Abby and I had done a number of hikes in the foothills near Boise and up at Schafer Butte. She is a good hiker and loves to get out and run free in the mountains. Now it was time to take her to some real mountains to see how she would do.
Laney (the original Darth Dog) and I used to go hiking a lot but as she got older it was harder to ride in the car with her. For some reason she would freak out whenever we had to drive somewhere. Two to four hours of driving each way wasn't much fun when she was having a nervous breakdown in the back seat the entire time. It usually caused me to come close to a nervous breakdown myself. So eventually I just stopped taking Laney for hikes in places like the Sawtooths. It was too bad because she loved to hike and it was fun to hike with her.
By contrast, Abby rides well in the car. She is quiet, just sits in the back, and is content to hang her head out the window once in a while to get a sniff of what's around. She is really well behaved.
In September the fire season ended and the smoke that had covered the entire western US was finaly gone. Now we were clear (ha, ha) to go hiking again. Since it was fall we didn't have to worry about leash laws either. The Forest Service rules for the Sawtooth Wilderness are that dogs have to be on leash from July 1 through Labor Day. To me, taking a dog out in the wilderness and then having them walk beside you on a leash kind of defeats the whole purpose. Up in the mountains a dog should be able to run free and explore. But now it was past Labor Day so leashes were no longer required.
Since this was our first hike in the Real Wilderness, I decided to do the Sawtooth Lake Trail. It is one of my favorite hikes and I have done it over a dozen times. I know the trail well and know just what to expect. So when the forecast for a Saturday in early September was for clear weather, I packed up the car the night before so that in the morning we would be ready to get up and go.
For me the hardest part of hiking on a Saturday is getting an alpine start, getting up really early after a whole week of getting up early every day for work. I'm not a morning person. I'm afraid that the most common time for a planned hike to be aborted is before dawn when I look at the clock and realize that I should get up and get started. That's when I decide that the weather forecast maybe really wasn't that good, or there is something that I really need to get done at home this weekend, and I roll over and go back to sleep.
Fortunately this time I managed to get up, get ready and get on the road by 7:30 am. Abby helped since she is used to getting her breakfast by 6:30 every morning. If I give any indication of being awake she starts poking me with that cold, wet nose of hers to let me know that she is hungry.
About an hour after leaving home we were driving through Garden Valley when I noticed slimey stuff all over the road. After a little while I figured out what it was - sheep poop. When a herd of sheep is driven along a road they pretty much leave it covered in sheep poop. It's not very pleasant. It was going to be even more important than usual to get my car washed after this trip. I figured that a lot of sheep had probably been driven down the road recently. Sure enough, a few miles further down the road my theory was confirmed.
We came around a corner and the road was filled with sheep. There was a car stopped ahead of us. He was waiting for the sheep to clear off of the road and it wasn't working. The sheep just kept walking along, right down the middle of the road.
To get by you have to be aggressive. You have to kind of push your way through the herd. If you drive very slowly and just keep going, the sheep do get out of your way. Just act like you're the biggest sheep. Instead it looked like this guy was going to follow the herd at a walking pace all the way to Stanley.
Fortunately one of the shepherds walked over and kept waving him forward until he finally got the nerve to force his way through. Then we were past the sheep and their mess. The whole time Abby was acting like any normal dog would and was barking her head off at the sheep. Finally we were past the herd and their road pollution. It took a little longer for Abby to quiet down and even longer for my ears to stop ringing. She has a loud bark in an enclosed car.
When we reached the Stanley Valley we stopped at the Park Creek Overlook so I could get some pictures of Abby with the Sawtooths in the background (ok, I was drinking a Diet Coke on the way up and needed to make a rest stop). It's the standard place I stop when I am taking people to the Sawtooths for the first time where they get their first good look at them. It's a fantastic view and was especially pretty this morning. The past two or three days had been rainy in Boise but it had been cold enough to produce some snow in the Sawtooths. All the mountains were covered with a dusting of fresh snow that shined and sparkled in the bright sunlight, the white snow providing a contrast to the deep blue sky. Even after all the trips that I have made to the Sawtooths I can still find some new beauty when I visit them. I don't know if Abby was impressed. She didn't say much. Even though she was anxious to get into the woods she was patient enough to pose for some pictures with the mountains in the background and then get back in the car for the final drive to the trailhead.
