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.