Our Stories

Sled Dogs help GPS the Trail

Categories: Trail Maintenance, Uncategorized
Meet Cello and Jasper, our GIS helpers.
Meet Cello and Jasper, our GIS helpers.

Matt Rowbotham, our GIS Coordinator, recently did some GPS work in the Pere Marquette State Forest just west of Kalkaska, Michigan. But the way he did his GPS work, was a bit unique. We thought you might enjoy hearing how Matt uses his sled dogs to help GPS the North Country National Scenic Trail.

I really enjoy hiking with sled dogs.

I use a “skijor” harness, which is basically a rock climbing belt, around my waist and then connect to the dog’s harnesses with a specialized line that includes a section of bungee for shock absorption.

A mix of training and sled dog genetics results in the dogs keeping their line pulled out tight in front of me and them always wanting to go forward.

My mix of genetics and lack of training on the other hand, pretty much assures there’s never going to be any slack in the line between us as we head down the Trail.

Cello and Jasper helping Matt GPS the Trail.

My dogs are all more or less “command” lead dogs, in that they are able to respond to a number of commands for direction and pace–”Gee” (Right), “Haw” (Left), “Whoa” (Stop), “Easy” (Slow), “Straight Ahead” (Ignore Distraction) and “Come Around” (Turn Around).

I started doing GPS work with dogs as a natural off-shoot of hiking with them.

My first GPS trip with sled dogs was in October of 2008.

Beyond just being fun, there are some real benefits to being out there with these guys–they are working dogs after all!

They keep a consistent and brisk pace, which means I make good time and the GPS is sure to record a consistent and evenly spaced line.

They’re also really good at finding trails that may be obscured because of snow, leaves or lack of daylight.  Countless times they’ve noticed turn offs that weren’t obvious to me.

This nose to the trail ability is especially useful on out and back hikes. Once we’ve turned around and are headed back to the trailhead, their confidence level and determination goes up because they know where we’re headed. This “auto pilot” mode allows me to trust the dogs to get us where we’re going.  This often allows me to keep walking, when I’d normally have to stop and turn my attention to monitoring and tweaking my GPS equipment.

Besides all this, it’s nice to have someone to chat with.  

And for the record, cross country skiing and skijoring counts for the Hike 100 Challenge!