Sidetracks: Howl About It

Dogsledding across the shores of Maine’s pristine Lake Umbagog offers a glimpse of backcountry New England not easily seen.
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Dogsledding across the shores of Maine’s pristine Lake Umbagog offers a glimpse of backcountry New England not easily seen.
Dogs Days

Away from the jumble of ice-fishing shacks, snowmobiles and the growl of logging trucks, civilization disappears. Replacing it is a silence broken only by the soft pshu, pshu of paws padding across a frozen white expanse.

From its Newry, Maine, base, about 30 minutes from Sunday River’s slopes, Mahoosuc Guide Service’s Kevin Slater leads dogsled trips across frozen Lake Umbagog—the region author Louise Dickinson Rich romanticized in her 1950s novel We Took to the Woods. Now part of a National Wildlife Refuge, Umbagog straddles the Maine/New Hampshire border, the last link in the Rangeley mountain chain before lake waters flow into the Androscoggin River.

On a clear day in January, the grounds surrounding Mahoosuc’s Farmhouse B&B are laid with two feet of fresh snow. After being outfitted with gear, my tripmates and I climb into Kevin’s truck for the 20-minute drive through craggy Grafton Notch to Umbagog’s shore. Then the real work begins. Gear is unloaded, lines laid out, sleds prepared and dogs harnessed. Aidan, Cormac, Orla, Donal—Kevin’s Yukon huskies seem to hail from a Celtic line.

No question these dogs were bred to pull. As musher for my two-person sled, my job, Kevin explains, is to “ride the brake, grab the snub line and loop it loosely around the wrist.” Kevin sees the doubt etched on my face. “These dogs are very good at what they do,” he assures me.
As promised, the dogs settle into a steady trot, and I relax, finally able to check out the scenery. We trace the shoreline, with one zigzag across the lake. In summer, anglers and birdwatchers crowd Umbagog’s forested shores, but in winter, other than an occasional moose, we are alone on this field of snow-covered ice. We stop for soup heated over a fire then continue our lonely, beautiful tour.

Dusk looming, we return to Mahoosuc’s base, nourished by a day spent far from the clutches of society. Like a character from Rich’s novel, I’ve seen a portion of this region that’s just
off the radar for most visitors. And like the huskies, I’m dog-tired and howling with delight.

ESSENTIALS

COST $265 for a full-day sledding trip; includes lunch

INFO mahoosuc.com; 207-824-2071

BE SURE TO BRING Layers. Mahoosuc will provide a down parka and boots.