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Summer vacation … and Rosco the Rescue Dog

Sylas Wright/Sierra SunCourtright Reservoir.
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A week-long trip home to visit the family reconfirmed what an awesome mountain range I was fortunate enough to grow up in.

Not that anyone residing or vacationing in the Truckee-Tahoe area isn’t aware, but the Sierra Nevada is a paradise ” especially when compared to the steaming hot, smog-infested valley bordering to the west.

It just so happened that a record-breaking heat wave settled on California the day I drove through the heart of the San Joaquin Valley to Fresno, where the temperature reached a sticky 113 degrees ” a record high for July 22.



The heat was unbearable. Enough so to render my Subaru’s air conditioner worthless as it spewed lukewarm air.

So after hanging out with my Grandma for a few hours, it was off to the Shaver Lake area, where my folks still dwell in the Sierra some 50 or so miles northeast of Fresno.



Near Shaver Lake, at 5,370 feet in elevation, the temperatures remained hot but topped out somewhere in the 90s ” comparable to Truckee.

To truly beat the heat, my parents and I hit the lake with Rosco the family Lab the following day.

Less than two months removed from a near-death experience from a mysterious poisoning ” or possible unknown virus, the veterinarian concluded ” Rosco was back to his old self: a swimming fool like most young Labs.

While retrieving his beloved tennis ball time and time again in a Shaver Lake cove, Rosco became somewhat of a hero to one grateful man.

Several members of a boisterous group less than 100 yards across the cove from us decided to make the swim to our side. As four or five of them reached the granite shore, two lagged behind.

“I can’t breathe,” one of the men said from about the halfway point in the water.

A girl who had completed her swim offered instruction to lie on their backs, which they did. A couple minutes passed as we continued to toss the ball for the dog.

One of the two stragglers reached his destination on an apparent second wind.

The other swimmer, the one who commented about not being able to breathe, had gained little ground.

“I can’t breathe!” he cried out again, this time with more desperation in his voice. “I’m serious, I can’t breathe!”

By this time my mom was concerned.

“He’s not kidding,” she said to us.

Thinking one or more of the struggling swimmer’s friends would help their buddy, who was now completely idle and starting to flail about 25 yards from us, we remained on the shore, looking back and forth between the unconcerned group and its weak link.

Returning from a fetch, Rosco turned 90 degrees and made a beeline toward the man upon a third and most apprehensive plea.

The 2-year-old chocolate Lab swam up to the right side of the man, who then grabbed on with one hand as Rosco pulled in like a tugboat the dead weight of his passenger.

After reaching the rock we had claimed for the day, the man let go of Rosco’s back and sprawled out half in the water and half out, laboring to catch his breath. Rosco looked for someone to throw his ball, which remained in his mouth during the rescue.

“That dog saved my life,” the 200-plus-pound man said after about a full minute on his back. “I gotta give him a kiss.”

With his group now laughing and poking fun at his failed attempt to cross the cove, the grateful man asked if he could borrow Rosco to return to the other side. Instead, a member of his group returned and gave him a ride back in a car.

The next day at the lake, Rosco hit the water apparently thinking everyone needed his help, as he continually swam out to swimmers and kayakers until we convinced him that everyone was OK.

After two days spent on the beaches of Shaver Lake, my dad and I decided to take the dog deeper into the Sierra to Courtright Reservoir, situated at 8,170 feet in elevation and about 33 miles east of Shaver.

What a beautiful body of water.

With bare granite domes protruding from the shores and 13,568-foot Mount Goddard of Kings Canyon National Park looming above, Courtright is quite the sight to see.

Although few people were boating and even less swimming in the high-country lake, making for zero rescue opportunities, Rosco made himself useful by entertaining us as we tossed his tennis ball into the frigid water.

Before returning down the mountain, we swung by Wishon Reservoir, another awe-inspiring body of water, and McKinley Grove, an isolated grove of sequoias.

It was a better day than most.

A day later, we took Rosco swimming in Huntington Lake at the base of Sierra Summit ski resort and Kaiser Pass, which leads to backcountry gems Florence and Edison lakes.

Because Huntington was struck by a flash flood on July 21 that resulted in mass amounts of debris ” including entire trees uprooted by the thunderstorm on Kaiser Pass ” filling the east end of the lake, we took the route through the town of Big Creek to the west end.

Slightly below 7,000 feet in elevation, Huntington is a sailor’s paradise, with predictable southerly winds from June through September. It is also the location of one of the most frightening experiences of my childhood: A high speed, tilted death ride on a catamaran with my uncle.

But this visit offered no sailboat rides ” just more tennis ball throwing for Rosco the Rescue Dog.

Upon returning to my cabin on Donner Lake Sunday, I felt lucky to have moved from such a beautiful place to another of equal serenity.


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