Hello and welcome to our blog. We have been getting many requests to join in on blogging so here we go. I hope you all enjoy the "view". Be sure to check us out at www.earthsonglodge.com for detailed information.

EarthSong Lodge in pictures

EarthSong Lodge in pictures

The view of a lifetime

The view of a lifetime
Denali in March 2012

Caribou and Sled Dogs

Caribou and Sled Dogs

two minutes of sunshine at -16 below

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oh so chilly

Dearest friends,
Oh so chilly when I woke up this morning...the themometer read...-16 below, so I lit a few of my favorite candles with warm scents of vanilla sugar, pushed a button on the "Kuerig" coffeemaker for instant aromatic coffee from my fav brand lately, Caribou coffee. I am looking forward to the very quick glimpse of the sun rising over the mountains...we are speaking of maybe TWO minutes before hiding behind the peak until tomorrow.
Jon and JJ took two teams of sled dogs out breaking trail, three hours of frosty feet and dogs.
It's a strange and wonderful feeling to bake banana bread with lots of chocolate chips, warming the kitchen and greeting Jon after his outing with the sled dogs. Now it's time to make a turkey/veggie pot pie for dinner...after all, how else can one warm up...indulging in comfort food.
Happy thoughts only,
PS...I wish you could pop over for a slice of warm banana bread...and a drizzle of sunshine.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Down to Homer

Tomorrow Karin, JJ, and I are heading to Homer to move our belongings out and close the house down. We purchased the beautiful home on the ridge three years ago, but have not spent as much time down there as we hoped. Add the amazing amount of snowfall in recent years in Homer (at one time last year we had a spot on the roof with 9' of snow), and you end up with a place hard to maintain when Jon is guiding dog sled trips all winter. We love the area and community, and will be looking at other lower-elevation options.

With about a half-foot of new snow, we have some better mushing conditions out now. The tundra is still bumpy, but we have some decent trails, and will soon be ready to start our day guided trips. Speaking of trips, we have some new dog mushing trip specials on our website: www.earthsonglodge.com. Check them out if you want to experience Denali the "real" way. There was a meeting on Monday at Denali National Park HQ between me and some park staff, going over the guiding operation. We have a new park kennels manager, with mushing experience but no park mushing time. Denali is a bit different from other places, so she'll be in for an exciting winter. We were again shot down for park cabin use. For those of you not in-the-know, the dog sled guiding business was able to use all 15 park patrol cabins for winter guiding from the 1970's through to about 1990. The permit was re-written and the cabins were deleted. I have tried consistantly since then to get them back, with only getting one cabin (Lower Toklat Cabin) back. The frustrating part is the goal posts seem to be moving, as the reasoning behind the policy evolves as points are contradicted. With more cabin use, I am able to offer a more varied service to a greater number of potential guests. But nothing will change for the near future. We'll still do the trips we've done in the past, and still make winter camping as comfy as it can get...with wood stove and hot tent.

Don't think we'll post anything until after Thanksgiving, so a happy holiday to you all. Stay healthy, be safe, carpe diem.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dog Sledding Season 2010-2011 Has Begun

Karin and Jon are back at the lodge, after a trip up from the Lower 48 in their new truck, and the focus now is training the dogs for sledding trips. We only have a few inches of snow, but that hasn't stopped the sled training. The dogs are doing 8-10 mile days, and by the end of next week they should be doing 15-18 milers. Our new pups, the Star Trek DS-9 litter, are all in team and looking like pros...except for Kira, who hasn't quite figured out this whole dog team thing. We're looking forward to a great year, and already have about ten multi-day trips booked. For our few blog readers out there considering a trip, let me know you read this blog and I'll give you a discounted rate. What a deal!

While on vacation we unfortunately lost our oldest dog, Picard. He had an excellent season last year, especially for a dog going on 13 years. Picard got sick for a few days, and we finally lost him about two weeks ago. Coincidentally, his retired sister Guinin in Washington State also died that same week of cancer. Picard was our perennial swing dog, a reliable back-up to whichever dog was up in lead. We'll miss him greatly.

Along with dog sled training, Karin and I are working on a number of projects in and around the lodge. Last summer we focused a lot on the grounds and upgrading some of the systems. We will be putting a lot of effort into Henry's Coffeehouse, making it not only a great place to eat and see the slide show, but also a place available for guests to hang out, play games, get online, etc. The main lodge building will undergo another season of interior work, and with luck, an addition.

