Heinous Mosquitoes and Injured Pups

I like to think I get out backpacking with the doggos every month, but the truth is it’s a lot less often than that. Which is a total bummer, because there is nothing our dogs love more than a little backcountry adventure.

We used to take Zoe everywhere, and she’d be a nonstop ball of energy who could keep moving all day. She loved off-trail, would tag peaks and hike by our side for hours on end. If I was physically capable of doing it, so was Zoe. Unfortunately, as Zoe has gotten older, she just plain gets tired now. Sometimes little bouts of arthritis will creep in and slow her down even more, and she isn’t as sure on her feet as she once was.

Stanley, on the other hand, has always been a little bit soft. He’s not nearly as athletic as Zoe, but what he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in determination. In the backcountry, that’s not always a good thing. But no matter how beat up he gets, he refuses to slow down and he sure as hell won’t complain. His paws get worked, his hair matted with tree sap, and his belly all scratched up. By the time we get to camp, he will probably limp off in privacy to lick his wounds, but will return fully stoked.

Early morning light and perfectly still water. A moment of peace before the mozzies come back to life.

Really big multi-day trips with all four of us are a stretch nowadays. Instead we focus on fewer miles and more casual trips, preferably with a good amount of fishing, squirrel chasing (but not catching) and some fetch.

This year, when Pioneer Day in Utah rolled around and DC had a day off work, we decided to skip another round of fireworks in town and go find some peace and solitude in the Winds.

Solitude we found. But peace? Maybe not so much.

The Winds have always had a reputation for heinous bugs, and over the years I’ve always timed my trips either before or after the worst pressure. This year, I was blinded by my enthusiasm to check out a new zone and convinced myself it wouldn’t be that bad.

Moderate bugs the last week of July in a big snow year? Wishful thinking, to be sure.

The bugs were bad. Really bad.

Bugs aside, backpacking with dogs definitely means carrying more weight – more food, more gear, and a bigger tent and extra insulation. Without a doubt, my favorite piece of backcountry gear for two people plus dogs is the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 4. At 24oz, it’s a backcountry palace. When the bugs are heinous, I throw in the modular insert and it’s a bugproof fortress.

But every time I lay out my sleeping bag or inflate my neoair, I’m nervous Stanley will lose his shit at the first sound of a chipmunk, and go tearing through the tent. It’s no big deal with just the fly, but he hasn’t exactly grasped the concept of mosquito netting. The very first trip I ever use the brand new inner, Stanley shot through the netting like a cannon, and tore a two foot long section of wall clean open.

Mesh is thankfully the easiest thing on the planet to field-repair, and it’s held strong for years since.

We’ve also lost a neoair to a puncture from a dogs paw when they busted out of the tent early one morning. We carry a few wraps of tyvek tape for easy neoair repairs, which works wonders.

We’ve learned to be a lot more careful with our ultralight gear now, and fortunately damage is a bit less frequent. The same cannot always be said for the dog’s themselves. By day two, it was obvious we’d have to slow down from even the casual agenda we’d planned. Stanley’s front paw was getting beat up by the rocky Wind River terrain, and despite wearing booties he had a tear in his pad. Zoe was doing pretty well, right up until Lindsey was landing a small brook trout and Zoe jumped in the lake eager to get a closer look. When climbing back out she slipped on some boulders and scraped up her knee which turned into a limp. With one more big off-trail pass still to go, we decided we should probably slow down, head back to the trail, and play more fetch.

It’s hard watching the dogs slow down (Zoe at least, Stanley’s always been this slow). But even on an abbreviated trip with pretty casual fare, the puppers treat it like it’s the adventure of a lifetime. They are always stoked, never complain, and sure as hell won’t let me sleep in for sunrise.

The Ultamid 4 is the ultimate backcountry palace for hanging out and avoiding relentless mosquitoes.