Summits: 1380


Everything’s Faster In Dog Years

July 2010


     This is an article about a trip to the summit of Timber Mountain in the San Gabriel mountain range in Southern California.  It is a little surprising that I chose this weekend to write about, it was my easiest overnight trip in years and it had only been 10 days since I returned from a 16-day expedition on Denali, a twenty thousand foot mountain in Alaska which I have yet to write about.  The reason I’m writing about this particular trip is due to the company I had. Meet Jesse, an 8-year old Collie-Sheltie mix:




     Everyone loves Jesse, evident by the attention he receives everywhere he goes. I’ve been around dogs my whole life and I’ve never seen a dog get so much attention and so many compliments. And he loves to hike. Or at least he did. Jesse’s been all over. He’s been to 12500 feet in the Sierra Nevada, and he’s been to the summit of many 9000+ foot mountains in the San Gabriels, sometimes putting 16 miles under his paws in a day and still pulling hard on his leash. But things changed last year when he was diagnosed with doggie arthritis. Jesse lives with my parents and runs regularly with my Mom, but started slowing down due to pain in his paws. He’s since received medication and according to my Mom had improved greatly and was almost back to normal. Jesse has been camping countless times before but I’ve always wanted to take him on an overnight backpacking trip, and I figured I’d better do it sooner rather than later.

     I don’t see Jesse as often anymore, ever since I left for a  job in San Diego many years ago, and I’ve missed him ever since. He was and still is a special part of my life.  I gave him countless hours of special attention when he was young, and his energy when I come to visit lets me know he hasn’t forgotten.  I’ve been told that he gets depressed and mopes around for a day or two after I leave after visiting for a weekend, and when I do visit overnight, he’ll often sneak upstairs and sleep against the guestroom door so I can’t leave without saying goodbye, something only an extra special friend would do.

     The family dog has always been an important part of our immediate family, and before Jesse there was Donder, also a Sheltie. Donder was a Christmas present to my brother and I when I was 7 and my brother was 5. Donder saw me through elementary school, junior high, high school, and most of college, and even now, 10 years after he’s been gone, half o f my life has been spent with him.  When I was 20, I was in a car accident and my car was totaled. Someone had broadsided my pride-and-joy, a red ’67 Mustang that I had poured months and years into. The car had been the focus of my first real hobby, my first sense of real accomplishment, and even though I knew I was lucky to escape with minor injuries I was devastated. Just after the accident, I came home, assured my parents I was alright, and went upstairs to my bedroom to wrap my head around the loss. Donder, who was an extremely obedient dog, broke the rules for the first time. He was never allowed on the carpet, and if you were to pick him up and put him down on the carpet, his little dog head would be full of anxiety until he could make it back onto the tile.  But something happened, somehow Donder was able to sense my loss and it trumped his personal concerns. Face down on the bed, my arm dangling over the edge, I suddenly felt Donder licking my hand, consoling me. I almost couldn’t believe it, how did he know? I could tell he was nervous about being upstairs, but I pet him and he stayed with me until I went to sleep. Now when I think about Donder, this is the one moment that really sticks out, and it ranks right up there with the more emotional moments of my life.  This dog had a heart, and in it was a connection to me, a connection as real as anything.



Donder, the first time I saw him on Christmas morning 1985


     My plan for a weekend with Jesse was to hike up to a place called Kelly Camp in the San Gabriel mountains, a beginner’s backpacking destination with a spring, a rare source of water in these parts.  Jesse had been running around the house like crazy as I was packing my hiking gear and his food and leash. He wouldn’t sit down in the passenger seat of my truck on our hour long drive, and he was practically choking himself trying to get onto the trail as I put my hiking boots on in the parking lot. The first mile winds through Icehouse Canyon, past a group of cabins on a shaded trail above a running stream,  2 more miles would get us to Icehouse Saddle, a viewpoint and trail junction, and a fourth mile would get us to Kelly Camp, easily attainable in less than 2 hours.  The hike is really quite scenic, thick trees filter the sunlight, the sound of the stream echoes off the canyon walls, and often times you can see the city many thousands of feet below. 



Typical trailside views low in Icehouse Canyon


     Jesse pulled hard the first mile, not so hard the 2ndmile, and by mile 3 was not the Jesse I knew. He slowed down, hung his head, and even let me pass him which he never used to do. The temps weren’t too bad and most of the trail was shaded, so I don’t think it was too hot but I couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong. I thoroughly checked Jesse’s paws for any damage, but they looked good. He’d always had strong paws from hiking and jogging on the pavement with my Mom since he was 2 years old.  Before Jesse and I left the house, my Mom mentioned that she had forgotten to give him his full dose of arthritis medicine, he gets a full dose for active days and half doses on other days, and I wonder if that’s why he was slowing down. I debated heavily on whether we should turn back or not. We were closer to camp than to the car, and I had a full dose of his medicine to give him the next day, which would be all downhill. I decided we would continue on unless Jesse got worse, and I’d let him set the pace, hoping that my personal reasons for being out there weren’t clouding my judgment.  I paid close attention to his movements, and he stayed behind me but never to the point of the leash pulling tight. We took lots of breaks and I gave Jesse lots of water, he easily drinks more than I do. Did I mention that he drinks from my Camelbak? I usually just squeeze open the end of my hydration tube and shoot the water directly into his mouth until he’s had enough. Always impresses fellow hikers.



