Monday, November 28th.
The Dog Team started out today not knowing if the day’s route would be achieved. Local mountaineers had been emailing The Dog Team, stating that it was humanly impossible to do the intended route on November 28th. This route was designed in July of 1932, by none other than Bob Marshall himself and is quite possibly Bob’s most famous route. It covers fourteen of some of the highest peaks in New York. In fact, the route includes eight of the highest ten New York peaks, thirteen of the Adirondack 46 High Peaks. Only the last peak, Mt. Jo, is not considered one of the high peaks. The basic route would take Cave Dog over Big Slide, the Great Range, the McIntyres, and Mt. Jo. This route has some 13,600 feet of gain. Naturally, the route would be complicated by the time of year, less daylight, snow, and ice. It really would take the best of weather if there was any hope of finishing it. However, The Dog Team really wanted to give it a try. It makes for such a great tie in with the tribute to Bob Marshall, and if Bob could be with us today, he would probably be enthused about the possibility of this last touch of adventure at the end of the journey. So the plan was to give it a try, keep an eye on the clock and the hazards, and if it was not possible to finish in time, come down to lower and easier elevations to finish the distance.
Cave Dog also delayed the start of the hike to 9:00 am, which guaranteed more of the difficulties would be after nightfall; however, it also opened up the finish for everyone. No matter how the night worked out, he left the last ascent up the relatively easy Mount Jo to 7:00 am the next morning. He felt it was more important to share the finish than to finish the intended route. It would be a privilege just to be on part of Bob Marshall’s route.
The day started with an ascent from The Garden up Big Slide. It appeared easy enough. There was snow on the ground, but not too deep. The temperature was far warmer than expected and warmer than previous hikes in other states. Along the way, The Dog Team bumped over The Brothers. Unfortunately, the grand views were blocked by low clouds. It was only near the top that The Dog Team began to understand that the day’s route was going to be as hard as or harder than anticipated. There were periodic blowdowns from recent high winds and ice covering exposed rock.
From atop Big Slide, it was becoming apparent that the pace had slowed down considerably; so, Cave and Sea Dogs shot down the trail ahead of the rest of the hikers. The day was gray, but they had fun scrambling across the ice covered creeks and negotiating the countless fallen trees. At John Brooks Lodge(JBL), they joined Sugar, Rad, Mo, and Night Dogs. It was great to be at JBL again. The Dog Team has so many wonderful memories from there, but unfortunately, JBL was boarded up for the winter. After restocking on supplies, Night Dog headed out to Haystack, where he would start hiking with Cave Dog, and Cave Dog headed out for Lower Wolf Jaw to start the Great Range traverse. Each went out alone, as the rest hiked back to The Garden.
Cave Dog hopped and skipped along the rocks to get across Johns Brook and marveled at how beautiful the ice looked atop the rushing waters. The entire hike up to the crest of the Great Range was quiet and peaceful. The creeks trickled and the snow melted under the rising temperatures. As he started to reach the high altitudes, the numbers of fallen trees increased and the ice started to become a significant factor.
Cave Dog noted that the last half mile to the summit of Lower Wolfjaw felt more like three miles. Ice was everywhere. The wind had picked up. He had been reluctant to put on crampons because the ice had been so intermittent. However, by the time he reached the north ascent up Upper Wolf Jaw, he had no choice. Huge walls of vertical ice lay directly in his path. At times, he had to kick his front two points of each foot into the vertical ice, and in lieu of having ice axes, used vegetation to pull himself up the cliff bands.
On the summit of Upper Wolf Jaw, Cave Dog got a radio transmission from Night Dog asking how he was doing. Night Dog had reached Little Haystack. Cave Dog explained that the conditions had gotten much more difficult, but he was still on pace, and thus, would continue on.
The conditions steadily got worse. The wind was reaching gale force, especially on the summits, and it was raining periodically. Atop Armstrong, Cave Dog once again talked by radio to Night Dog, only to say that he was still pushing onward. Night Dog said that he would start moving towards Cave Dog. This would be the last time Cave Dog would talk to Night Dog that night.
The route was a constant series of problems. Just when Cave Dog overcame one difficulty, he would see the next. He would look up at the problem and try to find a solution, execute it, and then see the next problem. There seemed to be no let up, no easy stretch to ease the mind. Cave Dog had trouble crossing the summit of Gothics without many trees to help him stand up against the gusting wind. It was here that Cave Dog began to realize that he was going to have to call off the Great Range traverse. He was still on pace, but it was just getting too dangerous. He was unable to reach Night Dog; so he pushed on.
The descent off of Gothics is incredibly exposed. Fortunately, cables have been laid down. Even with the cables, Cave Dog was being thrown about by the wind. In the saddle between Gothics and Saddleback, Cave Dog postholed through knee deep snow. He was glad to finally reach his first possible bail out point from the Great Range. Unfortunately, without any word from Night Dog and no easy way to get to him, Cave Dog decided to continue on. Upon reaching Saddleback’s summit, Cave Dog was still unable to reach Night Dog. He did not get much farther on his route.
By the time Cave Dog started his descent of Saddleback, the wind had reached a fevered pitch. There were also patches of incredibly dense fog. With his headlamp on his forehead, he was unable to see his feet. The light lit up the moisture in the air too much. So, he had to take his headlamp off and hold it at his knees. This just gave him one less point of contact to brace himself against the wind. Shortly after starting his descent, he got to a section of trail that was indicated by paint blazed onto the bare rock. Unfortunately, the rock was covered by too thick of a layer of ice for him to see the blazes. He started to use his poles to try to clear the ice and find the blazes. He was already hiking on all fours by then to keep from being swept off the mountain by the wind. At one point, he crawled out in the most likely direction and came to the edge of a precipice. He shined his light into the abyss, but could not see anything below. So, he crawled out in a different direction only to look over another edge with no known bottom. He was soaked from head to toe. He was no longer able to keep up a pace that would keep him warm against the elements. It was here that Cave Dog decided it was too dangerous to proceed any farther.
Cave Dog made his way back up to the summit of Saddleback, found a relatively protected area, and tried to reach Night Dog. He tried the radio to no avail. He got out the Satellite phone and tried Night Dog’s cell phone without success. There is phone service atop Haystack but only near the top. Next, he called Sugar Dog. He told her that he did not like the situation at all. Somebody has to get word to Night Dog. Sugar Dog said that she would keep up a steady stream of calls to his cell phone and Cave Dog decided to make another attempt at a southbound descent off of Saddleback. He just could not leave Night Dog out there alone. Besides, he had no idea how far Night Dog had intended to continue proceeding northbound. He was kicking himself for not setting up a bail out time with Night Dog.
Unfortunately, Cave Dog’s second attempt at descending Saddleback did not end up any safer than the first and he ended up back at the summit for the third time. He called Sugar Dog. She still had not gotten a hold of Night Dog. She had reached the rest of The Dog Team, and they were ready for action if needed. Cave Dog’s only other way to get to Night Dog was to head northbound and descend all the way back to JBL, then back up to Haystack. The only problem would be if Night Dog had moved too much down the trail. He would become a moving target. Hopefully by that time, they would be in radio contact. Not moving, Cave Dog’s water soaked body became cold extremely fast in the wind. So, he finished his phone call and kept moving.
On Cave Dog’s descent, he was protected from the harsh conditions by a thick forest. The temperatures were unseasonably warm and the lower elevation snow that he had hiked through in the morning was now gone. Without the mental stimulation of the higher altitude labors, Cave Dog was hit by powerful sleepiness. The intensity of the last month of the challenge had not afforded him as much sleep as he needed, and now it was catching up with him. He stumbled around trying to stay on his feet. He called Sugar Dog a couple more times, but she still had nothing about Night Dog. He slapped himself. He sang to himself. He screamed at himself, but nothing seemed to keep him awake. He called Sugar Dog, still no word. He had a heated discussion with her about how much he disliked the situation. Night Dog could not be left out alone. Somehow, this discussion snapped him out of the depths of sleep deprivation. Revived, he ran the rest of the way down to JBL. He was amazed to find that the river he had jumped stones across just hours before had risen so much. The beautiful ice sheets were no more. So, he crossed in knee deep rushing water and was soon at JBL.
He called Sugar Dog again. Night Dog had called Sea Dog. An enormous sense of relief swept over Cave Dog. Sea Dog told Night Dog to get off the mountain immediately. He was going to hike out to the Adirondack Loj and Lucky Dog would pick him up. Cave Dog wanted to join him, but Night Dog was too far ahead. He would never be able to catch him. So, Cave Dog spent the rest of the night hiking and running around at lower elevations to make sure that he achieved the necessary mileage for the challenge. He finished at about 4:00 am and was able to catch a two hour nap before the last two mile homestretch.
By 7:00 am, everyone started gathering for the last hurrah, a leisurely hike up Mt. Jo. Cave Dog has spent a lot of time in the Adirondacks, but had never made it up Mt. Jo. He had been looking forward to it for some time.
There were Solstice Dog and Crag Dog, Sea Dog and Mo Dog, Under Dog and Honey Dog, Rad Dog and Lucky Dog, and many other dogs. In fact, there were dogs running around all over the place, but there was one dog that Cave Dog was the most pleased to see: Night Dog. He was full of stories of shivering uncontrollably, blowdowns, hiking up and down the side of Haystack to stay warm, coming out at The Garden instead of the Loj, and wind, oh so much wind. He had a bit of a burnt look to him. But he was happy to be with The Dog Team to the finish.
Many reporters and cameramen showed up to document the final stretch. Everyone had a delightful hike up Mt. Jo. Atop the summit, Cave Dog was pleased to see Adog and Snow Dog pop out from the trees. The summit was a bit blustery and gave everyone a slight hint at what Night and Cave Dogs experienced the night before. After countless pictures, they descended down with a light step. It would have been a relatively uneventful descent, if Solstice Dog had not been nearly crushed by a falling tree from the winds. Luckily, the surrounding trees kept the falling tree from making it all the way to the ground. She managed to remain unscathed, but it gave everyone a pause to think.
There were yet more people and reporters at the finish line, but two stood out above the rest. George Marshall’s son, Roger, and his wife came to congratulate The Dog Team. Cave Dog was honored and excited to have such distinguished guests. They joined them for a pancake celebration at Adog’s house, the old ADK base camp from 2002. The foul weather had caused a power outage in town, but the Duofold RV, with its propane tank and stovetop, came in handy once more. The ever resourceful Lucky Dog pulled out a camp stove and The Dog Team never lost a beat in its celebration.
Later the Marshall’s took The Dog Team to see the great camp where James, Bob, George, and Putey spent their summers growing up and learning from their father the wilderness ethics that we have all benefited from. After reading stories about their idyllic Adirondack summers, Cave Dog marveled at seeing the actual setting.
