this is only our second season of skijoring (with Max still a young 3 years old and Zorro a baby 2). To date, we have stuck to intermediate trails in the backcountry and only groomed expert trails. We have already been out on the trails 6 times this year, leading me to utter the phrase that has probably sunk many a musher or skijorer, "We have been crushing it on the trails this year, I am ready for more!" More meant we set out to Crystal Lakes in the Colorado backcountry - a series of backcountry expert trails with a ton of fresh powder waiting for us. See pictures below; but first the tale of our adventure...

It started out wonderfully, heading up a very steep Crystal Creek Jeep Road toward Francies Cabin (one of the Colorado backcountry huts). We skied up 1,500 feet in just under 2 miles, following the clearly visible path of others, until we reached Francies Cabin. At Francies Cabin the "visible path" ended and we were on our own to blaze the trail to Lower Crystal Lake. Again, this proceeded beautifully as we trekked through 1.5 to 2 feet of fresh powder, onward and upward. And then it happend, my lead dog went loco!

As we skijor, Max is my lead dog (he listens to all directions) and Zorro is my wheel dog (he listens to everything "faster" and wants to pull). View it as Max is the steering wheel and Zorro is the (sticky) accelerator.

As we left Francies Cabin in our rear view, we transitioned from 1.5 to 2 feet of fresh powder into 3+ feet of fresh powder. As soon as the powder got 3 feet deep, Max lost it! He buried his head deep in the snow, he rolled around like a goofy puppy and started a "snow wrestle" with "the happy to wrestle back" Zorro. I started calling to Max: "Max Forward!" (this has always got him back in line and on the path), "Max Let's Go!" (this has always served to speed up the forward direction). "Max Max MAX Foward!", "Let's Go!", "MAAAAAAAAX FORWARD!" - repeat, repeat, repeat. Nothing! My lead dog had gone deaf. So, here I was waist-deep in powder on an uphill incline I never would have attempted without my (now stalled) Siberian engines to propel us. I used the gangline as a rope and rappelled myself up to the snow wrestling twins. After separating the lunatics, I was on my knees between them and had a discussion about skijoring and reminding them they were supposed to be good at listening (especially you, Max!). I reset the pair, got up on my skis and told them to continue on.

10 feet forward (at most) and Max dipped his head in the snow, flipped some at Zorro and jumped into a Siberian snow wrestling ball with his brother. Same as before: "Max this", "Max that" - nothing, zero - my lead dog gone loco! Another rappel to separate the wild pair, another heart-to-heart discussion about skijoring & listening and we reset to go again. 3rd verse, same as the first: 10 feet and a cloud of Siberian wrestling powder. I did the unthinkable and gave up on Max and elected Zorro the lead dog. "Zorro Forward!", "Zorro Let's Go", "ZOOOORRROOOO FORWARD!" - nothing, zero again... Another rappel to the front, another separation, another heart-to-heart (which I realized was really a heart-to-wall), another reset and another start. 4th time, same as the first: 10 feet and a cloud of Siberian wrestling powder. Sunk to my knees in powder midway up my chest, I was about to give up all hope on my partners as I let out a big sigh. The noise caused them to pause and, Zorro on his back with four feet in the air with Max sitting on his chest, both looked back at me with the joint happy expressions of, "Hi Dad, this is great, we've never had so much fun!" - and then it dawned on me...

Max and Zorro had never been in 3+ feet of powder in any mode other than "play mode". All of our skijoring to date had been in 2 feet or less (e.g., in powder shorter than Max). Every encounter with 3+ feet of powder in Max and Zorro's young lives had been a play party - dive in the snow, tackle your brother, roll around like a goofball - they had never been asked to listen and work in this setting. The change from 2 feet to 3+ feet must be it. So I reverted to puppy-mode training. We progressed forward not more than 5 feet with me hollering as excited as I could, "Good Forward, Good Forward!" and then we stopped and hugged & licked. 5 feet forward again, excited congratulations, hugs and licks. Then 7 feet, then 10 feet, etc. etc. We did this short, puppy-mode training and celebration for roughly 400 feet and finally we were skijoring again!

We actually progressed in a forward fashion through 3 feet of powder for a short distance and then we hit a wind-blown meadow with the path between the drifts back to a comfortable 1.5 feet of powder. As we came over a hump there was a small dip below the wind and then an incline again. This next incline was back to 3+ feet of powder - luckily I noticed! As we began taking on powder I picked up my "Good Forward Max, Good Forward Zorro" calls with an excited tone. Once the powder was clearly over 3 feet (significantly taller than a husky) Max & Zorro magically unified into synchronized "dolphin like" swimming through the snow. Like watching dolphins swim across the top of the ocean - graceful in/out of the surface water as they progress forward - here was Max & Zorro in a synchronized up/down glide through 3-4 feet of powder. We had arrived, my lead dog was no longer loco and the wheel was churning forward!

Sorry, I do not have any pictures of the "3+ foot incidents": most of the time my pocket was too far down in snow to find the camera, the rest of the time I needed both hands to keep balance and help propel forward (believe me, I tried reaching for the camera once and will not try that again ;-)

Francies Cabin - one of the Colorado Backcountry Huts (yes, this is one of the nicest of the "huts", most are much more hut or yurt like). The trail continues to the cabin, our venture to Crystal Lake took us left at this point.
Our path after Francies Cabin - 100% pure, untouched powder. Just beyond this beautiful, gentle stretch started the uphill in 3+ feet of powder with a loco lead dog.
A wind-blown high point approaching Lower Crystal Lake. Max & Zorro made the indentations in the snow in the foreground - as you can see, within 5 minutes these were wind-blown to the point of looking like "old tracks", not fresh tracks. On the path down, our "up tracks" were completely blown over and invisible in places.
Approaching Francies Cabin as we came back down from Crystal Lakes - the powder is finally shallow enough that I can spare a hand to get my camera out and snap a shot.
The Route: Spruce Creek Winter Trailhead to Crystal Creek Jeep Road to Francies Cabin to Lower Crystal Lake (the "powder loco" stretch) then back to Francies Cabin down an unnamed Forest Service Road to Spruce Creek Jeep Road up for a scenic mile or so on this intermediate terrain and then back down to the Spruce Creek Winter Trailhead. Approximately 7 miles.

The Vital Stats: 7 miles total distance, 2.5 hours total time with about 1.75 hours of moving time and 45 minutes of stopped time with the Siberian Wrestling Locos & Deep Powder Training Episodes. Total elevation gain about 2200 feet.

The Key Lesson: The lead dog is not loco, the musher was misinformed - you ALWAYS told us to play and wrestle in 3 feet of powder before, stupid!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fresh Snow = Sally Barber Mine Tour

It snowed (lightly) on & off all day Wednesday. My skijoring pals and I were looking for a good hour of exercise on Thursday.

Fresh snow means French Gulch Road is skiable (early morning before the plows & sun do too much damage).

An invigorating hour tour after fresh snow has Sally Barber written all over it. So, B&B trailhead up to French Gulch trailhead up to Sally Barber mine and down to Barney Ford trailhead was in order for Max, Zorro and I!

The Vital Stats: 4.6 miles, 54 minutes, 5.2 MPH average, 14 MPH top speed.  Pure Siberian Fun!