One of the cabins in the first mile of the hike


     We stopped at the last known water spot before we got up to the saddle, I filled our bottles and watched Jesse fill his belly with cool mountain water directly from the stream. Another 15 minutes or so upwards, and then an easy almost level mile to camp and we would be able to rest the entire night. We arrive at the saddle about 5pm, and I wonder if Jesse recognizes it. He’d been there twice before, once on a hike to Cucamonga Peak, and another time on our way to Bighorn and Ontario peaks.  Giving Jesse a much deserved break before pushing on to Kelly Camp, I strike up a conversation with someone coming from that direction. I asked where he’d hiked and if he walked through Kelly Camp. “Lots of people at Kelly Camp”, he said, “15-20.” Wow, I had thought maybe a few people would be there at most, but Kelly Camp wasn’t looking like it was going to be the experience I was hoping for. I quickly came up with another solution, the summit of Timber Mountain.  The summit of Timber Mountain (more like a rounded hill on top of a gentle ridge) was the same distance as Kelly Camp from where we were, with a few hundred feet of extra gain. It promised better views and seclusion and I’m not sure why I didn’t think of that before, the only downside being that there was no water there. I did some math – It hadn’t been that long since I filled our bottles and I had almost a gallon on me.  I needed about three quarters of a liter to make my dinner and breakfast, plus a little extra for coffee (a luxury I rarely bring). And normally I’d drink a liter and a half or more throughout the night, but I did pack in a tall can of beer, a 1sttime luxury that may not help to rehydrate me but should help to alleviate some of my thirst.  A half liter in the morning for the hike down to refill our bottles  would be nice also, but without sacrifices Jesse wouldn’t have enough to drink tonight and that was unacceptable. Certainly I could skip the coffee and even my breakfast, and I could refrain from rehydrating tonight if need be. Waking up dehydrated in the morning was better than going to Kelly Camp and I certainly wasn’t going to ration water to Jesse.  I promised that I’d let Jesse drink all he wanted and I’d just deal, it was the least I could do after dragging him up here.



Jesse grabbing a belly full


     Hiking above the saddle and getting off of the crowded lower trail, and late in the day, it was safe to take Jesse off the leash where I could really gauge his pace. He stayed behind me but reluctantly kept up. I felt terrible.  “Almost there,” I told him. He hates letting me out of his sight, and at one point when I rounded a corner around some trees and thick brush, he sprinted to keep me in sight which made me feel better, that he had the energy to do that. Soon enough we arrived at the wooded summit, and I saw a nice flat spot protected by trees about 50 feet down and a few hundred feet behind Timber Mountain’s high point. This would be our camp.



Hiking above Icehouse Saddle 



The summit of Timber Mountain



Jesse at camp


     I put out Jesse’s food along with a half liter of water, and he quickly consumed half of each.  I pitched the tent and made my dinner, finding a nice rock near camp to sit on to enjoy the view. After the last leg of the hike, dinner, and the water Jesse just drank, I was down to just over a liter and a half of water. I thought I’d have more but it was still enough for Jesse so I wasn’t too concerned. After dinner, I carried my can of beer and some snacks back up to the actual summit to watch the sunset, and Jesse quickly followed. There wasn’t really a good place for Jesse to sit up there, small sharp rocks and loose dirt covered the summit, and Jesse didn’t seem all that comfortable. I went back down to the tent, yelling at Jesse to stay to save him a trip back and forth, and grabbed the bath towel I had brought for Jesse’s bed. I laid it out and folded it over, a nice cushioned spot for Jesse to sit down and relax. He came over and laid on the sharp rocks next to the towel. Huh. I stared into the setting sun from the top of an 8000 ft mountain that we had to ourselves, and wondered what I would do without moments like this. Jesse didn’t seem to notice. Usually he’d be running around sniffing everything and checking the sights, but tonight he was tired and uninterested. I enjoyed Jesse’s company and the view for another 30 minutes before I decided to call it an early night. I refilled his water dish until he wouldn’t drink any more, leaving us with three quarters of a liter. No water for me tonight, but I wasn’t too thirsty anyhow.   I made Jesse a bed and convinced him that the tent was our friend and that it was safe to come inside, and after some confused exploration he beat me to sleep.



