Granite Mountain with Buck

Ever since we missed the cutoff and ended up at Pratt Lake, Buck and I have been wanting to finish the original job and trek to the summit of Granite Mountain.  Neither of us like crowds, though.  So we took a Wednesday afternoon to do it.

When we got to the cutoff this time it was easy to see why we missed it – if you didn’t notice the little sign you can hardly see the trail going off to the right.

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It was a warm day but not that hot – 75 degrees maybe.  But for those of us wearing thick Collie fur that’s pretty hot weather to be climbing a mountain. We had gained 1,700 feet of altitude (from 1,800 at the base to 3,500) when Buck had had enough and lay down in the middle of the trail.

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He’s taken time out for rests before, but this was different.  He was panting faster than I’d ever seen him before – I counted 250 shallow pants per minute.  I gave him some water, but that didn’t help much.

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(This dog water bottle, by the way is called the Gulpy and it is an incredibly intelligent design.  When the trough is folded back over the bottle the spout is automatically closed.  When you open the trough the water doesn’t just dribble out, you have to squeeze it – so you get just as much as you want.)

After 15 minutes a hiker came down and stopped to talk.  Buck often is the occasion for exchanges of pleasantries.  Practically ever other person we see feels compelled to say something like “Beautiful dog.”  I get lots of practice saying “Thank you” and by now I’ve got the line “Collie and Golden Retriever with some German Shepherd” pretty well memorized.

This hiker was a Korean-looking man with a big pack and two hiking poles. He’d been photographing flowers and had a pack full of photographic equipment.  Noticing the frantically panting dog, he mentioned seeing something like that on the Mason Lake trail. (The Mason Lake trail is near Bandera mountain and was in the news recently because a man fell to his death and his Corgi waited at his side for 24 hours until the rescue folks came).  On that trail this man had seen another dog who was suffering from heat exhaustion.  His owner was literally dragging him along by the leash trying to get him up to the lake.  The dog died.

This story didn’t exactly put my mind at ease, and I considered turning around.

Buck didn’t want to drink much but I tried another tack:  poured water all over him and rubbed it into his fur to try to cool him off.  Hard to say if it was effective, because it was another 15 minutes before he finally felt able to get up up and trudge on.  He seemed to want to go upward and onward rather than downward and backward, so on we went.  The same hiker said there was a pool fed by melting snow just 30 minutes up, so that was our next cool-off destination.

The trail pretty soon peeked out of the trees on occasion and offered vistas of I-90 far below and the mountains on the other side of it.

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An hour later Buck was getting hot again and we had to stop for several 15 minute panting breaks.  He would go off the trail into the bushes and dig out the ground a bit and lie down there.  The “30 minutes to the pool” dragged for more than an hour and things only got hotter because the sun beat down on us as we got out of the trees.

I was getting worried, as I had a limited supply of water and was using it up to keep his fur wet even though that didn’t seem to help.  Eventually we met a couple of hikers and they said the pool was just “100 or 200 yards” further.  Buck and I rejoiced and trudged on.  100 yards passed, then 200 yards, then 30 more minutes and no water.  Buck was slowing down and walking behind me now and I was getting more worried.  Then one time I looked behind me and he was gone – and for an instant I was possessed by sheer terror thinking perhaps he’d collapsed.  But no, he had stepped aside to say hello to a chipmunk.

Came across another hiker and he said no, there’s no pool at all, but a little trickle of running water.

At last we reached a creek and Buck got his feet wet, and a bit farther was the pool.  Buck is squeamish about water, but this was only 18 inches deep or so and I shoved him in so he got all of his legs and his belly soaked.

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It wasn’t long an heat worries were over, because we hit snow.  Lots of it.

It was right about here that I suddenly heard a very loud whistle.  I thought some hiker was using his whistle from his “ten essentials” pack to call for help.  It came again, very loud but obviously from a long distance away.  As we continued up there were more of them, and I realized these were the “whistlers” that Whistler BC was named after – rodents with remarkably powerful vocal cords.  Buck barked to entice them to come out of their holes in the rocks to play but was no more successful at that than he is enticing squirrels to come down out of trees.

Soon the snow was everywhere and some of it so steep you had to kick into it hard to create a step, and if you didn’t do that well enough you’d take an unplanned seat-of-the-pants sledding trip down the mountain.

The snow even made the trail hard to find in places.

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Finally the end was in sight – the fire lookout at the tippy top of the mountain.

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More snow and a a lot of big rocks later, we made it to the top and lounged for a while under the fire lookout.

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And enjoyed the views. (If you look hard enough you can Rainier in the first picture below.)

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Lots of flowers were blooming but I only took a picture of one kind … maybe more next time.

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So we had a great time, but I will be more careful with Mr. Collie-fur next time.  No hot-day mountain climbing.  A thorough brushing to remove as much undercoat as possible before warm-day mountain climbing.  Leave early in the morning before it gets hot.

The experience reminded me of how much I worry about him.  Relatively speaking, with human family members there isn’t usually that much to worry about.  Spouses and kids don’t get lost when they get free of the house or yard, and if they do get lost, they know how to tell people who they are and where they live.  Spouses and kids always look both ways before crossing busy roads, but if a door or gate is carelessly left open, and if the roaming dog that results gets to a busy road … well, the unthinkable could happen.

In about two and a half years, Buck has become a member of the family and it would be a disaster of incredible magnitude to lose him.

When I was twenty years old I had a cock-a-poo my mother had named Poochie Pooh.

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When my parents and siblings all moved to the lower 48, Poochie Pooh was my the only family I had left.  Then one day he got out of the back yard and the unthinkable happened.  I remember dialing my parents’ number dozens of times to try to reach them. Finally my mother answered and I blurted out, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”  She answered, “Did your house burn down?”  It seemed as though she didn’t at first understand my value system very well, but she caught on quickly.  I was so depressed and unable to come out of the depression that in a couple of weeks she flew up to Alaska from Seattle to help me out.

My scale of possible disasters is similar now to what it was then.  That makes me feel very vulnerable at times precisely because “the worse that could happen” is always a possibility with a dog in many more might-actually-happen ways that don’t really apply to human family members.

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