Not ones to shortchange a celebration, The Dog Team came back to the
ADK base camp in the evening for another round of festivities. Cave
Dog even took a break from one of his three jacuzzis he would take in eighteen
hours. Dacks Dog at eight and half months pregnant and Gold Dog fresh
off an 8,500 mile rail trip came to join in. It was great to see
everyone and to know that The Dog Team has so many friends. There
were so many stories to recount, and though they tried to tell them all,
there were just too many: the two professional video cameras that
were smashed in New York and Hawaii, the camcorder that filled with dust
irreparably in a cave in Kentucky, the camera that was lost in Texas, the
fiery red sunset in South Carolina, the dozens of armadillos in Louisiana,
the blizzard in Wyoming, the person that said, “one of the great things
about us Nebraskans is that we are bland” in Nebraska, the run over dog
in Ohio, the fear of flash floods in Utah, the huge brown bear catching
fish in the middle of a stream in Alaska, the irate ranger in Tennessee,
the fantastic waterfall in Missouri, the unbelievable mountain goats clamoring
on tiny ledges in Montana, the fungus message in Vermont, the kayak around
Alcatraz in California, the huge showing of hikers in Michigan, the difficult
bushwhack in Alabama, the unexpected terrain of Oklahoma, the incredible
crashing waves in Maine, the fantastic moose sighting in Idaho, all the
friends and family in Oregon….
After descending Bear Mountain, Lead Dog joined the group. At seven and a half months old, Lead Dog became the youngest member of The Dog Team to hike with Cave Dog during a challenge, shattering the previous record set during the Oregon hike by Princess Dog at sixteen months. Shortly after, Sugar Dog joined Cave Dog. It had been a long time since they had an opportunity to hike alone together, and they had a wonderful time. They saw a large and vigorous waterfall and the wreckage from a train derailment. Eventually the tenacious sunrise gave way, but only for a moment before a long sunset appeared. The long colorful skies portended the short days of winter and the end of the challenge was near.
The day started at King Philip’s Chair at the Haffenreffer Museum. This is a large outcropping of rock that has a small hollow that Metacomet, King Philip, used when he held council during King Philip’s War. Cave Dog was surprised by how comfortable the chair felt. From the Chair, the route passed through the beautiful town of Bristol, which claims to be the most patriotic town in America. The Dog Team does not doubt it. There were flags everywhere. Even the center line in the road is painted red, white, and blue. Fourth of July is a big holiday in Cave Dog’s family. In fact, some have claimed that his ancestor, Thomas Dove Keizer, had the first Fourth of July celebration in the Oregon Territories, in the 1840s. So naturally, he was intrigued to find out that Bristol has had the longest continually running Fourth of July parade.
From Bristol, the route used bicycle paths that take the course of the American Indian path, the Wampanoag Trail. There were nice views along the Narragansett Bay and countless buildings older than the Oregon Territories. As The Dog Team passed through Pawtucket, they saw Slater Mill, often sited as the beginnings of the American Industrial Revolution. In 1793, Samuel Slater built a textile mill in the Blackstone River Valley from memory of what he saw in England.
Cave Dog was super excited to spend the last part of his day wondering around his old haunts at Brown University. The rest of The Dog Team lagged along as Cave Dog exuberantly showed them all of his old dorm rooms, Slayter Hall, his favorite building on campus, the Geochem Building, where he spent so much time, Faunce Hall, where he spent even more time in the student government office, even his favorite statue of Marcus Antonius, and so on and so on.
Just when The Dog Team thought they had convinced Cave Dog to stop walking circles around campus, Lucky Dog surprised them with a real treat, kayaks. The Dogs spent the last bit of their night kayaking up the Providence River to the State Capitol Building. Cave Dog shook his head in amazement. He never thought he would ever kayak through downtown Providence.
The night had a stillness that seemed eerily appropriate for Providence, as if they were paddling through an H. P. Lovecraft novella. The skyscrapers moved by in stark relief against the dark night and people that spotted them shrieked by the thrill of such a foreign sight as kayakers in the Providence River. As they wrapped up their night’s escapades, they gained sight of what Cave Dog has always claimed to be the most beautiful Capitol Building in America. With one of the largest domes in the world, offset by four smaller domes, and set upon a hilltop, the Rhode Island Capitol Building is a sight to be seen lit up against the night’s sky.
Boston has one of the richest heritages in the United States. It is also one of the most accessible in large part due to the Freedom Trail. This trail tastefully winds through the heart of Boston, capturing some of the most dramatic events of the early struggle for independence. In fact, the Freedom Trail is cram packed with historical sites: from old churches to the Boston Massacre, from Old Ironside to the Boston Commons, from the Bunker Hill Monument to the Boston Tea Party Ship. Under Dog was excited because he loves old cemeteries. The Dog Team started the day running around looking for Paul Revere and John Hancock’s tombstones and ended the day searching for Author’s Ridge, where Louisa May Alcott, Nathanial Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are buried.
The Dog Team was pleased to be joined by a couple of hiking celebrities today. George Fitch, now Admiral Dog, shares the record with his brother for the fastest unsupported climb of all the New Hampshire Four Thousand Footers. Robert Williams or Yankee Dog, also joined today’s hike. He shares with Saucy Dog the record for the fastest winter climbs of all these same 48 four thousand foot peaks in the White Mountains. Yankee Dog was also the person that planned and organized the day’s route. Cave Dog was once again surprised to see Lucky Dog and a close friend from college, David Widzer. It was also a great day for finishers. Six people finished the entire fifty kilometer route with Cave Dog today.
The route utilized the Freedom Trail linked by bicycle paths to Lexington and Concord roughly in the path that Paul Revere used in his famous ride. The course took The Dog Team along the beautiful Charles River with nice views of the Boston skyline. It even took them by a bridge measured in smoots. It also took advantage of Battle Road, which was used to move troops during one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Lexington and Concord. In the last couple miles to Walden Pond, Sugar Dog finally caught The Dog Team. It had been too long. Chicago seemed years ago. But now Cave Dog rejoiced that Sugar Dog would be with the team for the rest of the challenge. Between the deep history, the good company, and Sugar Dog, the hike had all the markings of a great day.
Cave Dog’s original plan had been an ambitious transisland traverse with a paddle across Somes Sound, the only true fjord in the continental US. Unfortunately, as The Dog Team prepared for the start, it was obvious that the paddle was out of the question. The high winds the day before were creating huge swells. In fact, the weather would continue to be uncooperative, and The Dog Team’s plans evolved throughout the day.
Without being able to get to the west side of the island, The Dog Team planned another ambitious route that scaled every significant peak on the east side. Before the climbing, Under and Cave Dogs started at Great Head, the biggest promontory on the coastline. Then they traversed one of the few sand beaches in Maine and continued along the crashing waves of the dramatic coastline. In fact, the waves were so big that the splash was shooting into the sky and Thunder Hole was booming.
Cave Dog’s meandering path took him over Gorham, passed The Bowl, up Champlain, bumping over Huguenot’s Head, down to the Tarn, atop Dorr, and into the Gorge to scale Cadillac, the tallest peak on the island. The air temperatures were descending and the exposed southern ridges were whipping with biting wind. However, those southern views were stupendous. While on the Gorge Trail, it began to snow. His descent off Dorr was wet and slippery and starting to get a bit dicey, but now that he was ascending Cadillac while it actively snowed, it was starting to get a bit treacherous. The Gorge Trail itself was flooded and required some tricky maneuvering to negotiate. By the time, he reached Cadillac’s summit, he realized that the day’s weather was not appropriate for such an ambitious route. Even the Park Service did not want The Dog Team atop the highest peak on the East Coast. So, Cave Dog planned a route down to the carriage roads to finish the day’s exertions. That being said, it is always a delight to be on Cadillac. For most of the year, it starts the day seeing the sun before anywhere else in the country.
The carriage roads are a relatively unique feature to the island. They were built in the early part of the last century in large part by the Rockefeller family as a consolation to the losing battle to keep cars off the island. Well over fifty miles of well maintained fine gravel roads of easy gradient wander about the island’s mountains unencumbered by motor vehicle traffic. In fact, the carriage roads go places that no other roads are allowed. As a consequence, one can bicycle, jog, or walk all over the island on roads that are beautifully laid out and constructed and never once look over one’s shoulder in trepidation of a fast approaching vehicle. America loves its roads. It spends an inordinate amount of resources in their building and upkeep. It is a joy to see such enthusiasm spent on roads for nonmotorized enjoyment. It is because of this aspect of the island that Cave Dog had such a fun time jogging around the carriage roads well into the night.
On the backside of Monadnock, the hiking party thinned out to only Crag and Cave Dogs. In fact, Crag Dog would continue on to finish the entire 50K. The Dog Team was pleasantly surprised by Lucky Dog who came up from Rhode Island to take part in supporting the day’s endeavors.
Near the finish, the Dogs came across one of the crazier situations during the challenge. They got stopped by a drowned floodplain of a small river. They were almost finished; so, they considered just plowing through it. However, they decided to take it on as a challenge to cross the bog without getting their feet wet. They went right and left, this way and that way, forward and backwards, to no avail. There was nothing but tiny little clumps of grass with open water all around. Just when Cave Dog thought they had no hope left, Crag Dog leaped from a stump with amazing distance, landed on a small island, and without stopping, jigged and jabbed, grabbed and pulled, flew and slid all the way across the floodplain, all the while never getting his feet wet. Cave Dog stood back in amazement. It was as if he had seen a Seussian story come to life. Then he realized Crag Dog’s secret: keep moving before your tiny little perches sink into the waters. So, Cave Dog took off, never wavering as he saw the water lap up onto his hightops. Lo and behold, he made it. With only a few drops making it over his left ankle, he traversed the vagaries unscathed. Only then did Crag Dog decided to mention that he had been a successful triple jumper in his past.
In the last sixteen days of the challenge, Cave Dog had fourteen ultramarathons. This did not leave much time for sleeping, and what sleeping there was to be had was in the bouncing Duofold RV. Slowly this was taking its toll and came to a head in Vermont and New Hampshire. In Vermont, Cave Dog weathered the tortuous sleepy night by himself. Fortunately, he had Crag Dog alongside him this night to keep him company. However, even Crag Dog was having difficulty keeping Cave Dog awake. It made for a long tedious night, and when they were done, Cave Dog told the support crew that sleep was the biggest priority now, even more than taking a shower after each hike.
The day started at the Inn of The Long Trail, which brought back many great memories for Cave Dog, who has completed The Long Trail three and half times in the last two years. The day had a fair bit of vertical as the AT tries to spend as much time on the crest of the Appalachians as possible. There were vigorous streams and tranquil lakes, gushing falls and quiet forests. However, Cave Dog’s favorite part of the day was a bit of trail magic. Along the side of the trail, propped among a thick conglomerate of shelf fungus, someone wrote on a broken off fungus, “Go Cave Dog Drew.” Under and Cave Dogs found that terribly amusing. An old stump had fallen to the ground and broken off some more fungi. So, Cave Dog picked up one that was lying on the ground and left his own fungi message, “Thanks Drew CD”. He took the original fungus, and it is now his favorite souvenir from the entire challenge. Thanks Drew.
The Allegheny Front Trail (AFT) had a lot of variety that made the day pass by quickly. It started with a nice hike along a trickling stream and moved through mountain laurels and rhododendrons, forest both thick and thin, meadows and bogs, evergreens and barren deciduous trees. At one point, the trail ran along the top of the Allegheny Front that bears the trail’s name. Lab and Cave Dogs were amused by the trail builders’ sense of humor when putting up a sign labeling a grand vista as “Ralph’s Pretty Good View”.
