Learning New Things Off-Road in Hinton, Alberta

For me, hitting the trails is usually done on my own two feet, or maybe on a pair of skis if we have enough snow. My boyfriend, on the other hand, prefers to explore the trails on his dirt bike, and he invited me along for a weekend of off-roading at the Brule Lake Sand Dunes just out of Hinton, Alberta with some of his friends. I was nervous, but excited to join in for a new adventure.

Now, my ATV driving experience is minimal, having gone with him once before and then a handful of other times throughout my life, but I hoped that if I took it slow I would be just fine. The guys loaded up all of the units on the trailer and we set out on the around 8 hour drive to Hinton. I was lucky to be able to borrow an ATV from one of his family members to use for the weekend.

The Big Bear Cabin at Entrance Ranch

After a long day of driving, we arrived at the Big Bear Cabin at Entrance Ranch, which is an awesome cabin with a full kitchen, bathroom, and enough room for about 9 people to sleep. We enjoyed a warm fire and then headed off to bed early.

The next morning we made a delicious breakfast and then piled into the trucks to head to our destination. I was still feeling excited, but now even more nervous because we had been warned the night before that the trail in was quite treacherous.

A cozy fireplace after a long day.

As it turned out, the trail was exactly as they had warned us. We arrived and unloaded, then set off in to the trees to get down to the sand dunes. I found myself going down a steep, narrow hill, with a large rut in the centre where water must have drained at some point. With my lack of experience, and the sketchy terrain, my tire caught the rut and flipped the quad over on to its side. I fell off the other direction, and knew immediately that I was fine, but watched in horror as the machine I was borrowing toppled over.

Fortunately, my boyfriends brother was driving behind me on his quad and he hopped off quickly to make sure I was okay. I was so thankful that he was there, even though my fear was quickly replaced with embarrassment as he had watched the whole thing unfold. Together, we flipped my quad back upright and nothing was damaged. Except for my confidence of course, which was shattered for the rest of the day.

We eventually made it out of the trees and down to the waters edge where I breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of the crew enjoyed the hills and trails and I tried to stay on the flatter sections as much as I could.

There were plenty of other people out enjoying the dunes, from families out for a cruise, to very experienced riders making the steep uphill’s and winding trails look effortless. I was in awe at the control and skill that the riders had.

As the day went on, my confidence built up a little, but I was still nervous at every steep section. It was frustrating, but I just didn’t have enough experience driving an ATV to feel comfortable. I instead chose the flatter paths, and enjoyed the other parts of the sand dunes. It was still a breathtaking place to be with mountains peeking through the cloudy day.

We stopped for breaks along the waters edge both days to have some lunch and warm up by a cozy fire. At the end of the day we found a different path out to the trucks that took a little longer but was much easier to navigate, I was so relieved.

Lunch time

The second day we came back in on a less treacherous path, and with some encouragement from the others, I rode in just fine. One of the people in our group let me drive his side by side for a few hours while he took the quad for a spin. It was like a switch was flipped for me, from feeling nervous and unsure at every hill to suddenly being way more comfortable and enjoying a bit of a challenge. The steering and stability of a side by side, plus the familiar car-like set up were a world of difference.

I was so thankful for that last few hours of driving to end off the weekend on a high note. I may have left feeling a little discouraged otherwise, but now I am looking forward to giving it another try one day.

An abandoned truck

We stopped to enjoy some views, and eventually made our way back to the trucks, ending off our weekend at the Brule Lake Sand Dunes. I was happy to have a weekend of new experiences with a great group of people.

Done for the day.

Even though it can be tough, and sometimes things don’t go as planned, there are so many things in my life that I am thankful that I did despite being scared to do so. Getting out of your comfort zone (safely) is such a great way to build confidence for the future, and also to understand that you are capable of so much more than you even think.

I remember taking a scuba diving course in cold lake with very poor visibility. The instructor told us that it was a great place to learn how to dive, because if you can manage the cold and low visibility, then any other dive trip after will seem like a breeze. His comment has stuck with me for years, and I try to remember it whenever I am frustrated with learning something new. It might be a good idea to learn in less than ideal conditions, or put yourself out of your comfort zone, in order to give yourself a solid foundation of knowledge. Then, you will have those skills at your finger tips in the future whenever you may need them.

