Trail angels come in many forms. The fellow hiker who appears from nowhere with an extra bottle of water. A radio-toting ranger in a time of medical emergency. Or maybe a husky named Nanook who shows the way back to the trail to a lost, distressed hiker in the Alaskan wilderness.
Last week, 21-year-old Amelia Milling was on a three-day solo backpacking trip in the Eagle River Valley, near Anchorage, when she glissaded out of control near the Crow Pass trail, was launched into the air by a boulder, then slid/fell some 300 feet further. When she came to rest she was injured, confused, and lost. That’s when Nanook showed up.
Hikers on the Crow Pass trail. Photo: NPS
As if dispatched by a SAR crew, Nanook led Milling—who is deaf—back to the trail. Milling noted that Nanook was wearing tags identifying him as a Crow Pass guide dog. He was just doing his job. The two camped together that night, with Nanook at the foot of Milling’s tent the whole time.
The following day, Milling tried to ford a swollen, freezing stream, when she fell in, losing her backpack, and courting hypothermia or drowning. Again, Nanook sprung into action. According to Milling, the husky leaped in and retrieved her bag, and helped the struggling Milling make it to shore and out of the water.
Once back on land, Milling recognized she was potentially in danger—still suffering from her fall the day before, now deeply cold and wet, and she activated the SOS feature on a personal locator beacon she carried. When the SAR helicopter descended shortly after, there was Nanook, still by Milling’s side. The dog was so protective of Milling, rescuers just assumed Nanook belonged to her.
Nanook’s actual human companion, a man named Scott Swift, said the dog patrols the Crow Pass trail on his own, escorting hikers along the way, acting as a rescue dog, even though he has no training. “This is the second time I’ve heard of [that] he has saved someone from drowning in that river,” Swift told the Anchorage Daily News.
Rescuers were thrilled to bring Milling our safe and sound. Sadly, that same zone in Alaska had seen three people die in the wilderness in recent days.
“I believe the dog is a guardian angel,” Milling said about Nanook.