Unfortunately, the day finished with a mix up in the route description. It stated, “In 2.6 miles, pass a spur trail that leads out to Shirk’s Road on the left and continue on the AFT.” The Dogs took that to mean that they should not take the side trail but rather stay on the AFT, as they had been on the AFT all day. What it meant, though, was that the AFT was now a spur trail of their route and should be passed. They did not question this turn because they were obviously on the AFT as they thought they were supposed to be. After a couple miles, they discovered that they were way off course. What they had just passed turned out to be some of the most difficult bog terrain they had been on all day. They were already close to their finishing mileage; so, they decided to do a little road running to get back faster. Unfortunately, it took them longer to get radio contact with the support crew than one might imagine, and they ended up with a few more miles than they had figured on.
Cave Dog was amazed at the boardwalks: an endless tunnel of small store fronts crammed together like the booths of a street fair only broken up by the periodic amusement park. Beaches being mixed with roller coasters mystified Cave Dog. He had never seen anything like it. Except maybe the LA area, there probably is nothing on the West Coast that resembles it. Tattoo parlors, fudge shops, Ferris wheels, it seemed to be an odd cacophony of kids’ play and adult pleasures. However, it was a ghost town. For seemingly miles of boardwalk, The Dog Team only saw three people. It gave an eerie feel to have a place designed for hoards of people be so desolate, almost haunting.
It was great having Ant Dog run support all day and generally show Cave Dog around. The day ended in Cape May, which had all the markings of a nice quaint beach town filled with bed and breakfasts and nice restaurants. Cave Dog has always been fascinated with lighthouses. So, it was amusing for him to end the day with a view of the Cape May Lighthouse.
Inside Henlopen State Park, Cave Dog reached the Eastern Terminus of the American Discovery Trail (ADT). As one of the great transcontinental trails, Cave Dog wanted to spend some time on the ADT, even though it is more suited for bicyclists than hikers. So, the second half of the day was spent on the town and rural roads of Delaware. The ADT has 6,800 miles of trails through fifteen states. It is the only trail to completely traverse America from coast to coast, Point Reyes National Seashore, near San Francisco, to Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware.
Cave Dog started his D.C. adventures with a jog on the Capitol Crescent Trail from the Maryland border to the Jefferson Memorial. This was a pleasant morning run with the Potomac on one side and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on the other. There is something thrilling about running with water on both sides of you. The morning crews were rowing up the Potomac and joggers were getting their exercise before work. In fact, Washington, D.C. seems to be a bit of a jogging haven. All day, Cave Dog remarked at the numbers of runners enjoying the beautiful city.
Washington, D.C. is a testament to the United States’ strength and a showcase of its heritage. Under and Cave Dogs had a great time all day circling around presidential monuments and war memorials. Washington, Jefferson, FDR, Vietnam, Korean, even George Mason have been immortalized in D.C. In fact, Cave Dog noted that wherever he went, he tended to bump into another park or statue. He also noticed that post September 11 security seemed excessive compared to the last time he was in the Capitol. It seemed bizarre to have police sporting huge shotguns with large ammo and not be in a totalitarian state of a third world nation.
Cave Dog was particularly pleased to see the newest member of the National Mall, the National World War II Memorial, dedicated in 2004. It is elegant, impressive, and striking. Even though it casts a feeling of enormity, it manages to not block the view between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial that it is between. It has an oval row of rectangular columns that create interesting geometric patterns from every angle and a graceful oval reflecting pond with fountains.
Unfortunately, with the fading sun, the weather turned for the worst. Rain poured and the wind picked up. As night fell on the city, Cave Dog created another route that allowed him to run by all of the monuments and memorials again without retracing his steps. Lit up at night, the shrines are arresting to behold.
After finishing his second run of the monuments, Cave Dog went south of the Jefferson Memorial and into the East Potomac Park. The wind was blustery and the rain poured. He seemed to be the only one crazy enough to be in the peninsular park in such conditions. The Potomac had even flooded the outer path in places. As Cave Dog was negotiating these difficulties, a police car with its lights on came up and parked near him. A police officer stepped out and yelled to him, “Put up your hands! Do you have any guns or knives?” Cave Dog replied that he did not and the police officer cautiously approached. “Do you have any ID?” “No.” That made him even more suspicious. “Where did you just come from?” “The Jefferson Memorial.” That got him really excited. “Where did you start walking today?” “The Maryland border.” Now he was really suspicious. As the police officer patted Cave Dog down, he kept asking questions. “Is that a gun?” “No, it is a satellite phone.” “Is that a gun?” “No, it is a GPS.” Eventually, the officer had Cave Dog sit on the bumper of the police car and explained that there was a stabbing in the area. As the two of them waited for the reporting party’s description of the stabber, two more police cars pulled up to back up the original police officer. Eventually, the description came over the radio, “5’ 7’’, 20 years old, 165 pounds.” Since the description did not match up, the officer let Cave Dog go.
Cave Dog phoned the support crew to let them know what just transpired. Sea Dog picked up the phone and said, “Hold on. We have four cop cars surrounding the Duofold RV. Apparently, no trucks are allowed within two blocks of the Capitol Building.” The Dog Team marveled at how apparent it was that they were not in the wilderness, but perhaps a jungle of another sort.
It was a nice trail that alternated from running along meandering river gorges and steep ascents up river embankments and surrounding hills. It was more than anything a day of river crossings, dozens of them. Sometimes Cave Dog would no sooner find a way across the stream before he discovered he had to cross back again. Fortunately, the water levels were low and the threat of wet feet was never very real. The highlight for the day was Deep Run. Here the valley slopes gave way to canyon walls. There is something awe inspiring when the rock meets the water. The trail wound around the curving canyon, hopping the creek at each turn. It was a quiet place that stimulated reflection.
Cave Dog’s route for today included two large loops and a down and back to Lion’s Head. One of Cave Dog’s favorite spots was the grassy balds on the north loop. It is hard to imagine what aspect of this environment creates grassy hills when forests abound most everywhere else. This was the section that included the most bogs as well. Sometimes the grass would look dry, but would prove not to be once your foot sank in. The Dog Team had been in the woods a lot lately; so, it was nice to have a section with continual unobstructed views. On the west side of this loop, the grassy hills gave way to a fun rocky ridge. There were rocks of all sorts and sizes, jumbled in a playground of boulders. Under and Cave Dogs had fun clamoring around on the rocks before making way for the southern loop.
As they made their way south, the Dogs came across some beautiful streams and rocky riverbeds. From here, Cave Dog went on to do the southern loop alone. He took advantage of a wonderful side trip to Lion’s Head. Along the way, there were vigorous streams and cascading waterfalls. Lion’s Head itself was a marvelous rock garden that stuck out above the valley below.
As the sun set, the weather turned much worse. Periodic rain made the trail even muddier and more difficult to manage. The rivers were rising fast, and by the end of the night, Cave Dog was knee deep in water at the crossings. This section of trail also had some routefinding quandaries that were accentuated by the lack of visibility. As the night wore on, everything was wet and cold. The last section entailed another excursion through the bogs; however, the rain made them swell with water. It was a sloshing cumbersome finish through thick fog. As Cave Dog reached the Duofold RV, he pondered the sheer variety of the day’s endeavors. He noted to himself that the day had all the ingredients for a grand long day hike.
The terrain for the day was very rocky. During the first half of the day, the rocks were fairly solid; however, they became loose as the day wore on. Not only were they loose, but also hidden by large quantities of fallen leaves. On occasion, this made for difficult foot placements that lent to twisted ankles. Walking through the leaves was also excessively loud. During some stretches, they could not even hear each other’s conversation.
The Dog Team had a great time caving. It was the first time that the whole crew could do a significant hike together. Sea Dog spent summers in the Oregon Caves giving tours, and was especially excited to be once again in the earth. Mammoth Caves has the most explored length of any cave in the world. By the end of the year, there may be as much as 375 miles of cave explored. The Dog Team’s route involved a lot of crawling and a number of tight squeezes through tunnels one might not think fit for human passage. They were also pleased to see features one only sees in caves, such as, gypsum crystals, boxwork, and popcorn. They saw cave crickets and bats, as well. It seemed hard to imagine that life could exist in such a forbidding environment. Yet, there were the markings of man from centuries gone by. They finished the route at the Niagara Falls section of the cave, which is one of few well decorated areas in Mammoth Caves. It had the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites one associates with caves. There were also the dainty soda straws and bold flowstones. You would think that six hours of crawling and stooping would be tiring, but the exhilaration of the day’s route made it pass by without notice.
This route went from Hanging Rock State Park to Pilot Mountain State Park using the Sauratown Trail. It is a trail that seems to be primarily used by horses. As a consequence, some of the dozens of stream crossings are not easily achieved without getting one’s feet wet, but it can be managed. One of the places where the crossings came at rapid fire was also one of the prettiest places. The small stream was overhung with dark green rhododendrons. It was an idyllic atmosphere. The Dog Team came across an inordinate number of neighborhood dogs, three of which decided to do a significant amount of the mileage with Cave Dog. Pilot Mountain provided a wonderful landmark to aim for towards the end of the day. It juts out in stark contrast to the surrounding lands.
The best part of the day for Cave Dog was that members of the Duofold team came out throughout the day to hike with him. The route was not far from Winston-Salem, the home of Duofold’s headquarters. From start to finish, they were out in full support of his day’s hike.
Today had lots of vertical, with four big ascents. The whole day seemed to be going up and down large ridge tops. Cave Dog felt right at home because the vegetation looked a lot like the Asheville area, where he spent so much time scouting out the Southern Appalachian high peaks a couple years prior. There were some places where the rhododendrons grew tall and thick, making a tunnel out of the trail. In one location, the fallen leaves piled up so high it was like plowing through snow. The route also went by some large granite walls and some quiet deep valleys. At one point, Mu Dog stopped Cave Dog just before he would run into a gigantic florescent orange spider with a black skull pattern on its underbelly. Mu Dog brought some homemade apple bread that was so thick and delicious that it got them through the last ascents. The end of the day was capped by a brilliant red sunset.
However, the day was bookended with odd people encounters. In the beginning of the day, The Dog Team met a nice lady who told them all about the area. After a long pleasant conversation, she blurted out that we should beware that we are in the Bible Belt. Then she proceeded to vehemently praise the glories of God and all of his creations. It was all so sudden, it caught everyone be surprise, as if somebody inadvertently flipped the proselytizing switch.
At the end of the day, The Dog Team was waiting after dark for Cave Dog to finish his day’s hike, when they were greeted by lights and sirens. Apparently, they were not allowed to have a vehicle on that road after dark. However, this was not the problem. The problem was that the ranger flipped out. He would ask them what they were doing and before they could answer he would scream back at them, “That is irrelevant!” “We are waiting for a hiker.” “That is irrelevant!” “But we cannot leave him out here.” “That is irrelevant!” “That is irrelevant!” He had The Dog Team scratching their heads when he brought up the odd pairing when stating that the park is as restricted as military and school zones. He even said that he could haul them all down to jail and that the backlog was such that they would not see the light of day for a month; but, then as an aside said that he did not feel like it. Then Cave Dog came running up as he finished his day’s journey. The overexcited ranger seemed to calm down when The Dog Team appeared to be telling the truth after all.
