Thursday, December 12, 2019

Gear Review: Groundbird Gear Harness

We recently made another addition to our niche gear collection - Tango has a new Groundbird Gear harness!  

Groundbird Gear is a cottage shop specializing in tailor-made dog packs + harnesses and now camping quilts.  They're especially popular for long distance hiker pups and dogs who don't fit the "traditional" sizes.

While Tango is still kicking trail butt for a 12 year old, he's getting a little gimpy in the back end and prone to taking the less-than-easiest route when it comes to obstacles.  He's generally fine on his own but with our rugged New England terrain, there's times when I want to support him up or down a trail hazard rather than watch him do the 'shaky-legs finish' after landing a jump.  So I choose our hikes carefully and bring the old man. And a Solvit hip support harness, Pack-a-Paw rescue harness, and an assortment of pain relievers.  People wonder why my pack is stuffed to the gills!   

With that context, it was clearly time to put health & safety over his disapproval for "clothing."  I decided to talk to Marie at Groundbird Gear about their tailor-made harness as an alternative to linking our existing Web Master Pro and hip harness together.  Fast forward a few weeks because we know how that conversation ended!

The harness fits so perfectly, it's like the GB team came up to New Hampshire and took the measurements themselves.  I swear they looked at my numbers & the photos I sent and knew exactly how they should've read! 

And the ultimate approval: Tango doesn't try to bow out of the way when I approach him to get dressed.  He moves freely in any situation and appears confident when receiving support, even when it's a quick, unexpected grab because he made a questionable choice like hopping onto a slippery boulder (making me super glad we made the investment - the fact that it's so comfortable and easy to put on means he's in it more than he would be in another brand, increasing the chances I have the ability to assist him).  We're in the wrong season to test how he does with it in hot and/or humid weather but it should be far more comfortable than his other gear, even the lightweight hi-viz vest, being only 7oz of breathable fabric.

The benefits of a custom GB harness (over our experience with other harnesses):
- super breathable (Tango is pretty heat-sensitive for an Arkansas native)
- buckle clips all around - most convenient for both of us when dressing and undressing
- unrivaled fit, i.e. shoulder straps that don't inhibit shoulder motion & belly pad straps that don't ride up on armpits.  I'm fortunate that Ruffwear fits both of my dogs pretty well but this harness is next level.
- two handles - perpendicular, rather than the parallel style I like from Ruffwear, but well-suited to our needs

That narrow chest strap tho!
Special features for Tango:
- extra narrow chest strap with added flex for the dog that has no "gap"
- a longer body to accommodate the primary support function of the harness
- wide belly pad for extra comfortable support
- D-ring at the back to connect a hip harness

I also splurged on upgrading to the Help 'em Up hip lift harness to complement the GB since it's Tango's lower back that I'm most focused on protecting.  The Solvit works just fine but is heavier and a little clunkier overall.  He doesn't wear it often but I think it should fit as comfortably as the rest of his gear.  I've also added a short rope attachment so that I can continue to provide assistance when I can't be immediately behind him.  Right now it's just something I had laying around that happens to work really well but I may MacGyver a new lead soon.  

Comfortable in motion and at rest
With the Help'em Up hip lift harness
A final note on the GB harness: Groundbird Gear was exceedingly pleasant to work with.  I had so many questions, over-thought every little aspect, and took weeks to order after initiating the conversation.  Marie was patient, helpful, and showed how well she knows her craft from start to finish of the project. 

Now to the trails! 

Links are provided for convenience - no sponsorships or freebies associated with this post 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Mt Roberts - Castle in the Clouds

Location: Castle in the Clouds, Ossipee Range, Moultonborough, NH

Elevation, gain: 2570 ft, 1350 ft gain

Trail: In and out via Mt Roberts Tr

Distance: 4.6 mi - 5.5 mi, depending on your source of info*

Difficulty: Moderate

Hike duration: 3 hours, including stops at vistas - easily a good trail running summit or introduction to hiking.

Management agency: Lakes Region Conservation Trust

Parking: Plenty of parking on the Castle in the Clouds property, some lots closer to the trailhead than others.  *This is where I'm guessing the mileage discrepancy comes in.  

Summary:  Mt Roberts is one of my favorite underrated hikes and checks a lot of boxes for us.  The terrain and distance is very Tango-friendly with gentle footing and elevation gains.  But there's plenty of excitement for the wild one within its open hardwood forest, old stone walls, and ledges.  It's closer than the Whites for us but I don't feel cheated out of a "real" hike - there's appreciable elevation gain, solitude from civilization, and beautiful views that we don't have to share with the hoards like on nearby Mt Major.  Worth noting for owners of doggos like my Tybee is that we always hear distant gunshots on this one and there's always moose tracks near the summit.  The Lakes Region Conservation Trust has a kiosk packed with information and a donation box at the first parking lot. 

