Friday, October 16, 2015

Gear Review: Web Master Pro

Let's face it, my dogs often have better gear than I do.  Backcountry K-9 sent them a brand new Ruffwear Web Master Pro for testing at about the same time I bought my new pack on Ebay.  Don't get me wrong, I love my new pack, but it doesn't get the number compliments the harness garners.  For nearly two months and 30 miles, Ty has been torturing it and this is what we came up with.

The Web Master Pro is based off the same chassis as Ruffwear's popular Web Master with some working dog-specific features.  Being that it was designed for canine SAR teams and Ruffwear worked closely with avalanche rescue organizations for its design, it has several additional, professional features like:
  • Large, glove-friendly assist handle
  • Plastic buckles of the Web Master have been replaced with all metal hardware
  • Slim pockets with weatherproof zippers and mesh organizers for a very small amount of essentials
On top of all of that, it has the details that make the original Web Master one of the most commonly imitated designs such as:
  • Five points of adjustment
  • Ergonomic design
  • Padded waist strap with Velcro to keep it in place
  • Elastic end points on straps
  • Reflective piping and a place for my contact info on the interior for safety

All the dogs (TybTangs and each foster who ever hit the trail with us) have worn the Web Master
extensively.  Needless to say, it is a favorite piece of gear and very durable.  Being that the Pro is a beefed up version, you can guess how I feel about it!  My favorite feature is the oversized handle.  It is great for quick grabs and assists and I anticipate it will really come in handy over the next few months when I have my massive gloves on.  

The all metal hardware is one of the key features that makes this a professional harness.  There is zero need for adjustments during our hikes.  The doubleback lacing is incredibly safe and reliable.  This is not to say I don't trust the plastic quick-release buckles on the original but when lifting is a crucial element of a dangerous job, I would definitely want the metal buckles.  It may take a moment longer to put on but it stays fitted throughout the excursion.  The convenience factor of quickly removing the harness is lost, but it's worth the added safety for those who need it.

All metal hardware = no buckles.
As with the other harnesses, excess straps tuck into the pad cover.
The ends are dipped in plastic to facilitate threading through the buckles.
The final difference between the Pro and the Web Master is the pockets.  They are the smallest in the Ruffwear lineup and meant, as stated in the product description, for essentials such as identification.  I think they're an excellent feature and I love the mesh organizers inside to keep items in place, maintaining even distribution and making small items easy to locate.  With our primary activity being hiking, it's great to still have a little bit of storage on the days I want someone in a harness but don't want him/her carrying weight.

Slimline pockets don't hold much more than gloves but are
still convenient without impeding motion or balance
For example, Our most recent hike took us up Glen Boulder in Pinkham Notch.  I knew the trail would be steep and thought it would be good to have Tango in a harness in case he needed some minor assistance.  Tango rarely wears a pack anymore.  Not only did he end up needing assistance to ascend a landing as high as my collarbone but on the way down, I needed to take my gloves off while we were on a rock slab that was too steep to set my pack down and where I really felt I needed both hands.  He was standing beside me, just begging to help out.  Although a small instance, it highlights the convenience of pockets.  When Ty wears it, I like to stuff it with items that, if needed, are easily accessible such as dog boots and other first aid items.  As I prepare for a crazy-cold hike this weekend, I know Ty will be in the Pro so I can activate a couple of hand warmers for her, as I doubt she will want a coat until we reach the bitter cold summit!

I have really enjoyed testing the Web Master Pro and irritating Ty with unnecessary lifts.  (Her indignation is priceless.)  The harness is well thought out and heavily focused on function and safety.  Some convenience factors are lost but for good reason.  All aspects of the harness have held up well to Ty's abuse but I have one minor concern.  After her third mostly wooded hike in the Pro (finishing appx. 23 miles), I noticed a few very tiny thread pulls towards the front of the pack from contact with bark and rocks.  My concern is that the pack material may wear a little fast for a SAR dog who is potentially going into conditions similar to what Ty chooses to venture through.  That being said, Ty is rough. Really rough.  Most of her gear has bark-colored streaks and chunks of reflective piping missing.  And in all honesty, those packs are a little fuzzy towards the shoulders but only once did fuzz become a hole, and a microscopic one at that.  Also, Ruffwear advertises it is easy to sew patches to this one, so if I sew (err, have it sewed - domestic goddess, I am not) her AMC 4,000 Footer patch to that spot, problem solved.