The battlefields were full of monuments and memorials provided from both northern and southern states. There were small monuments and large monuments, plain monuments and intricate monuments, rows of monuments and solitary monuments. However, every one reminded The Dog Team that even though these woods looked like so many others that they had seen, they were in fact hollowed grounds. These woods had witnessed the brutal ravages of war.
The hikers also had a fantastic encounter with a four and half foot long snake. It was black with a white underbelly. Cave Dog was just starting to step over it when the snake reared up and made itself readily apparent. Cave Dog jumped back in surprise. It vibrated its tail like a rattlesnake. Even though it did not have a rattle, it sounded like one when its tail vibrated against the fallen leaves. The Dog Team does not know the type of snake; however, it probably was a rat snake.
It was not until after dark when Cave Dog was by himself that the conditions became excessively difficult. In fact, this would become one of the most difficult stretches of the whole challenge so far. As Cave Dog reached the northeast part of the wilderness, he came across a stretch of forest that was pulverized by Hurricane Ivan on September of 2004. This section was an exceptionally winding trail, but never seemed to turn out of the ravages of the hurricane. As the night began to wear away, Cave Dog tried to bushwhack up to a ridge where, from the map, a woods road looked to be more promising. Unfortunately, the road was in even worse shape than the trail. At one point, Cave Dog looked up and could only find a few trees still standing. All the rest of the trees lay about like fallen match sticks. As he clamored over one tree after another, he began to realize that it had been a long time since he last touched the ground. Bushwhacking was difficult, but the road was ridiculous. As he tried to find the trail again, he got sidetracked by cliff bands. Finding the trail did not prove any better. It had been taken over by sawbriars. These plants are covered with rosebush like thorns that legends are made of. It was a jumbled mess of thorns several feet taller than Cave Dog himself.
Cave Dog alternated from the devastated road, trail, and bushwhacks but never found any peace on the route. Late into the night he found himself standing on a fallen tree when it broke under his weight. His whole body was thrown forward into a broken branch about two inches in diameter that stabbed into his left eye with such impact that he would later have whip lash. If it had not been for his glasses, Cave Dog would have surely lost his eye or worse. Luckily, he ended up with a shiner instead. Finally, the mileage withered away and Cave Dog slept well that night.
The terrain was very beautiful. Cave Dog has always loved palmettos. In the past, he had only seen an occasional palmetto. He had no idea that they sometimes grow as the dominant ground cover. Here there were fields of palmettos, an exotic delight. Cave Dog was also treated to forests of long leaf pines. Cave Dog loves trees and long leaf pines are among the best. They have such amazing long branchless boles with a full top. It is like the pine tree version of a palm tree. Their needles are incredibly long. Cave Dog found one needle that could reach from his elbow to the tips of his fingers. When they are saplings, they have a long skinny trunk with a ball of long needles. It is a look straight out of Dr. Suess’s imagination.
Throughout the day, they found bear tracks and scat, but no sign of the bears themselves. They also came across a tortoise curled up in his shell. It was also a day of many large spiders. The biggest one was a yellow and white striped spider that Guide and Boone Dogs were calling a banana spider. There was another spider that was bright green with orange spots and another with a white body with red horns.
This was an incredible wildlife day. In the morning at Valentine Reservoir, the waters were calm and reflected the image of the pelicans that flew in circles above. Once again, the Dogs were blessed with wonderful great blue heron and snowy egret sightings. There was also a bird that looked to be a cormorant. Along the water’s edge, turtles basking in the sun flopped in the water at regular intervals as they hiked by. There were also frog, tadpole, lizard, butterfly, and salamander sightings throughout the day.
One of the best sightings though was a beaver. Cave Dog has seen a lot of beavers in his day, but they have always been in the water. This beaver was tromping through the forest completely unconcerned. It was after dark, so Cave Dog put his headlamp on it. At first it was difficult to identify. However, as Cave Dog got about fifteen feet from it, the telltale flat paddle shaped tail became apparent. When the beaver finally figured out that Cave Dog was watching him, it scurried down the slope and plopped into the water.
The insects and spiders seem to grow bigger in Louisiana. There were extra long millipedes, as well. There was one spider that fascinated Under and Cave Dogs. In fact, it was the largest non-tarantula spider Cave Dog had ever seen. With its legs stretched out, it was not much smaller than the palm of his hand. It had a long yellow and white mottled body with yellow and black striped legs. The black strips were hairy. Under Dog professed that it would give him nightmares to know that such things exist in this world.
One creature was unknown to The Dog Team. It was three inches long, about the width of a pencil, brown, with long antennae. Cave Dog noticed it because it sprayed his hand as he climbed a fire tower. The fire tower provided an excellent view above the long leaf pine forest.
The best sightings of the day, though, were the armadillos. The first armadillo spotted had the Dogs really excited. Under Dog had never seen an armadillo before. Who would have figured that the first time seeing an armadillo would be followed by dozens more? It would turn out that Under Dog has a latent talent that had been previously unknown to him. He is a world class armadillo spotter. Around every corner he would spot another one. Armadillos look like they belong more in the time of dinosaurs than our times. Lo and behold, they hop, too. They look like such awkward animals waddling about, but they are fast. Cave and Under Dogs found themselves chasing them around trying to get better pictures. They were no match for the hopping armadillos.
Cave Dog was enthralled that even today you can see the traces of the original path. It is hard to imagine how much traffic it would take to cause a trail scar that is preserved two centuries later.
This would normally be a relatively easy route. However, today it was much more difficult as a result of powerful forces of Hurricane Katrina. The eye of the hurricane passed mostly through the center of Mississippi and just east of today’s route on the Natchez Trace. It was hard not to think of the people of Mississippi and Louisiana who have suffered so much as a result of this natural disaster. Here at The Dog Team, our hearts go out to everyone whose lives have been disrupted and destroyed by this hurricane, but we are hopeful that the cities and towns of these states will be restored to their former glory.
Katrina had knocked down an endless amount of trees across the trail. It also took out a half dozen bridges. Not only did the blowdown cause its own difficulties to get around but it also forced Cave Dog into countless dense poison ivy gardens. All day long, he found himself wading through poison ivy. If he manages to escape the ravages of the dreaded toxin, he will consider himself a very lucky man.
At the end of the day, Cave Dog left the trail and hiked along the parkway in order to spend some time on the Ross Barnett Reservoir. It was a nice way to finish the day. There was a high concentration of great blue herons and snowy egrets. There was also a nice sunset over the edge of the water.
The Buffalo River Trail is supposed to have some nice vistas of a gorgeous river with large bluffs. Fog prevented Cave Dog from seeing the river. At one point, he decided that if he was not going to see it from afar, he had better hike up to it. So Cave Dog diverted off the Buffalo River Trail and took a primitive horse trail down to the river. Just as he reached the river, a window in the storm passed over and Cave Dog got to see an enormous bluff unfold before him. It was a wonderful sight after a long day of cold pouring rain. Another highlight for the day was an armadillo sighting. Cave Dog has only seen a few armadillos before. So it was a real treat to have one just a couple feet from him, even if it was fleeting. Cave Dog broke up the day with an occasional swing on a grapevine like Tarzan. Once again, the trail had periodic patches of poison ivy. With so many days with poison ivy, Cave Dog was having a run on his clothing. At the end of each hike his clothes were bagged up until the poison ivy oils could be washed off.
One of the highlights of the route was the Johnson Shut-ins. It was a beautiful gorge. The top portion had a complicated pattern that resembled a Japanese rock garden. Smooth rocks undulated with water pouring over seemingly every direction in a cascading maze of rock and water. The water fell into a gray and pink rock canyon with a pool of translucent green water. It was a sight to behold.
The day had a bit of an ominous start. The Dog Team was woken up to the repeated sounds of gun fire. However, once on the trail, Cave Dog was enthralled to find that the trees were at the peak of losing their leaves. As he hiked by, leaves made a pitter patter sound as they hit branches on their way down. The leaves would come down in fits and starts. Sometimes there were so many leaves falling down, it was literally raining leaves.
The first part of the trail was on rural roads. It had the feel of classic rural life, gently sloping hillsides into tight little valleys full of small farms and pastures of cows. An occasional quaint brown or red barn would dot the valley. It was such a contrast to the huge agro farms of the Iowa hike. It was also hillbilly country. At one point, a person Cave Dog ran into said, “I’m just a hillbilly. Everyone around here are hillbillies.” Many of the hillbillies had no teeth and had a stilting manner to the way they spoke. They often talked about drinking, and at one point one person asked The Dog Team for a beer.
The bedrock in the area formed a periodic recess cave. Sometimes they were small, sometimes they were large, but they were always fun to explore. After much of the day was spent in the quiet forest, the hikers had a bit of culture shock to see so many people in Old Man’s Cave. It was like an anthill of people. You might have expected the scene in Disneyland more than in a park. There was even a wedding party at the beginning of this section. Despite the hordes, the six mile gorge with Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, and Ash Cave was a beautiful sight. By the time they got to Ash Cave, the sun was on its way down and the people had dissipated. To walk along the underside of this huge recess cave perhaps a hundred feet tall and hundreds more wide in the twilight was both eerie and inspiring.
The last bit of the route was on the rural roads again and encapsulated the most disturbing sights of the entire challenge. Cave Dog was coming around the corner in the dead of night when in the distance he could see an oncoming car jerk, slam on the brakes, and almost run off the road, then stop. There were the sounds of several dogs barking loudly and erratically. But there was one dog that gave out the shrillest of sounds. At once, Cave Dog realized that the dog had been hit. The car remained stationary for a minute then turned around and went back to the scene of the accident. It took Cave Dog a few minutes to get to the scene and in that time no one got out of the car. It just sat in the middle of the road. In the meantime, the injured dog stopped barking and Cave Dog knew his life was tenuous. Cave Dog found the dog on the shoulder of the road laying down, head up, but weak. The left side of the dog’s abdomen was missing its hide. His legs and paws were bloody. At this point, three people came out of the car. It turned out that the owner of the dog was the driver. The people acted strangely and appeared powerless to do anything. So, Cave Dog took over. He told them that the dog, Paps, needed to see a veterinarian immediately. His survival depended on their quick actions. They needed to find something that could act as a stretcher to get Paps into their vehicle. As the women scurried about following his orders, the man of the group stared at Cave Dog and did nothing. Cave Dog got the feeling that he was drunk, but could not say for sure. He was also getting the feeling that the man felt the proper course of action was to shoot the dog. In the meantime, Cave Dog tended to Paps’ injuries and consoled him. Paps was looking sleepy and was not responding to his pain. Once a blanket arrived, Cave Dog gingerly moved Paps onto the blanket and managed to convince the man to help carry Paps to the car. Soon the women drove off to find a veterinarian. Cave Dog hopes Paps survived. It was a bizarre and intense way to finish a long hike.
What a great day it was too. The Dog Team once again hit peak fall colors. There were times Cave Dog would stop to look at fallen leaves of extraordinary shades and patterns. The maple leaves sometimes had amazing designs of bright reds and yellow. Sometimes one side of the leaf would be yellow and the other red. Other times, they were yellow with blotches of red. Yet other times, they were red with veins of yellow. When they were completely bright red, the backside of the leaf would be a light pastel pink. The reds and pinks gave the forest floor a feeling of Valentine’s Day.
