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September 12, 2012
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Porcupine tales from the backcountry

Before last weekend, I didn't know much about porcupines other than their quills look like one bad hair day. Bears are typically my main concern in the backcountry.

Apparently, I underestimated the porcupine.

We headed out into desolation wilderness on Saturday with enough supplies for three days. Just me, my dad and the pooch on a final summer trek.

We made good time and found our first camp spot near Aloha before the sun set. Once the particulars were out of the way - camp, food and bear bag - we settled down with a bottle of whiskey to watch a late-summer meteor shower. The trip seemed perfect.

Chaos breaks lose

We awoke in the middle of the night to loud barking and what sounded like a death match going on outside the tent. No way it's my dog. She's asleep at my feet, safe and sound in the tent.

Just to be sure, I felt around and my heart stopped when there was no familiar lump at the base of my pad.

Horrified, we ripped outside the tent to find the dog tearing into a porcupine. When she finally let go, it looked like a porcupine-puppy war zone. Quills covered her muzzle like white whiskers and were embedded painfully along her gums and tongue. The porcupine didn't exactly fare well either.

We cornered the dog and my dad secured her while I started to pull.

After struggling to pull out three quills it became apparent that they were hooked in by some kind of barbs. What's more, the ones under her muzzle went all the way through into her tongue.

We were seriously out of our league here and I wanted to leave with all 10 fingers.

"Let's pack up," my dad said.

Without further discussion, we packed and were on the trail in five minutes flat.

It was a rocky stretch of trail from Aloha back to Echo and headlamps only went so far.

As we descended toward Tamarack, my dad slipped on a rock and sliced open his hand. The cut wasn't too deep, but because of the elevation and our blood-pumping pace, the gash started spurting like he'd just hit a major artery. We did what we could to stop the bleeding and press on, but the blood loss and physical exhaustion seemed to have left my dad wobbly. We were within three miles of the trailhead when I heard a commotion and turned around to see my dad sprawled in the middle of the trail.

For the second time that night, I tasted my heart in my throat. There's now a new No. 1 priority: Get Dad out safely.

I started to climb back up to him, swearing out loud never to backpacking again.

"Don't say that," my dad said smiling and holding out a bloody hand.

For probably the millionth time in my life, I marvel at his spirit, and with my dad leading the way, we pushed for the finish line.

The aftermath

Nothing has ever looked as good as the Echo Lake marina lights when they finally came into view. All of us picked up the pace and staggered into the parking lot about 5 a.m. on Sunday.

We raced home and call the emergency medical line for pets. It's easy to tell the calm woman on the other end of the call has heard her share of puppy terrors.

She told us not remove the quills if there was a chance they would break off inside the dog and to try to keep her from pawing at them. This was all easier said than done.

As the sun rose, I lay on the ground holding the dog's head while she had mixed success at stabbing me in the face with her quilly muzzle. There was about three hours until the nearest vet, Carson Valley Veterinary Hospital, opened down in Minden, Nev.

We made it down and they immediately admitted us. They sedated the dog and in 30 minutes had all the quills out. They told us it was pretty bad, but could be worse. I will spare you the details on a dog getting a quill in the eye, but suffice it to say we got off lucky.

We got away with one wobbly dog and a bottle of antibiotics for infection, but I definitely felt guilty about the whole ordeal.

"It's OK, honestly I don't mind watching Sunday football," my dad said, waving his patched-up hand.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Sep 12, 2012 01:31AM Published Sep 12, 2012 01:26AM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.