Stella and I summited our first 14er in the summer of 2012. I’d just gotten out of a messy divorce and had officially become a single parent of a pit bull puppy adopted just months prior. We tackled Bierstadt on a busy Saturday, and in hindsight, I can’t help but laugh at the (lack of) experience. I was in jeans, and Stella made it to the top probably an hour before I did due to my stubborn refusal to use her leash. Lesson learned.
From there, we conquered Grey’s and Torrey’s, La Plata, Huron, and Mount Sherman. The following summer, following a late spring ACL repair, we summited several more peaks in the Collegiate range before setting sights on the rugged San Juans. Stella was an endless ball of joyful energy, and at times my climbing partners would joke how she likely had doubled our mileage on any given day with how she’d sprint back and forth as we slowly meandered up the hill at our own respective pace.
Lake City would be my first trip to the magnificent San Juan Mountain Range and ultimately inspire my move here. After summiting Red Cloud and Sunshine Peaks that day, we set up camp in American Basin. The view from our campsite was incredible; wildflowers carpeted the tundra, and a picturesque creek babbled next to the otherwise empty trailhead parking lot. And the top of the mountain looked deceivingly near! Decisions for a sunrise summit made, we set our alarms and crawled in the tent at dusk.
In the morning, we climbed Handies was magical. My newly reconstructed knee was sore from the previous day’s climb, but the trail’s non-technical grade was forgiving enough to push onward, racing the dawn. In hindsight, Stella was cold. My one regret as her owner was not investing in a good doggy jacket (she did have sweaters, but I will refrain from describing them in honor of her memory). She snuggled me on my lap as we watched the first light hit each distant peak. This trip inspired so many more adventures in the following years, and we ultimately ended moved to the area full time in 2016.
Stella summited twenty-two 14ers in the short eight years she graced this planet. Three days before her untimely death, we climbed two 13ers in the Silverton area with a close friend. She was exuberant. As hard as it was to lose her, I’m so thankful she had the life she did and that my last memories of her are chasing flies and trying to steal our summit snacks.
A few words of wisdom for anyone who desires to climb mountains with their dogs: be a conscious, respectful owner; pack out waste, leash your dog on busy trails (or whenever the rules/situation require such), bring adequate snacks/water/comfort needs, leave them at home for technical pursuits, and above all, read your dog’s comfort level and relish in their happiness. Dogs make us better people, and my time with Stella turned me into the adventure-seeking, animal-loving person I am to this day.