I count myself among the extremely fortunate for having so many beautiful hiking trails nearby. From Denver I can drive a mere thirty minutes away and find myself near the Flat Irons in Boulder to the north, or in a JeffCo Open Space to the south. Either direction would prove bountiful on any given summer day.
My buddy Kathy and I planned a hike at Maxwell Falls for the morning of Memorial Day, and no hike for either of us would be complete without a dog or three. I would bring the always up-for-a-hike Sophie, while Kathy and her daughter Elizabeth would bring their rescue hounds Luna and Winifred (Winnie to her friends).
We planned to meet at 8am at the Lower Falls trailhead. In my post-high school teacher life, my brain has decided that it does not fire on all cylinders before 9am. I’m sure many former students could say that has always been the case. That was certainly true on Monday morning when I did not bring a jacket to the hike. The trail is in Evergreen and is often twenty degrees colder than Denver.
When I left my driveway, my car said the outside temperature was 65 degrees. Awesome.
By the time I reached the off-ramp to Evergreen it read 56 degrees. Uh oh.
I drove further on, watching it drop bit by bit. When I pulled onto Brooks road we were down to 48 degrees. Crap.
It finally landed at a brrr 45 degrees in the parking lot and I was feeling stupid for not having more layers.
Alas, I could not wait in the car too long since Kathy pulled up at the same time and Sophie was overcome with excitement. She skipped the usual squeaking and began barking in excitement. We had to get out of the car. Looking at fellow hikers zipped up in their latest REI gear, I decided that if anybody looked at me funny I’d just say, “Hello, eh” and let them think I was Canadian and therefore impervious to cold weather. Hopefully the hike would generate some heat in these old lady bones I carry around.
As for the dogs, Sophie and Luna have been known to spend full evenings wrestling themselves silly, so we knew there would be no issue with those two. Winifred, however, did not possess the amicable track record of the other two and needed some distance between herself and Sophie. A recently rescued fox hound mix from rural Louisiana, she spent months, if not years, fending for herself. The poor girl’s face is covered with scars and the toll that life took on her was pretty intense. So while Sophie is always happy to meet another dog-friend, Winnie needed a little time to develop trust. (As far as Rufus is concerned, he is persona non grata to her. More on that at a later date). We decided I would lead the pack with Sophie first, then Elizabeth behind me with Luna, and Kathy would bring up the rear with Winnie. Spacing them apart worked out well. Winnie didn’t have any issues with either Sophie or Luna, or any other dog we met on the trail. She is coming along really nicely! Yay rescue dogs!
Despite my brain fart with the jacket, I did remember proper dog equipment for the hike. It’s very romantic to envision yourself dropping everything and driving off the to mountains with your dog, but like all things romantic, let me smack that notion upside the head and get real. So please indulge me in a list of things you need for such an adventure.
- A leash. But..NO! Zip it. There is no debate. ZIP IT. Bring the goddamn leash.I feel your pain. You want Fido to feel the wind in his hair while he runs up and down the mountain of your forefathers. Too bad. First of all, it’s going to be the rule, more often than not. Prepare to be ticketed if you do not comply. Secondly (and more importantly), there are other dogs and people to consider on the trail. Gadzooks! We aren’t alone in the universe! Just like in a city, off-leash dogs meeting on-leash dogs can lead to intense anxiety or even aggression from either pooch. And finally, it’s hard to believe, but not everyone you meet on a hike is a dog person. This is mind-blowing. Amazingly, it’s true. Not everyone wants to be sniffed or licked. Some people see a happy dog enthusiastically wiggling at them and become terrified. I have to respect this. I have my own sets of anxieties and fears (for example, I have not yet opened the copy of Stephen King’s “It” that Kathy has loaned to me because it freaks me out). I had Sophie on a harness with an extra leash attached so that she could go a little further ahead. When we approached other dogs or people who seemed apprehensive, I just pulled her in closer to me.
- A collapsable or soft water dish. This is necessary for any hike that’s going to take a few hours and vital for hikes at a higher altitude. Dogs will dehydrate just like we will. I prefer the soft dog dish because they are durable. (However collapsable dishes can fold down easily and are easier to wipe clean) A friend of mine has a dog who refuses to drink from their camping dog dish even when it’s clear he’s thirsty. Therefore, he stays home on hikes. It’s that important. Of course it’s possible you’ll pour a full bowl for your dog and she’ll just sniff the water and ignore it, opting for a nearby puddle. It happens.
- Dog poop bags. Do I even have to explain this one? Just do it. Use plastic grocery store bags if your roll is empty. And note the use of plural here. Dogs can get super amped up about being on a hike and meeting new friends and smelling new things, so that may set some internal things in motion. And when nature calls, you’ll need to be prepared.
- Dog treats. Just like you, the pups will work up an appetite. Kibble can be sort of cumbersome but it works in a pinch. Otherwise bigger treats, like the Pork Puffs I got at the BlogPaws conference work very well. Of course, your dog will prefer to have your sandwich or whatever treat you brought for yourself. You did bring food for yourself, right? No? Well, there’s always the dog treats…
- A towel. This isn’t crucial, but if there is a creek (which we had) or mud (which we had) and you have a dog who loves either of these things, you’ll do your car a favor by toweling off the pup before the ride home. Even on leash Sophie manages to get herself nice and wet on these hikes. I’m just happy she didn’t pull me into the creek with her.
These are just the basics. Consider getting a pet first aid kit as well. Also – be sure that your dog is prepared for such a hike. If they are primarily indoor dogs with little outdoor contact, they may cut up their paw pads in rough terrain after a few hours.
A pack it in-pack it out philosophy is important. This means if you bring it, take it back with you. We are losing open space access out here due to others’ inconsiderate littering and refusal to pick up after their dogs. Don’t leave your garbage, your food, your clothing, your friends, your poop, or your pets behind. (And yes, there have been reports of ALL of these items being deliberately left behind on hikes. #Assholes)
For many of us, hiking is our favorite activity to do with our dogs. As much as I enjoy the solitude of the mountains, I know that I have no right to impinge on others’ enjoyment. Since I have no plans to buy my own mountain, I’m happy to share with my fellow hikers, dogs and humans alike.