One of Cave Dog’s favorite sections of the day was when the trail ran along the top edge of an escarpment with vague views of a large river below. The plateau above was lit up with yellow contrasted with long straight dark brown trunks. Then the trail shot down to the flood plain of the beautiful river valley. In the river, dozens of salmon could be seen working tirelessly to the last moments of life to find the spawning grounds of their own birth. Some areas had scores of dead fish washed up onto the shores of the river.
Cave Dog was pleased that the Manistee National Forest was excited about The Dog Team’s arrival. They even had a number of Forest Service employees join Cave Dog for portions of the hike. They were full of information and fun to hike with.
Michigan also hit a record for the Duofold Hike 50 challenge. There were seven people that finished the entire fifty kilometer day. Cave Dog was ecstatic at the great turnout. It was inspiring for him to see so many people so energized about The Dog Team’s attempt at making history that they pushed their own limits in the length of their day’s hike.
Cave Dog is extremely allergic to the latter. At times, Cave Dog found himself surrounded by poison ivy. He found himself treading carefully so as to not to touch anything. Luckily Adam McFarren, now known as Hoosier Dog, introduced Cave Dog to ivy block. So far it has shown no signs of failing. Hoosier Dog is a local ultrarunner, mountain climber, and highpointer. Cave Dog was pleased that Hoosier Dog finished the entire fifty kilometers with him. Often times what makes for an enjoyable day on the trail is the company you keep on the trail. This was a great day.
Cave Dog has found that it is the aspects of the outdoors that are not prevalent in Oregon that he is often the most enthralled by. Whether it is fall colors or fire flies, he is almost giddy to see them so ubiquitous in some areas. Acorns fit into this category. There were big acorns and little acorns, elongated acorns and round acorns, brown acorns, yellow acorns, and red acorns, striped acorns and solid colored acorns, classic looking acorns and knobby looking acorns. It was a great acorn day, indeed.
Cave Dog had a light step all day after seeing Sugar Dog in Chicago the day before. He felt rejuvenated and the miles flowed by effortlessly. Under Dog’s wife had also joined the group. She was able to do a portion of both the Wisconsin and Illinois hikes.
To Cave Dog’s surprise, they had hit Illinois before prime colors. However, there was a beautiful center section of the day that for some reason of geology and weather had peaked. For the first time, they were seeing brilliant reds and oranges along with the yellows. Even better, was the fact that the trees reflected off of the canal waters, doubling their impact. This center section was also delightful because the levee ran between the canal and the Illinois River. Hiking along this thin line of land with water on both sides was charming.
Where there is water, there is life. Birds were everywhere. Flocks of red winged black birds laden down the limbs of the trees. An occasional snowy egret would squawk as they hiked by. Mallards swam in affectionate couples. Cave Dog saw more great blue herons in one day than he had ever seen before. As many as four would fly by at one time with their long bold wingspan. Great blue herons are such magnificent birds and resilient, as well. They reside in all fifty states. The greatest bird sighting though was the pelicans. There were hundreds and hundreds of pelicans. They swam by in a long flotilla of pearly white orange beaked mass of pelicans. At one point, they gathered together in a cantankerous commotion as they dipped their heads into the water and flung their wings out erratically. It was an amazing sight.
The Northern Kettle Moraine portion of the Ice Age Trail, runs along an unusual topography laid down by the massive ancient icefields of 15,000 years ago. Kettles are formed by the uneven melting of the ice during the recession of the ice age. Sometimes there are huge blocks of ice that remain for a much longer period of time. The meltwaters redeposit the massive amounts of glacial sediment all around these pockets of ice. Eventually these blocks of ice melt way and leave a deep steep walled depression that usually fills up with water, known as kettle ponds. The kettles in this area were mostly dry; however, they were extremely numerous. The trail meandered up and down and along the tops of ridges caused by kettles on either side. It was as if Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox had chased each other in circles leaving pond size postholes in the loose sediment. It was a fun and varied terrain to spend the day hiking on.
Once again Cave Dog came across large group of school kids. This time it was one hundred eighth graders on a field trip to learn about orienteering. The teachers, parents, and students alike were excited about their chance encounter with The Dog Team and the Duofold Hike 50 Challenge. They took lots of pictures and gave Cave Dog a steady stream of congratulations and words of encouragement.
This was a fantastic day for Cave Dog because all day he had the inspiration of knowing that he was going to see Sugar Dog in Chicago that evening. Chicago is the halfway point in the adventure and the only time that Sugar Dog could visit him until the end. Cave Dog had to admit that he had done a bit more running than usual that day, and it felt great.
From Caribou Lake, Cave Dog linked up with the Superior Hiking Trail. This trail runs the edge of Lake Superior. Cave Dog was worried that he had missed the fall colors and all of the tall trees had indeed lost their leaves. However, the lower maples still had their leaves. This caused a beautiful layered affect of blue and gray on top, followed by a layer of browns with lower speckles of yellow, and a ground cover of brilliant yellow. The other advantage of missing the peak colors was that it opened up many more views of Lake Superior. Growing up on the Pacific Ocean, it is hard for Cave Dog to comprehend a lake that looks and acts like an ocean. The Great Lakes are just that, great lakes.
Cave Dog finished the hike by running into a high school group. They were thrilled to find out that their route that required three days was only two thirds of Cave Dog’s route. Soon they were having Cave Dog autograph the inside cover of their Pilgrim’s Progress that they were all reading for English Class. Cave Dog had to give a chuckle. It was such a funny way to finish a remote and quiet trail.
The trail was filled with lots of birds, bunnies, and squirrels. On occasion, Cave Dog diverted off the trail to investigate the cornfields or climb a tree. He was fascinated by the large combines mowing down the cornstalks even into the night. Toward the end of the day, Cave Dog kept seeing enormous gray birds swoop down from the trees and out of sight. He could only imagine that they were some sort of large owl. All in all, it was a warm, sunny, peaceful, and delightful stroll through classic Midwest agricultural lands.
Cave Dog’s route passed by a couple of the most important landmarks along the Oregon Trail. He started at Chimney Rock and finished at the summit of Scott’s Bluff. He felt it fitting to visit these landmarks as the pioneers did from afar and at their pace.
Chimney Rock is arguably the most important Oregon Trail landmark of all. Imagine spending weeks upon weeks on the open prairie, without sight of a tree let alone civilization, only having the rough accounts of the few that came before you, venturing into the unknown, and seeing nothing but grass, flat grass, for as long as the eye could see. Then in the distance comes Chimney Rock, a tall pinnacle with a triangular base. Chimney Rock is such a distinguishing feature and must have been a huge relief for the weary pioneer.
As Cave Dog could see Chimney Rock in the distance and getting closer, he felt like he could gain a perspective of how the pioneers felt. What was even more exciting for him was to actually climb the base of the Rock. From atop, he could imagine how excited the pioneers must have been to be able to look out from this spot and finally have a look out at the land that lay ahead.
The Oregon Trail was the focus of Cave Dog’s concerns. However, it should not be forgotten that this portion of the Oregon Trail is also the route of the California Trail that the 49ers used in their search for gold, the Mormon Trail that was used for the search for religious freedom, and the colorful but brief attempt at the Pony Express.
From Chimney Rock, Cave Dog made his way to Scott’s Bluff. In researching the great historical trails of our American heritage, Cave Dog began to realize a reoccurring phenomenon. These routes that started as foot, horse, or wagon trails where created for ease of travel. As technology changed the mode of traffic, it was natural to use the route already laid out. Naturally most of the historic trails are now roads; so, in order to stay on the Oregon Trail, Cave Dog had to hike along the shoulder of Highway 92. It seemed odd to be hiking with semis and trains passing by at regular intervals. However, roads are a form of trail in themselves. Having one road hike just added to the diversity of trails and experiences in the overall challenge.
By the time Cave Dog reached Scott’s Bluff, it was dark. As he climbed to the summit of the bluff, the moon was big and bold and made for a wonderfully aesthetic night climb.
The route for the day started on the eastern side of the North Unit of the park and traversed west. The first few miles started on the Castle and Medicine Root trails. These trails provided a good introduction to the wild scenery. As you move through the scenery, you never know quite what to expect. The landscape provides so many crazy shapes and shadows.
After the initial few miles, Cave Dog spent the rest of the day off trail. The next thirteen miles were across the open prairie. Except for a three mile burned out section that almost overwhelmed the lungs with soot, this section was all grass. Miles of pushing grass wears on the senses. However, periodically Cave Dog would be startled by a group of deer. Deer are so common in the wild that Cave Dog has seen them during the majority of his hikes. This hike though had by far the most independent deer sightings Cave Dog has ever had in one day. A deer would pop up on a ridge directly overhead. A bit later, a nearby hidden group of deer that were laying in the grass would bound up, as if they materialized straight out of the grass. All day long the prairie produced deer in this fashion.
Cave Dog has always loved seeing pronghorn. They seem misplaced, as if they belong in Africa not America. He was excited that the prairie provided an excellent pronghorn sighting as well. He also ran across a series of prairie dog towns. The prairie dogs scurry about, squealing their alerts. With so many, it created quite a racket. One of the hazards for the day was Bison rutting season. The park rangers had warned Cave Dog that if he saw the Bison’s tail rise, he would know that he was in danger. Despite the warnings, there were no Bison sightings for the day.
After the prairie section, Cave Dog descended into the Yellow Mound area. This is a fantastic landscape of variegated mounds of yellow, red, and buff colors. The terrain was incredibly complicated. Cave Dog stood upon the edge of the prairie and debated long about the best course to take. Without being able to see around all the mounds, Cave Dog picked a friendly looking drainage and began a steep descent. It quickly turned into a hairy situation. The funky loose soil did not always allow ascending back up what he was able to slide down. In the bottom of the drainage, the water had carved a deep tightly meandering channel between the steep valley walls. On occasion the channel would turn into a tunnel too small to crawl through and very difficult to clamor over. At one point, he jumped into the channel on what appeared to be solid ground only to find himself in knee deep ashen mud. After spending a considerable amount of time problem solving his way down the drainage, it finally opened up and he quickly found himself at the road and back to the Duofold RV. Despite the rigor of the terrain, Cave Dog found himself disappointed to be finished with the Yellow Mound section. It had been one of the most unusual and intriguing routes he had ever encountered.
In the next section, Cave Dog picked up some hiking partners and headed into the wilderness area. Again the hikers were graced with castle shaped formations. Thinking of how short Yellow Mound area was, Cave Dog decided that a bit more exploring off the intended route was in order. The group found themselves hiking over mounds, up steep ridges, into dead ends, and loving it. The terrain is so funky, you feel like you are in a desert version of Alice’s wonderland.
Eventually, the group made it to Deer Haven. Most of the area is barren of trees, but Deer Haven is able to support scrubby looking eastern red cedars. At this point, it was going to be getting dark; so, Cave Dog’s hiking partners headed back the way they had come. Cave Dog had actually made enough side trips that by the time he had crested the top of Deer Haven, he no longer needed very many more miles for a 50 kilometer day. So rather than continuing on to the other side of the park, he decided to continue to meander around and explore.