What outdoor activity made you nervous the first time you tried it?

Happy trails!

5 Different Ways to Eat While Hiking

On the West Coast Trail, I heard a story from another hiker around a fire one night about a man who did the entire week long hike with only a big jar of peanut butter and a spoon for his meals. While that certainly is one way to build a meal plan for a trip, there are plenty of other options to make sure that you still have food you like to eat for as many days as you need.

Each hiker is different, some people prefer to pack granola bars for lunch everyday day, while others need that delicious hot meal to get them to the next campsite. No matter your hiking and eating style, there is a food preparation method for you. Here are the different ways you can pack your meals next time you head out on an adventure.

1. Fresh Food

Best suited for a day hike or overnight trip.

Hiker picnic

For a day trip there no need to go out of your way to prepare hiker specific, nutrient dense meals. Usually I’ll just throw an apple, a granola bar, and a sandwich in my bag and head out the door. I don’t worry about carrying weight as much if its a day pack because there likely isn’t enough room in my smaller pack to fill it over weight anyways. For a quick adventure, I like to try and eat nutritious meals the day before, but I don’t have to focus so much on getting enough calories while I’m hiking like I would have to for a multi day trip.

This is also my favorite time to bring something special, or plan a picnic. The best adventure snack I have made was preparing brie grilled cheese sandwiches on french bread beforehand and wrapping them in tin foil. Then when we sat down for lunch, we cooked them over a campfire. Bring a packet of jam for dipping!

Fresh fruit and veggies! Yum!

Other meal ideas I’ve seen on the trail are bento boxes, hiker charcuterie boards, or thermoses of soup and chili. One determined couple even filled a spare water bladder with red wine for an overnight trip.

PROS: Fresh, delicious, less prep beforehand, familiar foods, you can carry the good stuff like cheese, meats, and fruit if you want to.

CONS: Fresh food tends to weigh more and have some extra bulk, there is also the possibility of it spoiling if you are out for a long day in hot weather, or freezing if its a winter day (frozen Cliff bars are like rocks).

2. Non Perishable/No Heat Required

A great option if you want quick meals that will not go bad on overnights or multi-day trips.

Sometimes, you don’t want the fuss or weight of fresh food, but you also don’t want to bother packing a camp stove. For some overnights, especially on warmer summer days when we knew we wouldn’t want tea or hot chocolate, we would pack non perishable snacks and meals. This can include crackers, beef jerky, trail mix, and dried fruit. I am a ‘treat yo self’ kind of hiker, and usually like to include chocolate bars for good measure.

Some perishable items can be brought along for a few days without worry. Common foods that I’ve seen multi-day hikers pack are tortillas, peanut butter, hard cheeses, and cured meats. You can also buy electrolyte tables and powdered drink packets for an energy boost.

The best perk to meals that don’t have to be heated is that you can eat on the go. You don’t have to take the time to set up your stove and boil water, you could even snack while you’re hiking. Keep trail mix in an accessible pocket so you can snack when you stop. I passed a woman on the West Coast Trail who insisted that her favorite way to enjoy her morning coffee was while hiking.

PROS: Easy to prepare, no heating required, you can eat on the go, will stay good for multiple days.

CONS: Could be heavy depending on what you pack (ex, canned tuna), you don’t get the satisfaction of a hot meal, and there are more limited options for fruit and veggies.

Nothing like a good treat after a long day!

3. Heated With Camp Stove/Over a Fire

A good option for an overnight or multi-day trip.

Something about cooking food over a campfire makes it taste so much better. If you know you’ll be going somewhere where fires are permitted, you could consider packing some campfire friendly meals, much like the brie grilled cheese I mentioned earlier. I like to make food ahead that doesn’t necessarily need to be heated, like sandwiches, and wrap them in tin foil so that if I have the opportunity to toast them over a fire I can.

