Over two million tourists visit Alaska every year, and many go hiking. But some of these hikes are dangerous. In 2018, a deaf college student went on a hike alone and fell 700 feet down a mountain. What she found was that there was something else down there, too. Here is the unexpected story of how she was rescued.
A College Student’s Vacation Went Wrong
In June 2018, Amelia Milling was a 21-year-old college student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. That year she decided to spend some of her summer break on vacation in Alaska.
Although Milling is deaf, she is more than capable of handling a solo journey. The student flew from her native state of Tennessee to Anchorage, one of Alaska’s largest cities.
A Treacherous Three-Day Hike
While on vacation, Milling decided to hike the Crow Pass Trail. The trail, which is 30 miles south of Anchorage, is a three-day hike.
Crow Pass cuts through the scenic Chugach State Park. In June, the weather climbs over 50°F and the skies clear. It was the perfect time for that hike.
She Was Well Prepared For This Difficult Hike
Milling packed everything she needed for the hike: food, water, clothes, a tent, a sleeping bag, and other hiking gear. She even bought trekking poles, which act as a separate set of limbs that help people keep their balance.
Although Crow Pass is gorgeous, it is also challenging. The terrain can be rough, and the weather can change unpredictably.
A Lovely Day Of Hiking Quickly Went South
Milling knew the challenges of Crow Pass, but she felt equipped to take them on. For the first four miles, the hike went swimmingly. The sky was spotless, and Milling was completely emersed in nature.
However, Milling never expected her gear to falter. At the peak of a mountain, her trekking poles broke.
Milling Fell 700 Feet
Milling’s broken trekking poles caused her to lose her balance. She fell 300 feet down the snow-covered mountain before hitting a boulder.
After colliding with the boulder, Milling tumbled another 400 feet down the mountain. “I felt like I was flying,” Milling later told CBC News. Then, she finally landed.
Suddenly, Milling Was Lost And Injured
Milling was lucky to be alive. She had fallen 700 feet, around the length of two football fields. But she didn’t feel lucky at that moment.
Milling was dazed, bruised, and bleeding. She even struggled to stand. When she recovered from the shock, she realized that she had no idea how to return to the trail.
Then, Something Approached Her
As Milling sat there and debated what to do, she noticed movement nearby. Based on how the plants moved, it was not a person; it was an animal.
Crow Pass is famous for its wildlife, from mountain goats to black bears to moose. If a predator had spotted her, Milling would be helpless.
It Was A White Husky!
As the creature approached, Milling realized that it was a large dog. “First, I thought he was a wolf,” Milling later told ABC News. But then the dog jumped on her– and started licking her.
It was a white Siberian husky! The dog acted like he was waiting to see her. “He showed up suddenly out of nowhere,” Milling recalled.
The Dog, Nanook, Was There To Help
Milling then noticed the dog’s collar. ” I saw the little collar and realized he was there to help me,” she said.
The dog’s silver, bone-shaped tag said that his name was Nanook, after the master of bears in the Inuit religion. The tag read, “Crow Pass Guide, Return to…” with the owner’s address.
Nanook Stayed By Milling’s Side
Milling realized that Nanook was not a stray; he was there to help her. The tag indicated that he was a guide dog for the trail pass.
What’s more, Nanook–whom Milling soon called “Nookie”– refused to leave Milling’s side. The hiker now had a partner and aid. But what could she do?
Initially, She Waited To Heal
Initially, Milling waited. She thought that her wounds would feel better with time, and then she could move. But that wasn’t so easy.
“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,” said her mother, Sharon Milling. “She just wasn’t recovering. The dog kept licking her.”
Nanook Lead Her Back To The Trail
Eventually, Milling realized that she couldn’t wait out her wounds. She had to start walking back to the trail.
When she started walking, she noticed that Nanook went ahead and waited for her. He was leading her back to the trail. From there, she could return to civilization and receive medical help.
But Milling Had To Wait Until Morning
But by the time Milling started moving again, the day turned into night. She barely made any distance before she had to set up her tent.
Milling invited Nookie inside, but the dog didn’t go in. He seemed to prefer staying outside the one-person tent. Although she risked losing the dog overnight, Milling went to sleep.
Nanook Stayed With Her Overnight
When Milling awoke the next morning, she opened her tent to a familiar sight: Nanook was sitting outside the tent, waiting for her.
