Denali Winter Wilderness Gear: Furry and Fleet

Denali National Park and Preserve's original two million acres are designated as wilderness area — no motorized equipment or mechanized transport allowed. That's a boon for backcountry enthusiasts, but come winter it's also a lot of frozen land for National Park Service (NPS) rangers to patrol.

Denali's first ranger, Harry Karstens, knew how to equip himself to cover the snowy, icy miles as he fought wildlife poaching back in 1921. Karstens founded a park kennel to ensure a reliable supply of healthy, well-trained, working sled dogs.

Ninety years later, the Denali kennel has about 30 Alaskan huskies and remains the only working kennel in an American national park.

Denali huskies continue to help NPS workers haul supplies, contact winter visitors, provide information on trail conditions, offer assistance, monitor use in a low-impact style, transport wildlife researchers, and help deter illegal activities like poaching or snow machines entering the wilderness area.


The 2011 sled dog litter: Koven (brown), Carpe (gray), and Tatum (gray and white). Check them out on the Puppy Cam. (all images courtesy of NPS)

Sled-dog patrols last anywhere from a single day to up to six weeks. Rangers log about 3,000 patrol miles each year throughout the park's interior on the back of sleds pulled by NPS huskies.

Denali dogs have hauled thousands of pounds of materials and supplies for cabin building, restoration projects, and trail construction efforts. And trails made by sled-dog patrols are used by winter recreationists who want to explore Denali on skis, snowshoes, or with their own dog teams.

According to the Denali Kennels site, sled dogs have an uncanny ability to find a patrol cabin during a whiteout, and to feel a snow- or wind-obscured trail beneath their paws on winter patrols. They also don't run out of gas or have parts that freeze up. And, they help preserve a natural, quieter soundscape.

In summer, the kennel is the park's most popular interpretive program.

The sled dogs retire at the age of 9 and are adopted by active, outdoorsy families and individuals, who live in colder environments. (Check out the application online, complete with references.)

If you can't make it to Alaska to see Denali's working sled dogs in action or to ski or snowshoe their wilderness trails, you can get a peek at the newest kennel additions, Koven, Carpe, and Tatum. The three pups, now six weeks old, are named after Carpe Ridge peaks and can be seen on the kennel's live Puppy Web Cam.

Learn more about Denali's individual sled dogs, the kennel, and its history, or follow the Denali Kennels Blog.


Filed under: People & Organizations, Places

Comments

Rick-Pittsburgh
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September 6, 2011 at 10:32 a.m. (EDT)

Huskies are probably my favorite dog. Very intelligent but at the same time they are alot of work. I really miss my last one. This story just makes me want to get another even more. I may just have to do that.

Sasha

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I will strongly suggest that if you do not have any idea of how to train a dog have a Husky trained by someone who does or the experience you have with one will be very "trying." Huskies require alot of attention.

Alicia
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September 6, 2011 at 11:21 a.m. (EDT)

Pretty dog, Rick. I can see where a husky would be a very attractive dog for active folks who hike and run and so on.

I was interested to learn while writing this article that Alaskan huskies are not considered a breed. From the Denali kennels FAQ:

Q. What breed of dogs are these?
A. These dogs are not a particular breed nor are they crosses of purebred dogs. They are called Alaskan huskies or just simply sled dogs. They are the product of hundreds of years of breeding dogs that are great at what they do--running and pulling sleds, and dogs that have adapted to cold weather. The Alaskan husky is a dog that has a strong desire to run and pull, has a thick two-layer coat of fur, a bushy tail, long legs, and great demeanor. Since we are not breeding for any particular look, but rather for performance our dogs have a wide variety in their appearance.

Rick-Pittsburgh
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September 6, 2011 at 11:37 a.m. (EDT)

Hmmmmm, I want to look further into this. I am wondering if they are a cross with an Alaskan Malamute. 

From the pics I see of the dogs I believe they are. 

A purebred Husky like Sasha is not a tall/large dog. The malamutes are substantially larger.

FromSagetoSnow
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September 6, 2011 at 12:02 p.m. (EDT)

Even with Noel the Wonder Dog, whose ancestry is as murky as the average American's, I agree that dog carting/sledding is a blast.  As you see, Isaac agrees.

I wonder how much better it would be with the right kind of dog in a place that gets reliable snow. 

Fall (hunting season) is here and snow season is comming!


