COMPLETE Q&A WITH PAUL & DAN MCCABE ABOUT DYLAN
What were some of your most memorable climbs with Dylan and why?
Every climb with Dylan was memorable. He always kept us either entertained or on task. Heading down the trail from Wetterhorn, he decided to play a dog version of “Whack the Mole” with the local marmots. As we hiked down toward tree line from the high meadow, he got tired of the constant bark of the marmots and decided to show them how a bark really sounded. He spied one sticking his head out of a hole and ran to the hole barking as he went. Once he got to the hole, he stuck his head down in the earth still barking until all you could see was his back end sticking out and his tail standing straight up, waving like a flag. His barking went from loud to muffled and back to loud depending if he was in or out of the hole. Once he was satisfied with the outcome, he would run to the next hole and let that marmot in on the barking lesson. Again, loud one moment and muffled the next. He ran from hole to hole as the marmots stood around and applauded the spectacle. Finally, it was time to move on so I called him and he came to me very satisfied with the results even though the marmots continued to bark unfazed as we continued to move on down the mountain.
One of Dylan’s favorite things to do was playing in the snow. He loved to “Snowplow” as we called it. After a snowfall he would stick his head under the snow and start running creating a furrow through the snow. Every once in a while, he would stop, look around, get his bearing and then go back to snowplowing. On the mountain he would find a steep angled patch of hard packed snow or ice. He would run to the top, jump on, roll over on his back and slide down turning back over in time to stop before the snow ended. He would continue doing this until we would catch up and then he would start looking for the next snow slide.
What made Dylan a great mountain climber?
Never really thought much about that. He just did what we did. I guess he figured that if we could, he could.
How many years did you all climb together?
What type of dog was Dylan?
Mutt. Although if you asked him, he would say, half husky, half mountain goat, and half mountain lion. He wasn’t that good with math.
How much did he weight?
How long did he live?
14 1/2 years
Are there any special stories about Dylan (on or off the peaks) that would be fun to share?
This has all the characteristics of a Tom & Jerry storyline. Dylan was lying out on his back in the warm sunshine sound asleep. A small lizard snuck up, ran up his belly and jumped off his nose. Dylan jumped straight up in the air and when he came down the lizard ran, Dylan followed and the chase was on. After darting around trees and over and under the loose foliage, the lizard finally went down in between the rocks and Dylan followed as far as he could get his head to go. As he was sniffing around, the lizard ran up the top of his head, crossed the back of his spine and jumped off his tail and disappeared before Dylan could get his head out of the hole. At this point Dylan decided he had enough and after a few “leave me alone” barks, he laid back down with his belly to the sun and slowly went back to sleep. A minute later, I snuck up to him with a small pine limb and ran it up his belly! Of course, he caught me but, it’s hard to run when you are laughing that hard.
Did you guys ever have difficulties assisting or helping Dylan on some of the difficult sections of peaks?
Never did until he got older. As a young dog, he probable logged 5 times as many miles as we did. Always zigzagging across the trail as we moved along. He was always looking for something to climb to the top of or something to cross. He’d climb outcroppings along the trail and bark at us to look or he’d cross along downed trees and then expect us to follow. He would scout ahead and then return to let us know something important he had either seen or smelled. Dylan was very smart and well trained. He knew to never get out of my sight and to return to my side if I whistled. So, he was never far away. As Dylan aged, we had to be more proactive in assisting him. Paul and I took turns if we had to give him a ride. Made sure his pack was adjusted right. Checked his paws regularly and assist him if he got stuck. And of course, Dylan would help us as well. If he thought we were off route, he would sit down and not move when we would pass him. That would prompt us to start checking our surroundings and to get back on track. He was also, unfortunately, very good at limiting the amount of time we could take for breaks.
Were you guys already experienced avid climbers prior to having Dylan join the crew?
We did do a lot and it was just natural for Dylan to be included. He joined us on various excursions up to mines, lakes or summits both in and out of the state. Dylan’s first 14er was in the summer of 1990 and we spent the years after that doing everything we could in the time available.
Were there any scary moments like lightning strikes or such that made your hearts skip a beat?
