After a deaf hiker fell 600 feet down a mountain, a rescue helicopter finally spotted her wrapped in a sleeping bag. As they got closer, they realized she wasn’t alone.
Undeterred by her disability, Amelia Milling, a deaf 21-year-old Rochester Institute of Technology student, planned a 3-day solo hike on Crow Pass, a 23-mile trail in the Chugach mountain range of Alaska. On the second day of the hike, the deaf Tennessee college student hit some snow, fell, and broke her trekking poles. Then, one wrong step caused her to fall over 300 feet down a hill, crashing into a large boulder before she was launched another few hundred feet down the mountain.
“I felt like I was flying,” Amelia recalled. When she landed, she was bleeding and bruised. Her first thought was that her dream vacation was over, but she’d soon realize that her situation was much worse than that. Amelia had plummeted 600 feet down an icy mountain, and although she had somehow managed not to break a single bone, it would still be a challenge for her to find the path by herself. Then, she realized she wasn’t alone.
“He showed up suddenly out of nowhere. I thought he was a wolf at first until I saw the bone tag,” Amelia said, recalling the moment a white dog appeared. The 7-year-old husky, who she would later learn was named Nanook and affectionately called “Nookie,” was wearing a silver bone-shaped tag that read, “Crow Pass Guide, Return to …” with his owner’s address. But, the dog would help return the human to where she belonged, not the other way around.
For the next day and a half, Nookie refused to leave Amelia’s side. “He gave me the motivation to get up and walk another seven miles,” Amelia said. “If he didn’t show up, I probably wouldn’t have gotten back up and kept walking that much,” she added, referring to “Alaska’s version of Lassie” after Nookie helped rescue her.
Nookie led Amelia back to the trail and continued hiking with her until nightfall. Amelia set up her tent and invited Nookie inside, but he seemed to prefer the great outdoors to the small tent. Amelia expected Nookie to be gone in the morning, but when she woke, the faithful husky was still there. “I realized he really was sticking with me when he greeted me in the morning when I unzipped my tent. He had stayed the entire night next to me,” Amelia recalled.
It’s a good thing he did because the hiker was about to get in big trouble at the Eagle River crossing, a freezing, fast-moving river fed by a glacier. “I attempted to cross it twice with no success. On the second time, I fell and the water really pulled me,” Amelia said. “I was stuck in the water for more than 15 minutes until Nookie bit my backpack and pulled,” she recalled. Although Nookie managed to get Amelia out of the icy water, she wasn’t out of danger.
Hypothermic and dazed, Amelia jumped in her sleeping bag to stay warm. It was dry since she had put it in a garbage bag in her backpack before attempting to cross the river, but Amelia wasn’t safe, and Nanook knew it. “She thought she was going to lie there until she recovered and then she would sit up and kind of gauge where she was at. She just wasn’t recovering. The dog kept licking her,” Amelia’s mother, Sharon Milling, explained.
Amelia wanted to warm up and try crossing again, but Nookie wouldn’t leave her alone. Luckily, his persistence paid off. “After a while, I took the SPOT (satellite messenger) out of my pocket and then put it on the ground next to my head. When I did that, Nanook went into circles. That’s when I realized that I really was not OK and that he was telling me to press it,” Amelia recalled. “I’m telling you, the moment I finally pressed it, (he) stopped acting crazy, walked a few feet away, and took a nap. I don’t know how but he knew.”