“I realized he really was sticking with me when he greeted me in the morning when I unzipped my tent,” Milling later said. “He had stayed the entire night next to me.”
Nanook Motivated Milling To Keep Hiking
Nanook’s presence motivated Milling to keep hiking. “He gave me the motivation to get up and walk another seven miles,” she recalled.
“If he didn’t show up, I probably wouldn’t have gotten back up and kept walking that much.” The husky not only guided her; he gave her the faith that Milling needed.
But She Had Another Obstacle
Although Milling only hiked four miles, the fall forced her to hike another seven miles to return to the trail. But when Milling got back on Crow Pass, she encountered another obstacle.
Milling had to cross a river. With her injuries, wading through a river would be difficult. The current seemed fast, and the water was frigid.
These Rivers Can Be Life Threatening To Hikers
Crow Pass Trail is notorious for its rushing rivers. Milling was crossing Eagle River, which is fed by a glacier. Even in summer, the water is freezing.
Although Milling was hesitant, Nookie swam across the river with ease. He reached the other side and waited for her, so she figured that it was safe to cross.
Milling Fell Into The River
When Milling tried to cross the river, it did not go as smoothly. She slipped on the rocks and fell in. The strong current swiftly washed her away.
For several minutes, Milling struggled to get out of the freezing water, but her injuries made it difficult. Fortunately, Nanook was nearby to help her.
Nanook Rushed To Pull Her Out
Nanook followed her down the river. He grabbed a strap on her backpack and pulled her out of the water with his teeth.
“I was stuck in the water for more than 15 minutes until Nookie bit my backpack and pulled,” Milling recounted. “I pushed, and he pulled.” Luckily, their teamwork paid off.
Nanook successfully pulled Milling out of the water. Although she was safe for now, she was dangerously hypothermic. In freezing water, people can die within 15 to 45 minutes.
Milling took out her sleeping bag and got inside of it, desperate to keep warm. Nanook sat beside her, also trying to heat her up.
Stranded And Hypothermic, Milling Called For Help
Milling now knew that she could not return on her own. Although she was now out of the water, her low body temperature put her life on the line.
Dazed, Milling took out her Spot Device, a GPS tracking locator. She pressed the SOS button and prayed that someone would retrieve her in time.
They Waited…And Waited…
Milling’s Spot Device alerted the Alaska State Troopers that she needed help. It also sent a message to her mother, so that she knew what was happening.
However, Milling had to wait for help to arrive. She and Nanook waited on the riverbank for several hours, both searching for others who could help them.
Finally, Milling Was Saved
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, Milling could feel rumbling in the ground. Although she could not hear, she recognized the sensation: it was a helicopter.
The Alaskan State Troopers had arrived from HELO-3 out of Anchorage. They found Milling in her red sleeping bag with Nanook curled up beside her.
Milling Recovered Thanks To Nanook’s Help
Milling was checked into a medical center in Anchorage. She made a full recovery and even stayed in Alaska for the rest of her planned trip.
Meanwhile, the team leader who saved her, Lt. Eric Olsen, took in Nanook. He was surprised to hear that Nanook was not Milling’s dog, but a stranger who rescued her.
Who Was Nanook’s Owner?
Olsen contacted Nanook’s owner, Scott Swift. The owner knew that his seven-year-old husky was out by the trail, but he had no idea that Nanook was aiding a hiker.
“When I realized I had a real-life hero dog, I called up the owner and he said, ‘No way,'” Olsen told ABC News.
What Is Up With Nanook?
When Olsen drove Nanook home to his owner, he received more information about the dog. According to Swift, Nanook had a history of disappearing for days.
“He likes to go off on adventures on his own,” Swift explained. “He just disappears and goes and hooks up with a hiker or backpacker or a mountain runner.”
This Was Not His First Time Saving Someone
According to Swift, this isn’t the first time Nanook had saved a hiker. He relayed one story that happened two years earlier.
“There was one other girl about 6 years old,” Swift recounted. “He saved [her] when she fell in the river.” That story is eerily similar to Milling’s experience.
Nanook Was Never Trained For This
Although Nanook has aided many hikers, he was not trained to do so. “It sends chills up my spine when I think about it. I certainly didn’t train him to do anything like this,” Swift told CBC News.
“It’s a pretty powerful feeling that this dog had this instinctual ability to want to go help people.”