While delicious, campfires can also be a little less reliable depending on restrictions or weather, so many hikers opt to bring a camp stove along. This opens up your food options greatly. Easy meals cook with a camp stove are macaroni and cheese, rice or quinoa, and oatmeal. There are even frying pan attachments that I think would be perfect for those dehydrated hash browns you can buy at Costco.

Jetboil Sumo

Keep in mind that cooking directly in your pot will take some extra work while you are out on the trail. You can buy biodegradable camp soap at most outdoor stores that will make cleaning up much easier. And you should take in to account that if anything needs to simmer to cook you may need to bring extra fuel for your stove. Lastly, you’ll need to hang your stove with the rest of your food items far away from your tent if there are no bear lockers at your camp. Check with your local parks or outdoor enthusiasts for the proper methods or regulations in your area.

PROS: Delicious hot meals, easy to plan and pack, often non-perishable items

CONS: Extra cleaning required, may use up more fuel if your food items need to simmer, smell of cooking food could be more of a bear attractant, you will have to hang your stove, not all camp sites allow fires and fire bans may be in effect.

4. Freezer Bag/Dehydrated Pre-Made

Great option for multi-day trips and thru hiking.

Quinoa Bowl

This is my preferred food preparation method for hiking. You can buy pre-made dehydrated backpacking meals, or choose to do the dehydrating part yourself. If you are pressed for time, the pre-made meals might be a good option for you. The only downside is that they can be pricey, but I definitely recommend trying a few out to see what you like. Some thru-hikers choose to buy these meals in bulk to save some money and some preparation time.

To prepare, all you need to do is boil water, then pour it into your freezer bag and let it sit for 10-15 minutes until the water is reabsorbed into your meal. I put my bag in an insulated mug with a lid on it to hold in the heat.

Dehydrated chilli

My dehydrator cost about $65 and I have found it to work perfectly with the few recipes I have tried so far. My sister and I dehydrated chilli, quinoa burrito bowls, and pasta for our last multi day trip. This is also a great method for cooking oatmeal in the morning. There are hundreds of wonderful recipes you can find online to make meals that you will enjoy.

PROS: Lightweight, can be more cost effective per meal if you make them yourself, minimizes fuel usage.

CONS: Requires planning and prep beforehand, you must own or borrow a dehydrator, store bought meals can be expensive, you may end up carrying more garbage out.

5. Cold Soaking

Good option for multi-day trips and thru hiking.

Cold soaking is a method commonly used by ultra light backpackers or thru-hikers who don’t want to worry about carrying a camp stove, or don’t want to sit and wait for water to boil. Water is added to a meal, typically a few hours before it is intended to be eaten, so that it can reabsorb in time for the next meal. This works well for food that reabsorbs relatively easily such as oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, or stovetop stuffing mix, but you can find many other recipes online.

This method is not for everyone. Something that I have realized on overnight adventures is how important the temperature of water is for it to feel satisfying to me. In the mountains where we filtered from glacier fed streams, getting cold water was no problem, and it was refreshing. In the middle of Saskatchewan in the summer, however, you filter warm water from a warm lake and drink it as you hike on a sunny day. I think that this is why my first stop after finishing a trail is often to the nearest gas station for a Slurpee. I would be disappointed to have a cold meal after a chilly day of hiking.

PROS: No camp stove or fuel canisters required, minimal food prep on trail, a time saver.

CONS: No satisfaction of a hot meal, limited to foods that rehydrate well.

What is your go-to hiking meal?

Happy eating!

5 Ways to Feel Safer in the Backcountry

It is a strange feeling in this day and age to not be connected to world around you. As someone who keeps their phone no farther than an arms length away at all times, it is a huge adjustment to be completely disconnected, but also an incredibly freeing experience. Education is your power when you want to feel and be safe during your outdoor adventures. Here are a few ways to prepare yourself and hike with confidence.

  1. First Aid Training

Give yourself the tools to problem solve efficiently and confidently. It’s a wonderful idea to have First Aid Training in every day life, and incredible to have in the outdoors. Standard First Aid is great, and you can even expand your knowledge with Wilderness First Aid as there could be hazards in the outdoors that you may not see in day to day life.

