About 5 years ago, when I was first dating my now husband, I took him and Chester to one of my favorite overnight backpacking spots. We hiked to Marmot Pass on the Upper Big Quilcene trail to camp.
Dog’s aren’t allowed in the Olympic National Park but this trail leads to a 5,000 pass on the boundary of the park that gives you amazing views of the Olympic Mountains. This dog-friendly trail really captures most of what the Olympics have to offer including mossy trees, rivers, wildflowers, and mountains.
At this point, my boyfriend was still trying to impress me so he played down the fact that he had hardly ever hiked before and played up his enthusiasm for hiking and camping with Chester and I in the woods. He was an avid mountain biker so I figured that he knew enough about being active in the outdoors to know what he was signing up for.
The next morning we wanted to do a “day hike”. I thought my boyfriend would love to check out the Tubal Cain Mine and airplane wreckage a mere 17 miles RT (trail description) from our camp spot. When I told him the distance of the hike, he shrugged his shoulders and said “let’s go”. It was going to be the longest hike that Chester has ever done but I figured he could handle it since he had been hiking for a long time.
I packed up enough water and snacks for me and Chester. My boyfriend loaded his stuff in his pack and off we went.
It was really hot that day so I was drinking a lot of water. Above 5,000 feet there are no trees and the trail is covered in fine shale. The shale heats up in the sun, radiating head upwards. Without the shade of trees, the sun is relentless. This is where the problems started.
On the hike down from the pass to Tubal Cain Mine, my boyfriend made the comment that he didn’t have much water left. He showed my his little hydration bag with about a cup of water left in the bottom and I was shocked that he had brought such a small amount of water. He KNEW we were hiking 16 miles, which, by my count would take about 6 hours figuring in breaks and exploration of the mines.
We continued to hike and he was soon out of water. He was starting to get hot and tired and was now really thirsty….and grumpy! I was afraid to do so because I had only brought enough water for myself and Chester but I started sharing my water with him. II knew he had to drink something or risk dehydration.
I thought MAYBE if we sipped the water gently it would last us all until we got back. I watched as he gulped with abandon every time we stopped. I tried to hint that we needed to drink water sparingly but it was clear that he was not about to do that.
We ran out of water at the mine so we were facing an 8 mile hike back above treeline in the blazing sun with no water. Out of desperation I decided to chance it and declared that I was going to refill my hydration bladder out of the stream. I knew I was risking giardia but without sufficient water we would be risking so much more. I filled the bag from a swiftly-moving part of the stream just under a spot where it filtered through some moss.
On the way back, Chester was clearly getting overheated and started to lag behind us on the trail. I frequently gave him cool water and quick breaks but coaxed him along so we could get out of the sun sooner.
When we got back to camp, Chester laid down and didn’t get up for a long time (by boyfriend did too, ha, ha). When I tried to call Chester for dinner, he wouldn’t get out of the tent. I tried to scoot him over by the food bowl but he just took a few limps and stopped. I was panicked that I had pushed him too far and he had hurt his back (something Dachshunds are notorious for)!
I brought the food dish to Chester and started checking him out after he was done eating. I pushed on his spine, and manipulated his little legs, but there were no signs of discomfort. I moved to his paws and that is when I noticed it.
The skin in between his foot pads was red and raw. The poor little guy had gotten some of the hot, sharp shale chips between is pads and they had grated around while he walked, rubbing the skin raw. We had never hiked on that kind of trail surface so it never even crossed my mind that it could be a problem.
I put some salve on his paws but they were still raw in the morning and he didn’t want to walk. I had to carry him out in a little backpack I wore on the front (in addition to carrying my 40 lb backpack).
Looking back on our trip, we remember the good parts and can laugh at the really, really bad mistakes we made. Everything turned out ok in the end so we can chuckle how grumpy my now husband got. We can brag that our 12 lb Dachshund “hiked 16 miles once!” and show our friends the funny pictures of me carrying him out.
My first mistake was me assuming that my newbie-hiker boyfriend was “smart enough” to get what hiking was really like and make his own decisions about the amount of food, water and supplies he needed for an all-day hike in the sun. I should have taken it more seriously and gone over a “checklist” of what we needed to bring so he was better prepared (a nice way to tell him to bring enough stuff without making him feel incompetent).
I also should have paid more attention to Chester’s cues and noticed the raw spots on his feet sooner. I should take precautions next time like clearing the shale from his feed often, trying to get him to wear little booties (although that has been a miserable failure in the past, or try putting Musher’s Secret salve on his feet to help keep things from sticking between the foot pads.
I am glad for the experience because now we know better and can share our mistakes with others so that they can learn from them.
Learn From More Mistakes
Pretty much everyone who has hiked for a long distance or camped in the backcountry has made mistakes in the outdoors too. Join the #STPLive Twitter Chat on Thursday, March 27th at 6 pm EST/3 pm PST to find out what mistakes other people have made. We can laugh together and learn together so that our outdoor adventures are safer and more enjoyable.
I will be there for sure!