SPOKANE — There’s something so empowering about standing on a rock at the top of a hill and looking down at all the world below.
I’ll never forget the first time I felt so complete.
It was just me and my first dog, Shep. In 2009, we hit the Barriere Lake trail in Kananaskis country of Alberta, Canada, and hiked to the McConnell Ridge.
We stopped for a rest and saw the most amazing scenery, past Barriere Lake below to Mount Baldy and turned ever so slightly to see for miles and miles across the Bow Valley.
It was in that moment I knew I was becoming the person I was always meant to be: a dog mom, an adventurer, a spirit less bound by corporate life, cement sidewalks and 9-to-5ing.
Thus, my journeys into the woods began.
‘Just you and me, kid’
The thought of hiking without a dog is weird to me. Maybe that keeps me off certain trails and prevents me from reaching certain lofty summits, but the trails are where my bond is cemented with my dogs.
Our hikes are times of “It’s just you and me, kid.”
Shep and I hiked until he got too old, and I stopped going, too. I couldn’t imagine leaving him behind.
Bella, his successor in my dog mom life, is hitting her middle age at 6 and she loves days out with mama.
A Maremma sheepdog, her natural instinct as a flock guardian dog compels her to be well ahead of me to check out the surroundings and make sure it’s OK for me to advance. I am her flock.
We always sit together at the summit of a trail and revel in our accomplishment.
I am not alone in these feelings of empowerment.
Jacara Fike finds hiking with her dog Remy in Eastern Washington inspiring.
“I really enjoy living vicariously through him as he wags vigorously in excitement at new sights, sounds and smells, even if it’s a hike we’ve done a million times,” she told me on the Women Who Hike Washington Facebook group.
“It inspires me to view the world in a similar lens looking at every experience, every person as if they’re brand new with no preconceived explanation of what ‘should’ be. It helps me think about my place in the world and question how have I been limited by having rigid set expectations compared to if I viewed everything with a fresh point of view and tried to find the positive in every moment no matter how mundane or challenging.”
Other women told me of the bonding moments they share with their dogs, the safety they feel hiking alone, and the encouragement they get from their dogs’ never-quit attitudes.
Cassidy Mills, who hikes the West Side with her Australian cattle dog, wants to hold onto the feeling at each summit forever.
“Something feels so special about having a nonhuman companion that just wants to do what you’re doing,” she said. “Often, Chief gets the zoomies at the summit when we stop for lunch and it reminds me how joyful dogs are and what they bring us.”
Greeted by birds
We woke up bright and early on a recent Sunday morning and made our way to the Iller Creek Conservation Trail in Spokane Valley.
Only a few cars were parked at the base and all was quiet but for the birds greeting us with their morning songs.
Our ascent was a steady and, at times, steep uphill and we extended the trail up the Stevens Creek section to the Rocks of Sharon. Bella and I have been to the Rocks many times before, starting from the Stevens Creek trailhead in Valleyford, but we’d never gone deep into the woods for the entire trail.
From start to finish, Iller Creek is a solid 5 1/2 -mile workout, testing the hamstrings on the way up and the resiliency of toenails slamming into your boots on the way down, with an elevation gain of 1,814 feet.
The trail in early summer is lush green, and our morning was still rain-kissed from the downpours the night before. In patches along the way, it’s lined with gorgeous blue lupine and, higher up, it’s decorated with blanket flower, yellow salsify and buttercups.
Then we reach our goal: the Rocks of Sharon.
Stand on the patio built by giant shards of rock at the bottom of Big Rock and you’re greeted by a magnificent view of the Palouse, sections of which are awash in the yellow of canola fields.
On that little patio, we stopped for a break. The key to packing light while hiking with dogs is to bring snacks that both canine and human can enjoy. Bella and I noshed on some beef jerky and cubes of cheese before it was time to head back down the trail.
We headed down the trail and discovered the back side featured switchbacks, which would have made our ascent a lot easier than a straight uphill.
Fiddlesticks. That would have been nice to know before we started.
Ah well, good to have it in the pocket for future treks.
On the way down, we were met with incredible views of Spokane Valley and, farther in the distance, Mount Spokane and the Selkirk southern range.
We started to see more folks, many walking their dogs, one guy on a fat tire bike and one couple running the trail. It was starting to get as busy as I figured an urban hiking trail would be on a beautiful summer day in Spokane.
By the time we got to the trailhead, the street was lined a half-mile deep with cars.
Our hike was done while others were just getting started.
And it was the perfect way to start the rest of our day — sweaty, dusty, maybe a little muddy, but smiling from ear to ear with tongue and tails wagging.
Bonded, inspired and empowered.