23 November ~2012
Snow level in the high country has been minimal so far, which has allowed me to continue hiking and backpacking up near timberline.
A few weeks ago me and the dogs went off trail to the grove of old Bristlecone Pine I found last summer. I stayed to photograph the sunset, then started back through the trees just before dark. The route takes us around the contour of a slope for about a half mile. It is tough going, because of the numerous trees downed last winter.
It was dark when we got to the road. I looked around and I only had three border collies with me - Hayley, Mollie, and Maggie.
I called Ben for a long time, and then figured he must have got to the road ahead of us, and followed it down to the truck.
It took a half hour to get to the truck. My heart sank when I found that Ben was not there.
I put the girl dogs into their carriers, and started back up to the ridge with a fresh flashlight, calling for Ben every once in a while. There was no sign of him two hours after I first noticed he was missing.
My flashlight grew dim, and I had no choice but to start back down to the truck, facing the prospect of leaving my old dog overnight at 11000 feet, in November. He had never done this before, and I start wondered if something very bad had happened, like him coming upon a Mountain Lion. It was not a good feeling.
Halfway down Ben came trotting up behind me.
To say I was relieved and happy would be an understatement.. I hugged my old buddy over and over. He seemed tired, like he had been through an ordeal.
All I can figure is that Ben got separated from us in the darkness - maybe going around the other side of a series of downed trees. I have wondered if Ben's hearing is not what it used to be. I wasn't using a flashlight, and perhaps he couldn't hear us moving off.
Old Ben is 12 1/2, and has been backpacking with me for 11 years. At upwards of a dozen trips a year, that is very likely 150 overnight trips. Ben has shared with me what are probably the finest days of my life.
As much as I love Rocky Mountain wilderness, I think Ben and my other border collies might love it even more. You should see how alive and happy they are on our mountain trips.