Thursday, July 4, 2013

Losing Bear

My favorite hiking buddy is four-legged.  Bear has been my faithful trail companion for nearly 10 years.  There's nothing that dog likes more than bounding down a forested path.  In all the years I've hiked with him, Bear has always stuck with me like glue.  That is, until one fateful day in early June.

My hiking buddy

Those of you who've followed my blog for awhile know one of my goals is to complete every trail in Sullivan's "100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon" book.  I'm down to about 10 left, and hope to finally finish this year.

Perusing my book for a new early June hike, I came upon the Trapper Creek Trail in Southwest Washington.  A rugged wilderness area just 15 miles north of the Columbia River Gorge, this looked like a great choice.

This trail has many options.  The ambitious can hike the entire 14.6-mile loop, gaining 3200 feet in elevation.  Or you can create an out-and-back hike in the distance of your choosing.  My goal was the small waterfall at Hidden Creek, a little over 4 miles in.

One of the many trail signs

At the trailhead, Bear excitedly bounded out of my car.  He romped down the trail and turned around as if to say "C'mon mom - let's go!"  Camera in hand, I followed my dog down the well-graded path.

The woods were in full spring greenery.  Lush ferns carpeted the forest floor, and small white flowers bloomed in places.  Large mushrooms sprouted from the bark of ancient trees.  A few small creeks interrupted the path, which meant some minor rock-hopping.  Every once and awhile I'd spot an old handmade trail sign, complete with fancy lettering (great photo subjects).  I dawdled down the trail, stopping frequently to photograph whatever caught my eye.

"C'mon mom, let's go!"

Two miles in, the trail became rougher.  There were a few blow-down trees to climb over, and lots of roots sticking through the tread.  I had to really watch my step.  The path also roller-coastered up and down to a canyon bottom, sometimes rather steeply.  At the bottom, Trapper Creek intermittently appeared through gaps in the underbrush.  Huge, mossy Douglas Fir trees towered high above.

After passing a sign for the Sunshine Trail, Bear and I came to a small log footbridge, spanning the waters of Hidden Creek.  Although expecting a waterfall, the "falls" were so tiny I don't feel it qualified.  Still this was a beautiful, idyllic spot, a perfect goal for the day.  After some self-portrait attempts, I deemed it time to turn around - my feet and legs were getting tired.

Huge fungi

Back down the same path Bear and I rambled.  We stopped to admire a huge rotting tree whose bark was falling off in chunks and piling at its base.  I snapped a photo, and Bear took off down the trail. 

I began walking behind my doggy.  On the move several minutes later, I realized I hadn't seen Bear since the rotten tree.  I started calling his name as I moved forward.  No response.  A couple more minutes passed with no sign of Bear.  Hmmmm......this was not like him at all.  He should've checked in by now.

Bright green new leaves

I kept on hiking, thinking Bear had run ahead, and I'd see him tearing back towards me any minute.  But after a half mile with no sightings, I knew something was wrong.  I stood and debated.  Should I go back and retrace my steps?  Or keep going forward and hope he was waiting at the car?  In the end, I decided to turn around and backtrack to the rotten tree - the last place I remembered seeing Bear.

Peekaboo between two large trees

I hiked all the way back to the tree, calling Bear's name as I went.  No luck.  Now I was really starting to get concerned.  What to do now?  Thinking that maybe he was spooked by something and ran to the car, I decided to head for the trailhead.

Lush green forest

On my return trip, the longer I traveled without seeing Bear, the more concerned I became.  This was not like him to be gone so long.  Bear is a very loyal dog and usually stays close to his family.  Did something happen to him?  A wild animal attack?  Was he hurt?  Bear is an old dog, over 11 years in age.  Did he have a doggy heart attack and keel over?  Lots of awful scenarios played in my head.  I thought "I don't want to lose him this way.  He still has at least a couple of years left in him."

About halfway to the car, I met a couple hiking in the opposite direction.  I asked if they'd seen a black and white dog.  The couple replied no, but mentioned they had come in from a different trail.  I whipped out my camera, showed them the last two photos I'd taken of Bear, and gave the man my cell phone number.  They wished me luck and we went our separate ways.

Lovely flower

I arrived at the trailhead, footsore and tired.  And found no dog waiting at my car.  Oh no!  Tears began to roll down my face.  Where could he be?

There was no cell phone service at the trailhead.  Pondering what to do, I scribbled a makeshift "lost dog" notice on the back of an envelope and taped it to the trailhead sign.  Then I jumped in my car and drove the 15 miles to Carson, WA, the first town with cell service.  Once in town, I pulled over at the first convenience store and immediately called Roger.  When Roger answered, I broke down, sobbing "Something terrible has happened.  I lost Bear."

I really liked the older trail signs

By then it was past four o'clock in the afternoon.  Roger said he'd come out and help me look but was at least an hour and a half drive away.  Since I was much closer, he told me I needed to go back down the trail and look for Bear before it got dark.  Roger told me, "You owe that to him."

My hubby's words jolted me into action.  I hopped in my car and roared back to the trailhead.  Upon arrival, I returned my tired and sore feet into boots, attempted to lighten the backpack load by leaving most of my photography equipment, and grabbed a small flashlight from my car.  I took off down the trail as fast as my weary body would go, in a adrenaline-fueled power hike.

Crossing one of the many small footbridges

By now I was convinced something terrible had happened to my dog.  I went through cycles of denial followed by tears.  Again, many horrible scenarios flooded through my head.  I thought for sure I'd find his cold, broken body curled up somewhere in the woods.  I just hoped I could locate him before dark.