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with your first aid kid. I carried a first aid kit for years without ever opening it, and if I was ever faced with an emergency situation, I likely wouldn’t have known what was in it. Practice splinting and bandaging so you can help yourself and others in case of an accident. You’ll feel more confident and better equipped to adventure out of cell service range.

A mock first aid scenario in Wilderness First Aid

2. Build a Solid Trip Plan

I have mentioned before that the West Coast Trail felt like a breeze because I had researched it down to the kilometre so we would have no trouble with navigation or tide tables. I have also been on the flip side and found myself taking many wrong turns or not knowing what to expect due to lack of research. There is information available everywhere now, especially on Apps such as AllTrails, to learn exactly what you need to know about your adventure. If you know what you’re in for, you’ll know how to pack and be mentally prepared for your journey. It’s also important to create a trip plan and share it with someone who will know when to expect your return.

Write or type out your plan and send it to someone who will look out for your arrival and ensure that you have made it back safely. Let them know where you will be going, how long you expect to be there, and what to do if they do not hear back from you by the chosen time.

West Coast Trail information board

3. Research the Area and Local Wildlife

A question that I see often on hiking groups is concern about wildlife encounters. Whether it’s bears in the forest or rattlesnakes in the desert, there is always the potential for running into wildlife. Instead of hoping an encounter doesn’t happen, prepare yourself for what to do if one does. Research different species you’ll find in the area, what their behavior is, and what to do if you happen across them on the trail. Carry bear spray, wear closed toed shoes and long pants, or whatever else is recommended in the area and you might feel a little better about the rustling in the bushes.

It’s also a great idea to read up on current trail conditions and reviews from other hikers. You’ll often find out little bits of information that make your hike safer and more enjoyable, such as which direction to travel first, what to avoid, and which beautiful spots you must see. It’s good to know beforehand if the trail is under a lot of snow, if a bridge has been washed out, or if there has been a lot of wildlife active in the area.

A mama bear and her three cubs

4. Know Your Gear

You know what is ridiculous? The fact that I have had a compass in my pack since 2017 with not a clue how to use it. Fortunately I have been able to work on my skills, but it makes me wonder what else I throw in my bag because a hiking book told me to, and not because I actually know how to use it. In Search and Rescue training, the instructors are constantly reminding us to try out our gear before we find ourselves in the middle of nowhere with it with no idea how to properly set it up or make the most out of it.

Confidence in your gear and your pack means that you know which tools you have at your disposal in case of emergency. Try setting up your tent in your backyard for a night, cook dinner on your camp stove, or do some compass and navigation work in local parks. Make note of which gear you use often and what my sit in your pack untouched so you know what you want keep and what can be left behind.

5. Invest in a Satellite Messenger

I have hiked through areas of no cell service plenty of times without much worry. It can be either scary or nice to be fully cut off from contact from the outside world. That being said, if something was to go wrong, it’s comforting to know that you can still contact emergency services or loved ones if you needed to. I recently purchased a Garmin InReach and have just started bringing it on adventures with me. While the price may seem a bit steep, it could be an invaluable tool in an emergency, and may be a good idea if it is within your budget.

There are many different devices to choose from, from simpler emergency beacons all of the way to two way messengers with GPS and tracking capabilities. Research which device would be best for you, for me I wanted to two way messaging option to be able to send my family ‘I’m okay’ messages. I was also able to find a device second hand but in great condition on a buy and sell website and save myself a few hundred dollars.

My Garmin Inreach Explorer

More Quick Tips to Adventure Safely

  • Clap, shout, or sing as you make your way along the trail so that you don’t surprise wildlife
  • Ensure that you are drinking enough water and stopping for breaks. (Powdered Gatorade or electrolyte tablets are a great addition)
  • A Search and Rescue trainer of mine always says ‘two is one, and one is none’ in terms of gear. Think to yourself about what you would do if you were suddenly without a core piece of your gear and consider carrying a backup.
  • Brainstorm what multiple purposes a single item may have. For example, the mirror on your compass could also be used as a signalling device,or maybe even a fire starter.
  • Adapt your First Aid Kit to your adventure style, if you are often travelling in a group you may consider adding enough to care for multiple people or different medical conditions.

