Scared shitless, that would be a good way to describe this. Of course, you are thinking, why the hell would you torment your dog. No, I was scared shitless. Looking down at my harness was a clusterfuck (a climbing term for a mess or log jam) of epic proportions. The only other time my belay loop/tie in point has ever been that busy was while aid climbing. The big difference between this and aiding, Colvin isn't aiders or a haul bag.
I'd planned this day for a while, starting back last Autumn when I re-purchased the Ruffwear Doubleback technical harness. Petzl used to make such a harness, for a fair price at that, then one day they stopped. A fairly recent addition to the Ruff Wear catalog, the Doubleback is the only harness not designed specifically for the needs of search and rescue or SWAT dogs. It's designed to be worn at all times, with hide-away leg loops and a strength rated tie-in point. It's basically a recreational climbing harness for your dog. In theory you could use it as a standard trail harness, but the chest pad and need to "double back" the threaded straps would make it highly inconvenient, and possibly uncomfortable for the dog. Colvin wears his only when I think I might need to rope or haul him.
We used the harness a few times this winter on semi technical terrain, and also hoisted Colvin in it to test the fit and rigging. Outdoors we used it in the Northern Presidential's, on terrain that is often underestimated by novice mountaineers and experienced hikers alike. If the terrain calls for an ice axe and crampons, roping the dog should be a serious consideration. While SAR comes out pretty quickly for humans, I'd prefer not to find out they won't come to rescue a dog. So being extra cautious is important. With this in mind, I practiced short rope techniques with Colvin on a short rope belay. The short rope wasn't really needed due to the conditions not being as snow covered as potentially possible. Still, it was good opportunity to test and refine a technique for more technical terrain when necessary.
I'd taken Caney, my previous trail dog, on the North-South Arapaho traverse (class 3-4/5.0) and up and down various glaciated peaks via snow climbs and scrambles around Lake Isabelle and Triangle Lake in the Indian Peaks; on Central Gully on Mount Washington (WI2, mostly snow), and on various slides, slabs and 4th class scrambles in the Adirondacks. So I know these dogs are capable of going places many choose not to take a dog, but I also know this all comes with a greater responsibility on me. Not only am I responsible for myself, I am also responsible for the dog on very challenging terrain. Practicing under controlled circumstances is the best way to assure everyone is safe.
My ideal test place for our first rappel was someplace quiet, secluded, without other climbers. Also preferred was a slightly overhanging face or a free hanging rappel, with high fixed or natural anchors at the top. The Gunks would have done the rock portion of my requirements quite nicely but finding solitude isn't always easy. There was a good chance Colvin would be squeaking and squealing, which he did, as we went over the lip of the cliff. The last thing I wanted to deal with was the cacophony of beta spewing climbers giving unhelpful advice.
|Petzl Stop. Image: Petzl.com|
|Petz Rack. Image: Petzl.com|