The trail starts past the horse barn (moved home for the winter but otherwise a welcome site and yes, we've met them on the lower trails).  I believe most of the trail follows an old  carriage road - it's broad, climbs gently, and has excellent footing. 

At about 1 mile is a short spur (was well-marked but the tree has fallen) to  a view out to Winnipesaukee and the Belknap Range.

Then begins the "climb."  The elevation increase comes more steadily and steeper, though still moderate in my opinion for the grade and duration.  Footing remains good, though a little rockier.  On this day, this where I started seeing a few patches of ice. 

One of my absolute favorite parts about Mt Roberts is the amount of time spent on open and partially open ledges, which begins after about another half mile.  For the remainder of the hike, one gradually weaves in and out of the trees, encountering the only evergreens of the hike, and over gentle rock ledges, offering an array of views.

Left: looking up the ridge, right: looking back down from the top.  Note the granite spine of the trail.

In the patches of woods, the ice became more prevalent and there's some hard, crunchy snow that seems to be sticking for the season.  

The trail pops out on the summit loop, you can go either way to reach the summit but I found keeping right easier for orientating myself.  For the descent, we continued on the loop - be sure to keep left and keep an eye out for the Mt Roberts Trail (signage below the actual junction).

Is it just me or is she looking directly at Mt Washington?

And that's a wrap! Not much to report about the descent since it's via the same trail, though the views are that much more enjoyable since one is facing them!
Hiking and Fishing                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Pack-a-Paw Rescue Harness Review

Alright all you over-prepared folks, here's another sweet piece of gear for you! Except this time, it's one that the company hopes you never have to use: the Pack-a-Paw Rescue Harness by Mountain DogWare.

I'd been eyeing this piece for awhile and after a short carry of less than a football field and reading Outside magazine's story of a dog left on a mountain (while at work... and crying), I finally ordered one.  They offer it in black and orange; naturally I went for the traffic cone orange. 

While I was happy with my color choice, I didn't gauge the sizing correctly* and Mountain DogWare quickly hooked me up with a Large.  I love that they're a local company and I had the new one within a couple days.

To get straight to my point: I'm really happy that we have this in the bottom of the pack and highly recommend it.  As designed, it's small and light (8 oz) so it is a no brainer to always have with us, even on the smallest of nature walks (where I have used it... true story).  Light as it is, it's durable and has sustained the typical beatings Ty and I are known to dish out.

Forced hugs at their finest! 
We practice regularly, both to be prepared and because I get a little
chuckle at the dogs' expense.  The harness fits them well but it's designed as a functional piece, not a cushy ride, something they're not in love with to begin with.  Practice has gotten all of us comfortable with lifts from various positions; I've learned the most efficient and comfortable way to package them up, including when they're lying on the ground; how to lift them front and back-facing; and for their part, they've learned the routine.  

Packaged up without him having to move a muscle. The harness
can be used to assist a dog into a standing position as well.
Erring on the side of caution, I decided to use it when Ty was tripped off of a log and fell down a few feet.  She was ambulatory but in pain, certainly not an emergency but a great usage of the rescue harness to ensure she didn't further injure herself on the walk home.  Last month, Tango was hiking  around the summit of Mt Washington with us when his energy level went from normal to super tired very quickly.  He has a hip assist harness that did the trick (along with a ton of treats) but it made me feel secure knowing that if anything from the weather to his stamina deteriorated, I could pack him up and high tail it to the car.

Less than professional models right here! 
Whether you hike, skijore, climb, or hunt with your pup, the Pack-a-Paw is well worth a look.  

There's a smile!

*A little unofficial sizing info:
Med/Large: 30-60 lb
Large/Extra Large: 60-140 lb
A-B (width around ribs): 24"
C-D (back of thigh opening to front of front leg opening): 29"
E-F (belly length): 15"

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Hiker's Ride up the Mt Washington Auto Road

Lately I’ve found myself explaining this one a lot: I’m an avid hiker who prefers to explore on foot but I’m also the proud holder of a Mt Washington Auto Road season pass. I do love being a contradiction...!