Winter is also a time for us to catch up on family. We were lucky enough to visit the East Coast and family with our daughter Sera this fall. Next weekend is our grandson Taegan's fifth birthday, and all the kids and grandkids will be at the lodge for Thanksgiving. After a "quiet" holiday last year in Homer, it should be just the opposite in 2010.

As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, we wish all our friends out there a great winter.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Between seasons...end of the summer

Later this morning, Karin and I will be heading out from the lodge to our house in Homer. The 2010 summer season at EarthSong Lodge officially ended September 21, with our last guests departing after the Denali Park Road Lottery. As a nice change from last year, the closing down of the cabins and systems happened under beautiful sunny skies and warm temperatures...as opposed to last year, when it was snowing. We did well this summer, again surviving the economic downturn that has hit the Alaska tourism market, and we are thankful for that. We are also thankful for our last end-of-season employee Bill, who came on after one of our employees left unexpectantly, and worked for over five weeks with only one day off. He's off to work at a resort in the tropics for a year, happy days for him!

A lot was done at the lodge this summer. We upgraded and added new walkways to the doorsteps of all cabins, got our new wastewater treatment system tuned up and going strong, had two weddings (one just in our last week of operation), made improvements in the dog yard, and kept Strider from paying the ultimate price for eating a rather large chunk of granite. Three surgeries later and he is like new again.

The dog sledding season looks promising, with five trips already booked, a likely cross-country ski-support trip planned, and a few others floating around. Our new nine-month pups should have lots of trail time. Our handler, JJ, is back again, and ready to mush dogs. JJ and I will be taking a few weeks off in late March to do an expedition outside the Denali area, likely a traverse from Thompson Pass over the glaciers to the Glenn Highway, in the Chugach Mountains. Something to look forward to, and photos will be posted right after that...stay tuned.

After a week in Homer, Karin and I will fly back to NJ to visit my family, and then head back up in my new truck. A long road trip is very appealing after a summer with lots of work and no days off. We'll stop by and visit friends and family in Ohio, and then on to Michigan, the Badlands, Yellowstone and Glacier, Banff and Jasper, and up through the Yukon and back home. Then it's back to sledding.

While fall is about gone here, we wish you all a pleasant autumn with lots of colors and crisp nights. Happy trails to all.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fall Splendor in Denali

As I sit here thinking about what to write, the sun is finally peaking out from days of cloudy weather. Oh my goodness, you should see the incredible fall colors on the tundra. Fireweed has seeded and now is deep red, berries are ripe, cranberries vivid red, and my favorite; labrador tea has also turned the deep golden colors of fall. We are enjoying beautiful sunrises and sunsets, chilly evenings with sweaters, and the comforts of living in the most beautiful area in Alaska.
For the past month, Jon has been working on installing our brand new board walks, thank you very much dear husband, making walkways wider, easy for walking (again, thank you very much), and very atractive to our guests.
I am also thinking about all of the wonderful guests who have stayed with us for the past few months; from England, Italy, Ireland, Nova Scotia, Germany, New York, California, Ohio, Oregon... and our very special guests from Nutly New Jersey...I miss you guys.
Here's to welcoming fall. May your days be filled with only happy thoughts.
Much love,

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summertime, and the living is busy at EarthSong

The middle of the summer is upon us at EarthSong Lodge. The green is here, something we never get tired of seeing after a long white winter. After an uncomfortable start to wildfire season, where Alaska ended up receiving manpower and equipment from out of state/country, we have settled down a bit. Smoke from the fires near and far are long gone, and we are enjoying the last of the early summer warm days before we get into our mostly cloudy and sprinkly days of July and August. Wildflowers are out everywhere, and the cloudberries should be appearing on our tundra at any moment.

Guests have the pleasure of my (Jon's) cooking skills. So you can enjoy that without having to come back in the winter and go dog sledding with us! We've added a few new items to the popular regular dishes we serve: Ginger-Scallion Udon with Shrimp and Veggies; Red Curry Salmon; Lime-Peanut Noodles with Shrimp and Veggies...these join our popular Spaghetti and Meatballs (Jon takes great pride in his sauce!), Pesto, and Thai Panang Chicken. Karin has taken over baking, and a few days ago guests had the choice of homemade cherry, peach, or apple pie, along with peanut butter brownies and chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips. And don't forget our K-Bay Coffee, best in the west.

Although it's summer, winter and dog sledding aren't too far away for planning. We already have booked three overnight trips, and look forward to a busy season. Our pups are growing fast, with Basheer about twice the size of his little sister Dax. Kira should be re-named "Tigger", since it seems like she has springs on her feet! All dogs are doing well, even Karin's little white fluffball Bella. Our dog handler from last season, J.J., stops by at the coffeehouse occassionally, when he is not driving park shuttle bus, and we are happy he still plans on returning next winter.