Milling And Nookie Got To Spend More Time Together, Too
After Milling healed, she got to spend more time with Nookie. She met his owner, Swift, and the two hung out together for the rest of Milling’s trip. Swift said that he got spoiled with lots of treats.
But the situation made Swift wonder how many others Nanook had helped without his knowledge.
How Many People Did He Help?
Swift became curious about how many local hikers received help from Nanook. He created a Facebook page for his dog and encouraged people to share their stories.
Several hikers came forward admitting that they recognized his dog. Even Army members, who trained near Anchorage, remembered Nanook spending a week with their squadron.
Nookie Became An Honorary State Trooper
The Alaska State Troopers decided to honor Nanook for his efforts. They made him an “honorary member” and even gave him a medal and degree.
Swift will continue to let his dog roam freely. “With a free spirit like that…I feel like I’d be keeping him in jail if I kept him tied up,” he admitted.
Milling And Nanook Are Lifelong Friends
Despite her life-threatening incident, Milling returned to Anchorage the following summer. In 2019, she announced on Facebook that she completed the Crow Pass Trail “without any complications this time.”
Milling also visited Nanook and even had sleepovers with him. “I believe the dog is a guardian angel,” she said. “I told him several times that I love him and I’ll never forget him.”
A Wolf Came Out Of Nowhere
Back in 2004, Nick Jans was sitting on his porch in Alaska with his dog Dakotah by his side. While Nick was admiring the Alaskan landscape, a large black wolf came out from behind the trees and stood in front of Nick’s home.
Before Nick could even react, his dog Dakotah went running straight toward the wild animal. Either she thought the wolf was another dog who wanted to play, or she was preparing to defend her master from this fierce predator.
A Canine Face Off
At first, Nick was terrified. He was afraid that this wolf was going to hurt Dakotah. He wasn’t sure what to do as the dog inched closer to the huge black wolf. Then, something happened that Nick never saw coming.
Dakotah and the wolf started playing with each other just like they were old friends. Once Nick was sure that Dakotah was safe, he ran inside to grab his camera. Then he snapped this photo.
A Name For The Wolf
Nick noticed that the wolf liked to hang around his area. The wolf would often stop by to reunite with his friend, Dakotah. Nick thought that this wolf needed a name, so after giving it some thought, he decided to name the wolf Romeo.
Even though Romeo seemed friendly, Nick understood that this was a wild animal. He always watched closely when Romeo and Dakotah were playing and he never got too close to Romeo.
The Other Neighborhood Dogs Eventually Met Romeo Too
A short while after Romeo met Dakotah and played with her, he made his way over to Mendenhall Glacier Park to see what the dogs over there were up to. Romeo would go there often to run around with the local dogs.
Dakotah must have given Romeo the confidence to meet other canine friends. Now Romeo was the life of the party. He loved playing and wrestling with a whole bunch of dogs.
People Warmed Up To Him Rather Quickly
At first, people at the park were quite wary of a large, wild wolf in their midst. Some visitors thought that the wolf might hurt them or their pets, but when they saw how gentle Romeo was and how nicely he played with the other dogs, most of their worries went away.
Even though Romeo was much larger than even the largest dogs at Mendenhall Glacier Park, people soon realized that Romeo was only there to have a good time.
The Dogs Accepted His Presence
Some of the dogs at the park were a little skeptical of Romeo. After all, he does look pretty intimidating. Some of the dogs were hesitant to play with Romeo at first, but just like the humans at the park, they quickly warmed up to him.
Romeo just wanted to make some new friends. Clearly, he was starving for social interaction. Perhaps he was separated from his pack and he was looking for a new one.
Romeo Behaved Just Like A Big Dog
Romeo made human friends as well as dog friends. In an interview, Nick said, “he would bring out toys that he’d stashed” and bring them to the people at the park. He was doing everything he could to win the favor of these Alaskan residents.
He just wanted to be accepted by the people and the animals around him. Nick was confident that Romeo was not a threat to people or to dogs.
He Liked To Play Fetch
Nick went into further detail about the items that Romeo would bring to the people at the park. He said, “One was a Styrofoam float. Romeo would pick it up and bring it to [my friend] Harry to throw.”
Maybe Romeo was watching all of the other dogs play fetch and he wanted to get in on the action. Maybe this is just innate canine behavior. Apparently, dogs both big and small like to chase after flying objects.
