Today. A day that screamed ‘go hiking with your dogs’!
I haven’t been out in the mountains as much as I would like this season. Enough that we all feel healthy, but not enough where I feel a bit ‘itchy’ during the week. So I am going back to my old lifestyle, a new priority so to speak, and trust that we need more back country time.
We went to one of our favorite remote trails today. Blue bird sky, building storm clouds, no wind, no noise, and powdered sugar snow.
As we headed up the trail, I could feel everything that resembled stress just melt right off. I love hearing only my foot steps, my dogs paws hitting the earth, and our breathing. This simplicity is my happiness. Just us and the mountains. Perfect.
We were about a mile and a half into our hike and all three of my dogs stopped, pricked their ears, and whipped their heads to the right, in unison. I stopped so I could orient myself, and my pathetic human ears in that direction. Nothing, I didn’t see or hear anything. But I know my dogs well enough to know that there was something out there we all needed to take note of. They didn’t seem too concerned over all, and didn’t hesitate to move on, so we did.
We continued on our way, and again they all stopped, and this time started air scenting, in unison, in the same direction. I could not see, hear, or smell anything.
My Ocean came back to me, which is unusual, but Story was ready to continue on, so we did for another 100 yards or so. Then, they all stopped, all oriented in the same direction, and very casually walked back to me, and faced down trail, back the way we came, tails wagging slowly. They didn’t seem panicked or upset, they weren’t aroused, and if anything, they were slightly ‘slow’. When my dogs are ‘slow’ it tells me that something in the environment is putting enormous pressure on them, enormous. That is all I needed to see and feel. My dogs are so good at judging environments. I simply turned around and said, “let’s go” and they happily started back down the trail.
Then there it was, off to the side of the trail, going up a slope, around some sage and into a rock ridge area. A. Big. Fat. Cat. Track. We didn’t see the mountain lion, for which I am grateful, but my dogs let me know it wasn’t that far away either.
I’ve only ever seen one mountain lion when out hiking, about eight years ago. It was parallel tracking us for about a mile or so was my guess, and Franny was my only dog that had alerted to something not being right. When the cat came out of a low scraggly juniper area it was only about 50′ away. At first, for maybe a split second, I was overwhelmed at it’s size and beauty, and then reality set in that I was by myself with three dogs, looking an apex predator in the eye. I don’t think I have ever felt more like bait than in that very moment. A super humbling and terrifying experience. Thankfully the cat ran down the hill, and then up a gully towards a rocky ridge area, while my dogs and I stayed put, possibly holding our breathes. When I later told a ranger what had happened, he filled me in that this ‘juvenile’ had been tracking hikers and mountain bikers for about a week, and was most likely curious, and oh, please don’t go hiking here for a awhile. Yes, that would not be a problem.
I have learned over the years that detouring a hike is a much better idea than pushing forward when your dogs are telling you not too. I love my dogs for so many reasons, this is just one of them. They trust me in a ‘human world’ to make good choices for their safety and well-being when we are out and about. I trust them when we are in an ‘animal world’ to make good choices for all of our safety, because let’s face it, their ability to scent, see, and hear, are light years better than mine!
We are a Team.
So cheers to fresh air, safe hiking, and enjoying time out and about with your dogs ~ Nancy