Last fall during the annual ALDHA-West gathering I presented my first talk about thru-hiking with dogs and shared my experiences about the years I had spent backpacking with dogs. The head of Friends of Scotchman Peaks (FOSP) Phil Hough was in attendance, Phil is an old friend I originally met when I was working as Ridgerunner on the Appalachian Trail. When I first met Phil, him and his wife Deb were doing their thru-hike of the AT, we sat and chatted about hiking for some time. Nearly 12 years later I ran into him and Deb again at the ALDHA-West gathering and instantly remembered each-other, since then we have stayed in touch.
After my talk Phil asked me if I would be interested in traveling to Idaho in the spring to give my talk at their annual State of Scotchman’s event. I was honored and jumped at the opportunity to get to travel to northern ID, a place I have wanted to visit for a long time. As the months progressed Phil had some great ideas, one of which was doing a dog weekend in ID and having me lead a hike with dogs for National Trail Days, and also giving a second talk in MT, after the hike.
The winter came and passed and spring arrived, it was time to go to ID. I spent some time reworking my talk so as not to just focus on thru-hiking with dogs, but to talk more about backpacking with dogs in general and also on how to go with an Ultra-Light set up to help push bigger miles with your K9 companion.
We left early in the morning and headed NE from Portland on our way to Sandpoint, ID. The day in the car was great, Karluk and I stopped every hour or so and got out for a walk, some water, a snack, etc... The high desert and Washington Scab Lands were a great landscape to drive through, Karluk spent a lot of the drive sitting in the back of the station wagon watching the landscape go by.
We finally arrived at Phil and Deb’s house in Sandpoint and got ready for our talks, this of course meant taking a hike to stretch our legs. Phil led us through a bushwhack of thickets, up a ridge, and finally to a point that overlooked the lake and Sandpoint, ID. It was a great way to get familiar with the landscape and wake up from 400 miles of driving.
Phil then took us into town for a quick beer at the local brewery. Laughing Dog Brewery is an awesome brewery, they make a great beer and have a good selection of flavors. The best part though is their tap room is dog friendly, it’s more like an indoor dog park than a pub, and you can enjoy a cold beer while your dog runs around and plays.
Finally it was time to take the main stage. After Phil and his team presented their awards, updated their members on the status of the Scotchman’s, we were up. There were around 65 people in attendance, and a lot of people had brought their dogs. I started by asking folks to leash their pups during the talk so there wouldn’t be any distractions. Next we held a raffle for some great Ruffwear gear donated for the event; we raised some money for FOSP and the Pan Handle Animal Shelter that were co-hosting the event.
I started off by talking about my thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail and my old dog Erwin. I shared our tales from the trails and some of the experiences we had along the way during our hike. I then talked about being a Ridgerunner on the AT, and getting to work with Erwin, my dog back then, helping educate people about using the trail. We then talked about how to choose a hiking dog, and then what you need to do to get ready to hit the trail.
I discussed in depth about how I taught my dog certain commands for hiking such as “Trail” which is his command to get on the trail, “Hike” which means walk forward, and “”Wait” which means freeze frame-this is great command when you are coming up on other trail users or wildlife. We then talked about physical training and what we do to keep in shape for our bigger trips such as weekly hikes, daily running, ball play, swimming, skiing, etc...
The discussion then moved onto dog gear and human gear. I went through all the different items we use. I talked about our different packs, certain jackets for each weather scenario, booties, first aid kits, leashes, etc... I then showed off my UL back packing setup and how we use certain things together to help save weight. One benefit of going light is that you can help carry more of your dogs food, this helps ease their burden when hiking big miles. We finally ended our talk going over Leave No Trace ethics with your dog and interactions with others.
After the talk was over I spent nearly an hour answering questions and showing off my gear to everyone that came up and asked. It was great getting to show some of the features of each of the items and also giving folks an opportunity to try the packs, jackets and booties on their dogs. We finally wrapped up the evening with a meal in town and then headed back to get ready for the hike in the morning and the next days talk.
When we got back to Phil and Deb’s house the received a call that they had lost a family member that night. As these things go “the best laid plans of of mice and men often go awry”. Phil and Deb made some last minute flights and immediately left for the hour and half drive to catch a 6am flight. The handed me a map, some directions and the big thank you for being understanding.
