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Doggone tired at Crater Lake

by AVERY HOWE
Photographer | September 13, 2023 2:00 AM

Sept. 25 will mark one year since my dog Margot lost her leg. Last Thursday, she pulled me out to Crater Lake in three-wheel drive.

In Wyoming, where we’re from, I used to let her free-range on public land, especially since the chances were slim to none that we would encounter other hikers. But now that we’re up here, I’m bearanoid. Of the many things I love about Margot, she is tough, gritty, won’t back down for anything, and poetically stubborn in true cow dog fashion. Unfortunately, I predict these traits would not pair well with a grizzly encounter. So, we set off tied together by an exceedingly ugly orange leash-belt contraption I bought so she wouldn’t run up to a 600-pound bear by herself, but drag me with her instead.

There were many points on this trail where I wish I was not attached to a dog. The main stretch up from the parking lot at the end of Jewel Basin Road – National Forest Development Road 5392 - is wide and flat with a low incline. That wasn’t so bad. But as we followed the Alpine Trail up through huckleberries and tall brush, with short stints across narrow sliding gravel walkways, it would have been nice to not have someone yanking me along. You may think, “You should train your dog not to pull,” but why would I deny the uphill help? You can’t have everything.

To Margot’s credit, she is a very good photo dog. If I pause to take a picture of something, she immediately stops and holds perfectly still so I can set up my frame. She is also a great poser, since she has a tendency to gaze out at the overlooks. On this trail, Flathead Overlook offers a beautiful view of the valley.

As we neared Birch Lake, caution signs noting a deer carcass and possible bear activity started popping up. There are large sections of the trail with thick brush and blind corners. At several points, bear poo, stained purple by huckleberries, painted the path. Bearanoia of course set in, as skinny useless me armed with a can of bear spray and my three-legged dog were the only ones on the trail. I decided being obnoxious and noisy was a good move and talked to myself like a crazy person, things along the lines of, “We’re just passing through, minding our business, not looking tasty at all.”

We lived.

The trail out to Crater Lake gets a little lost in the weeds, but there are places to climb up above and view the water as well as get down to it. I laughed at the lopsided outhouse for hikers out in the middle of nowhere, I wasn’t exactly expecting that.

I was tired walking out.

It isn’t a very steep hike, but it’s something of a distance, we totaled 12 miles (with wandering). Margot, tough as she is, was taking long breaks and sinking into any water we passed to cool off.

Birch Lake was so pretty in the golden light as we were hiking out, I decided it was worth getting mauled for. Margot swam, something I was worried she wouldn’t be able to do less than a year ago.

The lesson, I suppose, is that I worry too much.

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A view of Flathead Lake from the trail to Crater Lake.

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The author and her dog wade into Birch Lake.

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Fall colors emerging along the hike to Crater Lake.

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Margot swims in Birch Lake.