Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Second Denali trip

My friend Ang came in from Chicago last Wednesday for a visit. She tooled around town a bit, seeing the wonder that is Anchorage (Heh! That's fairly sarcastic) and driving down to the Portage glacier on her own. Then on Friday we drove up to see Denali. We stayed at a B&B in Healy Friday night so that we could catch an early bus into the depths of Denali. I reserved a campground at Wonder Lake which is as far into Denali as you can go- about 60 miles on a dirt road that winds around a lot of mountains. It takes about five hours on the camper bus (that doesn't stop often) to get there.

We set up camp at about 1pm and went off on a hike. We went up a ridge and looked down on the valley and Wonder Lake. Then, we went down to the lake along an animal trail that wasn't really much of a trail at all- lol! The mosquitos were ridiculous but they enjoyed feasting on her blood way more than mine. Heh! Wonder Lake is super deep- up to 220 feet! That's like a 22 story building down. Crazy. There's not much that lives in there- some lake trout and loons and a couple other things. Not sure if it's because it's so cold or what. I'll have to look that up.

We hiked around for about five hours or so and it only started raining as we were heading back to the camp grounds. A ranger gave a talk about Denali that was very interesting. The park only has 39 mammals species living there- a low number compared to other national parks, especially considering how much bigger Denali is than most parks (6 MILLION acres), but they also have all 39 of the original species. You know, until global warming kills them all.

On the bus trip in, we had a brown bear (no one calls them grizzlies up here- no clue why) walk right past our bus! That was really cool. We also saw eagles (golden and bald- the bald on the way up), caribou, ground squirrels, artic hares, ptarmagans, and we heard some loons. No moose in the park, but we saw a couple on the road driving to the park from Healy.

Most importantly, we got to see Mt McKinley. He was hiding from us most of the time- it was pretty cloudy during the trip, but he's visible near sunrise and sunset, so we got to see him at about 11pm on Saturday night. The pictures don't do him justice- that is one HUGE mountain! And he was pretty far away from us- probably twenty miles or so. He was only out for about five minutes and then hid in the clouds again. You can click on the picture for the larger version:

Here's Wonder Lake from the ridge we hiked up when it was still sunny:

And here it is when we got down to it (about a half hour later):

Here's the brown bear we saw on the way in:

Polychrome Valley during this trip:

Polychrome Valley during Memorial Day weekend- clearly spring doesn't start until June in Denali:

We left early because I underestimated the ground hardness, mosquito badness and the weather disgustingness. After about two hours of sleep Saturday night, we woke up at about 5 am Sunday to the tent's rain fly leaking after being poured on all night (and evening). Since we'd seen McKinley and could hike in the Chugach after sleeping in a nice warm bed, we caught the first bus back out. It was full, so we weren't the only wimps. Next time, I'm bringing air mattresses or something. It got down into the 40s and that wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been raining and mosquito ridden, too. You'd think the mosquitos would beat it when it was raining. Not so much.

Anyway, we hiked on Monday (again, in the rain, but at least we'd had a hot shower and a soft bed) in the Chugach and saw a couple of bull moose. They were close enough for it to be neat and far enough away to not be too scary. Here's a couple pics of that- the first to show how far away they were and the second with my camera zoomed:

More pictures of the Denali trip here.

More pictures of the Chugach hike here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Whoo! Denali this weekend!

I was going to go hiking this past weekend in Chugach, and Buck and I were nearly out there on Saturday when I realized that I forgot the bear bells. That, combined with us getting a late start, made me re-think things. I was hoping that we'd be able to go Sunday, but it was overcast all day and looked like it was about to start raining the whole day. But it meant that I got nearly all the cleaning done for my friend Ang's visit.

She gets here Wednesday afternoon and then we head up for our Denali trek on Friday afternoon. We'll stay at a B&B in Healy Friday night so that we can catch the first bus into the campground Saturday morning. It'll make it easier to spot animals, too- then we'll know where not to go hiking. Hee! We'll have a map, compass, a survival kit, first aid kit, bear spray, bear bells, and a satellite phone (regular cell phones don't work out there, so don't be surprised when my phone goes straight to voicemail). LOL! I think we're fully prepared. :) And we're just day hiking- no camping out in the backwoods for us. Wonder Lake has sites for tent camping, so there'll be other people there. Hopefully any bears will eat them instead of us. I'll make sure to coat someone else's tent with honey to be sure. Heh! Kidding!

Anyway, awesome pictures will be posted sometime next Tuesday, possibly next Monday night depending on how early we get back. I figure two full days and one half day will be enough hiking for us. And if not, Ang can go hike the Chugach while I'm recovering on Tuesday. :)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cool site

Our newspaper up here (Anchorage Daily News) has a site with a bear tracker on it. The Parks folks have put tracking devices on some of the bears in the area so you can see where they hang out. Click here for that page, but understand that just because you don't see dots, doesn't mean there aren't non-tracked bears there. Heh! It's interesting to see how much they congregate to the streams- not at all surprising, but it's good to know that as long as I'm hiking higher up and where there aren't berries, my chances of running into one is a lot slimmer.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Round 2: Buck 2 - Sheep 0

Well, we passed our second round of qualifications and Buck now has his AKC Herding Tested title. He shall henceforth be known as Sir Buck of Anchorage. All hail, Sir Buck!

