Hiking with Dogs-Part 2

Hiking with Dogs-Part 2: An Interview with Rachel Kowalsky & Isis

Yesterday the awesome Rachel answered a few questions for us about hiking with dogs. You can check out the first part of her interview here. In this part she talks about gear, jerks who abandon dogs on tops of mountains and tells us about her most memorable hike. For now we’ll dive right in with the rest of her interview.

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Q4. Does Isis carry water/food etc or do you pack it along? Are there any pieces of gear (leash, packs etc) that you would recommend for people who hike with dogs?

Isis gets away with not wearing a pack because she is too tiny. There is not a pack out there that will fit her. So, she is spoiled because I carry the weight. I also use a harness over a collar since Isis is a “puller” and it’s easier to walk with her this way. I only use a carabineer to fasten her regular six foot leash to my belt loop so that I can be hands free. All the gimmicks out there are great but you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to have the freedom of motion. I have even run with Isis this way.

She has a collapsible bowl that I carry on my pack and that is for both food and water. In winter she has a fleece coat since we hike in temps as low as -20 (any colder and she stays home). Larger dogs out there can be fit for a pack and all dogs that carry their own supplies should only carry 1/3 of its body weight. Because of this, it would be pointless for Isis to carry her supplies… She’s just too little but perfect in every other way.

Q5. A few years ago a story about a dog that was abandoned near the top of Mount Bierdstadt in Colorado broke our hearts. It had a happy ending but a dog was essentially abandoned on a 14er in the Rocky Mountains. What do you do to ensure Isis’ safety when you’re hiking? What do you do to protect Isis against some of the harsh terrain you encounter?

I have heard many stories about dog related emergencies in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, stories of rescue squads going in to help save a dog in distress and stories of friends who have had to pack out their dog who had sadly passed on the trail. These are the heart breakers but the fact is that it does happen.

Isis is my barometer for continuing or turning back when I hike. If she cannot do it, I am not going to make her. Having hiked with her closely for as long as I have, I can tell when she is unwilling. The decision is made pretty quick so that she has enough energy to get back to the car else, she will be packed out in my pack. Dogs have personalities and Isis’ changes when she is tired, sick, frightened, or threatened. It’s up to me to interpret it and make the decisions.

I choose trails based on what she has done and while I may push her just a little to see if she can do something, I have no issue turning back.

Case in point Caps Ridge trail going to Mt. Jefferson in The Presidential Range of the White Mountains, which was a little too ledgey for her and we turned back, much to the displeasure of some hikers coming up the trail. Again, it’s my dog and my decision sorry inconvenience your momentum heading up the trail, but my safety is more important. I will NEVER take Isis on a loose slide trail to avoid cutting up her paws on loose rocks. I witnessed a Pit Bull on the Owl’s Head slide (prior to Isis coming into my life) who’s  owners made a bad call and her paws were bleeding through the bandages. Never overestimate your dog. Bottom line, always air on the side of caution. What is a thrill for you can be a nightmare for your dog.

As for the guy who abandoned his dog, shame on you. That is not a dog owner. Always be willing to pack out your dog, no matter what.   


Q6. What’s been your most memorable hike with Isis?

Wow, there are so many memorable hikes that come to mind. While she was completing her first round of the 48 New Hampshire 4 thousand footers, I took her on Whiteface and Passaconaway. The day started out like fall with leaf covered trails and gradually turned to winter as high as we climbed and then back to fall on the descend. It was a long day and we summited our last peak just at our cut off time to turn back. Coming back down, after a water crossing, I lost the trail and subsequently got us a little lost. We kept to the river to back track and I had to depend on Isis’ nose to find the trail again. After recognizing a log on a section above the river, we bushwhacked to it and it took Isis no time at all to get the trail again.

We were home free and I swore I would never doubt her tracking ability again. It was her nose that found something familiar which lead us back to the trail and ultimately back to the car.

Isis’ first Bond Zealand traverse (20+ miles in one day), proved that she could do some longer hikes provided the terrain was not too rocky and the elevation gain was not too great. We hit 4 peaks in the process that day (Zealand, West Bond, Bond, and Bond Cliff) and while she was tired at the end of the day, she was raring to go the following day. She and I have done countless winter hikes together and her willingness to give things a try always amazes me. However, her short stature is not good for breaking trail. We enjoy hiking to her ability level. She has been an amazing hiker since day one and I cannot wait to see where we will go from here.

The first time she traveled over multiple peaks of the Northern section Presidential Range was before she turned a year old and she handled it better than most humans. I think my most favorite experience with her to date has been her first campout. We were revisiting some peaks for a second time for her and had gone over Mt. Hale with intension of traveling out to the Twin Mountains (north and south). Well, we got to Zeacliff, below Mt. Zealand and decided to camp out for the night since we were both tired.

We stayed right there on the cliff in our tent and she climbed right in my sleeping bag and stayed there for most of the night. I am sure that she was unaware of how beautiful our surroundings were and even though it rained (cutting out trip short by two peaks), it was an experience that bonded us even closer.

I could go on forever about different little moments from each hike we have done. Sometimes it’s a look that she gives me and sometimes it’s just the experience of us being in sync in the mountains that makes it a great hike and even those hikes where I had to pack her out were precious because she trusted me enough to know that I was not going to let her be hurt in any way.

Q7: Is there anything you’d like to add about hiking with dogs?

I don’t think that I could go back to hiking without her. I do my longer hikes without her (30+ mile sin a day) and it feels strange and she is really missed. Hiking with a dog is certainly a BIG responsibility but it’s also the most rewarding. I swear Isis smiles as she reaches the summit and I know she looks forward to our weekly hikes because she is the first to sit by the door to go to the car in the morning as I am stumbling looking for the coffee since it is well before 5am. (Awwwww)

Q8. Where can we find your websites and where can we find you on social media?

I am on Blog Spot : http://sghnh48.blogspot.com (This is also linked to my google + account)

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pintsizehiker

Isis is also on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hikingpupisis

Please feel free to Like Isis and to contact me. I am always glad to answer questions and will accept friend requests (or you can use the follow option for limited contact). If you are hiking in New Hampshire and happen to see us, don’t be shy, say HI! We love meeting people on the trails.

Here’s a little bit more about Rachel. I think you can agree with me that she’s amazing.

“I am a born and raised New Englander who has settled in rural New Hampshire where I am working with special needs adolescents and at risk kids. In 2010, I was diagnosed with a thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s Disease) and made some serious changes to my life as far as diet and exercise are concerned and it has made all the difference. Once I got my energy back, I began walking and soon, I began walking up hill. The hills kept getting bigger until they were mountains.

In 2011, after I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I began hiking the 48 4000 footers in New Hampshire. I completed those before I turned 40 and in less than a year. The 19 additional peaks to complete the New England 67 were summited within the following year and it was during this time that Isis came into my life (November 2012) and began her journey. Now I manage both my thyroid disease and my depression without medication and under the care of a great team of doctors.

I primarily hike solo with Isis and as we continue to travel through the trails of New England, hoping to complete 12 rounds of the 48 New Hampshire Peaks before I turn 50 (currently a happy 41 years old). That is a round of the 48 in each calendar month for 576 total summits. I welcome anyone who would like to follow along on the journey. It’s been a life changer!”

You can be sure that the next time we find ourselves in New England we’ll be looking to take a hike with Rachel and Isis. In the mean time, thank you Rachel for the interview!


And once again, if you’ve got a cool story to share or a few hiking or camping tips we’d love to feature you right here. Shoot me an email rebecca(at)justtrails(dot)come if you’re interested. Thanks 🙂


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