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'Fearless' dog reunites with owner after surviving 100-foot cliff fall in West Vancouver

A three-year-old lab-mix named Freeway spent a night alone in the North Shore mountains after tumbling down a cliff at Cypress Mountain ski resort

Freeway is back home and resting – but it’s been a harrowing couple of days for the pup.

The three-year-old lab-mix survived a fall off a 100-foot cliff and more than 24 hours running feral in the North Shore mountains.

Skier Adam Bale hiked to the top of Cypress Mountain’s Sky Chair for some post-season runs on Monday and had stopped for a rest when one of his skis began to slide. Freeway, who has a little retriever in her, bolted after the ski, not knowing the danger she was in.

“The ski kept going and Freeway kept going with it and they just went over the edge. I couldn’t get to them,” said Bale, who was in shock at the time. “I was pretty helpless.”

Bale didn’t have the skills or gear required to go search for Freeway, but two other men who were in the area did attempt to reach the area where the dog fell.

“All they said was it looks bad, we can’t see any sign,” Bale said, deciding it was time to call for outside help.

North Shore Rescue responds

To be clear, North Shore Rescue is not in the business of chasing after lost pets, and the province will not offer official support or even provide rescuers with insurance coverage in case of injuries. But when a pet is in trouble in the wilderness, people tend to follow, and without serious mountaineering training and equipment, the area where Freeway fell would be extremely dangerous, said search manager Paul Markey.

“Our concern and the concern that we expressed to the province was that somebody potentially could get injured or hurt or worse. And so it was concern for humans which allowed the province to issue a task,” he said.

Markey roped down about 100 feet of steep cliff and spotted what looked like an impact spot with some brown fluid in the snow, but there was no sign of Freeway. He and other volunteers searched the area until darkness Monday night, including using a drone with thermal cameras, but had no luck.

The next morning North Shore Rescue returned with a helicopter – something the province will not fund for animal missions, so the team dipped into their own donations to cover the cost, according to search manager Stan Sovdat. Given the circumstances of the fall, they were assuming it would be a recovery, not a rescue.

The enormity of the gesture was not lost on Bale.

“It’s beyond my words to express what admiration and gratitude and respect I have for them anyway. But when it’s you, and the helicopter is [taking] off, I was honestly in tears,” he said. “I just wanted to recover Freeway’s body. I wanted to know that we had it and be able to bring it home and do the right thing.”

The team did not find Freeway near the site where she fell, but they did find the next best thing – tracks.

“And it was on,” Bale said.

Freeway spotted at Cypress

They spread the word on social media and more friends and even strangers started showing up to search the resort area for Freeway. Around 3 p.m. Tuesday, Freeway emerged for the first confirmed sighting, coming face to face with one of Bale’s friends on a ski run.

But domesticated dogs that have been through that kind of experience tend to be too scared to come when called, and Freeway bolted. From there, the search turned into more of a “hot pursuit.” Freeway ran “full tilt” back toward the Cypress parking lot, past the chalet and to the trails heading south.

Bale and the other volunteers followed her tracks in the snow but eventually lost the trail. Soon after, two mountain bikers spotted her not far from the Trans Canada Trail, at which time she was headed back toward the parking lot.

Bale’s girlfriend and a friend were the first to see her pop up again, about four hours after she was first spotted. This time, though, Bale was cable to coax her back into the car.

“I was punching the air and I was like ‘Got her!” he said.

Bale took her to an emergency vet in Vancouver who checked her over. Amazingly, the only injuries they could detect were some scratches and a sunburn on her nose.

“She’s dishevelled, but she’s remarkably just good and strong. She’s a tough little dog. She’s like very energetic and kind of sturdily built, which probably helped her,” he said. “I think she’s incredibly brave. That’s exactly what she is. She’s just fearless and resourceful and tricky.”

North Shore volunteers thanked

The whole experience has been an emotional one, Bale said, not just because he believed he’d lost his beloved adventuring buddy followed by a frantic chase to find her. Bale said he was also stunned by the selflessness of friends, rescue volunteers, Cypress staff and perfect strangers who saw there was a need for help and jumped into action. As word spread around the mountain, upwards of 100 people were actively looking or keeping an eye out for her.

All of those people are owed some thanks (or some beer) now, Bale said.

“Community sometimes can seem invisible until it is tested. We know now how real and how strong community is, how strong and how good each person within it is, and we are forever grateful for it,” he said.

In a social media post, North Shore Rescue issued some of thanks of their own to those who helped search and those who chipped in with donations to help cover the cost.

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