Abby didn't have to wait much longer for us to reach the parking lot at the trailhead. Although she had been good the whole time that we were driving, when we drove into the parking lot a couple of hikers with a dog were reading the signs at the start of the trail. When Abby saw the dog she started barking like crazy. Again. I had a hard time getting her to settle down. I was beginning to wonder if maybe this wasn't such a good idea if she was going to react so strongly to other people or dogs (or sheep). I let the other group get a head start down the trail but when we followed we caught up with them after only going about a hundred yards. Now Abby's reaction was totally different. She was friendly and just wanted to play with the other dog. That's more what I expected. In fact, when I wanted to keep going, I had trouble getting her to go along with me. I told the other hikers that they may have just acquired another dog. They mentioned that it was their dogs birthday. I figured that explained it. Abby heard about it from the other dog and wanted to go along for the birthday party. She wanted some ice cream and cake. Finally she gave in and followed me.
At the wilderness boundary there was a sign about keeping dogs on leash during the summer months. I took a picture of Abby with the sign, showing her disdain for the rules. We don't need no stinkin' leashes!
Abby did well. She roamed around but always stayed pretty close to me. She would go up the trail, then run back. She would run back, then catch up. She would run off to the side of the trail, chasing squirrels, sniffing around, and then run back. She covered at least twice as much ground as I did. She had a lot of energy.
About half way to Sawtooth Lake we reached a crossing of Iron Creek. Usually there is a log or two that people use to get across but I assumed that Abby would just wade through. This late in the season I figured it would not be very deep, maybe only three or four inches, so she wouldn't have any problem. Well I was right that she didn't worry about getting her feet wet. She walked right into the middle of the creek - and lay down in the water. As I crossed on the logs she looked at me like "Silly human. You're going to a lot of trouble to keep your feet dry." Of course as soon as I was across the creek she followed me, came up right next to me, and shook off. I probably wasn't as wet as her after that, but it was close.
We had only passed two pairs of hikers so far, the ones at the trailhead with the dog and another pair near the first Alpine Way Trail junction. Now as we climbed the hill toward the Alpine Lake overlook, two backpackers were coming down the trail towards us. Abby was not happy and started barking threateningly. I had to call her over so she wouldn't scare the people. One of the hikers commented as she passed that "your dog sure is protective". Actually, I don't think that was it since she didn't bark at anyone else the rest of the day. I think for some reason she didn't like their big backpacks. And if you know Abby, you know that if she thinks something isn't right, you definitely hear about it. Once when I set a box on the floor in the kitchen and Abby didn't like it, she barked for so long that I ended up moving it out to the garage just to quiet her down. She definitely has her opinions and is not shy about expressing them. Loudly.
Near Sawtooth Lake we passed a small pond. I used stepping stones to keep dry. Again, Abby just went right in. And again, she came right next to me to shake off.
When we reached Sawtooth Lake we went to my standard spot and sat by the lake. Well, I did. Abby went for a swim. She just ran over to the lake and went right in the water. With all the snow around I thought that it must be awfully cold but Abby didn't seem to mind. Then she started swimming, heading for the other side of the lake. And it's a big lake. In a minute she was around a rock cropping and out of sight. Since I didn't want to swim after her I started to call her. It took a while but eventually she showed up, paddling her way back. And...she got out of the water, ran over to me, and shook off. Then she wanted to climb in my lap. By this time I was so wet that I might as well have jumped in the lake myself. And yes, I had been right. The water was cold. Very cold. I swear that when Abby was looking at me afterwards she was laughing.
As usual, because of our early start, we met a lot more people on the way out than on the way in. There were a lot of hikers, some with dogs. Abby was well behaved and went up to everyone to make friends. When there weren't any people she was always off to one side of the trail or the other, chasing squirrels or chipmonks. She is definitely a city girl though. She never came close to catching any of them.
She got in a couple more swims on the way back, whenever the trail got close to Iron Creek. When she was all wet, and then walked down the dusty trail, she ended up covered in dirt. But hey, dirty dogs have more fun. If that's true, then Abby had a blast.
Once, near the trailhead, she was wading in Iron Creek and slipped and yelped a bit. When she came out she limped for a minute. Then she seemed to be ok. When we got home she seemed pretty sore. I checked her over and found that the pads on her paws had been chewed up. I think when she was wading in the cold water, walking on sharp rocks, she probably scraped up her pads. Because the cold water numbed her paws she didn't feel in at the time. She moved slowly the day after our hike but then was fine. As Sandy says, she is a tough little dog.
I think she did have a blast on our hike. I did too. I think we have the beginning of a good hiking partnership.