Around 1:00 p.m. on July 2, 2023, frantic pet owners dialed 911 after watching their dog walk off the east face of 14,200 feet Torrey’s Peak in Colorado. The pet owners didn’t know if their dog was alive or not, but hope was dwindling as they could no longer see Zola, the 3-year-old Aussiedoodle.
Alpine Rescue Team, a group based in Jefferson County and entirely volunteer dependent, responded to the call. Seven members of the rescue team arrived at the trailhead of the peak with plans to locate and hopefully perform a rescue of the 30-pound dog. From a couple of miles away, the team spotted Zola through binoculars located at the top of South Paw Couloir, right beneath a cornice.
The distance the team was viewing the dog from was substantial enough that the condition of the Aussiedoodle couldn’t be assessed, so the extent of the injuries, or if she was even still alive, was unknown. The seven-person rescue team then conducted a risk assessment and concluded that they would hike the seven miles to the summit.
After reaching the summit and making contact with the owners, the rescue team determined that Zola had fallen an estimated 600 feet, but was miraculously still alive. The 1,500 feet couloir the dog was stranded at the top of was still entirely covered in snow and ice, making the conditions for the rescue even more challenging and dangerous.
After reviewing their options, the rescue team eventually decided to anchor a climber to a nearby boulder, from which they would descend 30 feet, and then traverse over to where the dog was located. After successfully reaching Zola, one of the rescuers discovered that she didn’t have any life threatening injuries, but several abrasions prevented her from being able to walk on her back legs, meaning the rescuers would have to pull her out and carry her down the mountain.
The rescue team didn’t have a harness that would fit the dog, so their solution was to zip her up in a backpack with her head poking out. After being stranded for nearly 8 hours, the rescuers explained that Zola was mellow and calm the entire way down the peak and back to safety.
Jake Smith, the spokesperson of the rescue team, advises that environments like Colorado’s “14ers” are high-consequence environments and pets should always be leashed to prevent situations like this. Although Zola made it out okay and is expected to make a full recovery, long high-stakes rescues like this consume lots of resources and time, which can simply be avoided by leashing and keeping track of pets.