I thought I had the dog's pack needs covered but the Web Master Pro has quickly become their most used piece.  It's versatile enough that I can put Tango in it primarily as a harness or Ty can wear it as a tiny pack, perhaps the dog equivalent to a fanny pack. I can see where the input of the rescue teams Ruffwear worked with was utilized and suspect this pack will be popular with their target audience.  However, based on our experience, I see it fitting others' needs as well.

Check out the product at Backcountry K-9 here.

10-18-15 Additions
Yesterday, Ty wore the Pro on a 10 mile round trip hike to Mt Carrigain and it allowed for some more insights on the harness.

  • It was the first time we were in conditions that tested the weatherproof zippers and they proved their necessity.
  • The flailing excess straps were a minor irritant to me, although Ty seemed to ignore them.  I imagine this has only happened when Ty wears the Pro because she has such a tiny waist.  I found a strap adjuster floating in the bottom of my pack that worked well to correct the issue!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Leaf Peeping from Glen Boulder

Glen Boulder (3729')
Glen Boulder Trail 3.2 mi round trip, possible to hike well beyond the boulder to a number of peaks
Elevation Gain: 1754 feet
Duration: approximately 3 hours and 10 minutes.  We spent some time wandering past the boulder and hanging out.

**I lost Ty's waist padding from her pack somewhere between the boulder and treeline.  It's oval shaped, black and fuzzy on one side, light blue nylon on the other.  If someone picked it up, please comment below or e-mail me! Thanks!**

Glen Boulder to the left above Ty's head
Showing off Tango's new tag
And Ty's!  Think it fits her?!
Glen Boulder has been on my "wishlist" list for awhile and it seemed like the perfect weekend for it.  I had a general sense it was a steep trail and was most excited to be above treeline.  The boulder is a glacial erratic, deposited millions of years ago.  A neat attraction to say the least!  We had just done a fabulous hike to Hedgehog with our new friends Hannah and her dog Lilo on Thursday and I felt confident that the weather would be agreeable enough for Tango to present him with a more challenging hike and that Ty definitely needed a pack to tire her out!  We went old school and she wore her Approach Pack with two Highlands beds in it.  Ruffwear advertises that they fit in their ginormous Palisade Pack but they fit in the day pack just fine.

Getting underway
Anyhow, I was looking forward to it all week; a friend online had posted photos of their visit to the rock earlier in the week and the foliage was jaw-dropping.  Then the same friend posted a photo from the Mount Washington Observatory of the snow conditions atop the rock pile as I was doing my final weather check and I immediately felt deflated.  Long story short, after checking all the forecasts, I left about an hour and a half later than usual, evaluated the skies and conditions from the scenic vistas along the way, and still ended up at the Glen Ellis Falls trailhead at about 9:45 under partly cloudy skies.

This is another lot that fills up quickly with the tourist-focused falls on the other side of the highway and we got one of the last spots.  The trail began to the right just past the bathrooms (or simply "toilets" as the signs said).  Leaves already littered the ground and after an early incline, the trail began somewhat mellow.

Soon the climb began and it was a rocky one.  Nonetheless, we made good time to the junction with the Direttissima Trail at .4 miles.  After this, water on the trail or racing along water bars was a common sight and there was enough mud to give the dogs some fancy "boots."  From here til treeline, I can generalize that the trail was often steep and rocky, interspersed with easier sections where the grade eased up and I had more mud or leaves than rocks underfoot.  We passed a well marked intersection for a ski trail about a quarter mile from the sign marking the alpine zone.

Typical terrain:

Ty doesn't need to speak English to convey her impatience!
As I slowly made my way up a rocky incline, Ty kept running ahead and returning, whining more than usual.  I figured she was extra impatient until I looked up and saw that we were about to enter the alpine zone and a jump that somewhat perplexed me that she couldn't maneuver.  I got Tango up first, as he was not listening as well to "wait."  At 65 pounds, I was very happy I put him in the Web Master Pro to assist him.  Even with the harness, with the angle and his overall size, I still had to push his bum up too.
In the tree to the right of Ty, the alpine zone sign is barely visible
Evaluating the options
Ty was amusingly less graceful than Tango for once.  After a few lift attempts, I realized a big part of her hesitation was due to the pack that easily made her wider than the angled stretch of the rock she was to ascend.  I took it off just as a pair of hikers approached.  They asked if we needed help and my reply was, " we'll see!" and they patiently waited for us to maneuver this short but tricky scramble.  Skipping the first jump, I grabbed her scruff, wrapped an arm under her belly, and lifted her over my shoulder military style til she was on the rock.  Still hesitant to move, I pulled her along by the scruff, using my body to assure her she wouldn't fall and after two steps, she got the picture.  She then stood there and whined at me while I put my pack on, tossed hers ahead, and clumsily made my way up.