We've been seeing a steady stream of "pilgrims" heading out the Stampede Trail to the Bus on the Sushana River...the bus from "Into the Wild". A few days ago it was a group of five motorcyclists up from Canada, and yesterday it was two from Switzerland. The biker group came out last night, and had a very close call at the river crossing at the Teklanika. Water is very high, and they were lucky. Hopefully others will be so lucky, or have good common sense. Last week a supercub plane with the Alaska State Troopers landed on our road in front of the lodge. They were looking for a fellow from Italy, overdue from hiking out the Stampede Trail. He ended up tagging along with another group coming back from the bus. My advice to those future Bus hikers, go in early September or come back in the winter and sled out with me!

Yesterday Karin and I went out to the Savage River at Mile 15 on the Park Road with our daughter Sera and her boyfriend Jesse, up for the holiday from Anchorage. We did a mile hike down the canyon, and had a group of Dall Sheep rams walk right by us. A great place to hike, with flowers and scenery, made all the more spectacular when you get a wildlife sighting like that. If you are coming up, plan on making time to go down the Savage Canyon Trail.

Our lodge is fairly busy this summer. More people are visiting Alaska this summer at the last minute, so if you are considering that, come and stay with us.

Happy trails,


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Wedding Bells at EarthSong

A very special day at EarthSong Lodge...today we had the honor to host the wedding of Matthew and Brandy from Pennsylvania. And I had the extra honor to officiate the wedding. For those of you not from Alaska, we have a unusual situation in the Last Frontier. Anyone can marry a couple up here, if certain paperwork is filled out. I have done two past ceremonies, and was very happy when this couple asked me to marry them. Very small ceremony, with the wedding couple, Karin, Rose (our housekeeper), and myself. We all wish them the best of luck in their new, exciting life adventure.

The Interior of Alaska is undergoing record-breaking hot temps, with Fairbanks breaking 80F for a few days in a row. This has also accelerated the wildfire season, and already there is a call from extra support coming up from the Lower 48. There is a relatively small lightning strike fire burning east of the lodge, across the Nenana River, from a strike that Karin actually saw. Smoke hasn't been a problem yet, and we hope some rain comes into the picture. Very hot for the dogs, very dangerous for fires.

Our four-month old pups are now on chains in the dog yard with the big boys during the day, a beginning step from young puppy-hood to older puppy-hood. The hot daytime weather helps mellow them out, and takes much of the trauma away. But when they all get together in the evening in the pen, all hell breaks loose! After all, pups will be pups.

Henry's Coffeehouse opened this morning. Our menu looks excellent...pecan-encrusted salmon, Thai panang chicken, honey-cilantro chicken, and of course spaghetti and meatballs. So much for the trim figure this summer...

Our newest addition to the coffee bar is an excellent bean from Uganda, one that I wanted to try for a few months now. Fantastic stuff. I think I still like K-Bay Coffee's Ethiopian Amaro Gayo bean more, but this is a good drink. It's always nice to find a pleasant delivery system for my favorite drug, caffeine.

More to follow in the hot summer days ahead. Watch for moose when driving up!

Happy trails,


Friday, May 21, 2010

And summer is here at EarthSong

All the signs of true summer are being seen at EarthSong now. The days are longer...we will not see any stars in the sky until the end of August. Temperatures are higher, and we have gotten into the mid-70's a number of times. The green is coming...willows, poplars, and birch are starting to leaf out. And the tourists are here! While we only had one family stay last night, we have had up to four cabins rented so far, so the summer visitor season at Denali has begun. Never mind down at Glitter Gulch, near the park entrance! Cruise ships are also here (well, not here at EarthSong), so the megahotels are open for business, and the congestion at the park entrance has begun. Another reason to enjoy the Stampede Trail, well away from the noise.

Our run of projects have continued, with new boardwalks, dog yard fencing, lodge carpeting, and utility work taking up most of our time. But we did have enough time for a great family visit last weekend, celebrating Karin's birthday. Sera and her boyfriend came up from Anchorage with our son Jake's boy, Mason. While Marshall and his wife came down from Anchorage with their two kids Jasmine (who towers over me now) and Teagan. Good to have the two boys play together (they are 3.5 and 4.5 years old), and nice to see most of the family together for a few days. Only disappointment came when Marshall failed to gain world domination in a long game of Risk, one of his specialties from his youth.