It proved to be one of Cave Dog’s most memorable night hikes. He might as well have been a Lilliputian playing in a Brobdingnagian’s sand castle. Luckily, the moon was nearly full and shown brightly into the canyons. Cave Dog had never seen such complicated terrain. Some of the canyon systems undulated in such a discordant rhythm, it looked impossible to navigate. As he explored, the texture of the topography changed around every corner. He would be in a sharp gully, followed by round bubbly slopes, continuing on to triangular pinnacles, and ending with a dead end ridge. He would backtrack, somehow, without ever going over the same terrain. All the while, the moon cast mysterious shadows and created a feeling of dungeons and abysses. He often pondered how different it must seem during the daylight. Cave Dog had a fantastic time, but eventually and regrettably it was time to head back.
The trail would be on the flat prairie; then without any warning would dip into the North Dakota badlands, only to pop up onto the prairie again. This continual change of scenery made for an entertaining long day on the trail. The badlands offered interesting formations and exotic landscapes. The prairie offered the contrast.
Shortly after the beginning, they entered the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, before heading south out of the park. It was not far from where TR spent some pivotal years ranching and weathering the harsh North Dakota winters. After his wife and mother died on the same day in the same house, he left the well to do life of New York for a rugged life out West. Later, he would claim that he would never have been able to be president if it were not for the strength he gained from those hard years in the badlands of North Dakota. This was also a place that strengthened his beliefs in conservation. As president, he preserved 5 National Parks, 18 National Monuments, 51 Wildlife Refuge, and 150 National Forests. It is fitting that this park be named after Theodore Roosevelt.
Cave Dog has always felt a bit of an identity with Teddy Roosevelt because he is indirectly named after him. When his grandfather, Lars Aase, came through Ellis Island from Norway in 1910, he changed his name to something a bit more American. He thought TR was a great American president. So, he changed his name to Ted Pettersen and Cave Dog was named after his grandfather.
The trickiest part of the route was the mud. In fact, the park portion of the route was the muddiest. The mud was never deep but would alternate between sticky and slippery. The sticky mud was amazing. Each step would add another thin layer to the bottom of the shoes. After a time, they noticed that they were growing taller as their feet grew heavier. As the amount of mud became comical, it started to mold around the sides of shoes. Long past the point when one would think it impossible for so much mud to remain on the shoes, the sheer weight of the mass would make the mud peel off in a perfect cast of the shoe.
There were a lot of migratory birds heading south for the winter on this day. At times, the trees were filled with flocks of small birds. At other times, large Canadian geese would fly overhead in V shaped precision. On occasion, Cave Dog could hear what he imagined were gunshots. Invariably, a small group of deer would bound by in a hurry. At the end of the day, the trail was filled with scampering bunnies.
The most dramatic animal sighting came after it had turned dark. Cave Dog came across about one hundred fifty cows. They were easily visible in the large moon. Normally cattle move away as Cave Dog comes across, and this group did as well. However, they stopped, turned, and looked at Cave Dog. Then they started a loud chorus of moos. As Cave Dog continued to move down the path, the herd started moving parallel to his course. After a time, they began to run in a large cantankerous mass. They passed behind a small hill, and Cave Dog thought he was finally rid of them. Unfortunately, a few moments later, they materialized in front of Cave Dog. They were running straight for him. In a moment, Cave Dog began to realize that he could be stampeded in the night by a relentless stream of cows. He flashed his headlamp in the lead cow’s eyes, hollered, and began looking at possible escape routes. Fortunately, the cows got the message and changed their course. It turned out to be a day capped on both ends by odd cow encounters.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, The Bob, is one of the most remote areas of the lower forty eight. Cave Dog felt like his long hike through The Bob barely scratched the surface of what it had to offer. A week of hiking would have only scratch a bit deeper.
The Dog Team was joined by some members of the Bob Marshall Foundation. It was wonderful to hike with people that have such a depth of knowledge about the area.
The focus of the day was Grizzly Bear Basin. This route led through the forest to an amazing cliff that must have been thousands of feet tall and miles long. The cliff rises so dramatically that it gives the feeling of power, the power of earth and its geologic processes. It is humbling to stand before such an awesome sight.
As they gazed on, they saw something even more amazing than the cliff itself, the agility of mountain goats. How mountain goats manage to find themselves on a shear cliff is mind boggling. Yet, the mountain goats were completely unconcerned. They jumped from ledge to ledge without a thought to the thousands of feet of exposure. They looked magnificent as they stood at the point of a promontory.
The Bob is one of the few places that still has more horse traffic than foot traffic. That is partly why The Bob has a reputation for mud. In the beginning of the day the mud was frozen into a crunchy imprint of the hundreds of horses that came before. However, the day quickly warmed and the mud was out in full force. It reminded Cave Dog of all his experiences with Adirondack mud in years prior.
As the group began to reach the steep end of Grizzly Bear Basin, some of the party saw a handful of big horn sheep. Most of the sheep had the full ram’s horn curl. At the top of the pass, an astounding view lay before the group. One cliff system after another lined up in pleasant repose. Each cliff was clad in a different color and carved into a different shape. The Bob lives up to its reputation as one of the most scenic areas in the US. Cave Dog likens it to something John Muir used to say about such places: a day spent in the Bob is not a day gone from your life but a day added to your life.
It was a privilege for Cave Dog to be on the actual route of the Corps of Discovery, and not just any portion, but a key section that would determine their ability to survive the journey. Cave Dog has always felt at home in northern Idaho. The soil smells rich and the trees grow tall; it feels so natural. Cave Dog has always admired the Nez Perce, as well. Of all the religions that Cave Dog has studied, in many ways the Nez Perce’s beliefs seem to match his own the best. All in all, it was nice to be in Idaho.
The highlight of the day was the most incredible moose sighting that Cave Dog had ever had seen. Three moose just twenty five feet away moved across his path and stopped just a short distance away. Cave Dog spent fifteen minutes watching these magnificent animals, before he noticed that behind him there was yet another. There was an adult male and female and a young female and male. The adult male had a gigantic rack. Eventually the fourth moose passed close by and joined the others, which had started bellowing, apparently for his return.
Cave Dog also saw his best woodpecker sightings. In fact, he continued to see woodpeckers all day long. Usually woodpeckers do not let people get particularly close, or they move to the opposite side of a tree trunk out of view. Busily pecking at the trees, these woodpeckers did not seem to care. He had some unusually nice views of grouse, as well.
The day was spent in a typical Northwestern forest with nice fall colors in the alpine meadows. Snow was present in the higher portions of the route, but never presented any difficulty. One of the nicest aspects of the day was that Cave Dog was joined by a good friend, Kelly Morris. Her cheerful countenance was very refreshing after so many long miles.
The next morning, Kraut Dog drove The Dog Team up to the Big Sandy Trailhead. During the drive, everyone was pleased to see tons of wildlife: pronghorns, deer, elk, and bunnies. The mud on the road lived up to all of the hype. It provided a number of squirrelly moments with everyone wondering if the vehicle was gong to stay on the road. The snow was only a few inches deep at the trailhead and they figured that it was unlikely to be enough deeper to warrant snowshoes; so, they left them behind, put on their hunter’s orange and headed off into the Wind River Range.
Though Wyoming is often overlooked, the Wind River Range is one of the premier mountain ranges of the US. Because of the nature of tourism and the ski industry’s marketing, most people think of Colorado and Montana when thinking of the Rockies. It would also appear that many in Wyoming would just as soon have Wyoming left a forgotten secret. Yet, Wyoming has some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain around. Cave Dog has always wanted to explore these amazing Wind Rivers, and now he was ecstatic to finally have an opportunity. In many ways, the Cirque of the Towers is the crown jewel of the Wind Rivers. A large bowl shaped valley with towering spires and crags, the Cirque is a rock climber’s mecca. It is one of those places in this adventure like The Narrows, The Bob, and the Na Pali Coast that Cave Dog had wanted to explore for more than a decade. The anticipation was heightened.
Shortly after starting, the group entered the beginnings of the snowstorm. Light cornball snow filled their footsteps and left a crisp and pristine quality to the landscape. After a half dozen miles, the forest opened up and tall peaks speckled with snow and rock shone on all sides. The route followed a quiet river valley and passed by three tarns or high alpine lakes. The main goal of the day was to peek into the Cirque. As the route gained in altitude, the depth of the snow increased and the terrain became much more difficult to follow. Much of the upper portion of the trail was marked by cairns that were mostly if not completely covered by snow. Oftentimes the group would be at a standstill as everyone scanned the terrain for any signs of the next cairn. By the time the group made it above the last tarn, they had reached their highest point of the day at about 10,700 feet and had the beginnings of a view into the Cirque. Unfortunately, low hanging clouds obscured all but the lowest portions of the towers. Most of the group was cold and tired from the rough terrain and decided to turn back just shy of the Cirque proper.
From here on, Kraut Dog and Cave Dog continued down to Big Sandy Pass. This last section to the Cirque proved to be much deeper in snow, oftentimes knee deep. The snow was just deep enough to obscure the rocks below. There were occasions where they would fall between the rocks until they were waist deep in snow. Despite the rough terrain, they made their way over Big Sandy and into the Cirque. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing vigorously, and they appeared to be hiking deeper into the blizzard. Kraut Dog’s gloves had frozen solid; so, he cut off the sleeves of an old shirt as a makeshift pair of mittens. At this point, it appeared pointless to hike farther into the whiteout conditions, when the weather was better behind them. They had made their primary goal of reaching the Cirque of the Towers. It was disappointing to be amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in America without being able to see it. It had been an adventurous day. Now it was time to turn back and look forward to the next time.
Not long after heading back, the sun began to peek out. They would look back at the Cirque and see the storm in its full glory. It was on this stretch that they came across what Kraut Dog thought was a red tailed hawk. They are such graceful flyers. They were also amazed to find that some of the tracks of rest of the group were already filled in by the falling and drifting snow. Upon reaching the trailhead again, Cave Dog realized that Kraut Dog had two silver dollar size blisters, yet, he wanted to continue, such is the nature of ultrarunners. So, the two finished up the last miles in the dark on a muddy road. It seemed odd to be on a road in an area that they had such wild expectations of a deep wilderness, but it afforded them a fantastic view of a tremendous sunset.
On a side note, Cave Dog has been picking up a bit of trash along the side of each trail. This is only the second hike that he did not see a single piece of litter. The first was Big Bend National Park in Texas. Usually that means that either the hikers and the trail maintenance crews in the area are particularly conscientious, or no one ever does that route. In terms of Wyoming, it might have been partially because of the snow cover. That being said, Cave Dog has been generally impressed with the lack of litter on almost all of the trails. To cover over thirty one miles of terrain and have a hard time finding any litter is pretty remarkable.
The sand dunes provide a stark contrast to the rugged mountains. In fact, the dunes seem completely out of place in the heart of the Colorado. In many ways, that is part of their luster. The focus of the day was a circumnavigation of the dunes by using the Sand Ramp Trail to its end, crossing the Star Dune Complex, heading south to the border of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, and finishing up the circular route at the park headquarters. Under Dog joined Cave Dog at the beginning of the Sand Ramp Trail. This section was on loose sand that gave the legs a workout. However, it was a delight to watch the enumerable butterflies fluttering from sagebrush to sagebrush. The trail had nice views of the eastern edge of the dunes where the steepest slopes lay. Sometimes it defied comprehension how sand could hold such a steep angle of repose.
