Helicopter or Huskies? The Triple Lake Trail Haul

January 27, 2012 Posted by: Matt King and Jess Toubman

---by Matt K and Jess T

Like the US Postal Service, neither wind, nor snow, or cold will stop the kennels from completing its tasks.  That is definitely what it seemed like when the kennels staff and volunteers were hauling out two trails camps from the Triple Lakes Trail the same weekend that the Copper Basin 300 race was cancelled.  http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/cold-snow-and-wind-cancel-copper-basin-300-sled-dog-race . The kennels staff and other NPS volunteers braved temperatures ranging from plus 28 degrees to negative 45 degrees over the four days of the haul while reestablishing the trail on the third day through almost a foot of new snow. 

Sled loaded with trail crew supplies

The Triple Lakes Trail is a historic trail in the Headquarters area that was redone recently through a great effort by hundreds of staff and volunteers on trail crew.   The leaders of the project discovered early on it would be more efficient to have some workers camped out about 3 miles into the trail rather then drive the 10 miles to the trailhead and hike 6 miles each day.  The work camp materials were flown in by helicopter and consisted of a few canvas wall tents, 4 knack boxes for food storage, chairs, tables, heavy tools, propane tanks, a ladder and large platform timbers.  When the trail was mostly completed in 2011, the temporary work camp needed to come out and that's when the dogs were brought in.

Trail Crew Camp supplies left for kennels to haul out in winter

The camp, on the shore of the third (hence the "Triple") lake, was in the designated Wilderness area within Denali National Park.  Whenever you do a project in Wilderness, you must abide by the 1964 Wilderness Act which prohibits use of motorized equipment except if it is shown "as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area".  This means helicopters are not banned from Wilderness, but the park better have a pretty good reason on why it is necessary to use one.

To sling-load the supplies out by helicopter would be faster and require less personnel; but the noise of a hovering machine, plus the inherent dangers associated with helicopters (we close the trail whenever they are working in that area)  would take away from the wilderness values the park is required to protect.  So the kennels offered up 40 non-motorized other options - dogs and people.

dogs pulling trail crew knack box out on lake

Three staging areas were needed in order to navigate the loads through all switchbacks and difficult spots along the trail which meant loading, unloading, repositioning, reloading, retying, and reattaching dogs and people for each stage.   Each section required a different set up.  The first stage utilized hauling sleds, dog sleds, sled drivers, and skiers, while the next section used hauling sleds only with human and four-legged volunteers.  The last stage was the most difficult with maneuvering the sled through sharp turns, trees, sudden drops, hills, and over the active railroad tracks.  The crew ended up with one or two dogs pulling the hauling sled while a human would act as an anchor behind the sled and one or two extra people assisted to get the loads around obstacles.

Knack box load stuck in trees and snow

That was just the bare bones of how it was done.  The real story comes from how hard and how well the people and dogs worked together.  One such case is THE SYLVIE MONSTER!  Sylvie, a female who was born in the summer of 2010, was the talk of the haul.  She worked so hard that the dog next to her was more of a hindrance than a help so at one point she was hauling a knack box all by herself on the last stage. 

Sylvie pulling knack box by herself

Later at the front of a team of four dogs she pulled so hard and motivated the other dogs so much that the humans needed breaks because they were sprinting just to help keep the sled on course.  A combination of human and dog power hauled approximately 4500 lbs from the Third Lake back to the Parks Highway and the vehicles waiting to drive the materials back to Headquarters.

truck loaded with the materials hauled out

Thanks to efforts from Sylvie, the other great dogs, kennels staff, and many other NPS volunteers the Triple Lakes Trail camps were removed successfully without a helicopter, helping to preserve the wilderness and teaching us all a lesson in problem solving which will come in handy in future years. For more information about managing Wilderness areas and to find Wilderness areas near you go to http://www.wilderness.net/index.cfm.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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