Is my list missing anything? What makes you feel safer in the back country?

Safe & happy exploring!

Nut Point Trail, Lac La Ronge Provincial Park

The Nut Point Trail is a beautiful 30km out and back trail located in Lac La Ronge Provincial Park in Saskatchewan. It can be hiked in a day, but I recommend doing an overnight trip to give yourself time to enjoy the beautiful camp spot at the end of the peninsula. You do not need to book a backcountry camping site, but you do need a provincial park pass to get in.

Piper and butterflies

The area is well marked and it is easy to find the trailhead, you will hike just over 15kms in to the camp spot, although I have heard that people occasionally choose to camp at the portage at the 7.5km mark. My friend Lindsay, the two dogs, and I packed up and set out on a hot +25 degree celsius day.

I packed my bag the night before with my usual gear for an overnight hike. The camping area at the end does not have a cache or canisters to keep food away from wildlife so be sure to pack some rope to hang up your food. After speaking to a local I packed a swimsuit because he said that the camping area was also a perfect swimming spot. I’m also glad I brought bug spray, although they weren’t too bad so long as we kept moving. Most importantly, I brought my camp shoes so that my feet got a rest and my soggy hiking boots had some time to dry out.

My gear for the night

The trail is rated as difficult and I found it to be challenging terrain, it was good to have my trekking poles when manoeuvring over the rocks and roots. We passed lots of muddy areas that the dogs adored but left each of us with soggy boots. There are also plenty of open spots where the heat can get to you so make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen. There is spotty cell service along the trail, and we noticed plenty of boats driving past the peninsula which made us feel more comfortable as we were the only tent set up that night.

June enjoying every mud puddle

After a very long 7.5kms in the sun, we made it to the portage at the halfway point. There are a few picnic tables and spot off to the left where a group of teenagers was jumping off the rocks into the lake. The dogs got a good opportunity to cool off and we had a moment to drink some water and eat a quick snack. I have read in other posts that people sometimes opt to camp here, but we didn’t see much room for a tent set up.

The half way point

The difference in terrain along the trail is breathtaking. We hiked over rock, through water, over roots and moss. We admired the blueberry plants along the trail, which was another reminder to be bear aware, but didn’t end up seeing much more than the odd squirrel. We saw quite a few hiking back from camping, and they said that there were about 5 tents set up there the night before, but we were the only ones heading out that day.

On the trail, hoping to find some squirrels

My absolute favourite spot on the trail is around the 11km mark. A small trail veers off to the perfect spot to dip your feet in the water and sit on a shelf of rock. I was excited to stop here both days.

Around km 11, the perfect spot for a break

At last, we arrived! We were thrilled to finally make it to the end of the peninsula. There is one camp fire spot that seems more permanent and plenty of smaller fire rings set up around from past campers. The local I talked to was right, the swimming area was perfect! We started the trail later in the day, but next time I would probably start first thing in the morning so we would have more day light to enjoy the beautiful spot.

Lindsay enjoying the water

We set up camp and settled in to eat some dinner. The dogs quickly ate the kibble that I had packed for them and then conned me out of part of my sandwich with their puppy dog eyes. How could I resist? I packed a pre-made s’more that may be my new favourite hiking treat in lieu of my usual chocolate bar.

Piper enjoying the campsite
Camp treats

We were exhausted from the long day of hiking, and ended up in bed pretty early. But I was told later that the northern lights were incredible, so they may be worth staying up for next time I find myself on this trail.

Lindsay setting up camp

I probably should have warned Lindsay that the two person tent we were sharing would also have two soggy dogs in it. She might not have had the best sleep, but hopefully she forgives us. In addition to the cramped tent, it was quite warm and windy through the night and we found ourselves up early and ready to head home. The trek back to the car was much nicer in the cool morning air, although the bugs did come out a bit more.

