Climbers rescue dog stranded overnight high on Berthoud Pass
WINTER PARK — A Denver couple discovered over the weekend that the difference between tragedy and a miracle involves luck, skill and, more often than not, a friendly helping hand.
Denver resident and backcountry powder chaser Brandon Fox was riding around the Berthoud Pass area Saturday with his beloved dog, Yoshi, a small male shiba inu, when the two became separated. After realizing Yoshi was no longer at his side, Fox began a frantic search for his dog along the snow-covered slopes of the pass. It took six hours of scouring the hills near the top of the pass before Fox located Yoshi on a small rock outcropping high above him.
Yoshi was stuck in a precarious spot, on the edge of a cliff face below a steep powder field. His location was extremely difficult to reach and the avalanche danger posed by the snow directly above him made descending to retrieve Yoshi an impossibility.
Shortly after Fox located Yoshi, the dog’s other owner, Fox’s girlfriend, Liat Arochas, arrived on the scene. Twilight was falling and night was not far off while severe winter weather was impacting the area.
The couple contacted Grand County Search and Rescue, which was then in the midst of a separate search and rescue mission, and were told the organization would be out Sunday morning to assist.
“We received a call from the sheriff to consider mounting a rescue for a stranded dog on Berthoud Pass,” said Greg Foley, Grand County Search and Rescue member. “At the time, Grand County Search and Rescue members were assisting Routt County with the rescue of an injured snowmobiler near Rabbit Ears Pass. The weather was horrible, with low-visibility blizzard conditions.
“Based on the time, location description, blizzard conditions and avalanche danger, the mission was declined.”
After contacting search and rescue, Fox and Arochas descended Berthoud Pass and spent a sleepless night in Georgetown.
“We didn’t know if he would survive the night,” Arochas said. “It was so windy, it was snowing. When we got down to Georgetown we went to the police station and an officer said there was a cold front coming through that night. We looked at each other and we started crying.”
After fretting the night away in Georgetown, the couple rose early and made their way back up the pass, expecting the worst. Luckily enough, their spirits were quickly lifted after arriving back beneath Yoshi’s location — he was still alive.
“He popped his head out and he started barking,” Arochas said. “We were so happy. It was music to our ears. He had made a burrow for himself.”
But how to rescue Yoshi was still in question.
After officials from search and rescue arrived Sunday morning to check out Yoshi’s position on the cliff, the decision was made to decline a rescue mission for the dog.
“We confirmed that it was too dangerous,” Foley said. “On Sunday, the winds had died down; the (avalanche) danger was the primary consideration.”
The decision, while found both practical and prudent, was heartbreaking for the couple.
“The worst part was, we could see him the whole time,” Arochas said. “We could see him looking down on us. It was like a death sentence for him.”
The couple decided they were not going to give up and began searching the Berthoud Pass area for anyone who was able to assist. A member of search and rescue stayed behind to ensure Fox did not attempt to rescue the dog on his own, potentially killing himself and Yoshi in the process.
“After several hours, two guys came down the mountain and came right up to me,” Arochas said. “They asked if it was my dog up there and said they were going to try and save him.”
The two men, George Meres and Franklin Jacobs, were experienced and skilled ice climbers with just the right set of equipment to reach Yoshi. To avoid the dangerous powder field directly above the dog the duo scaled straight up the cliff face beneath Yoshi.
After roughly four more hours, the pair of climbers reached Yoshi on his snow covered ledge.
“At that point it was sunset,” Arochas said. “Right when they brought him down it was like the clouds cleared and the heavens opened up.”
Yoshi was a bit cold, but given his weekend ordeal, he was doing remarkably well. According to Arochas, Yoshi suffered no injuries from the incident, and thanks to the plentiful snow around him was not even dehydrated after his recovery.
“It was an amazing feeling, having him back in our arms,” Arochas said over the phone from her home near Capitol Hill. Yoshi could be heard barking in the background.
After getting their beloved pup back down to safety, the couple headed down to Idaho Springs and stopped into a local bar and recounted their harrowing tale for friends. Yoshi was treated to some French fries and chicken.
“It was a miracle,” Arochas beamed.