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  • 18 Dec 2014

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Cooper's climb

Photographer's dog adapts to his new life with a few outdoor adventures


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTOS: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jonathan House, a photographer with Pamplin Media Group, has logged more than 100 hikes with his dog, Cooper, including this one on Mount Hood (at Gnarl Ridge).Standing on a summit, midway through only my second of what has become more than 100 hikes with my dog Cooper, I remember saying, “This isn’t good, Laura is going to kill me.”

It was December 2011, and we had just adopted him three weeks prior from a local shelter. Meeting him for the first time, he was quiet, scrawny, and had a cough, all indicators he had been living in shelters for too long. From the pictures posted online, I thought he’d be bigger, which concerned me because my only requirement in adopting a dog was that I could hike with him. He was sweet though, and Laura, my wife, really liked him, so it was settled.

Cooper, and Australian Shepherd/Catahoula Hound mix, took well to living in our house. He seemed fairly well house-trained and didn’t make a mess. This was a pleasant surprise because the shelter told us he was picked up as a malnourished stray. Those first few weeks we were able to fatten him up a little and help relieve his cough. I also started taking him on increasingly longer walks every day to gauge his energy and stamina. He liked our routine well enough, and by the end of December, I had figured it was time to get him on a trail in the Columbia River Gorge.

Our first hike was one of the easier treks you can find in the Gorge, Angels Rest. At 4 1/2 miles a roundtrip and 1,500 feet of elevation gain, it’s very walkable, culminating in a fantastic view of the Columbia River and surrounding environs. He had no problems with it, which gave me hope that even though he was small, he could handle the bigger hikes.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Cooper surveys the Columbia River Gorge from Dog Mountain.I scheduled hike number two for the following weekend, and it was the only time my concern for Cooper’s well-being had given me a lump in the throat.

The plan was for us to hike Silver Star Mountain on the Washington side of the Gorge. It’s slightly higher in elevation than other hikes out there, and I knew a good portion of it would be snow-covered. But the weather forecast looked great, and it was as good a time as any to introduce the little guy to the white stuff. Everything started great, and I enjoyed watching his puzzlement and ultimately excitement in traveling on snow. We were the only ones on the trail that day, and we continued higher by ourselves as clouds started to roll in.

My concern started to grow about the weather, but we were already close to the summit, and he seemed fine, so I had us move a little faster to stay warm. We made our way around a long, winding traverse on the west side of the mountain, before our final push to the top. And that’s when it happened — a full-on snow storm. The wind had picked up considerably, but we were only a few hundred yards away at that point, and I was already sweating considerably under my storm jacket, so what was another five minutes?

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Its a rare moment of rest for Cooper, the faithful hiking companion of Pamplin Media Group photographer Jonathan House.Topping out on the exposed summit, of what little I could see between the plumes of horizontal, driving snow, was the ice-encased summit outcrop and the realization we needed to get back to the car. Looking back at Cooper, I could see him shivering in the wind and thought, “This was too much, too soon.” I started to play with a few ideas and if worse came to worse, I’d take off my jacket and wrap him in it. But that was Plan B.

Plan A was the classic there’s-bad-weather-and-we’re-stuck-on-the-mountain response, in other words, run back down! And that’s what we did. I ran as fast as I could on the snowpack, and he kept up as the wind whipped and the snow continued to fall. After a couple of miles and a drop of a few thousand feet, the air got warmer and wetter, and I knew we were in the clear. By the time we returned to the car, both of us were soaking wet and tired, and I was relieved to see him still standing alert, but definitely ready to get into the car and pass out.

Two years later, Silver Star is an easy hike for him, even on snow, as we’ve accomplished more than 100 hikes, close to 1,000 hiking miles, with hundreds of thousands of feet in elevation gain in the Columbia River Gorge, the Cascade Mountain Range and Mount Hood, taking in the beauty that we have here in the Pacific Northwest. But that particular hike stood out as perhaps one of the toughest, and definitely most foolhardy, adventures.