Our employees are on for the season now. We are looking forward to a great summer, and an excellent staff to meet all our needs.

As expected, puppies are continuing to grow and become canine monsters! Actually, this litter is much better at sharing food and getting along with each other than some past litters...especially those Eskimo-pups from years ago. We are cycling them out on their own area chains for a few hours every day, another sign they are growing up. The girls, Kira and Dax, are still the outgoing ones that will run full-speed at you and jump. Sisko and Basheer are a little bit calmer, and Odo just does his own thing. Basheer is about twice the size as Dax, and twice as slow...like a big tank rumbling down the road while they follow me on my bike. Fun pups, still living in the pen with Bart, keeping his life "exciting".

Lodge bookings are about the same as last year so far, which means the trend that started last season has continued into this one. A significant number of Denali Park visitors are planning their vacation much closer to the time they travel. We are seeing an uptick in bookings lately, and that is encouraging. This also means that those of you out there just reading this blog but not planning on visiting still can do it this summer. Come see why we all live here...it's not for the mild winter weather! And our pups would like to see as many people as possible.

Today we will start working on opening the coffeehouse, turning on water, moving equipment, etc. Memorial Day Weekend is just around the corner.

Happy trails, all!


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Yurt News at EarthSong

Karin and Jon are now back at the lodge, after a relaxing few weeks at our home on the hill above Homer. Our first guests arrive this summer on May 15, so there are many projects to do before the summer season gets underway. One was putting up our new yurt. We purchased a 16' yurt from Nomad Shelters in Homer, a locally owned company that makes yurts to 30' in diameter. Our new yurt was erected on it's platform yesterday, with the help of our dog handler J.J. and good friend Will. After only two phone calls to Homer for some clarification of instructions, the yurt is up, and just in time for an overnight snowfall. Blowing and snowing now, but the yurt is standing strong...except for the 8" hole at the top. Didn't get the stovepipe in yesterday, but everything else is up. Our yurt will act as our registration/lodge office this summer, and Karin is already working on interior design ideas. If this works well, we are considering adding more yurts in the near future, and offering them as an alternative to overnight cabin lodging. If you don't know much about yurts, take the time and surf the web, and check them out. Very cool.

Our pups, the "Star Trek Deep Space Nine" litter, are growing like weeds. We've now opened up all four areas of our dog pen, so they (and Bart) can run around and play more. We started taking them for walks using a bike, so they can run a bit more. Personalities are starting to emerge and solidify, with the small female Dax being the one that seems to need to run at you full-speed and jump up. Kira, the other female, is also very social. The three males, Sisko, Basheer, and Odo, are friendly but not demanding. Basheer is the largest of the pups. Since this litter has the same parents as our last litter, the two-year old "Battlestar Galactica" dogs, we can make some striking comparisons. Dax looks and acts like Boomer, Basheer is the big tank pup like Adama, long-bodied Odo looks like Starbuck, Kira is built like one of the female pups we found a home for two years ago, and Sisko has the grey fringy facial hair like a young Apollo had. The pups have another month at most until they move out onto chains in the yard, and take their place among the rest of the dogs. Some will have to stay in the pen with Bart, as he needs someone to pick on!

On a non-lodge note, all of us up here in Alaska are closely watching what unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico with the latest oil spill. Especially those of us who were up here during the Exxon Valdez incident, and those of us (like me) who love to kayak Prince William Sound. This disaster has not come close to it's full capacity, but even now we see that it will surpass the damage PWS saw...and still sees, with some marine populations still gone or depleted, and oil still on some beaches. Many Alaskans have paid attention to BP's slow fall from grace. In the early 1990's, BP was considered the model of efficiency and environmental standards...for an oil company. I spent the night at Endicott Island, an artificial gravel island/drilling platform in the Beaufort Sea in 1991 prior to starting a long dog sled expedition along the arctic coast. Everything was immaculate, clean and efficient. As the years went by, the State of Alaska backed down on it's regulatory monitoring of the oil companies, allowing them to set their own standards for safety inspections and the like. The result was a series of problems surfacing about five years ago with BP, from pipe corrosion to leaks to false record-keeping. Their untarnished reputation got "oiled" a bit, and this Gulf incident seems to be the culmination of a downhill slide. I can see the residents of the Gulf states viewing BP like Alaskans view Exxon, and I can also anticipate the upcoming court battles over liability and finances. As Shell Oil completes paperwork for off-shore drilling in Alaska, it seems time to admit that you can't sacrifice one resource for another, and a real comprehensive energy program needs to be passed. And Alaskans are paying attention to this while the gigantic Pebble Mine project continues to gain momentum, an enormous gold mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay...the most productive salmon fishery in the world. Lots of lessons here, time to go back to school.

