A Castlegar family is rejoicing after their dog who had been missing for more than three weeks was rescued by rock climbers.
Marissa Balahura had given up hope that her dog, Stellar, would be found alive.
Almost every day, Balahura or one of her friends or family members hiked up the Brilliant Overlook Trail near Castlegar looking for the 10-year-old pointer cross, since she had gotten lost on March 10 during a hike the family frequently makes.
On April 2, she trekked up the trail one more time — this time looking for her dog’s remains.
But then her cell phone rang. The voice on the line asked, “Are you missing a dog?”
The call was coming from a pair of rock climbers on a cliff known as the Brilliant Bluffs Megawatt Route in the area where Stellar had gone missing. They had discovered her stranded on a rock ledge about 200 metres above the ground and about 40 metres down from the top of the cliff.
Jared Smith and Hannah Stephan were surprised when they came across a dog towards the end of their climb.
Smith first tried to cradle the dog in his arms while making his way up, but Stellar was nervous and he was afraid she might try to wriggle free.
Stephan then came up with the idea of trying to put the dog in their rope bag – a large Ikea shopping bag – they had in their pack.
“I put the dog in the rope bag,” explained Smith. “Pretty much it was just us, inching this dog up by climbing a bit, inching the dog up. With Hannah holding the rope, I’d climb up a bit up more, then push the dog up.”
As they were climbing, the dog’s nails pierced through the bag.
“I was scared the bag was going to rip open, so I pretty much supported the bag with one arm while trying to climb up with the other one,” added Smith.
The climb is a fully-bolted eight-pitch sport route, and Smith said they were tied in and safe, so he wasn’t too nervous about falling.
He was amazed by the stroke of luck that put them in the same place as the dog, being able to read the phone number on the dog’s collar that was badly worn, and then discovering the dog’s owner was already nearby.
The pair had also originally planned their climb for later in the week, but a look at the weather forecast moved their plans forward.
“If the rain hadn’t been coming and we missed our chance, I don’t think we would have found a live dog,” said Smith.
When they finally reached the top, Balahura was there waiting for them.
“I was able to be there when they pulled her over the edge,” she said. “I was sobbing.
“They totally saved her life. The way she looks now – I can’t imagine how much longer she could have lasted up there.”
A vet confirmed that other than being emaciated and covered with ticks, Stellar was okay.
Balahura is looking forward to the day when her constant companion can once again join her hiking, trail running, biking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.