Mushers offer tours of 6-mile Hope Valley loop
February 28, 2013
After you go through Picketts Junction and over the West Fork of the Carson River, driving west on Highway 88, glance over to the right and there you may see an old truck with a blue top and a white bottom, parked perpendicularly to the road. On closer examination, you will notice that the truck has 10 dog boxes. This truck belongs to the Husky Express Dog Sled Tours owned by Dotty Dennis and Dave Beck, in operation since 1992.Dotty and Dave and eight huskies do one tour a day, by reservation. The tour is a six mile loop in Hope Valley, takes about one hour and costs $245, for up to two adults and one or two small children.Recently, I was invited to ride on the back of the business’ 1980 snowmobile during a tour (the other snowmobile is a 1970 which Dave uses to groom the trail, and to drag a gadget which puts in ski tracks as a service to skiers).Preparations for the tour are a joy to behold. The huskies bark excitedly in anticipation as one by one they are attached to the lines. They run in pairs. Leaders (not all dogs want this responsibility), point dogs, team dogs, and wheel dogs nearest the sled, and then the low-gear dogs, who do the heaviest pulling. Most of the dogs are retired racers between five and 10 years old, many part greyhound for speed. Once the command (“Hike” is used rather than “Mush”) is given all barking ceases and the dogs spring forward into a graceful lope, poetry in motion.Dotty drives the sled while Dave takes the snowmobile discreetly through the trees, monitoring the progress of the team and providing poop patrol. The passengers on the tour I accompanied were Rick Jones and Sheri Lehrbaum of Carson City. The idea of dog sledding occurred to Sheri while she was searching the internet for a special Valentine’s Day activity to share with Rick and she was delighted to find Husky Express in the area. The tour in Hope Valley is extraordinarily beautiful, surrounded by snow-covered peaks and dense forest; although there are roads on two sides of the Valley there is an atmosphere of enchanting seclusion. On that day the sun shone from a pure blue sky onto the glistening snow. As we approached a couple of friendly cross-country skiers Dave asked them to hold their dogs while the team passed by, to ensure canine harmony. At the end of the tour the dogs rest; they eat the snow (Dave says it cleans their teeth) drink water and enjoy a cookie.Dotty first became interested in dog sledding in Las Vegas in 1973. She raced in the three dog class with German Shepherds in Brianhead, Utah. In 1979 she worked on the Iditarod as a handler for the late Susan Butcher who won this race four times. She returned to the Iditarod in 1984, as a handler for the Norwegian, Kari Skogen. In the 1980s she raced in Oregon with six dogs and travelled with two other women and 18 dogs to races in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Dotty has a 7-year-old grandson, Zachary who is following in her footsteps. He has run in Chester where he was the only child in the race. Husky Express is a member of Sierra Nevada Dog Drivers which puts on the Chester and Truckee races and musher clinics.In 1969, Dave was working in avalanche rescue when he was called to help find 10 Boy Scouts buried by an avalanche in the San Bernardino Mountains. The boys died. In 1971 he went to a demonstration on avalanche dogs by Sandy Bryson, now Alpine County local. Dave was inspired by the rescue implications and within a month had his own German shepherd, Guinness; the two became extensions of each other. He trained Guinness and all his other rescue dogs, in his own way. Dave is the father of the Sierra High Route which he created in 1975 with local contractor, Nick Hartzell, who was living in Dave’s basement in Berkeley. The route runs along the crest of the Western Divide, one of the main mountain ridges that comes into the Sierra, and goes from Mineral King to north of Mount Whitney. It takes six days to ski. He included the route in the 1980 second edition of his book, Ski Touring in California, which sold 12,000 copies; the Sierra High Route became very popular. Sierra Ski Touring is a part of Dave and Dotty’s business, though since Dave’s recent knee surgery they have relied more on dog-sledding.For a dog sled tour contact Dave and Dotty at (775) 782-3047 or firstname.lastname@example.org Also check sierraskitouring.com.