Voices of the Clarion: An exhausting relationship

Canines add new factor when taking a trip to the mountains

Posted: Sunday, October 09, 2005

I never met a real dog person until I moved to Alaska.

Sure, I have an aunt that has two dogs and put in a tile floor to accommodate the blue heeler that prefers to pee in the house. That was my definition of a dog person — until I moved here and befriended some dog mushers.

An avid hiker, I found common ground with these friends who would say yes to any invitation to spend time outdoors. So last April, we planned an overnight hiking trip to Lost Lake near Seward.

The timing seemed perfect. With most of the snow gone, they were freed of their commitment to run dogs every day and could spend some time on other activities.

While most of the snow was gone, we knew we would probably still need snow gear for the high elevation hike we had planned.

When I met my hiking partners the morning of the hike, I loaded my gear into their car. Finding a seat was difficult; they were filled with four house dogs: a Boston terrier, golden retriever, German shepherd and Alaskan husky. Apparently, their dogs were pretty avid hikers, too.

After pushing my way into the car to find a seat, I started digging through the sea of dog hair to find a seat belt. None existed since they had all been chewed up by the dogs.

Arriving at the trail head after a two-hour drive with dog butts in my face, we strapped on the snowshoes and started hiking with vigor. For all the energy I had, the Boston terrier was determined to beat me. Weighing about 10 pounds, this dog has a mighty face and was ready to protect its flock from even the largest bear.

The golden retriever, a friendly buffoon, needed to be kept close on a leash and pulled so hard that more energy was spent reigning in the dog than walking up the snowy hills. The shepherd was a refined well-behaved animal who would run back and forth between the group counting each person making sure they were still there. In the process, she would step on each person's snowshoes giving each of us some additional exercise. The husky, running off a leash, spent a good portion of its time picking fights with the Boston terrier.

The trip had begun.

I am a dog lover and was definitely enjoying their company — and their shenanigans — on this trip. Plus, the extra exercise they gave me that day was sure to bring benefits later in life.

Their owners, however, did not even seem to notice.

Snowshoeing proved to be tough work. A couple of hours into the trip, we were all dragging from the weight of our packs and from crunching through the melting snow. It was taking its toll on the dogs, too — especially the terrier. Punching through snow up to her belly, her paws were red and she was shivering. My friend pulled out a baby sling to carry the dog the rest of the trip.

Hoping my offer would not be taken seriously, I offered to help carry the ailing dog part of the way. But an additional 10 pounds is a lot when carrying 35 in a pack.

Sore, tired and sunburned from head to toe, we arrived at the lake after 10 hours of hiking, too burned out to enjoy a pleasant camp. We set up our tents, melted some snow and cooked dinner — for us and the dogs.

Ready for bed, I crawled into my two-person tent with two tent partners — one of the hikers and the golden retriever. The dog quickly secured a plum spot in the middle of the tent and we situated our sleeping bags around it.

The next morning, the retriever ran out the door of the tent to pee. Still tired, I just buried myself in the sleeping bag and figured somebody else was watching the dog.

Then I woke up to screaming: "Would somebody get out here and help me find Jeeves?"

Hoping to save my energy for the grueling hike back, I was not too excited about tromping around in snowshoes to find the dog. Before I got bundled up to search for the dog, my friend had already found Jeeves — lounging under an avalanche cornice.

With that, we headed home — with the dog pulling us most of the way.

I was so worn out on the drive home, I didn't even mind the dog hair.

Mark Quiner is a reporter for the Clarion.

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