Friday, 21 October 2005

October 21, 2005 Muskeg Trail

Well, first off, I expect some of you are wondering what the heck I’m doing in Perryvale. It is October, what about the yearly pilgrimage to Togo, Minnesota? Well, sadly some delays with our new dog truck (and we have one or two diary entries in the works about that) meant that this year’s trip to Jamie Nelson’s was not possible.

As I’m typing this I know there is a large group of ‘family’ and friends sitting around Button Box Lake in Minnesota and I miss not being with them, for sure, but it obviously was just not meant to be this year.

As for the dog’s training, we will not let it affect them much at all. Mark and I will be working extra hard to make sure that they get some good camping trips, lots of miles here at home, and the other things they need to prepare them for the trip north.

I am scrambling to try and get some of the supplements that I usually pick up at Jamie’s up here to Alberta, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out in time.

Anyway, as I said, Mark and I are working hard to get miles on the dogs. So today we headed out with the intention of doing a 25-mile run. Yesterday, we did the same - heading up out of the valley, back down into the valley, through the small town of Meanook, up out of the valley to the old Landing Trail (now part of the Trans Canada Trail), back into the valley, past the cemetery, up out of the valley, along Highway 2, back into the valley and home.

Looking for something alittle different today, and being a touch overconfident because I had hubby along, we headed west towards the trail we refer to as ‘the Muskeg’. The Muskeg trail is one we use extensively in the late fall and winter. When exactly we can start using it depends, because Muskeg is just actually a swamp in disguise – mucky, murky, disgusting swamp water with a nice layer of peat on top to sucker animals, 4 wheelers and crazy dog team drivers into thinking they can get across it. Should you fall for it and try to get across, especially in a wet year (like this year), you end up flaying around into muck up to your waist and swearing a lot. Sadly, I know this from personal experience – lots of personal experience actually.

Our first experience with the stuff was back when we first moved to the Grande Prairie area and still had our horses. We decided to ride into the nearby town to return a rented movie. As we were riding along the road we noticed a nice wide trail that cut through the trees and decided to take that. Mark’s horse, Shooter took two steps off the road and promptly sunk over his knees. With alittle bit of struggling and A LOT of effort on Shooter’s part we freed him and took the ‘long’ way to town.
A few years later we were riding along the edge of our property near Beaverlodge. We knew the trail was muskeg, but we thought it was set up enough from frost to cross. We decided the second we thought it felt at all spongy we would turn around. Unfortunately, there was no warning – Mark’s first indication that the ground was soft was when his feet – still in their stirrups – hit the ground. Poor Shooter was up to his belly this time. Again we got him out, but after that even a small mud puddle would cause him to hit the brakes – and really, who could blame him!

Since then we’ve had a few close calls checking out trails on 4 wheelers, but have avoided any major incidents quite well.

As we hit the ‘muskeg-y’ part of the Muskeg trail, I stopped and asked Mark what he thought. “Are you sinking?” No, I wasn’t, so off we went.

We came to a spot where two trails join that we know can be soft, but it was fine. However, when I walked back to talk to Mark, I noticed his leaders drinking water that was rising up in the footprints my team had left. Time to get moving.

As I started down that stretch of trail I noticed the dogs were starting to kick up water with every step.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw two tracks of water where my 4-wheeler tires had just been. Maybe the wise thing to do would have been to turn around, but it was only another mile or so and maybe one really bad stretch to go before we hit solid ground again – so forward we went.
As we turned to head west again, I knew that was where one big ‘dog team sucking’ puddle might be, but thankfully it was relatively good. A whistle to the dog and a quick punch on the throttle popped us right out of the worst of it. I breathed a sigh of relief and then noticed some sort of large piece of abandon equipment ahead on the trail.

As we got closer and closer I was trying to sort out what exactly it was – it looked like a ‘Cat’ (a Caterpillar Dozer, to be more specific), but I’d never seen one that short before. I was wondering what the reason for such a ‘short’ Cat would be when it occurred to me - it was a full size Cat, it was just sunk in the muskeg. Not a good sign. Oh well, we had come this far, no way was I turning around and trying to get back over the trail we had just come over (each track through the muskeg brings more water to the surface and makes it tougher and tougher to travel on).

This is a picture of a "Cat" in a muskeg, but not the same one, this is from Wikipedia
From Wikipedia:

Well, it must have been our lucky day – unlike the day for that driver when he opted to take his Cat down this trail. The dog teams skirted around the machine on relatively stable ground, but man, that thing was stuck - up above it’s track actually. I have no clue how it will ever be gotten out of there – save finding a bigger Cat to come in and pull it out – definitely not a cheap proposition!! Freeze up is just going to trap that machine further!

I’ve heard stories of Cats being completely lost in the muskeg when they were first building the Alaska Highway. It is possible this one will meet this fate too!

Just further proof in my and my dog team’s mind that dogs are definitely better then cats….

©Penny Blankenship for North Wapiti Kennels

A half-mile later we trotted onto solid ground and proceeded to take the long route home around the Muskeg. Looks like we will need a few more solid freezes before that trail is back in use again.

Shortcuts are not always shorter!

All for today!

A water-soaked layer of decaying plant material, one to
three metres thick, found on top of the overburden. Muskeg supports
the growth of shallow root trees such as black spruce and tamarack.

Everything you want to know about muskegs

Copyrighted Image of a muskeg

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