2 people and 2 dogs in a 2 person tent

Finally we arrived at the parking lot. I was exhausted, with sore feet, and a long 5 hour drive ahead, but so glad that we had tackled the trail. I am so thankful to have an adventure friend like Lindsay who is always in to try something new. We stopped for a well earned Slurpee and made our way back home.

Happy fam

Happy hiking!

Summer Walks at Cranberry Flats Conservation Area

Cranberry Flats Conservation Area is a short 10 minute drive outside of the city of Saskatoon that is family friendly, dog friendly (on-leash), and has an accessible lookout point with a boardwalk. While it is lovely in the winter for snowshoeing and walking, it is worth revisiting in warmer months to appreciate the large diversity of plant life.

The dogs at Cranberry Flats

I packed up my usual adventure sidekicks and we set off to explore. Although the area can get busy, there are plenty of smaller trails that branch off and I didn’t find myself crossing paths with many other people. I was in awe at the variety of wildflowers I came across, but couldn’t stop for long as the dogs pressed forward in hopes of coming up on one of the squirrels that chattered around us.

Along with the explosion of flowers, we were surrounded by berries of all colours. The Saskatoons have begun to ripen on the bushes, and the Juniper berries were so plentiful that they weighed down the little green shrubs.

Although there were a few grey clouds in the sky, it was a hot day, so we made our way down to the river for the dogs to have a swim and a drink. I watched some new little froglets hop back into the safety of the water as we cooled off and continued on our way.

June going for a swim

We continued along the river side for a while and then happened to pop up right below the boardwalk and lookout point where a man was playing the guitar with the company of two curious ground squirrels. After a lovely chat, we headed back to the vehicle for a drink of water and some air conditioning.

Wild Bergamot

My favourite part about Cranberry Flats Conservation Area is that you can make it your own adventure. You can spend 30 minutes to several hours exploring, no matter the season, and it is always breathtaking.

Happy exploring!

A Day in the Life of a Dog Sled Tour Guide

What goes in to being a musher? Getting paid to pet dogs all day? Here is a snap shot of an average day of a dog sled guide, working one of my favourite jobs but also by far the most difficult!

Every morning I would scramble and gather all of my gear and quickly eat before heading out the door. The funny thing about seeing dog food all day when you’re hungry is that it starts to look kind of… appetizing? I found myself buying chocolate cereal that looked suspiciously familiar to the kibble I was scooping out for the dogs. Every day I brought a 48 litre pack of gear and a smaller 20 litre pack to work with me, the smaller bag to sit on the sled with me with extra mitts/gear for guests, and then a larger bag for extra layers of clothing and another pair of boots. We would all arrive at the dog kennel and throw our bags in a pile on the deck to start the morning chores.

While it’s easy to see the fun part of the tours, a lot of work goes in behind the scenes to keep the dogs happy and the tours running smoothly. The first tasks of the day are regular chores before we load up the dogs and drive to the dog sledding trail. Morning chores included feeding, poop cleanup, giving medications to dogs who needed them, loading hot water canisters and other supplies into the trailers, and getting the trucks running and warmed up. Winter in the mountains also means that morning chores were done in the dark, so a good head lamp was a must! Each of the 150+ dogs received a portion of food specific to their dietary needs, and we followed a written food board to make sure this was correct. As guides, we were expected to learn each and every dogs name and which house they lived in (their names were not written on their houses or collars).

Indy and the food board

My favourite chore in the morning was preparing the feed. My least favourite was loading the trailers, because I wasn’t tall enough to lift the hot water canisters into the trailer and often spilled them all over myself in the process. It is rather uncomfortable to start a 12 hour day outside in the winter soaking wet. After those tasks were done, we were all given a list of what the teams would look like for the day. Then we would run to collect the dogs and put them in the appropriate boxes in the trailers so they could be unloaded according to team. This was a workout, because we would be running with two dogs at a time and lifting them into boxes. I often struggled to get the bigger dogs in the boxes up over my head, and was thankful when they would cooperate by putting their front paws up on the trailer. After everyone was packed up, we grabbed our radios and set off.

