A Tale of Two Dogs


The Tale of the Two Dogs


This story goes way back and I actually am posting photographs from  the era of this backpacking trip. In the mid-70s I was introduced to a beautiful back country area in southwestern Virginia. By the late 70s I was so serious about the activity every weekend I could get out backpacking rain or shine. This is about one particular trip 30 years ago in 1985.  I always took my black lab along on my trips and often I would backpack solo. This was one of my solo excursions plus an extra dog.

Two dogs ready for a hike.
Doc, on left; Cody, on right: Both dogs have their packs on and are ready to go!

My sister was out of town so her dog Cody, and my lab Doc, were my hiking companions for the weekend. Cody was Doc’s brother, but from a different litter and they spent a lot of time together. Cody was a bit more mischievous than Doc, but both were well behaved dogs. Both dogs had their own backpacks for carrying their food, dishes, and toys for the trip. They had to carry their own weight; I didn’t have room or want to carry the weight of the food two labs can consume over a weekend. We started out late morning on a sunny Friday.  I had planned my trip in the Mt. Rogers recreation area and camp at one of my favorite spots at Cabin Ridge. That morning we had a long hike in, most of it uphill as I started out at the Appalachian Trail from a parking area on the northern side of the recreation area hiking up Pine Mountain.


After our five mile trek we arrived and I set up camp. After arranging everything I sat down in the tent and then stretched out on the sleeping bag. That was a mistake as usually when I am in a horizontal position; I fall asleep (especially when I was younger.) Back then (as I do now) I usually let my dog run free if there aren’t many hikers on the trail. This day was one of those so both dogs were off leash to run off their extra energy and they were off leash at camp. When I awakened from my accidental nap I was aware of the silence around the camp and thought the dogs were asleep. I crawled out of the tent and didn’t see any curled up black furry mounds anywhere near the camp. I glanced at my watch and saw it was 3:00 p.m. I was camped at the edge of a fir forest bordering an alpine meadow along a ridge. One could see for miles along many ridgelines that are surrounded by seas of dark heavily scented firs.  I looked around and called the dogs, but there was no response nor could any black tails running around the grassy meadows be seen. I quickly became concerned. Doc normally stayed around camp and I never had to worry about him running off. Cody on the other hand was a little more mischievous as I mentioned before and had been known to get Doc into trouble. After a half hour passed I began to panic and started methodically hiking different trails and back along each compass point. I asked the few hikers I ran into if they had seen two black dogs with to all negative responses. Back then the area was not as well-known as it is today so there were not many hikers or horseback riders to ask. I finally returned to the campsite at sunset without finding the dogs and had the most fitful sleep.

A view from my tent.
The campsite at Cabin Ridge.

I kept waking up the entire night hoping the dogs had returned. At daybreak I got up and started looking again and wondered what my next move should be. Was I going to have to leave without the dogs? Eventually I would have to go, I had to work. Around 11a.m. a couple of horseback riders came by the campsite heading down Cabin Ridge back down to Massy Gap. I asked about seeing the dogs and they replied no. My heart sunk even lower as I sat down on a log next to the fire pit at my camp. About a minute later I hear a voice shouting “Hey fella, are these the dogs?” I look across the meadow at the distant horsemen and see two black tails sticking above the tall autumn brown grass heading in my direction. They were coming up from the lower elevations of Massey Gap, who knows exactly where they had been or what they had been up to. My heart jumped for joy, the dogs were returning from their all-night adventure. Now I didn’t have to tell my sister I lost her dog! I was so relieved and exhausted we packed up and headed out a day early, all the anxiety, miles of searching, and stress had made enough excitement for one trip. Both dogs stuck right by my side on the hike out too tired to romp and roam around during the return hike.

Scenic landscape.
A view from Rhododendron Gap looking back at Pine Mountain. We hiked from the obvious valley on the right to the top of Pine Mountain to get to this point.


All the photographs are from the Mt. Rogers area in 1985-86   Kodak Ektachrome 64 transparency (slide) film

© Matthew H Irvin

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