And crossing one of the many small creeks

Then, about two miles in, I ran into the same couple I'd met hiking out.  They excitedly told me, "We saw your dog!  We tried to catch him, but he ran away.  He's looking for you."

My heart leapt with joy.  Bear was alive!  The man told me the approximate location he'd last seen Bear was near Hidden Creek, where I'd turned around on my first hike in.  I was very grateful for the information, as I'd intended to comb the woods closer to the rotten tree, and wasn't planning to venture that far.

Self portrait at Hidden Creek

Off I went, clambering over the rooty, bumpy trail as fast as my tired legs would go.  Every couple of yards I'd stop and yell Bear's name as loud as I could.  I kept hoping to see my dog burst out of the woods. 

I passed the rotten tree and the Sunshine Trail.  Still no sign of Bear.  I was approaching Hidden Creek, the farthest point I'd hiked earlier in the day.  I thought to myself "What if I get to Hidden Creek and still don't see him? Should I continue farther down the trail?"  I saw the wooden footbridge up ahead.  My heart sank.  No dog.

But as I crested the final rise before dropping down to the creek, I noticed something curled up next to the bridge.  Lying in the middle of the  trail, looking very forlorn, was Bear. 

Heading back

I couldn't believe my eyes.  I cried out Bear's name.  He groggily raised his head.  At first it didn't register and he stared at me.  Then the tail started wagging, and soon Bear was engulfed in a full body wiggle.  I grabbed him in a hug, and weeping tears of joy, sunk my face into the thick fur around his neck.  Bear responded by covering my face with doggy kisses.

The last photo I took of Bear before I lost him

Not wanting to lose him again, I slapped a leash on Bear, and began the long, trek back out for the second time that day.  After a mile of walking, I ran into Roger coming the opposite direction.  He was happy to see Bear and I reunited.

Oh, the rest of the hike out was such a slog.  My legs were feeling the effects of hiking the same trail twice.  When we finally reached the trailhead, the sky was beginning to get dark.  Wearily taking my boots off for the second time, I realized I'd hiked over 16 miles and climbed a couple thousand feet in elevation.  No wonder my body ached.  But it was worth it, I'd found my dog.

Silly doggy grin

I'm really not sure how Bear and I get separated in the first place.  The only thing I could think of is that Bear left the trail for a moment, I hiked by, and Bear returned to the trail and, thinking I was still lagging behind, ran back in the opposite direction.

Bear happily sank into the blankets I had piled in the back of my car.  He was as tired an hungry as I was.  Making plans to stop at the convenience store in Carson, I decided Bear deserved a big box of doggie treats. 

But before leaving, I walked back to the trailhead, and with great satisfaction, removed my "lost dog" notice from the sign.


  1. What beautiful photos and such a heartwarming story about Bear. I am so glad you found him. He has such a precious face. My heart dropped when you said you lost him...I didn't peek ahead to see the outcome. I hiked through your words 'til you found him. :)

  2. So relieved that this post had a joyful ending!!! Such a beautiful dog and the love and respect you have for each other shines through in your photography and words.

  3. So glad to see bear was found and ok. I was prepared for a much sadder post

  4. A sad story with a happy ending. It doesn't get any better than that.

  5. Oh man, wish you titled this "Losing Bear with a Happy Ending." I wouldn't have cried all the way through it. I love Bear and all I've ever seen is pictures. Curious as to how this will effect future hiking with Bear!

  6. Oh Linda - thank God for your happy ending. You had me in tears thinking you had lost Bear. I can just imagine the terror you felt. We lost our little Petey for an hour when he was a puppy and I was frantic.

    Do you have a whistle that you carry with you? If not, you should get one and train Bear to come when you blow it. The sound travels much further than your voice will.

  7. Oh Linda, you almost did me in with this post. I am a BIG dog lover and from the look of things, I thought we were headed down the path to a very sad, tear filled ending...
    I am SO glad you found your beautiful Bear:)

  8. I'm so happy Bear was ok! Oh my goodness, I was getting so scared. I can't imagine what you were feeling. On top of being physically exhausted too. Bear is such a cute dog and I'm so thankful that you found him!

  9. Oh I am so glad you found Bear! I know what it is like to have an aging dog that is your baby. My poor dog Beau is the same age as Bear but in too poor health to hike with me any longer. I hope you enjoy a nice relaxing weekend now. Sounds like you need it!

  10. I'll be honest - I didn't want to keep reading because I wouldn't been able to take a bad ending. I am SO HAPPY you found him! I don't know what I would have done in that situation - you handled it much better than I would have.

  11. I'm so glad you found him! I was really worried he was gone when I started reading!

  12. Little Socks is my faithful hiking companion, I can't imagine losing him like that. I'm glad you found Bear!

  13. Whew! I'm glad you were reunited! What a scary experience!

  14. This was hard to read, we always camp with our dogs and I would be frantic for sure . Glad it was a happy ending ,,,whew !

  15. Oh what trauma! So glad you were reunited.

  16. Oh gosh, I had tears in my eyes while reading this post. My worst nightmare...losing my dog! I am SO happy you found him.

  17. Wow this post really touched me. We recently lost our family dog. Very sad, especially for my parents as all us kids have now moved away. Thanks for sharing.

  18. What a great story with wonderful photos and thanks goodness a very happy favorite kind..:))))

  19. You had me the edge of my seat for this post, Linda! It's my worst fear losing my dog, and I felt your desperation. Very well written! I'm glad and relieved your story had a happy ending. Good boy, Bear! :)


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