Debating on whether to follow me while I grab his towel



Sunset from the top of Timber Mountain



Jesse on his way to bed


     Just before sunrise, Jesse stood up and started pawing at the door of the tent. I let him out thinking he had to pee, he’d had over 4 liters of water since yesterday afternoon and hadn’t gone yet but he just didn’t really like the tent and had regained enough energy to voice his concerns. He curled up on the dirt in front of the tent; I hadn’t put the rainfly down so I could keep my eye on him through the thin mesh. Just when I was wondering how he was feeling,  he bolted, hopping logs and barking violently, and I just barely got out of the tent quickly enough to see a deer running for its life down the hillside. Well, I guess we’re getting up early, but I was stoked that Jesse seemed to be feeling fine. I poured Jesse some water and decided that we had enough left to make some relatively dry instant grits for my breakfast along with half a cup of coffee. We both ate, enjoying a quiet early morning hour as the sun was just barely poking through the trees.



  Just after sunrise



Great early morning scenery


     I packed up and we started hiking down, leaving Jesse off the leash. He stayed about 50 feet in front of me, being careful not to let me out of his sight, but he was blazing the trail like he used to. Well, almost. He checked often to see if I was behind him, way more often than normal. Every time I would stop, to take photos or anything, he would stop, and if I didn’t start moving again quickly, he would walk back to me and stand at my side and make eye contact, afraid that I might go another way and leave him. His dependency was overwhelming and up here in the early morning light it was slightly emotional, the way he would look at me, completely reliant. He has been humbled over the years.



“Are you coming?”



Checking to make sure I’m still there…



And again…



“Can we go now?”


     The setting was the most peaceful I’d ever experienced in the San Gabriels, so early and the air so clear, and not a sound other than the perfect chirping of a few birds. I didn’t drink any of our water, and I offered what little we had left to Jesse often. It got us down to the closest water source where we filled up and took a long break before continuing. I put down a liter myself right away, a good feeling to be able to drink as much as I wanted again, and the water was extra tasty. I had to put Jesse back on his leash about halfway down, the crowds would be coming. And then he slowed. Not terribly at first but his burst of energy was gone.  After another 20 minutes and about a mile left, Jesse began to hike behind me and started to sulk a little. I had to hike very slowly in order to not pull the leash tight, and I felt terrible again. I hoped that none of the many hikers passing by would notice and think I was an awful dog owner.  I checked his paws again but found nothing. I again gave Jesse plenty of water and breaks, easy to do with all the hikers coming up and wanting to pet him, some admittedly using him as an excuse to stop and catch their breath. The parking lot couldn’t come soon enough. I’d actually developed a blister about halfway down, and it was pretty painful by this time. I actually liked that it was painful, I figured if Jesse was in pain I should be too and that maybe I deserved it. We slowly made it onto the pavement and then to the truck, where I put the tailgate down to create shade and put his towel down for him while I packed up.  I picked Jesse up and put him in the cab, and I tried to read his face to see whether he thought the trip was worth it or not. I pet him often and savored the drive home, possibly from our last backpacking adventure together.  I still think there’s a good possibility that this was just an off day(s) for Jesse. Since the trip he’s been back to his normal jogging schedule (over 10 miles per week) without a hiccup, and he was still happy to see me the last time I was up there  (he has actually shown dissatisfaction with me before, when I came to visit after I first moved away). Perhaps a short hike will be in order soon…and if not, we both have some pretty good memories of being out on the trail…



 Near Mt. Whitney, October 2003



Mt. Whitney, October 2003



The Devil’s Backbone (Mt. Baldy), July 2005



The Devil’s Backbone (Mt. Baldy), July 2005



The Devil’s Backbone (Mt. Baldy), July 2005



Cheating on the ski lift (Mt. Baldy), July 2005



Tent testing @home, 2004



The summit of Cucamonga Peak, October 2007



 The summit of Cucamonga Peak, October 2007


Update – I received this email from my Dad on Sep 23, 2010:

Dear Benj and Nick,
Today Jesse went to the vet and had x-rays. He was under anesthesia for about an hour and Mom and I got to watch Dr. Evans do the treatment. He also had his teeth deep cleaned while under anesthesia. Dr. Evans had guessed that he had a degenerative bone disease and that’s what he has. It’s called canine hip dysplasia. Here’s an article about it. In everything else he is in very good condition.
He needs three things: medicine (which he’s already taking but now he’ll get more of it); long and easy walks on level ground the way mom does already; and weight loss. He has to lose ten pounds. But no more mountain climbing. Sad.
After I picked him up at the vet, he lay on the floor all day and didn’t perk up until about 8 p.m. when he got his first food in 24 hours; I made him scrambled eggs and cheese. Now he runs around and barks as usual.

Love, Dad