We had several close calls with lightning where the rock would hum and jump and your hair (when I had some) would stand at attention. One of those was on Shavano. We had made the summit with a perfectly clear sky. We started to hear the hum of rocks and Paul took off his glove and brushed down the front of his jacket. Sparks flew from his hand to his jacket like a sock just out of the dryer. We turned to leave and I remembered that we hadn’t taken a summit shot. Paul and Dylan were already fifty feet ahead of me down the mountain. I turned around to get a picture of the abandoned summit and as I pushed the button on the camera there was a flash of light that hit the camera and an electrical shock surged through my body. No other sounds than the rocks humming, no clouds, beautiful blue skies and just a slight smell of burnt hair.
The other time was on Pyramid. We had climbed in a dense fog but were now enjoying a clear beautiful summit. The first sign of trouble came when we noticed that the backpack braces were buzzing and making the backpack look like there were chipmunks jumping around inside. Then the rocks started humming and dancing. We knew what that meant. As we quickly gathered our gear the humming intensified until it felt like my ears were going to explode. Everything you touched or came close to touching gave you a shock. Dylan darted over the side of the summit. The side that we had definitely not come up but was the fastest way to lose altitude. Paul was right behind him and I was coming on fast. We had just descended off the summit and it was just out of sight when we heard an explosion like a bomb above our heads followed by rocks flying everywhere. Then a hurricane rain hit us like a flood from a broken dam. Mud, water and rocks in the form of waterfalls cascaded all over us. Shortly thereafter, Dylan came to a stop ahead of us. The little trail that we had started to follow had stopped. We were at the face. We worked our way back and had just about decided that we would have to go back to the summit to get on the right descent when we saw a familiar part of the ascent in the background. By the time we got down to treeline the torrent had been reduced to a shower. Once we got back to the trailhead the only reminder of the rain was our mud encrusted bodies. What a summit experience!
And there was one other scary moment with Dylan. As you know he carried his own pack with his own food and water. I have a strap across the back of the pack so if need be, I can pick him up like a suitcase. Move him around something or lift him up over something to tall for him to climb. We were coming off a successful climb of Redcloud and Sunshine and had just passed South Fork along the trail next to Silver Creek. Dylan was about 100 feet in front of us as we descended. He came to a snow bridge that spanned Silver Creek and started walking over it. The bridge at its lower end stood a good ten to fifteen feet over the water below. He had done this on the ascent with no problem but now in the afternoon it wasn’t as solid as it had been in the morning. He had just reached the top when he disappeared through the snow. Paul and I ran down to the water’s edge knowing that he had fallen a long way in to the icy water. Not knowing what to expect when I got there, I expected the worst. When we got to the stream below the bridge, I was shocked! There was Dylan on the other side chasing a chipmunk. He was soaked from head to toe but no sign of injury. On investigation we found that where he had fallen through, a barrier had created a pool about 2 feet deep. It was then that I realized that his pack had actually aided him. The pack must have taken the brunt of the fall and the buoyancy helped him navigate the water.
Did you guys always climb as a group of three?
For the majority of the time it was just the three of us but we also climbed with friends and family.
How did Dylan get his name?
He had originally been named Lemon Drop because of his fluffy blond hair. However, my wife, Marla wanted a name that would remind her of happy things and decided to change his name to Disney. Disney was short lived because it wasn’t easy to say so, Marla changed it to Dylan. As the years went by, he was also called Leroy, Goober, if he did something silly, and after he watched The Lion King, he preferred Simba.
How old was Dylan on his first 14er? And what peak was it?
His first 14er was when he was one or seven, I guess, in dog years. We did Bross, Cameron, Lincoln & Democrat. Incidentally, Bross was almost his last 14er. As it turned out his last one was Democrat. It was our last trip before we had to go back to civilization. We had hiked up from the Lincoln side, climbed Lincoln, went across Cameron over to Democrat and back towards Bross when Dylan abruptly changed course and started heading back down to where we had started. He could not be coaxed, he was done. So, we left Bross without summiting that day and he died before we had the chance to go back.
