Education from the Mt washington ski patrol.
At about a quarter to five on Saturday, I called over to Dave, the AMC caretaker, to see if he was coming over for the traditional springtime spaghetti dinner. During the call he asked if Iíd seen the dog stuck up high in the Lip area. Sure enough, through the binoculars from the cabin I saw a large dog being slowly lead downslope by someone on foot. It was slow going. The man appeared to be having some difficulty kicking solid steps into the crusty snow. He would go a few feet down, then would coax the dog down. Every so often the dog would try to climb back uphill. The dog certainly wasnít a willing participant in the downclimbing effort. Watching this from the cabin window was captivating. Like a bad reality TV show, I just couldnít pull myself away from watching.
Before the duo had made much progress, I saw them begin to fall. At first it looked like they might be able to recover and simply slide down the slope, but after about a hundred vertical feet they started to tumble. The dog accelerated more quickly than the man, and before long was tumbling, fully laid out like a gymnast doing back handsprings.
Iíve seen hundreds, if not thousands of people take that same fall, most of them stand up and walk away. In ten years of working up here, Iíve never seen a dog take a fall quite like Saturdayís (though I wasnít here for Tyrol the dog falling over the cliff in the Lip in 2012.) I had thought there was nobody else in the ravine at that time late in the day, so with the potential for an injured person and a dog, I asked our volunteer ski patrol to stand by, grabbed my pack, and started quickly up the trail. Truth be told, I was less concerned about the person as I was about the dog. Having seen the fall, I expected to see the person in good shape but an unconscious dog.
As it turns out, both man and dog were uninjured. When I got there, they were beginning to ski out. I caught them in time to hear the story. It turns out that there were two skiers. The first skier down went with the dog, through the steepest section of the route. At some point the dog slipped, and then ran back up through the steep section above past the other skier who was skiing down but near the top. The lower skier took his skis off and headed back up to the dog to help it come down. This was where the situation was when I began to watch the event unfold.
Unfortunately, this type of event is not uncommon here in the springtime. We often have a variety of dog safety and related issues in Tuckerman Ravine.
Cuts to dog paws or legs from skiers or snowboarders are the most common reason for dog evacuations. Some dogs have the herding instinct and like to get close to the heels of a skier or tips of skis. Dogs donít know the danger in being run over by a ski or board, and are not likely to know enough to stay away from sharp edges.
In some snow conditions, dogs can also get snow balled up inside the pads of their feet, which can be incredibly painful and debilitating. It can lead to bleeding, and it can cause your dog to want to lie down and go nowhere. If you see this happening, remove the ice balls and consider turning back to the trailhead while your dog is still willing to walk. Cutting the dogs fur very short between its pads, and some commercial paw products can help.
Dogs in excessively steep terrain is another common safety issue. All dogs are different, but there are some commonalities, one of which is that itís far easier for a dog to climb up a slope than to climb down. This is often the case for humans as well, but as bipeds we have the ability to face into the slope or away from it, or to traverse when needed. Dogs only know how to go downhill one wayóface first. This makes it tough for them to maintain the balance needed to go down slowly.
Snow conditions and slope angle are the factors that drive whether or not a dog can actually descend the slope. In hard snow or very steep terrain, at some point your dog will reach a point where it will only climb, and wonít descend. If the dog isnít showing a willingness to go down, consider taking a different route that is less steep. Whether or not this is the way you want to go down should not be a consideration. If you brought the dog up do what you need to so that it can get down safely.
Dogs often get separated from their owners. Some that do this end up following other skiers up a route looking for their owner. See the bullet point above for what happens next, but add to it the fact that someone else usually has to change his or her plans to help the dog get down the slope. There always seems to be a kind hearted person who takes this on, despite it not being their responsibility. A leash is the best way to keep your dog under control; other things that help are keeping your dog in sight and appointing someone from your party to watch the dog while you climb up and ski down. If you lose your dog, contact a Snow Ranger, the AMC caretaker, or Pinkham staff to let us know whatís going on. Weíll do what we can to help locate the dog, but ultimately itís your responsibility to find your dog.
Like people, dogs get tired. They just canít really speak up about it. That doesnít mean there arenít signs of fatigue that you can recognize. Frequently lying down and resting is a good sign that your dog is getting tired. If you find yourself needing to pull on the leash to get him up and walking, thatís a great sign that youíve got an exhausted dog that needs to rest and head back to the car. We see this more with dogs that donít spend a lot of time hiking, but fit dogs can also get tired in poor snow conditions (e.g. postholing).
Other dog issues
Want everyone in the bowl to be angry with you? Leave your unattended dog tied up in the floor of the ravine barking for hours while youíre out having fun is a sure way to do this. Unless you know for sure that your dog is not going to do this, keep someone with the dog at all times.
Not all dogs are perfectly friendly, and not all people like dogs. Donít be surprised if your sweet canine running around gets attacked by an aggressive dog. While we would love to see only well-socialized dogs here, thatís often not the case. You can blame the other dog or dog owner, but you can also avoid the problem by keeping your dog on a leash. Also remember that some people just donít like dogs and others are terribly afraid of them. Your dog, sweet as it may be, might be intimidating to others, so this is yet another reason to keep it under control.
Some dogs have been known to steal food from people and packs. Itís in everyoneís best interest to not leave food unattended, but itís also the responsibility of the dog owner to make sure their dog doesnít snatch food from others. Once again, keeping your dog on leash or under control is the solution to this.
Finally, all dogs have to relieve themselves once in a while. If they defecate on the trail, at minimum you should shovel it off into the woods. Dogs also been known to mark their territory right onto another personís backpack. You can probably imagine the problems that can cause.
Most of us working up here really love dogs. We especially enjoy seeing well socialized, non-begging dogs that can run up and down the mountain, never bark or bite, poop in the woods, and stay at their ownerís side when standing and 20í back from skis when moving. Rarely are dogs good at all of this, so it ultimately falls onto the owner to be responsible for their dog at all times. If you arenít sure of your dogís ability in the mountains, be conservative until you learn. Pay attention to what your dog is telling you and youíll prevent many issues before they emerge. And always bring a leash, even if you donít need to use it all the time.