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Bill S
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September 6, 2011 at 8:25 p.m. (EDT)

This is the Denali Kennel. The location is just inside the park entrance in the town of Mt. McKinley. Note the difference in the two dogs.
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And this is Barb, with one of the dogs. The log houses are the kennels for the dogs year around.

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Most people believe that all the dogs used in the Iditarod are huskies. Actually, they are a variety of breeds, some of which one would think completely unsuitable for pulling a sled.

Ralph Kolva
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September 7, 2011 at 11:13 a.m. (EDT)

Alaskan Huskies are typically of mixed Sibe (Sibe descendant) and hound/pointer crosses.  Racing mushers look for dogs that can handle relatively harsh conditions (perhaps not as cold hardy as Sibes/Mals, etc), are hardy, have 'good feet', love to run, and can maintain a faster pace than can Sibes.  We volunteer for Husky rescue in CO and have had Alaskan and surrendered working sled dogs come through the rescue.  They can make terrific pets but be ready to give them the exercise they require; if you like running at least 5 miles a day with your dogs then an Alaskan might be the dog for you, if you're an ultra-trail runner get one to have a terrific training partner.  I would encourage anybody considering a Northern breed dog to do some research, make sure you understand what having a northern dog entails, and consider adopting, we have six terrific Huskies, all from rescue.   

Rick-Pittsburgh
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September 7, 2011 at 2:26 p.m. (EDT)

Hey Ralph, welcome to Trailspace.

Thats really interesting. I would have never thought that they were a mix with a hound/pointer. Thanks for that info. 

TheRambler
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September 7, 2011 at 5:29 p.m. (EDT)

This is a cool article. I love my sibe, and completely agree they are hard to train and can be very stubborn! But all of my patience has paid off and now she is the best trail companion ever!

Juno


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Rick-Pittsburgh
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September 7, 2011 at 5:40 p.m. (EDT)

@TheRambler- Juno is a nice looking pooch. 

FromSagetoSnow
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September 7, 2011 at 6:28 p.m. (EDT)

Stunning dog Rambler!

I love my mutt (Noel TWD), and my labs (RIP) but for loyalty and plain old striking beauty of my old sib husky Athena (RIP) has remained unmatched.

SledDogAction
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September 8, 2011 at 10:26 p.m. (EDT)

For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. What happens to them during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the Iditarod, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. 

During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running. The Iditarod's chief veterinarian, Stu Nelson, is an employee of the Iditarod Trail Committee. They are the ones who sign his paycheck. So, do you expect that he's going to say anything negative about the Iditarod?

When they aren't hauling people around, the dogs are routinely kept on four foot chains or tethers. It's been reported that dogs who don't make the main teams are never taken off their chains. Because chaining is cruel to dogs, many jurisdictions have banned or severely restricted the practice. For more information about the cruelties of tethering, go to http://www.helpsleddogs.org/remarks-abuseinkennels.htm#chaining .

The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

Sincerely,
Margery Glickman
Director
Sled Dog Action Coalition, http://www.helpsleddogs.org

Garth
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September 9, 2011 at 1:53 a.m. (EDT)

Margery:  I scanned all the posts on this thread and saw a minor reference to the Iditirod.  The entire thread was filled with people who love dogs especially northern sled dogs.  Are you trying to say any use of dogs as sled dogs is cruelty? If so, I think you are out of bounds.  I cant tell from your post if you have actual evidence of animal cruelty in sled dog races because you only provide anecdotal statements.  However, even if you could it is irrelevant because I see nothing in this thread that supports animal cruelty.  So your diatribe about the Iditirod even if you can provide support for your statements is off topic and unwarranted  This is not a political website and please keep it that way.

kelty363
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September 21, 2011 at 7:26 p.m. (EDT)

I was very disturbed with the comment left about the abuse of sled dogs by their owners. I can't believe what was written. It seems like everything was said to demonize sled dog owners.

Tipi Walter
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September 21, 2011 at 7:50 p.m. (EDT)

I'd like to change the subject.  Are malamutes ever used as sled dogs?  They seem more docile and less nervous than huskies. 

On the above point, not ignored, the Iditarod abuse examples are probably true as Great Man is known for animal abuse and suffering when animals are used for Man to climb up the ladder of Great Ambition and Sport. I remember a few years back when a famous racehorse had to be killed on the track after a race.  I googled this and learned around 800 racehorses are killed annually to support the Glorious Bluegrass Sport, a dirty secret they don't mention when sipping mint juleps.  M. Vick goes to prison for dog cruelty and these guys don't?  Weird world.

whomeworry
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September 22, 2011 at 1:39 a.m. (EDT)

I don't think Margery was disparaging dog sledding as a recreational pursuit, nor villainizing the sport as practiced by those posting herein.  As both Tipi and Margery point out, some do abuse their working animals when fame and fortune are at hand.  Margery’s post may be significantly off topic, but it isn't political; it is moral.  All people should be aware of animal cruelty, and I am sure some of the pet owners out there are glad there are people dedicating their time on such efforts.  

