THE FOUR DAY TRAIL (C)by
It was 1997, winter, cold and snowing, when the call came in. Could you bring your dogs to New York State? There are two hunters lost in the Adirondack mountains. "We have searched for two days, and are very concerned that if we don't find them soon, they will die from exposure". I called around to members of our wilderness search team, to see who was available to go. I told them it was going to be a long one, maybe two days. Bill West, a Mohawk Indian, called work and took a weeks vacation, and came immediately to the kennel.
Westie and I loaded two of our best Tracking* bloodhounds, and Rocky the Great Mastiff-Bloodhound cross into the van. We took enough "MRE", army "Meals ready to eat" and concentrated powdered, high protein food for the dogs for a week. Rocky, although not a pure bred bloodhound, had one advantage. He was a monestrous dog, 2 inches taller than our largest bloodhound and weighing almost 150 pounds. He was trained for only one purpose. To trudge along behind the search team, with saddle bags filled with food for man and dogs. Westie and I carried the rest of the food and equipment in our back packs.
We arrived at the staging area in the middle of the afternoon of the third day that the men were lost. It was set up near the pickup truck they used to drive here. Relatives had been called to identify the clothing of the two men left in the truck when they changed into their hunting gear. Luckily, both men had changed from shoes to boots before setting out, and we had excellent scent material. I scented "Bill" on one shoe from hunter number one, and "Elle" on a shoe from hunter number two. The two men have been lost now for two and a half days.
We still had three or four hours of daylight left, and decided to start right out. Both dogs picked up the scent trail at once, and rushed ahead into the forest. When darkness fell, we set up camp, rested, and fed ourselves and the dogs. At dawn, we were hot on their trail again. Both dogs going full blast ahead on the same track*. This meant that they were still traveling together. Day two of the search ended as day one did, A camp. We are used to being out in the wilderness, and our equipment has been refined over the years. The tent we now use was developed for mountaineers. It is made of a tight woven nylon, and with the exception of the air vents that we can open if we wish, holds the heat in very well. When rolled up this tent is no larger than a loaf of bread. We do not need a stove, since we only use MRE,
but do carry a small Sterno stove to make coffee, sterilize eating utensils and warm water for the dog's concentrate. At night, after the dogs and men are fed, we zip closed with men and dogs inside the tent. We have never been cold.
In the morning we put Elle in front, since Bill had lead yesterday. Both dogs were tracking* together, meaning that both men were still walking together. Instead of staying put when they realized they were lost, they were moving ahead of us trying desperately to find their way out. These men have been lost in these mountains for five days. We were now in the third day of our quest to find them, and the chances of finding them alive were getting smaller. In the middle of the afternoon of this third day, we started to find discarded equipment. The guns were the first, than their back packs, a canteen, a sit upon, a wool hat. The thing that raised our hopes was, right next to the hat was a candy bar wrapper. These men were getting desperate, but they did have some provisions with them, and they were still together. Darkness fell, and we were also getting tired, Elle had a small cut on her paw which we treated. Bill and Rocky seemed fine, but Bill slept on the bottom of my sleeping bag that night. He seldom did this unless he was getting tired. We found a creek and refilled our canteen in the morning, fed ourselves and gave the dogs an extra measure of concentrated food.
The forth day was very event filled. At ten in the morning, with both dogs still tracking* well we came to a two lane paved road. The dogs did not hesitate, but charged ahead across it into the forest on the other side. They were pulling harder now, the trail was getting fresher. Had Westie and I , not been well trained bloodhound handlers, the two men would be dead today. The same thought entered both our heads as we raced across the paved road. "The Dogs Are Wrong". We both thought that they would not go across the road, but stay on it and wait for help. One thing you learn very early, is to believe your dog, so Westie and I followed them into the forest on the other side. This area was shaded by a hill to the south, and still had snow cover on the ground. It was obvious to us that the dogs were correct when we started to find footprints in the snow. Not of men walking, but of men staggering and falling down and getting to their feet. Westie, a Mohawk Indian, said to me, "We must hurry now, they do not have much time left".We stopped for a moment and each put two sugar cubes in our mouth, opened the eight ounce flask of brandy and each took a mouth full. I dont know about Westie, but when that brandy hit my stomach my whole body tingled and my face flushed. We tied the end of the thirty foot lead around our waists to be sure we would not loose the dogs if we fell, and gave the dogs the "Go at full Run" command of "Hup Hup". We followed also at a full run, spending the last of our energy to get to them before they died.
> About a half mile after the road, Elle cut to the right and climbed the hill to it's top. She started baying, and was following the ridge line above me. Bill started to bay also, but continued in the valley. We knew that we were now very close to them , but they had split up. One of the men had climbed the hill and the other stayed in the valley. As soon as we split up both Westie and I turned on our radios. Westie found the first one, sitting at the base of a tree rocking back and forth with his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms holding them tight. I learned later that this is called a "Fetal" position, and is an indication of severe mental trauma. I found the second about ten minutes later. Laying on his face in the snow. I turned him over and he called for his Mommy. We treated them as best we could, gave them both food and water and called for "Med-Evac" on the radio. A helicopter landed on the paved road and para- medics carried them out to it.
The following day, in the hospital, they were both interviewed by the State Police, They asked them both the same question, "Why did you not stay on the paved road and wait for help". To the astonishment of all ,they both had the same answer. "WE NEVER CROSSED A ROAD". Both men were so disoriented and close to death that another five or six hours would have brought tragedy to their families.
Westie and I returned to the paved road and gave the keys to the van to a Trooper and asked him to have our van driven here. We were in no condition to hike back to it. An hour later a fireman drove up to us with our van and we loaded all the dogs and drove home.
All the dogs slept for almost ten hours, and would not eat.
Westie and I had a few belts of Irish Whiskey and slept right along with them. When we were all rested, the dogs ate with a hunger we seldom see. Westie and I ate a big steak dinner, and later in the evening, decided to have a good helping of adult beverages. This we Did!!!!! And by nine thirty, were full of ourselves, congratulating ourselves, and telling the walls how great we are. The next morning one of the men from the search team visited to hear the story. We told him how great we were.
He said, " What in the hell are you so happy about?, The dogs found them not you. You guys were just the "BOOBS" on the end of the leash." A dose of reality, because he was absolutely right.
Both "Bill" and "Elle" are "Trackers" , Bloodhounds that follow directly in the footsteps of a lost human. We did nothing to cause this to happen. When first put into harness, this is how they both worked. I learned from a breeder named Jerry Yelk that this is an inherited trait, because 80 percent of bloodhounds are "Trailers", Bloodhounds that follow the wind blown scent of a lost human. These bloodhounds can and many times are far away and down wind of the "Track". Had we been using trailing bloodhounds, we probably would not have found the discarded equipment, and may not have been there in time to save the lives of the hunters.Copyright: Kevin Sean Kelly, (C) 2001 All Rights Reserved