Some of you out there are getting ready to come visit us very soon...we will be ready for you! Our employees will be here soon, and we are looking forward to some great changes at the coffeehouse. K-Bay out of Homer will continue to supply our coffee, and I have discovered an amazing Ethiopian bean they sell...Amayo Gayo...and hope to have it as one of our drip choices this summer. Amazing brew, but even more amazing as a cold coffee drink. Those that know me know that I generally like my coffee cold, and I brew coffee for myself with a cold-brew system that ends up without the bitterness you can get from old hot-brewed coffee. The cold-brew coffee concentrate from this Ethiopian organic bean is something for the nose to behold. Try some when you come up, you won't be disappointed. We'll still have the Dream Blend for espresso drinks, and likely also a Java bean I enjoyed last summer. Go to K-Bay's website and see what they offer, and you'll see why we pay a bit more for excellent quality and social responsibility.

That's all for now, the pups need a run in the snow, and then some breakfast. More about the yurt soon, and Karin will post some photos. Happy trails, all.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Sping in Alaska (sort of)

Karin and I are down in Homer now, in our home on the 1000' hill above town, enjoying some down time before the summer season at the lodge gets in gear. We left about a week ago, stopping overnight in Anchorage to visit our friends Tom and Elaine. Since the drive is about 9 hours from EarthSong to Homer, Anchorage is about half-way and a good spot to split the trip in half. Beautiful weather going down, and for the start of our Homer stay. And that's where it about ended! The ridge above Homer is known locally as the snow-belt, compared to the banana-belt down in town. We currently have about 3-4' of snow in the front yard, with burms above 6'. In fact, we had to have our roof shoveled/snow-blowered a month ago when the snow level up there was exceeding 9'. I am currently looking out the office window at a big drift of snow and lots of snow coming down, most of it diagonally. At this pace, we will still have snow through May. A big contrast to the lodge, where we just went through one of the lowest snow years on record (even with the additional 10" we got a few days ago). Alaska is a big state, lots of different environments, and when we go through a strong El Nino year, everywhere gets askew. Climate Change Deniers either don't live in Alaska or live up here with their eyes and ears shut!

We'll be heading back to the lodge in about a week. Karin and I will try and take the ferry overnight to Seldovia, a nice town down Katchemak Bay. Although I did a few hours of sea kayaking around the Homer Spit yesterday, I would love a bit more, and Seldovia is a nice place for that. If you are visiting Alaska in the summer, don't miss Homer, and don't leave out sea kayaking if you are a bit adventurous.

When we leave here, we will be going back to the lodge with plenty of projects to start and finish up before the summer guests come. We will be working on our employee housing...we have hired our three employees, and expect to have an excellent crew on board this summer. We also purchased a yurt from a local Homer company, and Karin can't decide if she wants it as another summer guest lodging option or for herself...I am guessing all you out there will NOT have the lodging option, unless we get another yurt! She got a yurt book, and already is creatively planning the yurt interior. We will also be finishing up our new and expanded septic system, a very large project that will replace some of the permafrost problems we had in the past (note to people unfamilar with Alaska: large tanks in the permafrost ground usually results in some upward movement, not good with gravity-flow systems!). There are some dog yard projects, two new sleds to build for next season, walkway and fencing upgrades, and the never-ending list of "honey-do" items Karin has compiled for me and the cabins.

The dogs are doing fine, JJ is keeping an eye on all of them, and giving the pups lots of walk-time. He has his own pup/pet from our guide Mike, so he takes our pups, his pup, Bart-the-lab, and Boomer on long walks.

So from wintery Homer Alaska, the Halibut Fishing Capitol of the World and known far and wide by fans of Tom Bodett as The End Of The Road, happy trails, and more to come soon...maybe some new puppy photos.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

End of the Sledding Season

April 7 was the end of our guided sledding season, finishing up with a family of three from California going out on a day trip. Just prior to that, we did a three-day trip with three people: a climate change professor from UC Santa Cruz up in Alaska giving seminars, her 15 year old son, and a member of Alaska Coast Magazine out of Anchorage. We had little snow, and it was disappearing fast while we were out on the trail headed to and from Sushana Cabin. But the trip was successful, even with a team member CATCHING AIR down the second Sushana Step. An amazing sight to see, and I apologize for not having the helmet cam on for that event. All survived. Justin, from Alaska Coast, plans on an article in that magazine coming out in the fall, in time to generate some enthusiasm for our trips next season. Had some nice conversations about climate change. Remember, all you people who saw a cold snowy winter back East: Climate and Weather are NOT the same!

