Hiking With Your Dog: Rocky Peak Ridge & Giant Mountain

Belle is a five year old boxer, all muscle and tireless.   She is a good running companion who keeps pace easily enough on three to five mile runs.

We wanted to include her on a day hike in the Adirondacks. But dogs, like people, need to prepare. She would carry her own water and food so we got her saddle bags.  It took several tries to get the right size and fit.

Belle’s first summit hike with daypack, Link to Ruffwear

When we put it over her head, pulled her leg in the harness and buckled it on, she gave us a quiet stare and remained standing, looking puzzled and taken aback with her predicament, a first after 35 dog years on this planet.

You could see her asking with her eyes. What kind of owners are you?

I told her she was in good company and shared the boxer’s history of service to the military. Motionless, her facial expression had a Rodney Dangerfield exasperation.

Two nights before our hike, we strapped the harness on for a while and the night before, we put it on twice, first for half an hour and then for forty-five minutes.   That day we included a bag of food, collapsible bowl, treats, and a liter of water in her pack.

Belle reminded me of a saddled horse, closing her eyes while standing.  She had no plans to sit, much less lie down in this get-up and she turned away from us in quiet protest.  The third time we coaxed her down and she set her big head on the floor, jowls first, a sad acceptance in her eyes.

If she only knew the adventures ahead.

Our hike included two summits via a more difficult trail with scrambling rock.  The Lake Placid website had notes on the hike to Rocky Peak Ridge.

Families with young children: Not recommended

Experienced hiker: Via Giant: 3 hrs to summit; From Route 9: 5 hours to summit; Traverse: 8-9 hours

Out of Shape Hiker:  Not recommended  (Link to Rocky Peak Ridge)

Did we heed this last note? We ignored the first comment about families because our kids are better hikers than us, but the “out-of-shape” modifier felt personal, you know, like a heckler calling out epithets. For better or worse, sometimes what you lack in skill you make up in confidence.

We climbed Giant Mountain before so that helped; there were no ladders but some rock scrambling.  Belle was hesitant the first mile, especially on the larger rock. She discovered her strength and four legged ease, but didn’t allow for her bags, often catching them on roots.  She whined if we stretched out along the trail and would travel back and forth to check on us.  My son said she probably hiked twice the distance that da.y

Belle finds soft spot on trail

It took four hours to reach the first summit, but not until we hiked down off Giant Mountain into the col, or the dip, between the summits.  I invested in hiking poles and used them for the first time on steep wet rock.

Let me share this helpful information, this was not smart. Do not use poles for the first time on steep wet rock.

There are moments on the trail which make you question your motives and your sanity. It rained the day before and the trail was muddy and wet, water running down much of it, making the rock slippery. Beware of black rock.  Black rock is wet rock and even on the slightest inclines, it’s simple to slip.

Here’s something else I learned: poles don’t help when you’re already horizontal.

My hiking pants were made of technical fabric which meant they would dry fast but there was no cushion for my backside tumbling down the stone and mud, the clinking of my poles behind me, my feet bringing me to a stop in a puddle of muck at the base of the slide.

Belle hopped down and sniffed in my direction, her saddlebags a part of her profile.

I sneered.  Not at the dog, or the day which was sunny and cool, no.  It was age. Frailty. I thought I was fit, worse, I thought I was an athlete.

So, let me share my surprise when the trail got me, yes you guessed it, AGAIN.  This time I slid on the mud and roots along the rock face until my leg caught hard enough to stop the momentum of my body’s mass. Crumbled into such a state, my knee at my chin with arms askew, images flashed through my head and I could see myself at the camp sitting by the lake, paddling along a tranquil shoreline, I dunno maybe something a bit less trying, like getting my eyebrows waxed.

I saw a flash in my peripheral vision.

Belle stepped, pranced mind you, along the same rock.

And it’s then I realized that God made mountain goats with four legs for a reason.  Gazelles, deer, dogs for Pete’s sake, were made for this.  I, anatomically, am not.

Our summit on Rocky Peak was well earned and Belle sought out a soft spot.  I envied her grace.  For longer breaks, we took off her harness.  She ate her food right off the warm rock at the summit, ignorant of the view. The rest of us took in an almost 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains, then collapsed.

Rest on Rocky Peak Ridge summit
Belle takes a break

Coming down Giant into the col was the hardest part of the hike.  It was easier to go up, strenuous and tiring yes, but my joints could manage going up, there’s always something to hang on to.

Thank goodness for my new Altra trail runners.  After our last hike (Hiking Mt. Colvin link) I made the investment in the slipper-like, “large toe box” of the orange Altra Lone Peak with “zero drop” between heel and ball of foot.  They kept my toes from getting crushed on the downhill climbs. Plus they sound as cool as they look and feel.

Five of us at Giant Mountain’s summit survey marker

Belle was popular on the trail. She adopted a protective role, nipping at the men and growling when others approached. Folks were intrigued to see a hiking dog.  We ascended Giant Mountain again on our return and a man told us that he couldn’t imagine hiking with a boxer.

Boxers are flatulent he said and it must have been quite an experience with her.

The memories from that day are too many to enumerate but add this to the lot.  We were glad to know it wasn’t because of the hiking, though we learned early to stay clear of Belle’s “backblasts” and give her a lead.

Not all trails permit dogs, but Giant Wilderness does as long as they are leashed. We were alone most of the time and Belle had her liberty. She earned her hiking legs by the second summit, Giant Mountain.

Belle on her second summit, Giant Mountain

Belle hiked two mountains (4627′ and 4420′) in 11.5 hours, with multiple ascents and descents over 3050 feet elevation change.  She slept well, ate well, but had sore spots under her front legs.

In a photo I saw afterwards, as I made the descent down Giant with my new poles, there she was.  Belle.  Just behind, watching me.

Belle on Giant Mountain

About mylinhshattan

MyLinh B. Shattan is a writer who has worked in the private sector, taught at college, and served in the U.S. Army. She holds a B.S. in Mathematics from West Point, an M.B.A. from Florida Southern College, and an M.F.A. in Writing from Queens University.