Cliffed Out Hiker and Dog Rescued from Quandary Peak

At 1955hrs on Sunday. September 16th, Summit County Communications Center received a report of two overdue hikers on Quandary Peak, south of Breckenridge.  The Summit County Rescue Group (SCRG) was dispatched, and discovered the hikers' vehicle at the Blue Lakes Trailhead, on County Road850.  Initial SCRG responders discovered one of the two hikers making his way to the vehicle.  This hiker relayed that his hiking companion and a dog were uninjured, but "cliffed out" southwest of the West Ridge route without any technical gear.  He had downclimbed to seek help using abandoned equipment found in the area.  17 members of SCRG responded to assist the cliffed out hiker and dog.  The cliffed out hiker and dog were both lowered to safety and were escorted off the West Ridge route, returning to their vehicles around 0630hrs Monday morning.

Every year, the Summit County Rescue Group responds to calls for assistance from hikers that are hiking with their dogs.  Evacuating dogs from technical terrain increases the risk to both rescuers and subjects.  In view of the recent rescue of "Missy" from Mt. Bierstadt and several rescues from the West Ridge of Quandary Peak, here are some tips to make your next hike with your dog a successful event for all involved.

As you choose a route, think about the terrain.  Is there scrambling involved?  Will your dog's movement increase rockfall danger?  Are there terrain features involved that might require you to raise or lower your dog, and are you equipped to do so?   If you are planning to carry a helmet, harness, and/or rope for yourself, think twice before taking your dog along with you.  Make sure you choose a route that is well within your, and your dog's, physical limitations.  A dog that rarely walks more than a few blocks at a time at sea level might not be a good candidate for a 12 mile hike above treeline.  Also, older dogs may have health issues that are not shown at sea level, but when brought to altitude and put to a stressful hike, can easily be disastrous, if not deadly, for the dogs.

Once you have chosen a route that is appropriate for your dog, check the weather.  Remember that your dog doesn't sweat the way a human does - they rely on panting to expel heat.  If it is hot, carefully monitor your dog for ill effects from the heat.  If it is cold, consider whether your dog is used to the cold.  A dog that doesn't spend much time outside during the winter might not be ready for a day outside in sub-freezing temperatures.  Did you know that dogs' eyes can be damaged by UV light?  Eye protection can minimize UV light damage to a dogs' eyes.  The effects of UV light and warmer temperatures can be minimized by hiking before 10 am, after 3 pm, and keeping your dog in the shade.

The condition of a dog's paws can be the key to a successful hike.  A day of hiking over rough terrain can severely damage the pads of a dog's paws, as illustrated by this photo, taken after evacuating a dog from Quandary Peak.  First, keep your dog's nails trimmed short.  This will help whether your dog is hiking barefoot or if he/she is wearing boots.  If your dog is accustomed to walking on rough terrain, he /she is probably fine "barefoot" and will use their toes to help grip the surface of the trail.  If your dog is not used to rough terrain, booties might be a good option to protect your dog's feet.  Try to keep your dog's paws dry.  As appealing as a mid-hike, 15 minute soak in a creek or lake might sound, wet paws can spell disaster for a dog on a hike because wet pads are easily worn down by rough trail surfaces or by the friction in boots.  We're not saying don't cool your dog off in a calm, flowing stream or river, but limit the time the feet are in the water. During the winter, keep the longer fur between the toes and pads of your dog's feet trimmed flush with the pads (and resist the temptation to shave it down to the skin).  This will help minimize the buildup of snow and ice on your dog's paws.

If you are skiing or snowshoeing with your dog, watch to see if your dog is "post-holing," which can cause injuries such as shoulder bursitis and ligament damage. Obviously the sharp edges on the skis, boards, and snowshoe "teeth" are additional hazards for our four legged friends.

Monitor your dog closely.  He or she usually will tell you when it is time to turn around.  If your dog is acting differently, picking up a paw, limping, switching weight bearing legs, or running three legged, your hike is over.  Vomiting and/or diarrhea are also signs that a dog is finished with his hike.  Keep in mind, even an injured dog, will continue to follow his owner until he physically is unable to continue.  Before starting your hike, consider your dog's overall health and pre-existing conditions.  Does your dog have hip dysplasia?  Elbow dysplasia?  Endocrine (thyroid, adrenal gland, etc) issues?  If so, please discuss your hiking plans with your veterinarian before heading out on the trails.

Finally, carry a first aid kit for your dog so that minor injuries can be treated and bandaged before they turn into major injuries on the hike out.

Even though these helpful hints seem like they should be common sense as you read this article in your home or at your favorite local coffee shop, it's very easy to get caught up in the excitement of the hike--the first 14er, the buddies from college visiting that you haven't seen in years, etc.  So, take a breath, eat and hydrate well in the morning before your hike, read the weather/avalanche report, check your gear, then stop for a minute and take a good look at your faithful, four-legged friend.  Honestly ask yourself, "Is this a good day for my dog to hike with me?" Hopefully, the answer will be a resounding "yes!"

 

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