Friday, April 23, 2010

Anything Caney Can Do, I Can Do Better... Colvin told me after our trip to New Hampshire. I reminded him that he had only hiked in the snow and that Caney was probably the best rock climbing canine I'd ever seen.

Two weekends ago was Colvin's first entirely dirt/rock hike up little Buck Mountain on Lake George. The 6 mile hike was technically about as easy as hikes get, with at most some rooted wet trail, but mostly soft dirt and duff. I've actually lobbied to have it renamed Cinderella Mountain since it's directly across Shelving Brook from Sleeping Beauty Mountain. Regardless, other than sore paws from the previous weekend on the granular snow, followed by a 10 mile walk week, and then 4 miles of roller blading on Sunday, Colvin did just fine.

This past weekend we did a creek bushwhack along Stony Creek and Tenant Falls on Saturday, and Sunday we went to Crane Mountain.

Crane Mountain is a favorite mountain of mine. It's not far from home via the pleasant to drive winding backroads, it's a fairly short circuitous route with multiple options, and an easy bushwhack up a second summit (also with excellent views). And of course it's mildly technical in a few isolated sections, while much of the middle section of trail is a fairly rugged vertical streambed boulder hop. The summit of Crane has some of the best views in all of the Adirondacks, and the
mountain is covered in steep vertical cliffs that yield rock and ice climbing routes of all difficulties. Crane Mountain Pond is also one of the highest altitude bodies of water of substantial size within the Adirondacks.

Crane Mountain is easily Colvin's first technical rock hike. There are several very steep sections requiring great care for human hikers with some use of hands. There are also two ladders, the first is about 5 feet high, and the second is about 15-20 feet.

The difference right now between Caney and Colvin as trail dogs is that Caney was very pragmatic about problem solving even at a young age. He was a very good athlete, but just like human climbers, often the best athlete isn't the best climber. Climbing is about problem solving, it's a puzzle with a little gravity thrown in for good measure. Colvin is a superior athlete, but like novice climbers with great athletic skill, he thinks he can power through everything.

On the first very steep technical section, which required using our human hands, Colvin attempted to just jump up and into the overhanging sloped boulders. The result was not so good! He lost his footing and fell several feet, luckily he didn't hurt himself. I lowered the rope to Aimee, she clipped him in, and I hauled him up.

I was certainly hoping for him to flash that first technical section, but it's very easy for me to forget that Caney wasn't necessarily a natural climber, he did take a while to get the confidence to climb challenging terrain better than many humans. Colvin already displays confidence and comfort on the trail, but he definitely lacks the learned skills of technical climbing.

Last Sunday, before we left for Crane, Aim had tweaked her back but was going to give hiking a shot. By the time we'd hiked for a little ways she realized while it was awkard ascending, going down over the rough trail was really going to be agonizing. I wanted to get Colvin as much time out as possible, perhaps even try the first ladder, so Colvin and I hiked up and additional 10 minutes to get past the next 2 hard sections.

Of the two hard sections, the first is a 15 foot fairly steep (near vertical) wall with some lower angled ramping paired with good foot and hand holds, while the second is a 5 foot ladder.

Colvin didn't have any problems on the vertical wall going up or down, but to my surprise, he was surprisingly accepting at giving the ladder a shot. I thought this was odd since he didn't even want to go up the steep loft stairs at Grey Knob. Hopefully this is just a sign of his growing confidence on the trail as he gets more experience.

In any case, he ended up trying to "dyno" the ladder in a few quick bounds, rather than climb it. The result of course was a dog missing the rungs and getting stuck. Thankfully (and unlike Caney) he does tend to listen when he is stressed or excited. I told him to stay, and he relaxed without panicking and throwing himself off the ladder (believe me, if it was Caney he'd never have calmed down). I was able to then give him a boost from above via his Ruff Wear Web Master harness.

The good news of course is he definitely has the desire to climb the ladder, and honestly, Caney was at least a few years old before he willingly climbed his first ladder. It wasn't till he was well aged that he would climb them without prompting. For Colvin to not hesitate is a promising first step. I'm sure as he gets a bit more trail savy, and learns to "climb" up obstacles through problem solving rather than brute force, he will do just fine. When you consider Colvin's progress, it is very impressive considering he has barely hiked 40 mountain trail miles, and only 8 total over only rock/dirt.

I always get a kick when I notice most dog training books consider hiking a non competitive K9 activity, I have to disagree. If you take your dog on challenging trails, it becomes equally competitive as the sport of human rock climbing. Bearing in mind that even if your dog is an agility champion, only you are aware of this achievement. On the flip side, your dog always knows the satisfaction of completing a tough section of trail and continuing on the hike, which then makes the hike itself a continuous reward.


  1. Good on Colvin! He might have beat Caney to the ladder, but I've yet to see Colvin pull of a Blue Steel like Caney did :-)

  2. It would be awesome if on one of your hikes you could video Colvin doing some of these climbs! The stair climbing looks so friggin' neat!

  3. Well, I actually wanted video on a DSLR precisely for the reason of video in these situations.

    Colvin isn't quite there yet, and Pentax didn't quite give me video editing capabilities. So it will be a while, but rest assured, there will eventually be video!

  4. Well that's something you don't see every day.