Snow in June... that's a contradiction!
Admittedly, I used to roll my eyes at the mention of the Cog or Auto Road - the motorized methods of transportation to the summit of the northeast’s tallest peak. But simple things, like working for a travel agency and watching Tango truck on through lessening body awareness and muscle strength, softened my view and helped me acknowledge what I knew deep down: however one gets to the beloved summit, there is tremendous value in the fact that visitors invest their time and money to get there.

Summit structures
Pulloff shortly below the summit
While, yes, I still go crazy from some of what I see on my way up and at the summit and never make a trip without trying to politely, even lightheartedly, impart a little LNT knowledge, it's a wonderful trip.  And I acknowledge that vehicles allow people who might not otherwise have the means (time, gear, stamina, health, etc.) to access a summit that holds the power to mystify them, wow them with sweeping vistas, and make them more emotionally connected to the landscape.  We, as a society, need that for so many reasons.

View north from the observation deck
Little flowers, big attraction
One of the beautiful views attained by less than a quarter mile 
of descending the aptly nicknamed 'rockpile' (summit cone)

As Tango approaches his 12th birthday, I’m presented with two facts:   

1. I love Mt Washington and the alpine zone. It is my happy place, my Disney World, my heart’s home.

2. Tango’s lower back weakness betrays his otherwise youthful trail smiles. A properly choreographed hip check from a dog friend and he’s in a sit faster than any rally dog… just nowhere near as clean.

So how do I get to continue to share my “happy place” with both my dogs/not exclude Tango because of something that’s beyond his control? Enter a perfectly timed birthday and family that understands that my dogs’ happiness is my happiness - the gift of the Mt Washington Auto Road Pass.

2019 pass #4!
Since our first visit a couple of years ago, the Mt Washington Auto Road has really grown on me.  The itinerary options for a visit are much broader than they seem at first glance. I’ve found the state park (accessible only via the auto road, cog railroad, or on foot) to be a wonderful way to get our non-hiking friends out for a unique experience while challenging Tybee and not being too taxing on Tango.

Although not representative of the hiking experience as a whole, the availability of hot food and “real" bathrooms helped ease our greener companions into hiking and contribute to their positive experience. Moreover, I thought, surely, the appreciation for the work associated with summiting on foot would be lost of our companions. Not so! I made a point of stopping and getting out of the car every 1500 feet or so for us to acclimate to the changing temperature and wind gusts. The drastic change from the valley floor was well understood and the rock hopping off the summit cone isn’t a cake walk, so even the shortest of hikes offered a reasonable challenge for them.

Not a walk in the park!

The classic summit picture is at the cairn in the background.
Usually, there's a line of people waiting their turn.  
Another benefit of the auto road is the ability to combine a visit to my favorite summit with other activities. So far, that’s allowed us to see a whole lot of lupines, kick back at Chocorua Lake on the way home, and more!

Finally, there's something intrinsically satisfying about the chance to enjoy the trails and support the local economy at the same time.  The truth is, I sort of pride myself on finding cheap adventures around this incredible little state, usually away from the crowds.* On the other hand, I also wholly appreciate the value in supporting NH businesses.

The auto road and state park are dog friendly.  Ty loves when I
open up all the windows for the ride, especially the hatch!

Sure, there are concerns like carbon emissions, and yes, if you got there on foot, you should totally get to cut the line at the summit cairn, but I see the auto road & state park as a joint opportunity for regional visitors and residents to connect with what we hikers get to see and experience regularly. The truth is, we need as many advocates as we can get to continue to protect these places as our world changes. 

Our friend taking in Carter-Wildcat Ridge from a pulloff
shortly before the subalpine zone withers into talus

From my perspective, the auto road folks are dedicated advocates for Mt Washington, demonstrated through a number of earnest green initiatives and support of scientific studies.   And they’re always up for a good time, hosting a bunch of niche events to bring out the community, from runners to ATV’ers, and are a part of the Mt Washington Valley community at large. The way these guys tie all that together into a successful business is impressive and all the more endearing to someone who is selective about where she spends her money.

A day visiting George, supporting a local business I respect, engendering a greater appreciation and respect for nature in our friends, and making both puppers happy all at once proves what a great experience the Mt Washington Auto Road can be for anyone from the casually interested to diehard hikers.

*I recommend an early start, visiting towards the shoulders of their open season, or (to some degree - summer is still tourist season) a weekday visit if you and/or your dog prefer a less crowded experience.

Final Note: regardless of how you summit, Mt Washington is no joke.  Check the forecast, prepare for cooler temps, and pack a bag.  One should be prepared for even the smallest of adventures!  Lastly, the cafeteria is cash only, plan accordingly.