Snowshoes on Dirty Harry

March 26, 2011

Today the intrepid trio scaled the mountain that defeated them earlier in the winter. The trailhead at 1,350 foot elevation was snow-free, so I stowed the gaiters, snowshoes, mittens, and trekking poles in my backpack.

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Snow cover started up soon and became consistent well before the cutoff to the balcony at 2,500 feet. From there up until 3,700 feet the trail alternated between stretches of deep but dense snow and a stream breaking through the snow.

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In some places the trail-stream cut through snow close to six-feet deep.

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At a boulder field covered by snow the dogs decided to take a side-trip off the trail through untouched snow.

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But they only did that once, as they quickly realized that moving around without snowshoes was problematic.

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Also a little dangerous. While breaking through the snow somewhere Cookie’s hind leg punched past a rock and scraped a cut that started bleeding. She decided to take a break until the bleeding stopped.

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But at last we made it to the tippy top at just under 4,700 feet. At Dirty Harry this a a ridge with an edge that drops off almost vertically 1,600 feet to Granite Lakes below.

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The problem with these kinds of summits in these kinds of conditions is that I worry about how cognizant dogs are about snow instability. They tend to enjoy views as much as we do, and they’re shorter, so they have to get closer to see over the edge, and the snow feels solid enough to them for that. But I had visions of a block of snow with one of them on it breaking off and accelerating down that 1,600 foot drop at the rate of approximately 32 feet per second per second. So it was hard to relax for all the worry about incautious dogs, and anyway the weather was not conducive to relaxation either, being very windy and cold with snow flurries starting up.  So we headed back down the tree-lined path along the center of the ridge.

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We, or at least I, wouldn’t have made it without the snowshoes. They worked great today because the snow was fairly dense. Even so, if I were buying snowshoes today, I would find a pair much like mine but with better bindings. Mine are the MSR Evo model.

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The problem is it’s a fair amount of work to put them on and take them off, and the more you do that, the more they tend to find ways to loosen their own straps and come off all by themselves. If I had a pair with better bindings I’d have been more inclined to put them on at 2,500 feet instead of 3,700 feet and take them off as needed, and I’d have covered those 1,200 feet much quicker both uphill and downhill.

I’ve already come to realize that they’re not just useful for deep snow.  Even in snow that’s just six inches or so deep and fairly firm in most places, you can go much faster in snowshoes because they even out the uneven surface that otherwise you have to be careful to avoid twisting your ankle on. I found that I was practically running downhill from 4,700 feet to 3,700 feet, then my downward speed took a major hit as soon as I took off the snowshoes.

Anyway, a good time was had by all and we’ll certainly be doing this again some time before the snow is all gone.

On the way back we had our traditional Burger King after-hike snack: veggie burger for me and burgers for the dogs.  I treated them each to a double cheeseburger.  They patiently (somewhat) wait with their snouts sticking forward from the backseat over the center console and I alternate between them, ripping a piece of bread and burger and handing it to each dog in turn. "A piece for Cookie … a piece for Buck … a piece for Cookie … a piece for Buck …" When they’re done I start in on mine, and it’s been a hard lesson for them to learn but they have come to realize that I’m not going to share mine with them, so they let me eat it in peace.

We’ve been back a couple of hours now and dogs are ready to do it all over again but I’m still recovering even after taking a nap.


Winter Dog Hikes

March 23, 2011

Hard to believe I haven’t posted a dog hike here since early September. Six months went by in the blink of an eye. Time seems to speed up as I get older and the number of hours in the day decreases. But we’ve been getting out there, and here is some evidence.

Bandera in November

In November we took the Bandera Mountain trail for the first time. It seemed pretty tame at the trailhead.

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Then at about 2800 feet we started to see snow.

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And the farther we went, the more snow we saw.

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Before long Buck was almost tunneling through the stuff.

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We’re still working on Buck’s weight problem and he’s just not the most agile dog there ever was, so when the snow got up over his head and he couldn’t quite make it up the side of one large boulder, we had to turn around. It was foggy and there wouldn’t have been a view anyway.

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Dirty Harry in November

Next was Dirty Harry after a heavy snowfall. We discovered that fresh wet snow loves to make itself into balls that cling to Buck’s fur and are as hard to knock off him as ice. I dug some out with my pocket knife and managed to dig some of the flesh out of my fingers in the process.

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He trudged along dragging golf balls that turned into baseballs and baseballs that turned almost into bowling balls. He finally gave up and I hacked away at them with my pocket knife, taking a little more care to avoid maiming myself in the process.

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Squak in November

Even Squak got snow in November.

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Dirty Harry in December

In December Dirty Harry beyond the balcony was mostly a stream with snow banks.

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Kachess Ridge in December

Finally I decided to try snowshoes. I had been reluctant at first, thinking it would be unfair for me to easily skip along the top of snowdrifts while the dogs have to fight their way through the hard way. But it occurred to me that they need exercise much more than I do anyway, especially Buck who seems to stay overweight no matter how much we cut back his meal sizes. The poor dog is perpetually starving and goes on two hours of walks every day and still does not lose weight. If I let him eat as much as he wanted he’s be wider than he is tall.

Our first snowshoe trip was Kachess Ridge (just off the exit at mile 70 on I-90), and it turns out I was wrong to be concerned at all about snowshoes giving me an advantage over the dogs. Dog energy so far surpasses human energy (at least 51-year-old human energy) that they still ran rings amount me even when they had to practically swim through the snow.

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Dirty Harry in December

Then back to Dirty Harry in December again, this time with snowshoes.

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Around the 4,000 foot level Buck had trouble digging his way out through snow over his head.

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He finally made it, but I wasn’t exactly skipping over the snowdrifts in my small-size snowshoes in the deep powder, and I found myself taking 20 steps and stopping to pant for a while, then taking 20 more and stopping for another couple of minutes. A dozen or so of those cycles and I thought to myself, "this isn’t fun." One last look forward, and then I followed the snowshoe tracks back down the mountain.

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Dirty Harry in February

By February snow cover at Dirty Harry had mostly melted below the 4,000 foot level. On the way up we ran across a rusty bucket someone had hung from a tree branch over the trail. Buck thought this looked as suspicious and alarming as the big black bear statues at the Brown Bear Car Wash on 148th Ave. NE and NE 8th. After directing a prodigious amount of barking and growling at it, he cautiously strutted around it and we went on our way, danger behind us.

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Poo Poo Point in March

I’d heard of Poo Poo Point for a long time but had never been there. As a hike it sounds like just the sort of thing Buck, Cookie, and I would normally jump at: an 1,800 foot climb to a fantastic view. But everyone else in the Puget Sound area knows about it too, and the three of us don’t like trails that are more crowded than Bellevue Square.

Then a week ago while Karen and I were on the way to a Sunday hike at Squak Mountain we saw the grassy launch pad high in the distance and about a half-dozen hang-gliders or paragliders swirling around it. That reminded me to watch for a week-day opportunity and one came up this week on Monday.

It was a rare non-rainy March day, and when we got to the summit we had the whole place to ourselves. A fantastic view of Lake Sammamish, Bellevue, and even 520 and Seattle in the distance. The light green cross in the pictures is the glider launch pad – made of the same kind of plastic fake grass they line mini-golf courses with.

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For once the self-timer on the camera worked pretty well.

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Snack time for the dogs, then time to head back.

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Such were some of the highlights of the winter hiking-with-dogs season. We are looking forward to getting back into the snow, though we’ll have to go higher to find it. It’s been more than a month since we’ve been up Dirty Harry way, and that’s too long.