Waiting and whining

The rock face wasn't too steep but it is smooth so I would not want to do it under wet conditions.  That being said, I lost may way despite the yellow blazes a couple of times, distracted by the views of course, so I may have squeaked around a couple of small pitches judging by where I saw other heads bobbing around.  I snapped a zillion photos of the dogs while Ty pouted and I felt the wind gusts for the first time.  After a few minutes, the trail popped back into low, scrubby trees briefly before giving way again to low alpine plants that the trail wound through to and beyond the boulder.

Across the notch are the Wildcat (closest) and Carter Ranges

Ty was intensely and vociferously impatient today, not allowing for much time to hang out as I'd originally hoped for.  I put her Climate Changer on, hoping, in vain, that it was standing around in the wind that she was upset about and it would quell her protests.  Of course I was wrong so we wandered up the trail a bit further, hoping to see Washington.  The temperature was still comfortable, though I had added one long sleeve, shell, gloves, and sometimes a hat to the super light longsleeve layer and wicking t-shirt I had started with, all mostly for the wind gusts that probably brought the wind chill to about 30*.

Wandering north of the boulder:

Looking south down Rt 16

Last night's snow was still gleaming further north towards Boott Spur
We turned around after about 15 minutes since I'd left my pack at the rock.  I hope to return and summit Slide Peak sometime.  We spent a little more time at the boulder with a pair heading out on their annual camping trip.  They were kind enough to share the sheltered side of the rock with me despite Ty's whinings.  She would go off on her own for awhile then come back, singing us the song of her people so it didn't take long before she got what she wanted.  Going down the aforementioned scramble, both dogs hopped down without issue.  Again, Ty sang me a song of "encouragement" when it was my turn.  And so, I put her pack back on her!

Trying to sneak away with the more ambitious hikers
Someone was happy to hang out
Tough to see here, but the top of the ski lift was visible at the top of Wildcat (center)
Heading down, we made excellent time but it was harder than ascending, having to be mindful of foot placement.  In any case, we passed many families and chatted with a few of them about the dogs.

Something slowed her down... briefly!

Glen Ellis Falls

Glen Ellis Falls
Back at the parking lot, we dumped gear, had a snack, and wandered over to Glen Ellis Falls via the pedestrian tunnel that crosses Rt 16.  Oye!  Absolutely stunning but the dogs were far too excited to be exploring yet tired from hiking (they lose their listening skills) - bad combo for a busy day.  Pulling, taking up the whole walk, failing to listen... they were a joy.  After the lower lookout for the falls/where the trail ends, there is an unofficial trail where I unleashed them and we disappeared along the river's edge for a breather.  They had fun, dipped their toes, and I got some cool photos.  The seclusion was serene and countered the powerful water flow nicely.

I recommend Glen Ellis Falls as a quick (10-15 minute) side trip for the sheer beauty of the river and, right now, the leaves.  We were so lucky to get into the mountains twice this week; I think we saw the absolute best of the foliage this year, something I've been trying to accomplish for a couple of years.  On top of that, we witnessed the first snowfall of the season, lightly dusting the higher elevations.  And yes, I ate some of it!

Wrap Up

Glen Boulder Trail is steep and often rocky but it instantly became one of my favorites.  The temps were in the 40's, or so it felt and the wind gusts were a good introduction to the winter to come without it being a bitter cold day, basically perfect for a short, steep trail.  With the cool weather, it was awesome to see Tango so enthusiastic - tail up, trotting ahead on the easy portions, not hesitating where it got steep.

Abundant sources of running
water for the dogs
There was plenty of running water for them.  It had rained the day before so I am sure some of the runoff is not reliable but much of the creek crossings seemed to be.  While the rocky sections were sweat-inducing (though not necessary, I used my hands to push off frequently; I felt very out of shape!), they were broken up by easier (gentler incline and/or better footing) sections.  The leaves have begun to fall so I think these sections will be a little dicey soon with the leaf coverage making the ground more slick than wet rocks.  They were short, but enough to provide a break.

Tango posing on the way back down the scramble
I was surprised that the dogs had difficulty with the scramble that welcomed us to the alpine zone based on their previous experience.  Though when I hoisted myself up, I understood.  For that section alone, and the potential for dangerous conditions above treeline, I'm categorizing this one as being on the difficult side of moderate.