About a year and a half ago my best friend Cooper and I moved from the Adirondack Mountains of New York to the Rockies of Colorado. After summiting all 46 high peaks in NY and exploring hundreds of other trails near our small town I was ready for some bigger mountains and new challenges!
Cooper is a 4-year- old black lab. He may be an 80lb goofy bull-in- a china shop dog, but he was made for the mountains. The second I start packing up my gear he is sitting by the car anxiously waiting for the fun to ensue. He may barrel through our house at home, but he thrives on hikes. The best thing about bringing Cooper along is the contagious happiness and motivation he doesn’t even know he’s providing. Whether it is a 3am start in the dark or a 12-hour day on the trails. Just as I am starting to feel exhausted and frustrated, wondering why I do this to myself, Cooper accidentally kicks a rock and automatically thinks it is a game as he chases it down the mountain, tail wagging a mile a minute and grinning ear to ear with the happiest smile I have ever seen. Even when I am struggling internally, I find it impossible to not be happy in the mountains with him. The weather, the view, the distance, none of that matters to Cooper. He is just happy to be included and able to spend the day with me running free and being a dog.
Cooper and I hiked fourteen 14ers during our first year in Colorado. Most recently we summited our 15th 14,000ft mountain and the first one of 2018 with big goals on the horizon. This time, we were accompanied by Coop’s new little brother, a 6-month- old mastiff mix, Trekker.
Bringing my dogs with me on long hikes at high elevation means that I will have way more smiles as well as more responsibility. I am almost certain my dogs would pass out before they stopped to take a break or fall behind my pace regardless of how tired they may be. It’s my job to keep them safe, hydrated and happy. I always make sure to do my research on the trail, anything above a Class 2 and it’s too unsafe for them in my opinion.
Are there water crossings or lakes for them to cool off in? If not, we are starting obnoxiously early to avoid the intense high elevation sun. Extra water, dog food, first aid kit, booties; all get added to mine or Coop’s pack. Cooper is too heavy for me to lift, so I make sure he wears his pack with a handle just in case he needs help getting up or down something. He is way too busy having fun to stop and drink water, so I pour it over his food because if you know labs, you know they are never too busy for food!
After over 4 years together I know what he is capable of, but I didn’t at first. We started off small, a 2-mile walk on a flat trail in the woods and worked our way up to those 12-hour days. My dog gives me the confidence to explore new places and push my limits and in return I give him the opportunity to explore and experience some of the most beautiful places in the world. We bring out the best in each other, whether it’s him giving me the courage to try a new mountain or camp in a new area, or me muscling his booties on when his paws get cold or making sure he gets a few minutes to cool off in a stream on a summer hike.
Cooper is a constant source of motivation and joy for me and to say that he has changed my life for the better is an understatement. I like to think I have had a similar effect on him.
Brecka Coonradt is a nurse and avid weekend warrior living in Colorado Springs, CO. Originally from the Adirondack Mountains of NY, she now explores the Rocky Mountains weekly with her boyfriend, Nick and two adventure pups, Cooper and Trekker. Nick and Brecka started Barkeaters Apparel in January 2018 as a way to bring their love for the outdoors, comfortable clothing and creative designs to others. Follow the adventures on Instagram (@_barkeaters, @breckanized) and Facebook.