Herding 2

He did a pretty good job on Sunday, except he kept splitting the sheep, which means that instead of going on the outside to push them to me when they were acting up, he'd zoom in between them and scatter one away from me. Not sure what was up with that- he's never done that in practice. So, it was either my nerves bleeding onto him and making him nutty or a new bad habit we'll need to break. That tends to happen though. As the dog gains experience, it also picks up bad habits that you have to get them to knock off. I've watched this with many of the other dogs in practices and just wondered when it'd be our turn for that nonsense. Heh!

One of my friends from my dog group came to watch us Sunday with his wife and made a video for me. Here's that:

Oh, and to give some background on what the Herding Test is, here's what you are supposed to do: 1. Put your dog in a stay (with the sheep in the ring) 2. Have your dog gather them to you showing some level of control. Because it's the beginner level, you can help your dog by going toward the sheep so they don't have to work as hard. Most dogs confidence at this level isn't great, so you don't want them to fail and then get discouraged or worry the sheep because they get frustrated. 3. Walk in a controlled manner with the sheep next to the handler and change direction three times. This involves getting the sheep as close to cones on either end of the field as possible. How close depends on the judge, but the rules say you just have to change direction. 4. Put your dog in a stay and then have it come to you.

We had some trouble with that on Sunday because the first time I tried to get him to come, the sheep were still really close and he also learned from Friday's run that once he came to me, he wouldn't get to herd anymore. That's not much of a reason to want to come. Heh! When we would work on our 'come's at practice, he'd always get the reward of getting to herd the sheep more after he came to me. Otherwise they learn that if they come, the fun is over. Obviously, they learn that fast. :D

Anyway, that's our first step done. We've got a herding clinic with one of the judges tomorrow, so we'll learn some new stuff and have a new set of eyes instructing us. Then, it's back to practising to see if we'll be good enough for the next trial in September. I'll post some vids of a Samoyed, a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler herding this week.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Round one- Buck 1 - Sheep 0

Buck qualified for the first leg of his AKC Herding Tested title. He was a little nutty, pushing the sheep into running more than he's ever done, but he still did really well, kept good control of them and had a perfect 'come' to me away from them. Our run wasn't very long, so the video is pretty short - about three minutes or so (short is good). That can be found here:

I was telling my loser brother Eric that Buck just has to do good on Sunday to get his title and Eric (and my non-loser Aunt Sue) both said, 'so is he a Duke or an Earl then?' Heh! No, it just means that the AKC thinks he's awesome and if he was some fancy dog with papers and such, he'd have letters at the end of his name.

The judge also said that he was an 'excellent, excellent dog' and that he was one of the best dogs out there today (in our HT class). Good stuff! We'll let you know on Sunday if the dog below will be known as Sir Buck of Anchorage. I think he looks pretty regal.

Buck's HT

Also, this is a link to the video I made of one of my herding buddies, Doug, and his cattle dog, Tucker, doing their PT (Pre-Trial) Test. That's the step above us and it's what we'll be trying for this Fall if everything goes well. Tucker did real well at it- they started training last summer and got their HT last Fall.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Herding trials this weekend

I had to take a minute to brag about my dog. Hee! Last night we went to our final herding practice before our trials coming up on Friday and Sunday. Buck's been doing well, but it's tough for me to describe what he does and why he looks better at it than some of the other dogs out there. My instructor, who breeds cattle dogs very well- she even has a grandkid who is a Cruft's Best of Breed- mentioned last night that she wishes she had a dog in her kennel that could wear stock like Buck does. Wearing is when you are walking with the sheep next to you and the dog is keeping them there by walking behind them.

It sounds pretty easy, but a lot of the dogs will get too jumpy and scare the sheep, or be too close and 'push' the sheep which makes them move too fast, or they get bored with it and don't focus well enough and the sheep get away from you. Buck is really serious about it- he has his tail down (when a cattle dog is playful and excited their tail is up) and his head down and just walks along behind them, or comes slowly up beside them if they are getting too far left or right, then he goes back behind.

Anyway, it's cool that this lady, who has seen so many herding dogs, thinks Buck is good. She thinks that we'll have no problems getting our next title at all (that would be the PT- we're going for his HT, or Herding Test, this weekend).

Oh, and he's also getting good at force barking. That's what a dog will do when a sheep challenges him instead of nipping. You don't want a dog barking constantly, but if they can get the sheep to do what they want with a few sharp barks, that's a good thing. Buck hasn't been confident enough until recently to get up in a sheep's face and make it do what he wants, so that was an awesome breakthrough.