The Story of The Back Country
When I first read Missy’s story several years ago, I vowed to never be in the same situation with my lab Ruger.
He and I spend so much of our time in the Colorado mountains hiking, remote camping, back country skiing, snowshoeing, and climbing 14ers. I knew the risk of Ruger becoming injured was certainly a possibility.
I have always prepared myself for the risk of adventuring off the grid by taking emergency gear to deal with most situations as they arise, but I was never fully prepared for the variable of having a dog with me.
Missy inspired me to create a rescue harness. I wanted it to be packable, lightweight, and durable enough to carry a large dog to safety.
I spent years perfecting prototypes until The Back Country was developed and I knew I could trust it with my own dog’s life.
Read the inspiring story of Missy below, and her eventual journey to safety.
Adventure safely. No dog left behind.
A German Shepherd is found at 13,000 feet, and rescued after surviving seven nights in the cold. How did she get there, and what happened to her owner?
BY SCOTT ROSENFIELD FOR OUTSIDE: Two men struggle with a dog. The rocks are large and unstable, her paws are shredded, and a storm is coming. They lower her from boulder to boulder. Each time she touches down, she lands in pain. The clouds are growing, and now she doesn’t move. So one man drapes her across his shoulders. He jumps from boulder to boulder on blistered feet, and he drops her. They give her the last of their water. Then, they leave.
She couldn’t walk, but she could wait. At first, for her owner, then for the couple that found her on the verge of death—and vowed to bring her down the mountain alive. They returned expecting to carry her the entire way. She refused. After surviving eight days and seven nights alone at 13,000 feet, Missy traveled the final miles of Mt. Bierstadt as she had climbed them—under her own power.
Missy is now called Lucky. And she is a celebrity. But in the early hours after Scott and Amanda Washburn found her, she was just a nameless German Shepherd with paws more like bloody ribbons of flesh and a case of dehydration so severe that her saliva was blue. The Washburns tried to carry her down, but they didn’t have the strength—the terrain was just too taxing. So they bandaged her paws, and left her with water. And they made their way off the mountain.
“We figured we’d find a Park Service Ranger to help us carry her out,” Scott says. But the first Ranger they met dashed their hopes. He said they couldn’t risk people to save a dog. The Washburns would have to let nature run her course.
Amanda wasn’t willing to accept that answer. So on their drive back to Denver, she called everyone she could think of—from animal control to search and rescue—to no avail. Out of ideas, they went to the 14ers forum, an online community of hikers.
Scott made the first post. It included a picture of Lucky along with a description of her condition and information where she was found. He asked people to give Lucky food and water if they came across her, and he gave out his phone number to organize a rescue.
Within half an hour, his phone was ringing. People offered advice and help. Online, they expressed their suspicions. Scott’s area code was from San Mateo, California. Had he really been on the mountain? And his post was made only minutes after he first joined the site. Was it all a sick hoax?
Brandon Vail didn’t think so. He saw the post at 8:00 p.m. and had a gut reaction. “I knew I needed to do something, and I knew I had to do it right now,” he says. After all, had it been his dog up on the mountain, he’d want someone to do the same. At 9:30 p.m. he made three calls—one to a friend, and two to strangers who had offered their help on the thread.
At 11:30 p.m., they met at the trailhead and set off into the night. Over on the website, some called it suicide. To get to Lucky, they’d have to climb 3,900 feet up Mt. Bierstadt—a climb peaking at 14,264 feet—and then descend down 900 feet to Sawtooth Ridge, which wouldn’t be easy going—it’s Class III terrain.