Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Indian Creek and the Big Dog Repel

I used to have a golden retriever/yellow lab mixed dog named Ted growing up and he went everywhere with me including on our hikes in northwest Arkansas. For some reason, we decided to go on a particularly hard hike down the Indian Creek gorge, which drops several thousand feet in the space of a mile. The gorge narrows in many places so that the only reasonable place to walk is right down the middle of the streambed. Fortunately, the creek actually runs underground for much of its journey down the gorge leaving the boulders on top dry enough to walk on.

There are several waterfalls along the way ranging from six feet to sixty feet in height and in most cases, there is a way to scramble around them. On the final waterfall, you have to actually back track up the streambed twenty feet and follow the slender ledge at the base of the cliff line around the top of the falls and through a short natural arch into a large open faced hollow in the cliff wall. From there, you slide and scramble down to the top of a ten-foot band high band of cliffs right above the streambed below the waterfall.

For a human with opposable thumbs, this challenge is easily overcome by using a tree that grows from a ledge halfway down the cliff to shinny down and then hanging on to the base of it to lower yourself down the remaining five feet to the ground below. For a dog however, it is an impossible feat unless they risk jumping onto the sharp rocks below. Fortunately, on this particular hike, I had thought to bring a rope and simple repel Ted over the cliff and I did, but that was the last time.

Ted scrambled down to the edge of the cliff and looked over for a way down but couldn't find one. When I called his name, he took one look at the rope that I was uncoiling and I think he knew exactly what was about to happen. Now had we been anywhere else, I think he would have slunk away and just waited for us to return. But he knew somehow that the only way was the one down and that if he wanted to stay with us he was going to have to submit himself to whatever torturous plan I had devised. So Ted slunk over to me and allowed me to fashion a rope harness around his middle and up under his front legs.

At that point, Ted essentially turned into a statue with all four legs stuck straight out and his tail tucked up between his hind legs. I had to physically lift him and get him started over the edge of the cliff while using another close by tree above the cliff as my belay. As Ted swung free from the cliff face, his legs still stuck straight out from his body just like I had been lowering down a marble statue of a dog. His eyes rolled back in his head and he let out a low whine as I lowered him down into the waiting arms of those already down below. Only when all four paws had touched the ground did the tail untuck, the eyes unroll and the legs assume more flexibility.

Although we had many more opportunities over the years to take Ted on that hike again, I just never could bring myself to do it. Those eyes rolled back in his head and the low whine of terror was just too much for me to subject to him again. Although those pleading eyes when he was forced to stay back inside the cabin while we hiked Indian Creek were almost equally unbearable to withstand. Dogs have a way of making their owners feel guilty.

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