As she reluctantly hiked down Mount Juneau at dusk Tuesday, Catalina Quiroga could hear Nootka barking and crying.
Nootka, a 3-year-old husky-St. Bernard mix, had gotten stranded on a cliff on the mountain after chasing after a trio of mountain goats. Quiroga, 29, was visiting Juneau from Haines Junction, Yukon, for a few days and didn’t know anyone in town.
Capital City Fire/Rescue personnel responded to try and help her get Nootka down, but they weren’t able to. Alaska State Troopers chose not to deploy Juneau Mountain Rescue, as the Troopers don’t devote resources to pet rescues. Nootka would have to spend the night on the mountain.
As nightfall fell and Quiroga strode down the mountain, she feared the worst.
“I thought by the morning she was going to be dead, and I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know anybody here who’s going to help me,’” Quiroga said.
The seeds of a rescue had already been sown, though Quiroga didn’t know it yet.
She had spoken to another woman who was hiking the mountain that afternoon, and told her about the situation. The next morning, that woman happened to be talking with co-workers, including Alicia McArtor, who called her boyfriend Zach Rhoades to see if he could help out.
Rhoades, an active climber, immediately agreed to help and headed to the mountain.
At the same time Wednesday morning, the bar manager at the Alaskan Bar (to whom Quiroga had spoken about the situation) who goes by Angie Rae reached out to Starr Parmley, another climber in town. Parmley, like Rhoades, immediately agreed to assist.
Each of them grabbed climbing partners and headed to the mountain. By the time they all gathered by the cliff a little after noon on Wednesday, the rescue party included Rhoades, Parmley, Quiroga, Rae, Tighe Daugherty and Louis Toock.
Many of the people who showed up knew each other, and Parmley said they were immediately able to develop a plan.
“The small town, especially the climbing scene and backcountry scene, made it really easy to feel comfortable getting into something a little more complicated,” Parmley said.
As soon as she saw the equipment and the confidence that the climbers had, Quiroga started feeling better. She said she was shocked to see so many people show up to dive into a somewhat perilous situation to help a total stranger.
“It’s hard when you’re in a different country and you don’t know anyone,” Quiroga said. “We had only been here for like a day before this. It definitely felt unexpected, but it was the best surprise to see how much people reached out and tried to help me.”
After the climbers developed a plan, Parmley started rappelling down the face of the cliff.
Like everyone else, he was worried about what he’d find. He said he didn’t know if the dog was even going to be alive until he heard the barking.
Then Nootka came into sight. She was wagging her tail and walking around the small cliff she was on, Parmley recalled. Parmley said Nootka’s bright blue eyes stood out to him.
Rhoades was close behind.
Together, the two of them figured out how to rig a harness for a dog. Using a rope system to move items, Rhoades said, is a pretty standard skill to have for a climber. But using ropes to move a 70-pound dog was a new challenge. The two of them laughed as they recalled the learning process.
“Rigging up a harness to a dog was not something either of us had done before,” Rhoades said, “so we kind of figured it out as we went.”
They rigged Nootka tightly and began to slowly raise her up about 50 meters. Rhoades went up alongside Nootka, trying to keep her safe in the harness and trying to keep her from accidentally hitting her face on the rocks as she was lifted up.
The whole process took around four hours. More than 24 hours after Nootka had taken off running after mountain goats, she and Quiroga were united. As soon as she got some food and water, Nootka was back to her usual energetic and bouncy self.
Quiroga said she knows other dog owners will be upset that Nootka wasn’t on a leash. She said Nootka was on a leash for most of their walk that day, and that Quiroga took the leash off when they were on the Mount Juneau Trail and were away from other dogs.
Quiroga, 29, grew up in Chile but moved to Canada five years ago. She called Nootka her “Canada family,” saying that she and Nootka do everything together. As she spoke Wednesday night at the Alaskan Hotel while Nootka slept upstairs, Quiroga paused and smiled as she spoke about how it felt to have her best friend back.
“I know for a lot of people, it’s not a human life,” Quiroga said, “but to me my dog means everything.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.