Lost in the Kettle River Range

It’s difficult to imagine hiking without my hairy beast, a lab-boxer dog named Rosco (P. Coltrane). Rosco’s enthusiasm for trail running, hiking, swimming, and a preference for powder skiing makes him my perfect trail partner. I find his hairs in everything: embedded in my fleece, in peanut butter sandwiches and all over my car. I dread the day that stops. All dog lovers are privy to these short and passionate lives of the domestic canine, and our only hope is that when they pass on, they leave us doing something they love.

Summer solstice was a hot Saturday, and the trail from Trout Lake to Emerald Lake in Hoodoo Canyon was busy by northeast Washington standards, as we encountered a whopping 10 hikers. My sister Amiee and I set out that day toting her children Addy and Aurora – 30 pound twin toddlers – on our backs. Our hiking posse was complete with Amiee’s long-time trail partner, Tanner the yellow husky, and my buddy Rosco.

Hoodoo Canyon is astounding, featuring long drops to the canyon’s bottom, a rugged landscape with glacially carved rock outcroppings, an extensive variety of wild flowers, and a majesty of trees. The topography is unique to the wise and wild hills of the Kettle River Range. Moose, birds, and the occasional moo-cow make these hills their home. This is the ultimate dog playground, harboring a variety of smells, things to chase and caves to crawl into.

I like to adventure in places where my dog can be a dog, and this trail is furry beast friendly. Yet a poignant sadness overcame us on this journey, as Amiee’s canine companion didn’t make it back from this vast playground for four-legged friends. We don’t know what happened. He was there and within moments he disappeared. Movement and searchability were limited with children on our backs. Panic rose as we yelled for Tanner, his name bouncing uncannily back at us from the Hoodoo Canyon walls.

Tanner, a 12-year-old Alaskan Native, had plenty of strength, a go-go gadget nose for scents, dignified manners and a passion for chasing. Like many dogs his age, he thought he was still a young stud, pushing himself to exhaustible limits. “We should have had him on a leash,” and “If only we had kept him behind us instead of up front,” were futile expressions of guilt over losing Tanner. Hikers we met along the way vowed to look for him, but none had seen either hide-nor-hair.

Tanner’s disappearing act wasn’t just one chapter in his life, but a regular event in the story of his life pursuits. My brother-in-law, Paul, says that Tanner’s fate was sealed. It is one of many times his husky spirit had driven him to chase a scent; it’s just who Tanner was. Despite his age, Tanner’s last days were laden with adventures. Chasing this dog around led his human peers to find him neck deep in un-pleasant places and predicaments such as nasty deer carcasses. That’s a dog for you.

As a family, we searched for Tanner and became well acquainted with Hoodoo Canyon over the next week. Through the bushwhacks, trail runs, and mountain biking, we developed respect for the wild features unique to northeast Washington. We were humbled by the gnarly terrain while venturing off trail, and denied access by cliff faces and boulder fields. The rose petal covered path to Emerald Lake became my new favorite run as I was seduced by flowery scents, gorgeous sights and a soothing dry breeze. A most sensual experience worthy of future visits, and a bittersweet discovery.

While visiting with Carol and Erik, hikers we met during the search, they expressed a special sensitivity to the pending loss of Tanner. Their elderly dog circled the Trout Lake campsite as we talked dog stories by the fire. The human-canine relationship seems unlikely at first glance. We hang out with these shaggy creatures so different from people, yet who possess a virtuous superiority over us humans. We quietly agreed that our furry friends motivate us in ways that teach us love, play and living the moment.

At the end of our searching, a visit to Trout Lake inspired a prayer song inherent of hope and asking. With Rosco by my side, the circling ravens above us became a part of the song as I played my Native American flute. Hauntingly, the voice of the flute was carried by pond ripples and echoed through canyon walls as it became a tribute to the journey of life.

Tanner inspired years of exploration for Amiee and Paul. Though we never found him, we hope he spent his last day doing what he loved best, playing in the mountains. Tanner’s passionate life led him to rest in the summer flowers, his spirit a permanent voice whispering a story of quest and mystery in Hoodoo Canyon. Well done dog, a life loved and lived to the extreme. // (Katie LeBlanc)

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