Now we are closing up things in the gear room and around the dog yard, putting sleds away, and slowly getting ready for the summer. JJ, our assistant, will be around the rest of the month, and will focus on getting the pups out for walks. Karin and I are heading to Homer for a few weeks, to see how much of that seven feet of snow in our front yard is left.

As for the dogs, they deserve a bit of time off. After a few weeks, they will likely be missing the trail, and if we have any snow left, we may go for a run or two. Patrick, Brucie, and Lyman are all at about 14, and in fairly good health. We expect to be looking for a pet home for 8 year old Gretchen, the mother of half our yard. Her work ethic is a bit poor, and we have gotten enough pups (5 litters) from her. So anyone out there in a cool climate that wants one of the sweetest sled dogs around, let me know.

That's all for now, I hope to be in my sea kayak within the week. More about the pups to come.

Happy trails!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Back from the Big Trip

Just two days ago we finished up a trip where the dogs were out on the trail for 13 days. Every season we offer one 10-day trip, with the itinerary depending upon trail conditions. This season our big trip was with Kevin and Dave, two experienced mushers that ran dogs with us on a seven day trip two years ago, and wanted to step up the experience. And we did.

Our trip started at the lodge, heading west on the Stampede Trail Corridor, into the park. On the Sushana Flats, we had an intense caribou encounter, and only the photos can show what we saw...to be posted soon. We spent the second night at Lower Toklat Cabin, and then headed up the Clearwater Fork the back way to Kantishna and Wonder Lake. That route hasn't been broken out for years, due to the reputation of the Clearwater for overflow that "eats" snowmachines. A couple that guide for us were kind enough to break out the trail, and up over Awesome Pass we went. Not called Awesome Pass for nothing, it offers an incredible view of Denali and the Alaska Range, the Moose Creek Drainage, and a hair-raising descent to Moose Creek...made all the more "interesting" due to virtually no snow most of the 700' descent. One of the short steep drops on the descent now has the moniker of "Testicle Hill"...if you are wondering about that, see a soon-to-be posted video clip on YouTube. We reached the Parker Cabin (a cabin located on Moose Creek where the previous owner was evicted by the National Park Service when Denali National Park grew in 1980 to encompass the land his cabin was on), only to find the Denali Park Kennel crew and dogs staying there. We camped about a mile down, after a very long 35 mile day.

The next few days were spent at Wonder Lake, with amazing views and weather. We met up with the new mountain climber gear hauling concessionaire, Eric Jayne, who was beginning his haul. We mushed to the top of Turtle Hill for an unequalled view of Denali, and then down the McKinley River a bit.

On Day 6, we left Wonder Lake and mushed east to Upper Glacier Creek and the Muldrow Glacier. Our goal was to run up to Anderson Pass, but the very low snow year only allowed us to go about a mile up the creek, bouncing along on sharp rocks and boulders. By this time, a 48 hour virus was hitting a few of our key sled dogs, including main leader Frodo and chase leader Assam. Luckily their overall attitudes and health remained good, so we were able to keep on moving. The next day we curved around Mt. Eielson and heading up the Thorofare River to the terminus of the Sunset Glacier, for an amazing backdrop at lunchtime. That night we were back in Thorofare Gorge.

Since the Denali Park dog teams had put in a trail up to their backcountry cabin on Moose Creek, we thought it a good idea to head up onto the Park Road and mush to the trail that headed towards that cabin. That would entail five miles on gravelly road, and then 2.5 miles along a hiking trail to where the dog trail was put in. The best laid plans... Since there was virtually no snow at the Moose Creek Trailhead, we then decided to go to the south and meet back up with the Thorofare River. Bad idea. Two steep drops down the tundra found all three teams tied up in an alder thicket. For those of you who don't know Alaskan alder, it is something to be avoided at all costs, for dogs and hikers. About a half-hour later and some creative use of my ax, we were heading back to the road, to continue west to Wonder Lake. Lots of gravel and burnt plastic later, we arrived at the lake, and stayed there for that night.

