September 5, 2012

Dogs on the trail: some lessons learned

In a previous post about the different ways to hike into Green Lakes, in the Three Sisters Wilderness, I wrote about how one of my dogs, Cody, and I met up with a pit bull and proceeded to spin circles, as I tried to keep them from tearing each other to pieces. Like this pit bull, when they misbehave, it is usually the fault of their handler.

Most dogs I've met on the trail were kept within a few feet of their owner and seemed to be well mannered. Most of those dogs were also attached to a leash. A few of them have been allowed by their owner to playfully jump on me, which I don't mind, but I've never been bit.

In other instances, I've been met by unleashed dogs. Most of these dogs saw me coming their way and rushed down the trail to greet me, way ahead of their owners. Fortunately, none of the dogs have ever looked like they wanted to chew me up. Usually, their tongues are hanging and their tails are wagging.

The closest I believe I've come to being bit was while I was near Mt. Hood Meadows during a Mt. Hood loop hike. While trudging around a blind corner on the trail, I nearly walked into a set of snarling teeth, framed by the curved and quivering lips of what I immediately thought was a bear. If it hadn't been tethered to its owner, whose heels dug into the ground and body leaned backward like a tent stake, it would have been a formidable opponent.

As it was, the Newfoundland's owner unnecessarily expressed that he was sorry. I'm sure I had surprised the dog and its owner as much as they had me. The dog was never out of the owner's control. I gently eased my way around the hairy mass without turning my back on it.

Another time, along the Patjens Lakes loop, inside the Mt. Washingon Wilderness, a dog appeared out of nowhere. At first I presumed it to belong to someone camped in the area. I continued to hike down the trail and it disappeared. Awhile later it reappeared, but wanted nothing to do with me, staying at least 40 feet from me at all times. Once again, before I returned to the trailhead, the dog had disappeared.

Upon stopping at the Detroit Ranger Station to get a permit to enter the Pamelia Lake area the next weekend, the woman working there informed me it was not unusual to find dogs lost in the woods.

People don't realize that a dog's natural instincts are to go after an animal if it sees one. People think they know there dogs well enough to figure the animals would never leave their sides. I know better. I've seen it too many times. Dogs left off a leash by their owners are left free to roam an area full of temptations.

In July, 1992, my bride and I headed east to the Anthony Lakes area in the Elkhorn Mountains. We set up camp in site 23 of the Anthony Lake Campground, surrounded by majestic granite mountains that make up the Elkhorn Range.

Calvin and I set out early in the next morning on the Black Lake Trail, passing Lilly Pad and Black Lakes while skirting Gunsight Mountain and Angels Peak. Along the way, Calvin suddenly caught onto the scent of a deer. Having made the connection a few months earlier between the scent and the animal that made it, Calvin instantly realized that something beyond the rock and vegetation but near was out there to chase. Before I could even call his name, he was gone, through the woods and out of sight, all because I didn't have him on a leash.

I called him several times over several minutes - but no Calvin. He was long gone.

Should I go after him, I thought, or should I stay put, continuing to call him. Another ten minutes went by and Calvin had yet to appear. I continued to call and then pictured myself walking into camp without him, my wife asking where he was, and then me ruining her vacation as I told her the story of how I lost our dog.

Then the thought of Calvin chasing a porcupine entered my mind. What if he did come back, but with a snout full of quills? I really did not want to make a trip to Baker City and a veterinarian.

Shortly after figuring out how to break the news to Dvenna in the gentlest way I could think of, Calvin came plodding up the trail, tongue hanging as low as his droopy ears. He appeared to have given the chase a valiant effort, but his short, Cocker Spaniel legs, were certainly no match for a deer, or whatever else he may have been chasing.

After that experience, he never hiked without a leash.

Another time, Calvin and I started down the PCT - destination the summit of 8,744' Diamond Peak. The first mile or so was what I perceived as somewhat of a Garden of Eden – for mosquitoes. There were several small, shallow tarns in the area, home to many a millions of mosquitoes.

We passed the mountain's south ridge and continued on the PCT. About a mile later I started to get a bad feeling. It seemed we had walked past the point where we should have started climbing the mountain. Calvin and I stopped as I studied the slopes of the mountain in search of another ridge that would take us to the summit. I spotted a route, and although I knew it would be strenuous, decided to go for it.

We left the trail and hiked cross country over large boulders and steep scree slopes. On several occasions, I stopped to pick up Calvin and carry the short legged little fur ball over large boulders. I estimated we were about 600' from the ridge, standing along a steep scree slope, when Calvin put his front paws on a boulder that immediately slid out from under him. The little rascal stepped off of it in time to see it bound and bounce down the side of the mountain. It was only then that I noticed how steep the grade that we had been climbing actually was.

In front of us there were large beds of rock barely hanging on to the side of the slope, ready to slide in one continuous motion down the mountain.  As we got closer to that first bed of rock, Calvin, who was leading the way, stopped and looked back at me as if to say, "Are you kidding me?"

He was right. On my own, I was sure I could make it. But Calvin really had no chance unless I carried him, and that was out of the question. So, we turned back. Burying a dog on the side of the mountain was not something I wanted to do. Walking into camp without him would have been even worse.

By the time we arrived back at the south ridge our water supply was nearly gone, so I decided not to make another attempt at the mountain. It would be there another day, and so would our dog.

Enhanced by Zemanta