Friday, August 14, 2015

An Incredible Story from the Wallowa Mountains

Well, I wasn't sure how to chalk this one up. At first I thought Wallowas 1, Wisdom and I zero, but after making it back to the car in more or less one piece and with an incredible story, I'm going Wallowas 1, Wisdom and I point eight because really, only a few dogs could pull this one off...

Last Sunday, Wisdom and I pulled into Joseph, Oregon to these amazingly high and beautiful peaks exploding upward from the earth. Immediately, I was like, "Holy shit, Wisdom, those are some big fucking mountains." Not being much of a swearer that gives you an idea of the size of the peaks surrounding us. And we were about to head into them. For five days. With a backpack. Covering 50 plus miles. Suddenly all those walks I took at sea level on Long Island in June and July seemed a little, well, lame. Wisdom hadn't fared much better in the training department either with walks consisting of the park and to the end of the block in Portland. We'd be huffing and puffing, of that I was sure. 

The plan was to camp each night at an alpine lake where we could swim and wash off all the dusty and tiring trail miles. I knew Wisdom would love that. Day one brought us six miles up a mountain to Aneroid Lake, a beautiful blue sheet of water surrounded by glacial peaks and pine trees of varying heights. The Wallowa Mountains are breathtaking. I mean, drop dead gorgeous. I had no idea. Wisdom couldn't stop swimming and I couldn't stop staring at the scenery. It was the perfect stop. 

The next morning, day two, we woke early. I knew we had an almost 12 mile hike ahead of us on an exposed trail that went over not one, but two mountain passes. I wanted to beat the heat and any afternoon thunderstorms that might be rolling through. We broke camp and hit the trail by 815. It was a beautiful trail, easily the prettiest, most scenic one I've ever done. It was also the hardest. Up, up, up we climbed to where the air is thin and the breathing thinner. Wisdom hiked like a champ and we both made it to Polaris Pass (9395 ft elevation) in good shape. Coming down the pass on the other side was no walk in the park or walk on Long Island either. The switchbacks were long and endless. A million rocks with a million jagged edges played with our feet from the trail bed. Was there shade along the way? Laughable. But the majestic, harsh, and endless wild scenery made me feel like the luckiest person to be out there grinding out those switchbacks in search of lower ground. 

Wisdom's paws were a concern and I checked them regularly, but her little feet proved tougher than those mountains because soon enough she rolled into camp hardly worse for wear and eager for a swim and a nap. I was sure she'd be out for the count, rising only for dinner, before retreating to the sleep position. I should've known that nap would re-energize her. Soon enough she was ready for another swim and also decided she'd had enough of the squirrels raiding our camp and chased one over a pile of rocks and up a tree. After a bit, she returned to camp. Limping. The pad on her front right pad was torn. We were 9 miles of hard trail from the car in one direction and 18 miles of unknown, but possibly easier trail from the car in the other direction. Not sure what to do about that, I cleaned her pad as best I could, applied some antibiotic cream, wrapped her foot, and stuck it in a bootie. I also gave her a pain med. Within minutes, she asked to go in the tent, curled up on her bed, and started snoring loudly. As I lay there wondering about our predicament and what to do, I was happy at least someone was getting a good night's sleep. On a positive note, because I stayed up so late worrying, I did see a bunch of shooting stars fall across the lake. 

The next morning, day three, I woke up and cleaned her pad and did the whole thing over again. Her paw didn't look any worse, but it became clear to me that we needed to get back to the car sooner than later. I was worried about infection. Plus, we only had until Friday before Kimi would start to worry and possibly take action. We had to do the 9 miles of hard trail and camp along the way if necessary with our two goals being to get to the car as quickly and safely as possible and to get there by Friday night at the latest. 

Ok, I know what you're thinking- where's the incredible? This story is ok, maybe even mildly entertaining, but incredible? No. It's not even close to incredible. 

Give me just a few more paragraphs...

With the decision made to hike out, I went to talk to these three older guys camping near me before breaking camp. I understood from talking to them the day before that they were very familiar with the Wallowas and had just hiked in on the trail Wiz and I were about to hike out on. I wanted some trail dirt- a little intel about what lay ahead. I explained to them about Wisdom and my decision process and told them I felt really bad that she had to hike out on a torn pad. 

"How bad is the tear?," one of the men asked. 

"That's the thing," I answered. "I really don't know, but I don't think it's good." I told him the things I'd done for it and how I was hoping it was enough to get us back to the car and ideally, Portland. 

"Well, let me take a look at it," he said standing up from his chair.

What? Why would he say that? 

Barely daring to believe, I asked, "Are you a veterinarian?"

"He is," said one of his friends. 

"Retired," said the man, "but yes." 

I stood in astonishment. We'd seen maybe eight people in two days and here's Wisdom, with her torn pad and nine miles out from the car in the Wallowa Mountain backcountry, camped next to a veterinarian. And he was going to take a look at it. 

Now that's incredible, right?

Not only did he examine her paw, confirm it was a pretty good cut, flush it out, reapply the Neosporin, and redo her wrap, but he also gave me a handful of antibiotics and offered to watch her at camp while I salvaged some of my trip by hiking up to Glacier Lake and onto Glacier Pass for the views. "I really wasn't planning to do much today anyway," he said, "except hang around camp. If you want to stay another night, she can have a down day with me, you can see a little more of the Wallowas, and I'll help you wrap her foot again tomorrow before you head out. She'll be sore, but she'll be fine."

So, that's what we did. I climbed up to gorgeous Glacial Lake, took a swim, and then continued up the pass while Wisdom hung back with the vet. 

When I got back to camp later in the day, Wisdom looked as good as new, but I feared the next day would be tough on her. 

The next day, we woke early and broke camp. If Wisdom was to hike nine miles on a torn pad, I wanted it to be during the coolest part of the day. Before leaving, the vet wrapped Wisdom's paw complete with a cushioned pad to help comfort the blow. We doubled up on her antibiotics and also gave her another pain med. Then he and his friends fed us breakfast- blueberry pancakes and sausage. Still in a state of amazement, I stuffed all of my dog's gear in my pack and off we went. Wasn't Wisdom, unencumbered and high on pain meds and sausage, the happiest little dog kicking down the trail? I swear she would have done another 20 miles if I asked her to, but instead, I took her to the nearest drive thru and got her a bacon double cheeseburger. 

Home now, I'm still trying to wrap my head around how this trip worked out. This trip, born from a lucky star. Maybe because the Perseid meteor shower was in town? I don't know. And I don't think I ever will. 


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