Mission: rescue Cacique
HOLY CROSS WILDERNESS – A successful four-person rescue mission last Sunday to the top of Notch Mountain really began two years ago when Juan and Renee Otero of Conifer discovered their son was allergic to their two dogs and a cat.The Oteros eventually found homes for one dog and a cat but couldn’t find a taker for Cacique, their 4-year-old, 65-pound border collie mix. Cacique, it was finally decided, would be given to a shelter.”We decided to take him on a last hike before we took him to a shelter,” said Renee. That last hike Saturday, Aug. 7, was up over Half Moon pass to the 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross along the Halo Ridge route. The Oteros, who have summited 10 fourteeners since being married three years ago, and recently summited Grays and Torreys with their dogs, found out that that route up Holy Cross was a mistake.For Vail Mountain Rescue, it was a mission that in recent years has become more frequent: retrieving injured or exhausted dogs stuck after hikes with their owners to the rugged Mount of the Holy Cross. This was the fourth such rescue in recent years.
“We had no idea that we would be going from boulder field to boulder field to boulder field,” Renee said. “We should have done it straight up.”On the way down, which requires hiking back up nearby Notch Mountain, Cacique, named after an Indian chief in Juan’s native Puerto Rico, began to limp. “He tore his pads on the boulders,” Renee said. “He started to bleed and could not walk on them. He was about 500 feet from the Notch Mountain Shelter. We had to leave him in the boulders.”The Oteros left food and water for their pet at the shelter, but they couldn’t carry him there. They had to get back home because their two young children were with Renee’s mother.”We had no choice,” she said. “We had to get down off that mountain before dark. We ran down it and got to the trailhead at 8 p.m. We left a note the trailhead saying that if you found our dog, give him water. There was food for two days. It was so traumatic.”They also left a similar note tacked to the door of the Holy Cross Ranger Station at Dowd Junction before driving home.
Sunday morning they got a call from the ranger station, which had called the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, which had notified Vail Mountain Rescue.Dan Aguilar was the mission coordinator who happened to be climbing in the Gore Range with his radio and was able to dispatch a four-person team. Two members of the team went up Fall Creek south of Minturn, and two others went up another trail in case the dog came down on his own.Aguilar’s only order to the rescuers was to make sure the dog got plenty of TLC.”It’s really tough going up there,” Aguilar said. “People are taking the dogs up there and the rocks are sharp. It’s tough enough on humans with leather boots. For dogs, it’s too much of a challenge.”
When the searchers got to the top of Notch Mountain, Cacique was at the shelter. How he got there is a mystery, according to Renee. She said a father and son were there when they had to leave the dog, and she guessed that they may have carried him the 500 feet to the shelter.The rescuers gave the dog some water and snacks, and attended to his feet. The only way to get him down the seven or so miles to the trailhead was to stuff Cacique into a backpack. When they got to the trailhead, Cacique was still too weak to get into a vehicle and had to be lifted. “It was pretty sad,” said Aguilar. “It wasn’t his fault.”By 7 p.m., the Oteros were waiting at the Vail Police Station to retrieve their dog from the rescuers.”If we were millionaires we would have made a huge donation to them,” Renee said. “We were so grateful.”Renee said that it was a tough lesson.
“Do not take your dog up that mountain,” she said. “I wish I would have known. I would have left the dog at home. We took the dog on an innocent hike and it was not a wise decision. Boulders, even for an in-shape dog, are too much.”Beth Boyst, wilderness specialist with the U. S. Forest Service said leashes are required for dogs in wilderness areas, “It poses a huge dilemma,” she said. “In wilderness areas, we want people to have the freedom to travel without distractions. When dog owners make such poor decisions, we have to consider if a ban on dogs is needed.”The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said no citations would be issued to the Oteros, and the rescue group did not charge them for the retrieval of their pet.Cacique, as of Friday, was bandaged and on antibiotics after a trip to the vet, but running around the family’s back yard “like nothing happened.”Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.org, based in Vail, Colorado.