As the trail curved above the north side of the dunes, the dogs gained a bit more altitude and began to see what was to be the crux of the day, the Star Dune crossing. Unexpectedly and much to their delight, the dunes had a hard pack of sand that made for easy travel. This proved to be one of the best hiking experiences the two had ever had. It was like looking at icebergs, no two are alike. Each dune had its own character and beauty and cast a different yet elegant shadow in the late afternoon sun. Some dunes were tall and others short. Some were sharp and other dull. Some were round, and others were long.
As the dogs worked their way up countless dunes, they noticed that just before the crest, the sand would be soft and required tremendous effort to finish the last few ascending steps. Yet, they had so much fun running and jumping down the other sides. Their contorted path would look comical to anyone unfamiliar with the terrain. At one point, they saw an elk with an enormous rack crossing the dunes. They could not figure out what would make an elk walk into the heart of this barren and inhospitable land. Cave Dog was pleased to see so many of the Fourteeners that he climbed during his challenge of the 14ers Record: Kit Carson, Challenger Point, Lindsey, Blanca, Ellingwood Point, Little Bear. It brought back great memories of weeks of training in some of the most inspiring mountains he had ever encountered.
After pulling themselves away from the Star Dune Complex, Under and Cave Dogs made their long slog south along the western border of the dunes. They could hear the distant sounds of bugling elk as they made their way. Eventually night fell upon them but not until after a beautiful sunset. Under Dog had run out of water; so, he wanted to head straight back to the Visitor Center and the Duofold RV. He did not have a light so Cave Dog gave him his spare headlamp. Under Dog was heading due east while Cave Dog was continuing south to the southern border of the monument. Cave Dog was a bit worried about Under Dog heading out alone across the sands on the southern edge of the dunes, but Under Dog assured him that he was fine. Shortly after parting, Under Dog yelled back to Cave Dog that he could see lights ahead and knew he was on the right course.
It was during this stretch that Cave Dog was excited to see his first kangaroo rat, an interesting little fur ball with big legs and a long tail. Cave Dog’s landmark was a fence. It turned out to not be quite in the place he was told it would be, but he found it nonetheless. Once he started following the fence east along the southern border, he realized that Under Dog had made a mistake. The lights he was following were from a campground just outside the monument, several miles in the wrong direction. As Cave Dog hiked over the loose sand toward the very same lights, he worried that Under Dog was in for a much harder night than his preparation allowed. Once reaching the campground on Route 150, Cave Dog contacted The Dog Team only to find that Under Dog had never made it to the Visitor Center. He assuredly must have hit the road at some point. So they devised a plan. The Duofold RV was going to drive down the road as Cave Dog hiked up the road. After only about ten minutes, Cave Dog spotted a strange light. After looking at it for a moment, he realized it was the light of an LED headlamp, just like the one he had given Under Dog. Cave Dog burst out in a sprint and in moments was giving Under Dog some much needed water. Soon the Duofold RV arrived and Cave Dog went on to finish his last few miles.
Fortunate for Cave Dog, a cold front passed through the area and the wind picked up. This allowed Cave Dog to finally catch up on his dire hydration problems from the last two hot weather hikes.
Cave Dog’s route encompassed the longest stretch of the Santa Fe Trail that is on public land. He traversed the full nineteen mile section of the Santa Fe Trail in the Cimarron National Grasslands in southwest Kansas. This section was not so much a trail as a route. Cave Dog followed large roughly cast pillars that were placed far apart as a marker of the actual route taken by the wagon trains over a hundred and fifty years before. Cave Dog was amazed to see the actual ruts created from countless wagons of such a long time ago.
The terrain was open prairie, grass for as long as one could see. At one point, Cave Dog looked around and saw grass, nothing but grass, grass to the right, grass to the left, grass ahead, and grass behind. There was nothing that could be seen of man or beast, nothing but grass. The two main hazards were an occasional spike through his shoes and into the toes from a hidden prickly pear in the prairie grass and herds of cows that never seemed to care for the Dog passing through their pasture. There were signs of other hazards, though. At one point, Cave Dog saw a five foot long rattlesnake molting. There were also the bones of long forgotten beasts, picked clean by the vultures, dried and desiccated by the Kansas sun.
Cave Dog has always enjoyed the adventurous period of the fur trappers. Many of these colorful characters like Kit Carson had spent time on the Santa Fe Trail. It was an easy way for this rough and tumble group of explorers to earn good money. Jedidiah Smith is one of the fur trappers that fascinates Cave Dog the most. Jedidiah was escorting cargo on the Santa Fe Trail when he was killed by Comanches. The death of a remarkable life lay upon this trail. As the relentless grass moved past Cave Dog’s feet, he often pondered the fur trappers and traders that made a living on the Santa Fe Trail.
After finishing the Santa Fe Trail portion of the day, Cave Dog made his way to the Turkey Trail where he saw the biggest grasshoppers he had ever seen. During this section, he also saw a hawk that did not seem to care for his presence. The Turkey Trail passed along a dried up wash, which offered a different ecosystem for Cave Dog to explore. The day passed with a beautiful sunset and the satisfaction of nice day.
The Wichita Mountains were reminiscent of the Ruby Mountains to Cave Dog in that both of these areas were unknown to Cave Dog before he researched his hikes for this challenge and both ended up being wonderful. Even though it is not very well known, the Refuge is one of the earliest areas preserved. It was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. It is full of life. They saw bison, a snake, and huge bull elk. They also heard a screech owl and bugling elk mating. On several occasions, they came across swarms of monarch butterflies fluttering around and clinging to the branches above.
Cave Dog started this hike still depleted from being dehydrated in Big Bend. After drinking about four and half gallons of water, Cave Dog still had not urinated in two days. He was beginning to worry that the demanding schedule would not allow him to catch up, a recipe for kidney stones or renal failure.
One of the signs of a great long hike is that the hike goes through many different terrains and landscapes. From cliffs to lily pad covered lakes, from prairie to scenic mountaintop, from reservoirs to big bulbous shaped rocks that looked like a climber's paradise, this hike had a wealth of variety. To add to this diversity was a difficult night hike through sharp branches that would not give and sporadic collections of large boulders. This nighttime bushwhack provided a kind of challenging finale to the hike. By the time Prairie and Cave Dogs reached the summit of Mt. Scott, the end of this long day of bushwhacks, they had a feeling they had accomplished something significant. Prairie Dog gave Cave Dog a great impression of Oklahoma and made this one of Cave Dog’s favorite hikes.
Under Dog and Cave Dog started early in the morning to hike to the top of Emory Peak. The hike was delightful and the peak had an amazing 360 degree view of the Chisos Mountains. The last pitch was nearly vertical and nearly turned Under Dog’s stomach. He agreed the view was worth it, though.
After Emory Peak, Cave Dog descended into the heart of the desert while Under Dog cut across the center of the loop to join Cave Dog’s last stretch. The trail down Juniper Canyon was overgrown with downed trees across it. As Cave Dog descended, he watched the biozones change from Juniper to treeless desert. He also felt the temperature rise dramatically. The lower elevations were like an oven. However, they were filled with the beautiful sights of the desert: barrel cacti, cholla, prickly pear, sage, agave, yucca, and one of Cave Dog’s favorites, the ocotillo. At one point, Cave Dog saw fields of ocotillos like he had never seen before. The butterflies were out in full force, as well.
The twenty two miles it took to circle around the peaks were on primitive trail. Such is the nature of the competition in the desert that every overhanging piece of vegetation has either thorns or burs. So, Cave Dog had to wear pants despite the heat. This made it excruciatingly hot. Throughout the day, Cave Dog drank six and a half liters of water and still could not urinate. Being so dehydrated made the long hike back up the dried wash of the Blue Creek even more difficult than usual. His blood felt thick and his heart pounded harder than usual. It was during this stretch that Cave Dog realized that he had lost his new camera somewhere on the trail. It saddened him to lose all the beautiful pictures of peaks, cacti, and butterflies. In the meantime, Under Dog had his own difficulties with running out of water and decided to hike down before Cave Dog’s return. Realizing this and desperate for water, Cave Dog ran down the last few miles of the route.
After leaving the Zuni-Acoma Trail, Cave Dog continued on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Traveling from Canada to Mexico, the CDT is one of the great north/south transcontinental trails and the least often traversed. This next section on the CDT was on much older lava flows that had been partially eroded into soil. Cave Dog found this stretch to be even more difficult. Oftentimes, the route traversed over fields of softball sized loose igneous rocks, ankle busters. Twisting your ankle hundreds of times over and constantly having to catch your balance makes for a tiring hike. Luckily, with years of training, Cave Dog’s ankles had no difficulty handling the seas of ankle busters.
This stretch of trail often ran along ancient collapsed lava tubes. On a couple occasions, the trail actually descended into the sunken lava tubes. It was fun to be hiking down the high walled channel nature created. It was also nice because these short sections had been filled with soil, which was a tremendous reprieve from the loose lava rock elsewhere. Just before finishing this section of the CDT, Cave Dog came across a herd of elk in rutting season. They were bugling in their eerie way. It sounded like a loon being tortured. It presented an odd soundtrack to a challenging stretch.
After reaching the El Malpais Information Center, Cave Dog continued on the CDT as it spent a short time on Route 53, then turned onto the Chain of the Craters Backcountry Byway. Before finishing the last miles, Cave Dog was joined by his good friend Jennifer Briggs of Santa Fe. It was great for Cave Dog to see a good friend after so many hard miles of solitude. The Dog Team decided to take the opportunity to take a break and celebrate with a barbeque. Boy, hamburgers never tasted so good. After saying good bye to Jennifer, Cave Dog had a pleasant midnight stroll down the Chain of the Craters.
Cave Dog was doing a Rim to Rim hike from South to North. As huge as the Grand Canyon is, it is an indicator of just how long these hikes are when Cave Dog needed another eight miles to reach his fifty kilometer goal. So, Cave Dog started the day at Hermits Rest and walked along the rim to the South Rim Village, down the longer of possible routes using the South Bright Angel Trail to the River Trail, reaching the Colorado River and the famous Phantom Ranch, and ascending the North Kaibab Trail.
Along the eight mile rim route, Cave Dog saw the classic Grand Canyon view from ever changing angles. A couple dozen turkey vultures swirled in the canyon updraft. Tame big horn sheep lay unconcerned next to the trail. It was a great introduction to one of the biggest canyons in the world.
Upon hitting the South Rim Village, Under and Sea Dogs joined Cave Dog for the Rim to Rim. It was moving to look out before you and see the depth of your descent laid out before you and knowing you have to make it back out again. As the dogs watched the down beaten weary hikers ascending out of the canyon, they got a glimpse at the task at hand. But that was far from their minds as they breezed down the innumerable switchbacks.