Romeo Seemed Almost Like He Was Part Dog
Even though Romeo clearly wasn’t a domesticated dog, he displayed a lot of the same behaviors that dogs do. Nick added that Romeo “clearly understood the same sort of behaviors that we see in dogs.”
Romeo had been around dogs long enough to understand how they play and how they interact. Even though he was not the same species as Dakotah or the other dogs at the park, he fit right in.
A Man, A Wolf, And A Dog
So there they were in the Alaskan wilderness: a man, a dog, and a wolf. Nick couldn’t help but take in how special the experience was, of all three of them enjoying the land, playing, and getting along peacefully.
Nick explained, “we were these three species working out how to get along harmoniously. And we did.” It’s not often that we read about situations like this, and Nick embraced the rare experience.
Romeo Felt Right At Home
Romeo sort of lived with Nick and Dakotah for a long time. Of course, he never actually moved into their house. He is still a wild animal, after all. But he did frequently visit the pair over the course of the next six years.
If you had traveled to Mendenhall Glacier Park between the years 2004 and 2009, you would see a lone black wolf playing with the dogs at the dog park.
Romeo Connected The Community With The Wilderness
Eventually, Romeo not only earned the community’s trust, but became a fixture in it. The local residents, both those with dogs and others who came to the park to see the wolf everyone was talking about were in awe of the beautiful animal.
The community enjoyed the fact that they could trust a wild animal, and he trusted them back. For the locals, Romeo was an important symbol that they could be one with the land and wildlife around them.
People Went To The Lake Just To See Romeo
As Romeo’s popularity grew, locals visited the lake where he liked to hang out with the other dogs just to see the wolf. The situation came a long way from when everyone was initially (and understandably) freaked out about the presence of the wolf around their dogs.
Still, at first sight, many who hadn’t heard about Romeo were freaked out about a wolf who wanted to play with their family dog.
Some Visitors Were Nervous
While all of the locals knew that Romeo was harmless, some of the visitors were anxious about being so close to a wild animal. It’s difficult to put all of your trust into a wolf, especially a wolf as big and as strong as Romeo.
There are so many stories and folktales about “big bad wolves.” In reality, wolves aren’t bad at all. They’re just living their lives according to insticnt.
All Good Things Come To An End
Romeo “was downright relaxed and tolerant from the start,” Nick said, “as if he had dropped out of the sky like a unicorn.” Romeo had built friendships with all kinds of dogs, from border collies, to laboradors, to poodles.
Unfortunately, some friendships aren’t built to last forever. Eventually, everything has its end point. Romeo’s time at Mendenhall Glacier Park was coming to a close. Romeo was about to suffer a fate similar to his namesake.
A Tragedy Of Shakespearean Proportions
Romeo was named after a figure in a Shakespearean tragedy, and sadly, he too would suffer a tragic end. In 2009 Tragically, in 2009, Romeo was shot and killed by hunters.
Everyone who lived around Mendenhall Glacier Park felt the immense loss of a dear friend. The residents of Juneau decided to have a memorial service for Romeo, and they even had a plaque made in his memory. This lone wolf turned pack animal will never be forgotten.
A Fitting Tribute
That plaque is still standing in Juneau. If you ever travel to Alaska, you should visit the place where Romeo once roamed. The residents of that beautiful city plan on keeping the plaque up for years to come.
On the plaque are the words: “Romeo 2003-2009. The spirit of Juneau’s friendly black wolf lives on in this wild place.” There’s an image of Romeo on the plaque right above the inscription.
He’ll Live On Forever In Their Hearts
Even though Romeo isn’t around anymore, he made a lasting impression on all of the residents of Juneau. Nick enjoyed getting to know Romeo, and he’s pretty sure Dakotah enjoyed being his friend too.
Even though Romeo was a wild animal, he was one of the friendliest animals that Nick had ever met. Even though hunting is sometimes necessary, Romeo wasn’t shot for food. Let’s all be more aware of the damage we’re doing to this planet and all of its beautiful creatures.
Romeo’s Story Will Persist
Shortly after Romeo passed away, Nick documented his relationship with his dear animal friend in a book called A Wolf Called Romeo. If you want to know more about how Romeo got along with the people and dogs of Juneau, definitely pick up a copy of Nick’s book.
Alaska is an incredible place that’s full of stories about animals bonding with human beings. Not too far from where Nick lives, a woman had her very own wild encounter…