The driving time was our ‘quiet’ time for the day, as the trails we ran our teams on were about 30 minutes from the kennel. As soon as the trucks pulled up to site, we were on the ground running to get everything ready. A drop line was set up between posts to clip the dogs in to get their harnesses put on before the team was hooked up to their sled. Then we would take the sleds down from the trailers, set up the lines and sled bags, then get the dogs hooked up, and drive them to the starting chutes to park until guests arrived. We typically would bring 120 dogs up to site with us every day. Any pups that weren’t heading out on the first tour would then be taken out to pee and given some warm soup while they waited for their turn. In addition to the set teams, we would bring up spare dogs to put in place of older dogs half way through the day or if any dogs were too tired or feeling unwell.

As the guests arrived and the tours set off, some guides would stay back to prepare a campfire for the cold returning guests, look after the dogs staying at the trailers, and prepare any dogs who would be running the next tour. Another two guides would set off on a snowmobile behind the running tour to clean up dog poop along the trail. Guests were often surprised to hear that clean up is done after every single run, but it was important to keep things as pristine as possible.

It is truly a magical feeling to be driving a dog sled across a frozen lake, and I tried to pause often to appreciate exactly where I was in that moment. What a privilege to live and work in the mountains, and be a part of a an experience of a lifetime for so many people.

As a guide I was responsible for three sleds, mine in the lead, and two guest driven sleds behind me. I had to ensure that the guests were driving safely and confidently, and that the dogs were doing well. If one sled was moving slower than the others, I could stop and rearrange my teams to even out the speeds. Sled dogs have best friends who they prefer to run with, and dogs that they do not get along with. It’s important to learn their personalities and understand those relationships to keep your sled moving and your pups happy. Happy dogs also need encouragement, so we asked guests to try and remember the names of the dogs on their teams and cheer them on.

Between tours, the dogs get a well deserved rest and a warm soup filled with tasty treats. This was also when it was important to check in on all of the dogs on your teams and give them some love. On very cold days, shorter haired dogs would get jackets, and those with sensitive feet would have booties put on right before the tour went out. Any other down time was spent snuggling, petting, and brushing the dogs.

At the end of the day, after four tours, we would drive all of the teams back in to the chutes to park and take the dogs off of the lines. They would be attached directly to the drop line again where we could remove their harnesses and give them a final bowl of soup before returning for dinner at the kennel. We would them take apart the sleds and wrap up the lines, then begin loading the dogs back into the truck after their stomachs had some time to settle after eating. We became so familiar with the dogs that we could have one guide wait at the trailer and one at the drop line, and then release dogs to run to them and be lifted into the boxes. There were also dogs who thought it was a fun game to run circles around us instead of going to the trailer, so we had to choose wisely.

Marilyn lounging after tours

Once we returned back to the kennel in the evening, the work was still not over. The first thing we would do is change out our wet socks/boots and uniform to dry kennel clothes. Then our first priority was getting the dogs out of the trailers and back to their homes where their food and fresh water was waiting. We always took two dogs at a time, and tried to choose two that live in a similar area in the kennel. A piece of gear that we all used was a climbing quick draw that we attached to our belt loops. This made it easier for us to clip one dog to us while we used both hands to lift the next dog down. After that we completed nightly clean ups, meds, and then some dogs would get jackets or blanket put in their houses if they needed them. Finally after everyone was fed and cozy in their dog houses, our day was over.

Ducati snuggled up with her blanket

One night a week I would sleep at the kennel, as each staff member took turns spending the night in to make sure everything was okay with the dogs and the yard. Kennel nights had their perks, you could bring dogs in with you for sleepovers (I would often have 3-4 pups sleeping beside me), but it also meant that I would wake up whenever the kennel started barking or howling, or when the logs in the wood stove had burned down. It was a great feeling to snuggle up beside a fire with a cabin full of happy dogs.