Cave Dog studied the Grand Canyon in college as a classic example of a stratagraphic record. As a Geology major, it is a treat to see the limestone, sandstone, and siltstones so clearly laid out before you. Even more exciting is to see the Great Unconformity unveiling the Precambrian rocks so dramatically. The ancient rocks looked cooked and metamorphosed from billions of years of tectonic forces in such a way that they presented a foreboding and harsh continence. Being harder rock, the Precambrian formations left steep box canyons that act like an oven in the Arizona sun.
Another aspect of Geology that affected the hike is that the layers of sedimentary rock in the area are mostly flat tilted a few degrees south. So water pours into the Canyon from the north and away from the Canyon to the south. Water being the great eroder, it has eroded the north side much more than the south side, so the trail on the north side is much longer. At 8,200 feet, the tilted formations make the North Rim 1,400 feet higher. As a consequence, the south to north Rim to Rim hike that the dogs were doing is the harder direction.
Reaching the Colorado River is a thrilling sight. Taking a dip is even better. Soon after, the dogs reached Phantom Ranch, a complex of dorms, campsites, and a rustic general store. Cave Dog really wanted to send a get well postcard to his dad from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The evening before, his dad had a minor stroke. Papa Dog is likely to have a full recovery. Yet, even if it is a small one, it is a stroke nonetheless. It was a difficult mix of emotions for Cave Dog to be having the time of his life while at the same time thinking about his dad being in the hospital. Cave Dog knew his dad would get a kick out of receiving a postcard by mule from the bottom of the Canyon. Unfortunately, the store was closed for dinner. Undeterred, Cave Dog ran around for a considerable amount of time asking everyone he could find if they had an extra postcard. Finally, Cave Dog found a nice man that did not have a postcard but found something that would work as a postcard. He donated a stamp and said he would mail the card for Cave Dog when the store opened up again.
Delayed a bit, the dogs made the long haul out the North Rim in the dark. By the time they reached the top, they had left the hot inner canyon to reach the frigid windy North Rim. On hikes like the Rim to Rim, one feels a great sense of accomplishment. You can look back and think to yourself, “Wow, I have made it to the other side.”
Meanwhile, Surf and Under Dogs were having their own drama. The person that gave Sea and Cave Dogs a ride up to the remote trailhead, now known as Zion Dog, tracked the Duofold RV down and left a hair raising note. It was raining upstream of the Narrows and flash floods were expected. Because of the shape of the land, even if it is not raining in Zion, it can be raining in Bryce Canyon fifty miles away, causing a flash flood under beautiful skies. Surf and Under Dogs found a ranger, and she peppered them with horror stories of death and pulverized cadavers. She was shocked that the dogs had been allowed to start the hike that morning. Surf and Under Dogs frantically tried to find a way to get word to Sea and Cave Dogs to no avail.
All the while, Sea and Cave Dog were having the time of their lives. Beautiful, mystic, adventurous-inspired by the surroundings, the dogs were plunging deeper into the canyon unaware of the drama at the trailend. The water level rose dramatically in a four mile, no high ground, stretch near the end of the canyon. The dogs were often waist deep in water and at times only their heads remained dry. Surf and Under Dogs were relieved when Sea and Cave Dogs materialized out of the Canyon safely.
As arduous and long as the Narrows was, it was only the first half of Cave Dog’s route. It was also not the end of the intrigue for the day. Just as the dogs finished up the Narrows, it was getting dark and squalls of lightning storms came through in waves. Cave Dog’s route was supposed to go down to the Grotto, up Walter’s Wiggles, out to Angel’s Landing, and beyond on the West Rim Trail. One thing was certain, Angel’s Landing, a severely exposed promontory, was not a safe spot in a lightning storm. At the same time, the ensuing rain was making the pickup spot inaccessible by RV. So, Cave Dog readjusted his route to take the East Rim Trail to the East Entrance.
On his hike along the Virgin River to the East Rim trailhead, Cave Dog saw his first sighting of a bobcat. In fact, he saw four. While chugging up the switchbacks out of the canyon everything was pitch black. Cave Dog could only see the few feet of trail before him. On occasion, he would hang over the edge and shine his bright head lamp down. Sometimes he could see the bottom, sometimes not. Then, in a flash, a lightning bolt would light up the dramatic sheer faces of the cliffs all around him.
When he reached the top of the canyon, Cave Dog found himself on a cairned route. Cairns are small piles of rocks often used when there is not enough soil to cause a trail scar to follow. Piles of rocks on other rocks can be difficult to follow in the day time. It borders on the ridiculous at night. Cave Dog would venture out from a cairn in the most likely direction. If no new cairn presented itself, he would go back to the original cairn and venture out in a different direction. Without being able to see any landmarks because of the darkness, the biggest problem with going back and forth so many times is spotting the previous cairn and thinking it is the next cairn. If this happens one can start backtracking all the while thinking he or she is still going forward. Cave Dog spent special care to not get turned around. After a mile of this arduous routefinding, the trail became apparent again. The night eventually cleared up and a vivid Milky Way showed itself amongst periodic shooting stars. It was a fitting end to a long and dramatic day.
The Dog Team started their route with an ascent up to Liberty Pass at 10,580 feet and down to Liberty Lake. With tall peaks hanging over large alpine lakes, the view was stunning. The Dog Team paused to reflect on the magnificence. From here, Cave Dog ventured out for a high altitude marathon of solitude as the rest of the team hiked back to the Duofold RV and made the long drive around the Rubies.
The Ruby Crest Trail is a roller coaster trail, up and down the spine of the Rubies. Each time Cave Dog climbed over the next rise, an entirely new panoramic view lay before his eyes. Because of a tight connection the next day, Cave Dog ran down the downhills and powered up the uphills, only to have another incredible and new panoramic view atop the next peak. The trail often hovered between 10,000 to 11,000 feet of elevation. Running at elevation tired Cave Dog’s lungs.
Cave Dog did not know about the Rubies before he researched his Nevada hike for this adventure. It gave the hike a heightened sense of inspiration to have an unfamiliar place be so beautiful. The Ruby Mountains are a real gem.
The Dog Team was also joined by fifteen others for the Golden Gate Bridge crossing. Cave Dog was also very pleased to be supported by his brother, Rad Dog, and his family from Coos Bay, Oregon, and his sister Hot Diggity Dog, and her family from Redwood Shores, CA. There were also some ultramarathoners and other locals that made this a fun and lively urban walk.
San Francisco has always meant a lot to Cave Dog. When he was growing up, his family would join his Dad for an annual conference of the American College of Surgeons. So, Cave Dog has many nice memories of San Francisco. It was a real treat for him to do a vigorous walk on such a beautiful day in San Francisco.
A highlight for the day was when The Dog Team reached Aqua Park. Cave and Sea Dogs launched sea kayaks and circumnavigated Alcatraz. The dogs could hardly believe that they were out on the open bay paddling through the sunset. Alcatraz has always been a place of great fascination for both Sea Dog and Cave Dog, and it was striking to see it from the rolling waves. It was a paddle to remember for a long time.
Probably New York City is the only city with as many landmarks as San Francisco and The Dog Team was able to touch upon a lot of them: Seal Rocks, Cliff House, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Fort Point, Palace of Fine Arts, Fisherman’s Wharf, the seals on Pier 39, cable cars, Lombard Street, the Transamerica Building, and Chinatown, just to mention a few. There was a grand 360 degree view of the route and the city at large from atop Twin Peaks that put the walk all into perspective. Just as Cave Dog touched Coit Tower, a fireworks display, better than any of The Dog Team had ever seen before, shot up from the bay. It was an unexpected and spectacular way to finish a fun day.
Sea and Cave Dog had one of the best hikes of their lives. Herds of wild goats were seen on occasion. Innumerable song birds chirped varied exotic melodies. There were red birds, green birds, black birds, large birds, and small birds. There even was a frigate that gracefully circled overhead, taking advantage of an updraft along the steep canyon walls. Geckos scurried about. While Sea Dog rested during Cave Dog’s side trips to sacred stream pools and dancing waterfalls, he saw a dolphin jump out of the sea doing barrel rolls before crashing landing, not once but a half a dozen times. When the Dogs were hungry, they ate guavas that hung over the trail. As night fell, they shared the trail with a wild boar for a time. A playful vole scampered before their feet in its nocturnal revelries. Tropical showers brought out hoards of toads that lay motionless in the trail. There were small toads and large toads. There were dark toads and light toads. There were fat toads and skinny toads. There seemed to be no end to the toads. Cave Dog questioned, “Where do all these toads go during the day?” Just as they were finishing the hike, there was a rare Moonbow from the cliffs to the sea.
This trail also presented a number of hazards. At two miles, there was a significant stream ford that had to be crossed when returning. Because of the short distance from the headwalls of the canyons to the ocean, the area is known for its flash floods. A sign before the ford stated that, over the years, eight two people had died in this area. If the Dogs got stuck behind a raging torrent, they might have had to stick out a tropical depression that was threatening to become a typhoon before it reached the island the following day. Cave and Sea Dog watched the preparations as a hiker with a broken leg was to be evacuated by helicopter from this remote area. As the day wore on, warm rain showers passed over, but turned into a storm by night. A long section of trail that lay gingerly upon the cliff hanging over the sea became a slippery mess. The red volcanic mud stuck to their shoes in thick slippery layers. During the day, this section was effortless and showed no signs for what lay ahead. As they painstakingly picked their way through the hazards, their minds were weighted by the thought of the quickly rising streams. Luckily, even though the river was a foot and half deeper and a fair bit swifter, they managed to get back safely.
The Historic Iditarod Trail was spectacular. The tundra was in full fall colors, casting off blankets of reds, yellows, and greens. The quaking aspens covered the lower hillsides with fluttering brilliant yellows. The glacial features also offered a striking beauty. An iridescent blue emanated from the deep crevasses. Small glaciers peeked out from many of the upper valleys. Raven and Eagle Glaciers were massive and beautiful. While hiking down the main U shaped valley, hanging valleys carved out by smaller glaciers were visible at regular intervals. The streams were milky white from dense glacier silt. Beavers could be seen busily doing repairs on their infrastructures. A large black bear across the valley could be seen eating ground cover, and a handful of mountain goats clung to the craggy mountain walls. Crow Pass, barren of vegetation, provided its own austere beauty of scree and old mining relics. There was a major glacial meltwater ford that took five minutes to cross. It was very cold. All in all, it was a fantastic and memorable day.
Fortunately, Cave Dog was able to hike out of the fog bank by late afternoon,
which provided him with a wonderful sampling of the magnificence of this
stretch of the PCT. Three spires called the Three Queens slowly materialized
as the fog burned off. Spectacle Lake sat in a cathedral of craggy
peaks. Fitting the wilderness area’s name, small alpine lakes were
numerous. Signs of the glaciated carved landscape were everywhere.
This hike was a stark contrast from the quiet, cold, damp, foggy, whiteout
first half to the pristine, bright, colorful second half.
Over twenty five people came for the kick off. David Bragdin, President of Metro, and Senator Charlie Ringo said a few words before the hike. Then as a group, everyone hiked up to the beginning of the Wildwood Trail. With friends and family, it was a fun light hearted way to start an incredibly intense adventure and provided a stark contrast to what lay before Cave Dog. After joining the Wildwood Trail, the group slimmed down and the pace picked up. Two people even joined Cave Dog for the entire 32.5 mile route.
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