Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

No Gu For You (I Bought It All)

How does he know?

Through the years all of my dogs have known when it’s raining or snowing outside without even looking. This has always amazed me.

This morning Atticus's nose is buried in the folds of the comforter. How different this is than other mornings. Typically I wake up and he’s ready to go but this morning he’s in no hurry. The little guy loves the snow but when it’s falling he’s more than happy to hibernate a little longer than normal.

The snow is coming down pretty heavily here today. It’s not supposed to amount to much, relatively speaking, maybe six to eight inches. However, when you add that to what is already here the snow depth is impressive. In our first two winters of hiking there was rarely much snow through December and January; we had more ice to contend with.

Hikers are all ready reporting difficulty in reaching their destination as deep snow calls out for snowshoes and the effort it takes to break through up to two feet of fresh powder in places has made many turn back without reaching the summit. This will make our choice of hikes limited in the first few days of winter. I’m not averse to breaking trail. I find it to be good, hard work that touches something of the animal inside me. However, Atticus is not a fan of having to break through snow too deep or in waiting for me to break it out for him. If the snow is too deep he instinctively drops behind me and lets me do the work, but even with his body suit and boots on there are days where it takes so long his core body temperature drops. Twice last winter we dropped back and quit our hikes because this was the case. As long as he’s moving the little guy is fine. But stop too long and it’s too cold for him.

Prolonged stops are something we do a lot of in the more temperate seasons of the year. Whether it is to summit sit and take in the views, eat a leisurely lunch, or to do as I did this past November on a sunny day atop an empty Cannon Mountain---take a nap, it’s always a pleasure to dawdle in good weather. But the winter months bring about the challenge of the need to keep moving for Atticus's sake and at the same time refuel my body. Because of this my eating habits change in the winter. I supplement my hike with several packs of Gu or Shot Blocks. My meals are Stonyfield Farm Smoothies. On our second Bonds Traverse last winter, the one where we added in Hale to make it more than 26 miles, I drank five of these to keep my strength up. In the winter we both eat a big breakfast and supper and then I let the Stonyfields do the work on the trail.

As for fluids, I drink anywhere between two and three liters of water or Gatorade a hike while doing my best to drink a great amount before and after hikes. I don’t bother taking water on the trail for Atti as I do in spring, summer or fall; for he won’t drink it. Occasionally he’ll drink from an unfrozen stream but as is more typical of him, he eats ice and snow throughout the day.

As for food on the trail, I usually bring healthy treats for him and he does love his summit fix, Snaw Somes! I swear this is his addiction. On longer hikes, those from 15 to 25 miles I’ll also bring along a baggie full of chicken or beef. He also feasts on nuts, peanut butter or cheese crackers and Odwalla Bars. Hey, he needs to keep his engine running, too, so fuel is just as important for him as it is for me.

And in case you were wondering, winter starts in two days and there are still nine peaks left open for dedication for the first round: Middle Carter, South Carter, North Twin, South Twin, Waumbek, Cabot, Middle Tripyramid, Osceola and Field.

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