Dragon enjoying the fire

The next morning I would be up early filling thermoses with hot water and ready to start the process all over again. I was often so exhausted from my week of work that I didn’t even think about doing anything on my weekends, it was a full time commitment for a season and I would even dream about dogs all night, but I loved my experience working as a sled dog tour guide and every challenge I faced along the way.

I am now lucky to have a little piece of the kennel close to my heart since adopting my retired sled dog Piper from the company.

Happy working!

Diesel Ran Out of Gas – Carrying an 80lb Dog Down a Mountain

Living in the mountains in Alberta is what grew my interest in hiking, and as any new thing you learn, mistakes are bound to happen. I had started with a few smaller hikes around the Columbia Icefield, and my friend Jared mentioned that we try a more difficult hike when I visited Canmore.

One sunny, hot weekend, I was in Canmore for a few days and Jared suggested we hike EEOR (East End of Rundle). I was eager to do something, and I had never tried hiking up a mountain before, so I was game. As we packed up our bags to leave the apartment, Jared’s roommate mentioned that we should bring his dog Diesel along with us, to which we shrugged and agreed. We packed the dog up with us in the vehicle and drove about fifteen minutes to the trail head and set off on our journey. EEOR is not quite as well travelled as the mountain beside it, Ha Ling, and the trail wasn’t quite as obvious. We weaved our way up through the rocks and trees, the dog happily bounding ahead of us. The heat and exhaustion were beginning to get to me and I stopped a few times to sit in the shade and drink some water. I was so tired that I considered turning around, but with words of encouragement from my friend and a happier than hell dog running ahead of us we continued on.

As we got above the tree line there were almost no opportunities for shade, and I was really feeling the heat. In hindsight, I could have packed far better than I did, maybe a hat and much more water, but at that time I had no idea. The day was beautiful. We didn’t see another soul on the trail, but we heard some voices further up the mountain, so we weren’t quite alone. After making our way up to a lookout point we took some awesome pictures, then decided to turn around. This is when everything started to go downhill.

Diesel was still excited and leading the pack, but I noticed a spot of blood on one of the rocks he ran over. I immediately stopped him and inspected his feet. The EEOR hike is noted on the AllTrails App to be safe for dogs, so I hadn’t thought much about him coming along. However, mixing the grit of the mountain rock with soft paws that didn’t get walked very often, proved to be a disaster. His sensitive paw pads were worn raw. Horrified, because I felt terrible that we had allowed him to get hurt, and also that we were still 3/4 of the way up the mountain, I dug through my first aid kid to find some bandages.

After trying unsuccessfully to wrap his feet without him promptly biting the bandages off, we decided our only option was to try to convince him to walk slowly down the mountain. We cheered and coaxed him on, but at this point the pain had set in and he was becoming unwilling to walk. At this point I also stopped taking photos because I was panicking about what we would do. Jared finally decided that our best bet would be to carry him down. I took the bags, and he began to fireman-carry and 80 lb dog down a treacherous mountain. We made it about 3/4 of the way down when Jared couldn’t fight the exhaustion any more.

We sat down with the sun beginning to set, and pondered our options. We tried calling friends with the bit of cell service we had on our phones, but to no avail. Do we leave the dog and come back with more help in the dark? We worried he would likely wander and become even more lost, and we couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him behind. Do we spend the night on the mountain, ill-prepared with no more than a spare granola bar and some sunscreen on our packs? Also, not a great idea. We sat feeling hopeless and drained.

Then, as if on cue, we heard rustling and talking through the trees. I suddenly remembered the voices we had heard on the mountain earlier. Two men on the tail-end of their hike emerged from the trees and greeted us with an Aussie hello. We explained our situation to them and they enthusiastically agreed to help us carry the dog the rest of the way down the mountain.

We thanked them profusely the rest of the way down the trail. “No worries, any day you get to hang out with a dog is a great day” they laughed back.

Eventually we made it back to the car, exhausted and grateful. We returned back to the house and I carefully cleaned the pup’s feet after calling a veterinarian for advice. He was healed and happy within the week.

I use this adventure as a reminder to pack smart, be prepared, and be thankful for other people I meet on the trail. There is always something to be learned!