On Day 9, we mushed to the Kantishna Airstrip, and then over to the Parker Cabin for our guests' last night in the Denali Backcountry. We headed to the airstrip the following day, and Kevin and Dave flew out via small bush plane back to Healy...being exchanged for JJ, our dog handler. He and I combined the three teams into two larger ones, dropped one of the sleds off at the Wonder Lake Ranger Station, and then started the three day trip back east to EarthSong.

Awesome Pass had even less snow, Moose Creek had more ice, but finally we made it over to the Clearwater. After a short trip up to Stampede Mine (Thanks for the trail, Jamie and Hannah), we arrived at Lower Toklat Cabin. And then two more days, and we were home. Things are changing here fast, snow disappearing under the unrelenting sunny days, so spring is not too far away.

We have one last overnight trip, three people for a three day trip, beginning Sunday. Then one last day trip, and Karin and I should be heading to Homer and see if we still have seven feet of snow in our front yard. Going to take the pups out of the pen to run around the dog yard for their first outing, and give them their vaccinations. And the dog boxes will come off the truck. I imagine soon enough we will be visiting with some of you all out there, when you come up this summer.

Happy trails!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Back from a spring Toklat Loop

Yesterday (March 17) we returned from a seven day Toklat Loop trip with guests Shirley of Oakland, CA and Ally from Indiana. In some ways, this trip was a classic March Toklat Loop, with most days sunny and spectacular, comfortable daytime temps, and night temps to below zero. With an inch of new cold snow (that fell prior to the trip at -18F), traveling times were a bit longer, but that enabled the rookies to negotiate the challenging trail with heavy loads much easier than earlier trips. Even though, there were some bumps and bruises, as with all of our expeditions!

Caribou were in abundance the first and second days out, near Sushana River. The overland trail to Lower Toklat Cabin was a bit less bumpy, although the Great Tussock Crossing lived up to it's name, throwing both guests. The 23 mile run up the Toklat River was great traveling, very little overflow, with a new (and only choice) crossing of the Toklat Narrows. When we arrived at Upper Toklat Cabin, we were met with the Denali Park Kennels: three employees and about 30 dogs, on their way to Wonder Lake for the annual spring patrol. There were breaking trail west from the new snow/blowfall, and we were able to take advantage of that and get up to Stony Hill for a spectacular view of Denali...see new photos added. That afternoon, Eric Jayne arrived with his team of 10 dogs to begin his first season as the concessionaire for the mountain climbing freight hauling business. It was nice to visit with him, a long-time friend to our kennel.

A quick note about Eric. He is also known as the Bush Vet, providing extremely low-cost vet service to communities along the highway and in remote bush Alaska. We wrote an article about him years ago in the Denali Summer Times. Basically, Eric was offering services not available to many pet owners and mushers. In many places in Alaska, the alternative to Eric's vet care was a bullet to the sled dog's head. So it was outrageous when he was run out of business and forced to hand over his license. It seems that many of the more established veterinarians in Alaska objected to his operation, as he was a direct competition to their practices. Trumped-up charges were brought against him, for negligence and sub-standard care. Those who know him know that this is total nonsense, but the charges were taken without being under oath, by people who he never even met. It seems that the Vet Board in Alaska has absolutely NO standards, so Eric never had any chance to fight against the vet establishment. The end product is less care for more animals, and a reinforcement of the overcharging establishment that most (not all) veterinarians in Alaska are part of. So Eric has said "bye" to vet work, and now hauls climber gear for those attempting Denali from the traditional North Side.

Two days after Toklat, were were back at Park HQ, and the end of the trip. All dogs did very well, and it seems that Assam has a generally good working relationship with his co-lead partner Frederick. We now are getting ready for the big 10 day trip with Kevin and Dave, two fellows that did a Toklat Loop two years ago. We will be heading out the Stampede Trail, going up the Clearwater the back way to Wonder Lake, and hopefully heading towards McGonnagal Pass. A trip up to Anderson Pass may be an alternative. They will then fly out of the Kantishna Airstrip near Wonder Lake, being replaced by my handler J.J., and we will then mush two 12 dog teams back to the lodge. I'll update everyone after this trip. Happy trails, All.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

a blissful day in Denali

The slighest of movements can be heard with such solitude today. I am wrapped around this blissful world surrounding me. All of the clients are out dog mushing leaving me with a joyful afternoon of scenic inspiration.
I managed to get out and visit with the little puppies. They are beginning to have individual personalities; shy, feisty, playful, demanding, and last but not least the little blue eyed center of attention.
I am breathing in this time, simmering it slowly, soon these quiet moments will echo with the return of the excited guests after an experience they will always remember.
Happy thoughts!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Caribou at Sushana

