Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Puppies in the snow

One of my favourite things that Natahl has brought into our relationship is her two little fur babies; Maddy and Jackson.

Maddy, on the right, is a corgi with a bit of wire-haired Jack Russell in her. She's slung low to the ground and is the more mature of the two. Jackson is West Highland White Terrier who has been graced with longer legs, rabbit ears and a puppy-like manner that belies his five year age. Maddy is the mother, with Jackson acting like her over-excited child.

For the last couple of months we have entertained the idea of taking the dogs to the snow. The Saturday prior to this particular adventure we did a brief trial run at Mt Margaret (near Lake Mountain), with good results. With the success we had experienced we were keen to go for an overnight journey with the dogs, and courtesy of a well-timed cold front we were able to do it the following weekend.

The venue for this particular adventure was carefully chosen, for puppies are not welcome in national parks or our alpine resorts. Exceptions exist for state forests and historic areas, though the vast majority of these areas are at low elevations. However, with good local knowledge and a bit of time on ForestExplorer one can track down dog-friendly areas in the snow. One such area is Mount No. 3, a ridgeline heading NNW from Mount Stirling. It was here that we took the puppies one sunny Saturday afternoon.

As you can see, Tahl had fitted coats to the puppies lest they get chilly in the alpine environment. Maddy's conspicuously bright red coat was carefully chosen; she has a ninja-like habit of silently sneaking away to fulfil whatever it is a Maddy-dog does, so we constantly have to keep an eye on her.

Our journey commenced at the locked gate on the No. 3 Road, where good snow was present. Jackson immediately started running around like a crazy thing, cocking his leg on every object he could see, and was always up the front, beckoning us to hurry up so he could discover what lay ahead. Maddy was slightly more composed but none-the-less excited, and if anything she was the more amusing of the two. You see, poor Maddy is a bit vertically challenged, and she soon discovered that walking in the soft, fresh snow was painfully slow. The extra resistance up against her little legs slowed her progress to a crawl. Maddy decided that a change of technique was required if she was to enjoy the exciting new discoveries Jackson was making up ahead, and so she went into bunny-mode, leaping with forward by pushing off her back legs, forming a see-saw motion.

After walking for a kilometre or so the snow had reached a sufficient depth for us to put on our weapons of choice for the weekend. Tahl was on snowshoes, whilst I had opted for my pattern-based touring skis. I set off first, and as it was Tahl's first decent foray on snowshoes I let her walk behind in my tracks to make life easier. After a couple of hundred metres Jackson discovered that it was much easier to walk in my ski tracks than breaking little doggy-trails everywhere, and promptly began hugging the tails of my skis; a position he was to occupy for the majority of the next two days. Alas, poor Maddy had not cottoned on to the energy-saving trail being broken by the three of us, and instead was doing it tough in the fresh snow alongside. Eventually Tahl took pity on her and literally steered her into our tracks, where she happily stayed for the rest of the journey.

As we climbed higher we entered snowgum country, then emerged onto the crest of the ridge. The snow was divine and completely untracked. Our little convoy was well established by this point in time; I was in the lead, closely followed by Jackson, then Tahl, with Maddy bringing up the rear.

The grade had flattened off by this stage, enabling us to soak up the scenery and enjoy sharing our fantastic surroundings with the puppies. All I can say is that having a dog in each ski track is pure bliss!

At one point I lost my balance while taking a photo, much to Tahl's amusement. I quickly discovered that even falling over on skis is better with puppies around!

Although our convoy order was generally well-established, there were always variations along the way. At one point the puppies decided to enjoy some time together behind Tahl.

A little further on the road approaches the summit, which I haven't climbed. Today was no exception.

From here the track descends. In the past I've got up to reasonable speed on this slope, but alas, with its soft snow today was not conducive for good glide. Instead there was a bit of poling action and a slightly faster pace, which Jackson took advantage of.

Near the site of the old Mount No. 3 Refuge Hut Tahl had some blisters to attend to, so we had our first (and only) stop of the day. The cloud had began rolling in and it was starting to get late in the afternoon, and by this stage the dogs had overcome their desire to smell everything in sight and merely waited by Tahl's side.

It seems that Rule Number 1 for dogs in the snow is to keep your nose well-lubricated, regardless of how cold you might be.

