Central Idaho's sprawling 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness is a bad place to lose one's way.
Especially for a small, 13-year-old English setter named Rosie, whose owners lost track of her after she wandered off while they were maneuvering around a rocky, timbered area during a backpacking trip over the July 19-20 weekend. They were headed into the Vanity Lakes area on the southern end of the "Frank" northwest of Stanley.
"She took off into the woods," said Boise resident and writer of numerous outdoor books Steve Stuebner.
Despite an extensive search effort mounted over the next few days by Rosie's owners, Stuebner and Wendy Wilson, the little white, gray and black-colored dog seemed irretrievably lost to the vast wilderness. Before driving back to Boise, they tacked fliers to some trees in the hopes that someone might find her, Stuebner said.
Although Rosie is experienced in the backcountry—she's been backpacking for years and has been down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River—Stuebner nevertheless feared for her safety as he knows the area is frequented by gray wolves.
"I totally thought she had been cornered by some wolves for sure," he said.
But Mother Nature apparently had better ideas for the little pooch.
Days later, a group of backpackers led by Tom Hickey of Meridian was trying to find the hidden Vanity Lakes basin without much luck. That's when two members of the party—Richae Swanbeck and her father Scott Swanbeck—spotted Rosie in a drainage area about a quarter-mile below the lake they were trying to reach.
Finding the dog helped them find the lakes, so the group decided to call her "Gracie," as in it was only for the grace of God that they weren't lost, Hickey said.
Emaciated, sore and paws bloodied, all Rosie wanted to do was sleep and lay around, he said.
"We had to put antibiotic ointment on her paws," he said.
Rosie devoured eight fish plus some chicken and pork loin the group fed her, Hickey said. On their way out, she was still so weak that they actually had to carry her most of the way, he said.
Spotting their fliers, Hickey's group called Stuebner and Wilson to report that they'd found Rosie. And she's now resting in Boise after a checkup at the veterinarian, Stuebner said Wednesday.
"She's doing great," he said. "We'll be taking the leash next time."