Category: Winter Activities

Walker with dog in snow. Photo Daniel Frank

5 Practical Tips for Taking Your Dog Hill and Mountain Walking

The French Alps offer many grand adventures for those that seek them out, including skiing, as well as activities like dog-sledding, and mountain walking. But people aren’t the only ones that can experience the beauty of the Alps. As a pet owner, you know there’s nothing better than enjoying one of your favourite pastimes with your best friend, Fido. For advice that will make your first (or next) outing together stress-free, check out these practical tips for taking your dog hill and mountain walking.

Woman snowshoeing in snow with dog. Photo Bonnie Kittle

Is Your Dog Ready?

If this is the first time you’ve taken your dog mountain walking, start with a short, easy trail that’s appropriate for his size and stamina. Remember, Fido doesn’t have shoes to protect his paws, so choose terrain that’s not too harsh, preferably with dirt versus rock paths. It’s also important to ensure your dog knows and responds to all commands appropriately. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you need him to listen, but he’s busy smelling the flowers instead.

Women walking on a mountain trail with dog. Photo Holly Mandarich

Beware of Other People and Animals

One of the main reasons to make sure Fido responds to commands is that you may run into other people, pets, or wild animals on the trail. If your dog chases anything that runs away from him, you’ll want to keep him leashed for his safety and yours. You may also wish to consider researching the local plants in the area so you and Fido will know what to avoid.

Avoid Excessive Cold or Heat

With a thick layer of fur to protect them, many people don’t think dogs experience cold as we do. That’s not always the case. Smaller breeds can get cold easily, so if you’re taking a tiny Fido along with you, check the weather forecast and “dress” him appropriately. The same applies in cases of excessive heat. Do your research in advance and choose a trail with plenty of shade for your dog to rest out of direct sunlight.

Dog wearing coat in snow, on lead. Photo by William Moreland

Pack a Bag for Your Dog

You likely already have a few things in mind to pack for your dog’s adventure outdoors, including a collapsible water bowl, first aid kit, lead, insect repellent, paw balm for his pads, and waste disposal bags. You might even want to consider purchasing a pack for your dog to carry since you’ll have your own to manage. If you do, take your dog along shopping so he can try on different options and you can make sure the final choice is a good fit. You’ll want to train him to wear the pack without argument, so let him sport it around the house and on short walks to get used to the idea.

Doggy ID

Probably the most important thing you can do to protect your dog on your mountain walking adventures is to have him micro-chipped. It’s also best to ensure he’s wearing proper identification on his collar and a GPS tracker. The last thing you want is to lose Fido in the Alps. That certainly would not be a good ending to a grand adventure with man’s best friend.

Wolf

A day in the life of a wolf

MountainPassions teams up with multi-activity specialists Undiscovered Mountains to bring you this extraordinary account of tracking wolves in the Southern French Alps.

European Grey Wolves are present in the Southern Alps

European Grey Wolves are present in the Southern Alps and are a protected species

We awake early and set off in search of wolf activity, in a wild, mountainous and little-visited corner of the French Alps. My husband, Bernard Guillaume, is the expert – he’s a high mountain guide and wolf enthusiast, and we’re tracking wolves with clients on wolf tracking trips with Undiscovered Mountains. Under no illusions or expectations that we will find anything at all, we’re nevertheless rewarded almost straight away by the discovery of fresh tracks. Two tracks, one slightly smaller than the other, in the classic straight-line formation, suggest this is a wolf, rather than a dog; Bernard confirms it is probably a father and his son, who are known to patrol this territory.

We follow the tracks up a wide forest track – the wolves have chosen to follow the path of least resistance. The tracks are steady and regular… it seems they are strolling, not running. Are they walking on full bellies and gradually digesting,  patrolling their territory as part of a regular control, or are they searching quietly for prey?  The tracks continue upwards, and we come across a fresh dropping. It looks like a large dog poo but full of hair, and as Bernard pokes it open, we discover bits of bone too. Just next to it is a smaller poo of similar consistency but with the addition of berries, giving it a slightly red colour, “This is a fox poo..” explains Bernard, “they often follow the wolves in the hope of scavenging their prey, and leave their mark as they go.”  Further up the wolves defecate again, but this time the fox has not followed suit – perhaps distracted by something else along the way.