If you think that Jackson looks a little damp, you'd be right. That dog has a seemingly unquenchable desire to be in water, regardless of the surrounding conditions. In this case any puddle, no matter how slushy or frozen, needed to be waded through - even if it meant breaking the ice first! He was fine whilst moving, but our short stop soon had him shaking like a leaf. If you look a little closer you can see the reason why; his frequent immersions combined with the fresh snow had created a cold and weighty dag problem in the vicinity of his front legs. Maddy, too, was starting to feel the cold, and so we made haste and continued on for the last 1.5km to our stop for the night - Mount No. 3 Refuge Hut. Here's a photo of it the next morning.

We had considered three different accommodation arrangements for the evening. The first was to pitch the tent and have all four of us sleep there. Second option was for Tahl and myself to sleep in the tent, leaving the dogs in the hut. The third option was for all of us to sleep in the hut, which is what we ended up doing. The fire was lit and soon the hut was nice and warm. Tahl took the dogs coats off to enable them to absorb some heat, though it still took quite some time for Jackson's dags to thaw.

At one point Maddy decided she liked the fire so much that she propped herself mere inches away from the fire for almost a full minute - when she eventually moved away in an extremely casual manner she was one very hot dog! Jackson was much more sensible and lay at a safe distance from the fire on the 3mm closed cell foam provided.

As Tahl and I ate dessert Maddy suddenly became quite alert and started sniffing and running back and forth between the door and a corner of the room, with Jackson joining her. This had us quite concerned, as we were worried that they may be smelling wild dogs. Maddy isn't an exceptionally communicative dog but she seemed quite concerned by whatever it was she was smelling, even giving a slight whine at one point. Tahl and I were worried it may have been a wild dog that had a desire to consume our precious puppies!

All four of us needed to go to the bathroom prior to turning in for the night, so we hatched a cunning plan to suss out exactly what was outside, and to get everyone emptied out before bedtime. First we got dressed up ready to brave the cold outside. Next we opened each window and carefully looked outside for any dog tracks that may be seen in the fresh snow. Then the Tahl and myself slipped out the front door and quickly armed ourselves with a pole each, and looked around only to see… nothing. No wild dogs. It was a relief. Still, we accompanied each other to the toilet, then returned to the hut. Tahl put the dogs on a lead for the first (and only) time for this trip, and brought them outside so they could to attend to their duties. Immediately Maddy shot off, tugging at the lead trying to get under the hut in the area she had been sniffing on the inside. At this point we realised she had probably been smelling an antechinus or similar small native marsupial.

Once we got the dogs back into the hut again they settled down and we all turned in for a good nights sleep. Despite our anxious moment caused by the unknown animal outside, we're still keen to camp out with the dogs in the tent, although just to be safe they'll sleep in the inner with us. It served to remind us all that dogs are much more alert than humans with such things.

The next morning we awoke to find puppies sprawled everywhere and glorious sunshine streaming in. As we cooked breakfast Tahl noticed that Maddy was feeling the cold quite severely, so after applying jackets to the dogs Tahl wrapped the poor girl up in a fleece blanket. Maddy just stood there, looking fairly unimpressed.

Jackson was fine in his little jacket and was quite happy to wander around the hut looking cute.

We had a leisurely breakfast and slowly packed up, eventually venturing out into the lovely sunshine a little before midday. Jackson went straight to a patch of recently disturbed snow and started eating away like a mad thing. Up until this point he had shown no interest in eating snow whatsoever, so we were intrigued as to why he had suddenly decided it was now a valid food source. It turns out that Tahl had scrubbed some dishes in the area, so Jackson had smelt the residue and decided all the snow in the area was fair game!

After we saddled up it was time for us to hit the road again. New ski tracks, both thick and thin, told us that others had passed by that morning.

We cruised along the road and had a break at the top of the range once again. Whilst enroute we came across two other skiers, whom the dogs enjoyed sniffing. The multiple ski tracks became a single well-formed trail at this point, and it remained that way until the snow became too sketchy for skiing.

The rest of the trip out to the car and home again was fairly uneventful, apart from some bad odours wafting from the back at random intervals. It seems that the dogs have the uncanny ability to convert dry dog food into a none-to-pleasant gaseous form! We quickly realised that the consequences of dry dog food outweigh the weight savings. Next time we'll take proper food, or if Natahl gets it her way, the dogs will be carrying their own! Overall, taking dogs to the snow gets the big thumbs up from us, and it's something we highly recommend to all snow-going dog owners.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Craig, just wrote you a message on your blog from April but not sure if you will read it, so writing on this newer one instead! I lost your mobile number when I changed phones so just been trying to get in touch with you and came across this blog. I still have the same mobile number and email that I've had for ages if you want to get in touch. Still at the same house too. btw it's Jess your "old" Debut partner! :P