Ed 

SledDogAction
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September 22, 2011 at 9:45 p.m. (EDT)

The Iditarod has a long, well-documented history of dog deaths, illnesses and injuries. The race should be condemned. Recreational mushing can be fun for the dogs and shouldn't be confused with the Iditarod. For more facts about the race, go to the Sled Dog Action Coalition website, http://www.helpsleddogs.org, and read the quotes on it about dog deaths, dog illnesses and injuries, etc. All the quotes are referenced.

Dogs in Denali are kept on chains when they aren't hauling people around. Because chaining is cruel to dogs, many jurisdictions have banned or severely restricted the practice. For more information about the cruelties of tethering, go to http://www.helpsleddogs.org/remarks-abuseinkennels.htm#chaining .

People should understand, too, that sled dogs suffer terribly in the cold. They get frostbite of the ears, tails, flanks and those places where is hurts the most! Two dogs froze to death in the Iditarod



 

 

Tipi Walter
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September 22, 2011 at 10:36 p.m. (EDT)

SledDogAction:  Not to take away from your argument---but I notice you have only two posts and jumped on this subject sort of "out of nowhere".  My question is, how did you find out about this thread?  Is there a sort of clearinghouse for forum threads floating around that trigger the "action committees"?  Just wondering.

SledDogAction
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September 23, 2011 at 11:20 a.m. (EDT)

First, there is no "clearinghouse." Second, it shouldn't matter how I came to the website. Maybe some of your members told me about the article. So what? The facts I've given about the Iditarod, the cruelties of chaining, sled dogs freezing to death, etc. are just that: facts.

iClimb
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September 23, 2011 at 12:07 p.m. (EDT)

Ed I agree with you, and while her point may have been off topic, it was important none-the-less.

 

it's a matter of culture, accepted practices, and moral compass...similar to bull fighting, which many find cruel and unnecessary, even those who are part of that culture.

 

 I for one understand the passion behind ending cruelty of dogs, based on exploiting them for our own advances. I own a retired racing greyhound who was whipped and trained relentlessly, who was in a cage 22 hours a day unless training. He broke his leg during a race and would have been the victim of cruelty had a rescue agency not saved him.

 

Greyhound bodies pile up when they can no longer make money for their owners.

 

Back on topic - I think huskies are beautiful dogs and would love to have one as a hiking partner. I don't have the time for another dog, but maybe someday...

Jake W
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September 23, 2011 at 12:20 p.m. (EDT)

Sled dog- As the owner of two dogs, neither of which are sled dogs, I completly understand what you are trying to convey to people. The ethical, or unethical, treament of animals, both here in Canada, and in the U.S is often given the old blind eye. That said, if you were to peruse this site you would see a dog loving, responsible ownership group of men and women. It feels to me, and unfortunatly connotation can not be conveyed via the internet, that your posts have a very offensive stance to them. Heck, I believe its still active, there was an arcticle about dogs saving humans from a cougar, where the author of the arcticle brags about the dogs previously killing a baby fawn. There is a large amount of disgust from the population here about it. People here love dogs, people here would, I believe, support a cause like yours. If you were to have said "Hey guys. Just saw this forum, I'm working to raise awareness about animal cruelty, specifically the Iditarod, heres my website if you want to check it out....." I think people would be far more open to hearing about it. Just my 2 cents. For the record, I still support your cause and think its something worth hearing about.

SledDogAction
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September 25, 2011 at 12:22 p.m. (EDT)

I have never accused anyone on the website of abusing dogs or condoning their abuse. My intention was give people the facts about the cruelties Iditarod dogs are forced to endure. Thank you to those of you who wrote in support of ending sled dog abuse.

apeman
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September 26, 2011 at 5:07 a.m. (EDT)

My Brother has a Husky girl that Just truned 15.  She is a very old and now a slow doggie.  She does still talk just as much as she did when she was young, and she still always get's the last word.   My brother gave me this shirt that kinda helps explain Huskys attitude about small animals.

 

The front of the shirt:
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While the back of the shirt reads:


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Thought this might make some of you smile.

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