As we arrive in a small sheltered clearing, the tracks change their rhythm and we see shorter paces, skids and slides, and then large areas of rolled-out snow. What’s going on here? Were they playing, maybe chasing after an animal that has crossed their path? We see no other tracks to suggest the second explanation and it’s a perfect spot to chill out, so maybe they did just that – a bit of messing around before an afternoon nap. We do the same, and eat our lunch where the wolves had considerately flattened the snow for us.

Wolf prints

Wolf Prints

After lunch we pick up the tracks again and follow them. They continue up and up, still following the path of least resistance and keeping the same rhythm. Then, for no apparent reason, the tracks separate. One goes off left down the side of the mountain, while the other continues along a forest trail. Bernard explains that they are probably separating to hunt. We follow the wolf on the forest trail. He’s briefly distracted, and goes towards the edge of the trail before his partner rejoins him – obviously there was nothing very interesting down there!

But they’re not giving up yet, and shortly afterwards they split again. Then suddenly our wolf does a huge jump, and we can see the skid of his landing as he sprints off down the mountainside. We quickly understand why. Just ahead we see the tracks of a chamois crossing the path, obviously unaware of the approaching predator just behind him. It’s now too steep to attempt to follow the pursuit, but Bernard has a look with his binoculars in search of blood or other signs in the snow. He finds nothing. We continue along our forest trail, and after a while the wolves come back. Did they catch the chamois or did it escape? They’re back in their patrolling stride, making it easy to follow them while picturing the father and son bonding as they walk.

We stop for a drink, and Bernard spots a chamois opposite us on the other side of the mountain. It’s limping, as if injured. Is this the fated chamois the wolves attacked? Did it escape with a broken leg – or is this an old injury from some other event? We’ll never know the answer, but we understand perfectly how tough the reality of life is for animals in this wilderness.

The wolves decide to take a short cut up the mountainside but it’s too late for us to follow them. “They are almost certainly going up to the col..”, says Bernard. “It’s a well known passage for animals to pass through.” We take a short-cut back down, off-trail in the woods and mountainsides. It’s great fun and half way down Bernard stops and suggests we howl. “There’s a good chance that the wolves have gone round to the other side of the mountains from the col. If we howl, they may respond.” We howl and hear it echo and rebound off the mountain sides. Then we wait in silence: nothing. So we carry on.

Guide Bernard Guillaume howling

Guide Bernard Guillaume howling

I drop back briefly and let the others go off in front. The mountains are silent around me, and then I hear it – the faint but unmistakable echo of a howl. I stop and listen, focusing intensely on the sound. At first I don’t believe myself; surely it can’t be the wolves replying to us? But if it is I must get to the others quickly, to see if they heard it, too. I run, and of course all the noise of my running cuts out any other sound. I arrive breathless, assuming they have heard it. But they haven’t, so we stop and listen again.  I suddenly feel very stupid – maybe it was my imagination getting carried away?

And then I hear it again, this time stronger. In fact, we  all hear it, and exchange awestruck looks. We listen and then Bernard howls again. When we stop and listen again it’s definitely the wolves, and there are many voices in the pack – certainly more than two. The sound is eerie but at the same time joyful, and is powerful, too… I can almost feel the sound waves hitting my body. It’s also one of the most magical wildlife experiences I’ve ever had. We continue to exchange howls with our mystery wolves for 10 full and glorious minutes before they move off, and the howling stops. We also head off and continue back down to the car, ending up just to the right of where we started.

Arriving from a different angle means we spot something very important, which we’d missed this morning. In the field behind the track is a carcass. It’s a deer, but all we see is blood-stained snow and lots of tracks going back and forth. It’s almost certainly the early morning kill of the wolves we followed today, and the rest of the local animals have finished it off during the morning. Now even the bones have been scavenged and taken off to feed hungry bellies hidden in the forest.

It also completes the picture, and now we can imagine the wolves with their bellies full, proudly patrolling their territory, relaxing, playing and hunting probably more out of instinct than of need for today…

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