I can see you guys rappelled with Dylan. It looks like you both had great mountaineering skill. How did that help Dylan’s success?
There were several times when we chose to downclimb. Sometimes it was our best option. The picture you are referring to was on the North Maroon/Maroon Ridge. We had a couple of pitches on that ridge that we descend. Neither Paul or I needed a rope to descend but we would use it for Dylan and the packs. I would go first, and find a route. Then Paul would tie the rope onto Dylan’s pack/harness and send him over. Next would come our packs and lastly Paul would descend.
Which, if any, of the four great traverses did Dylan do with you guys?
He did 3 of the 4. He missed the misery on the Crestone’s traverse in which we tried to stay as close to the actual ridge as possible. Hence the misery.
Here’s a little incident from the Little Bear/Blanca ridge. We were crossing from Little Bear to Blanca on the narrow ledge of the ridge. I was in front, Dylan was behind me and Paul and another climber, Bruce were in back. Dylan was following me footstep to footstep. Almost catching my heel with his nose every time, I would lift my foot. As we made our way across the top of the ridge, I took a step to move forward, and the rock I had been standing on just fell away and disappeared down the side of the ridge. We all stopped, frozen in out step. I slowly looked back behind me to see Dylan looking at me from the other side of the now missing part of the ridge. I could tell he was thinking, “Oh great, look what you’ve done. Now how am I supposed to get across?” I stepped back to aid him but he just sat there looking from the spot where the rock used to be and back at me. I called him. He turned his head back to Paul and Bruce to see if they had any better ideas. Apparently, they didn’t. After a moment Dylan finally made a decision. He moved forward, worked his way past the void and up to me, nudged his body between my legs (there wasn’t room to go around) and got in the lead. Apparently, he thought it was my fault that rock had come loose and he wasn’t going to be caught behind me.
Do you guys have any technical mountaineering skills? I ask because of the rappelling photos.
Rappelling Dylan was an opportunity to make the route easier on a downclimb. He enjoyed rappelling. Sometimes he could find his own way around but other times he would end up getting stuck and we’d have to backtrack to get him unstuck. So, rappelling him just kept us all together and safer.
What is the 14er you did not climb with Dylan and why?
You asked about Culebra. We had made reservations to climb it in August of 1999, but when we got to the gate, no one came. Finally we inquired in town and found out that it had been sold and all access had been denied. Paul and I would eventually climb it in 2005, but Dylan passed away before we could get it done.
I noticed some of the photos show Dylan's head peeking out of a backpack...on the knife edge of Capitol and on the summit block of Sunlight. Expound upon that in terms of how it gave Dylan safety and if there were any advantages of doing it. He obviously trusted you guys to allow himself to be placed in a pack under those conditions. While many dogs would not be okay with that option, he was. Having some insight on that aspect of things would be cool.
After a while on the rocks, the pads on Dylan’s paws would get raw. He preferred to go over rather than around. We tried booties, socks, tape, more booties but none of them worked. He hated them and would chew them off and stash them down a crevasse or some equally difficult place to retrieve them. Then his paws would start bleeding again. We decided to try and let him ride over the looser, sharp rocks in order to preserve his paws. He didn’t take to it at first but when he realized that it was only in areas that he didn’t like anyhow, loose scree, rock falls and talus, that he soon warm up to it. Also, around 2001, I noticed that he would, every once in a while, run into things for no apparent reason. He also had a hard time standing back up after he had been lying down for a while. I took him to the vet and after an examination found that he was losing his eyesight and that arthritis was developing in his back end. The vet told me, “You have to remember that Dylan is a geriatric dog.” I never had thought of him as that before, it was a real surprise to think of him as growing old. So, from then on, we started carrying him when the route was more exposed or difficult to maneuver and he was able to continue climbing with us. We have encountered many a climber who has had to do a double take as they realized that a dog was looking at them from the top of a pack.
Official site of Climbing Colorado's 14ers With Sawyer: Chronicles Of Our 11 Year Quest And Adventures Together At 14,000 Feet Copyright © 2010, 2015 Joshua Ian Aho, 14er Canine LLC, and www.14erCanine.com