Saturday I rolled up to the Yoke’s grocery store in Sandpoint where I met the 6 other people, and 8 other dogs that would be hiking with us that day in Montana. We had one little dog flare up in the parking lot when some of the dogs were loading up into the cars, we quickly broke it up and didn’t have any other incidents the rest of the day.
We headed to the Scotchman’s for our hike on the new trail being constructed on Star Mountain by the FOSP. The hike was about 5 miles round trip and it was great to watch everyone out there with their dogs enjoying nature. The hike led us up an old trail being reclaimed, it was originally built as resupply for the fire tower atop Star Mountain, but has since been lost until a year ago. We chatted along the way about some of the dangers to look for while hiking with your dog, such as snakes, bears, wolves, coyotes etc...Apparently the Scotchman’s are rich in wildlife including Moose which we never got to see but found lots of their trace along the way. The biggest wildlife problem we encountered though were ticks, lots of them. I pulled 3 ticks off my leg during the hike and had to give Karluk a thorough once over when we were done.
I also took the time to review the proper LNT method for dog waste while out on the trail. Some folks choose to just pack their waste out, really the best option if you are just out for a day. I showed everyone how I burry Karluk’s wast. I used my trusty towel (something I recommend all dog hikers carry and use as it makes the multiple cat holes you dig each day breeze) I dug a proper 6” deep hole, moved the waste into it, and covered it.
The trail also provided some great views of the Clark Fork River and the surrounding Cabinet Mountains. The Cabinet Mountains are really rugged, next year I hope to go back and do an extended backpacking trip through the area.
We reached the end of trail, it was the unfinished end of the work so far, I was told they plan to have the trail done sometime this summer. Two of the folks and their dog reggie decided to bushwhack to the summit, we bid them ado and the rest of us turned back for the cars. About 3/4 of the way down their was a nice flowing creek, the day was warm and muggy and all the dogs decided to cool off in the water before we moved on. It was great watching all the dogs play and enjoy themselves.
The hike ended back at the cars and it was time for me and Karluk to head to Libby, MT for a talk at 4:30. We stopped at the Big Sky cafe and I had the best $5 sandwich ever, thick sliced homemade bread, tons of fresh roast beef, cheese, and the works, plus a home made cookie!
I sat and enjoyed my lunch, I talked with Mary who was on the hike with me, she shared her stories of hiking with her dogs and some of the issues she has had with the anti-wolf contingent in the area. In ID it is legal to trap wolves, she and some of her friends have had issues with their dogs getting caught in traps. She then proceeded to tell me a heart wrenching tale of how her German Shepherd and her other dogs had became poisoned on a day hike, when they ate a summer sausage, laced with fertilizer that some individual had put out on trail to poison wolves. The story brought tears to my eyes as she told me of her one dogs passing and the extraordinary efforts to save the others, and the ensuing investigation that was never able to solve who had placed the bait out there.
I spent the next couple of hours weaving my way up through the mountains on my way to Libby. The scenery was breathtaking, steep drainages, rocky faces, snow clinging to the higher elevations, everything mountains should be. I arrived at Libby on time, and met the head of the animal rescue there at the park where I was to talk. While I was setting up I talked to a local who started asking me about what I do and the hiking we do. He told me of running into a guy last year who had hiked 18,000 miles, I asked if he was an Australian and he said yes. Of all things the guy he was talking about, was my friend “Swami” , who was on the CDT last year during his “12 Long Walks” What a small world it is sometimes.
I finished setting up and was ready to go, however I guess no one in Libby could make it, I sat with my host for a half hour talking about my dog, our trips and our gear, but that was it. No one showed up much to my dismay- I packed up and headed for Sandpoint, a 2 hour drive back.
I spent the evening out with some friends I met on the hike, we went to Eichardt’s Pub where I enjoyed an elk burger. We spent hours chatting about dogs and the work that they had done with their Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs in ID. It was great to hear how they had rescued dogs form the humane society and trained them as tracking dogs to help do SAR work in the local mountains.
Sunday I woke up at 4:30, I fed Karluk and we went for a walk to stretch our legs before driving home. We fed Deb and Phil’s cats, left a note for them, and hit the road. The drive home was un-eventful, we drove through a pretty good rain storm before breaking into the sun, 7 hours later we were home in Portland, unloading and getting ready for our upcoming backpacking season.
Friend's of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness
May 31st-June 1st 2013