Our latest trip, a three day trip to the Sushana River cabin with Jonah and Joan from Chicago, finished up yesterday (March 9). Although our guests were brand-new to sledding, they had an excellent first day driving their own teams, with only a lost sled at the very end. As mentioned before, conditions here have been very tough for sledding, very low snow, oscillating temperatures, very bumpy on the trail. We had a fast run to Moose Alley on the other side of the Teklanika River, about 14 miles out, and while stopped for a break I discovered three sheared bolts on two sleds. After an hour for repairs, we were up and running. Although cloudy, the temps were mild. During the last three miles to the cabin we came across a large portion of the Denali Caribou Herd, in a few groups, a few hundred animals. Very exciting for the dogs!
The last run to the cabin is down the infamous Sushana Steps, and it is only at the end when dropping onto the river that one guest lost a team. Surprising...not that a team was lost, but that both mushers weren't knocked off! Around the corner from the cabin is another private cabin owned by Steve and Heidi Carwile, park people living in Anchorage. They come up every spring break with their two boys Teddy and Nick, and do cool cabin things. This year they are up with about 8 or so other friends, working on building a larger cabin. They stopped by with a gaggle of kids, visited with the dogs, and invited us over to the cabin to help set the record for number of people inside that small structure at one time. Like a phone booth or VW Bug...

We got a few inches of new snow with winds beginning that night, and that made not only the trail a bit smoother, but gave the landscape more of the traditional winter look. After more caribou chasing on the Sushana Flats, we had a quick run back to the lodge. An excellent trip.

Shirley and Ally come tomorrow for a training day, and then it's off for six days into the park, doing the Toklat Loop route. I'll write again after that.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Late winter dog sledding in Denali Park

Early March finds us in the middle of our busy time for guided dog sledding in and around the lodge. We finished our first seven day Toklat Loop trip the last week of February, with Dana and Nancy from Columbus. They found out first-hand the "challenges" of a strong El Nino year in Interior Alaska. When we have an El Nino phenomenon, the Interior (most of Denali Park and our lodge area) see very low snow years, as the storms all come from the south and there are two mountain ranges between us and the ocean. We need a few storms from the west, and since they haven't come, that's why we have only seen snowfalls of over two inches at a time prior to early December. In addition, the temperatures swing wildly, from colder than usual to warmer than usual. This seven day trip started with temps up to +40F, and the fifth night out was down to -24F. We found some great mushing, but also a fair share of rocks and bare tundra, not to mention ice...in that matter, a normal mushing trip!

You can see a video clip of Nancy and Dana following me up Stony Hill for an amazing view of the mountains and Denali (Mt. McKinley) on YouTube, at

A great trip, and when Nancy returns we'll try and keep her away from the steep drop-off on the east side of Sable Pass.

We finished a three day trip yesterday with a group from National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). We usually take a group of 4-6 people out on a trip from NPCA the first week of March, part of a week-long trip they do that includes watching the Iditarod Race start in Anchorage. NPCA is an excellent organization advocating responsible development and recreation in national parks, and watching over the National Park Service, keeping them "in line" when they occassionally stray from their mission. Tom Kiernan is the organization's president, and this has been his fourth trip with us. We'll miss him, as he will soon be moving on to other challenges. Due to the low snow year, our trip to the Sushana River cabin made a detour the last three miles, which includes the descent down the Sushana Steps, two short steep drops down the the spruce forest and onto the river near the cabin. Check out the video clip:
this descent was unusal in that I had a passenger in my sled. And Anne didn't scream at all! While all our trips are safe, there has to be some excitement or you're not getting what dog sledding is all about.

In other guiding news, we will be starting a three day trip for a couple in a few days, followed by a seven day trip, and then a ten day trip with two guys who did a seven day trip two years ago, and want something more challenging. They won't be disappointed. Also, our five new pups are doing well at about six weeks: Dax, Sisco, Basheer, Odo, and Kira. Anyone guess the theme?

I'll try and keep posting updates about the dogs and trips as the season progresses. If you are bored, go to my YouTube contributions (DenaliDogBoy), and see some Frodo-cams and Picard-cams...video shot from a camera attached to the dog's harness. Puts it all in perspective. In the meantime, the people back East can please send us some of their snow, I'll appreciate it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Welcome to EarthSong Lodge and Denali Dog Sled Expeditions

Hello and welcome to our blog. We have been getting many requests to join in on blogging so here we go. I hope you all enjoy the "view". Be sure to check us out at www.earthsonglodge.com for detailed information.

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