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After Grga Brkić fell approximately 500 feet down a steep ice slope, his dog curled up atop his body, keeping the severely injured Brkić warm overnight in sub-freezing conditions while rescuers coordinated a 13-hour rescue.
The pup’s actions undoubtedly saved Brkić’s life, according to the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service (Hrvatska Gorska Služba Spašavanja/HGSS).
The accident occurred in Paklenica National Park, on Vaganski Vrh (5,764 ft), the tallest peak in the Velebits, Croatia’s largest mountain range.
Around 6:30 pm on New Year’s Day, Brkić, his dog (a 6-month-old Alaskan Malamute named North), and two partners were descending from Vaganski Vrh’s summit back to the shelter. As they crossed a particularly icy section of steep trail, which North was reluctant to cross, Brkić attempted to carry his dog on his shoulders across the ice. At this point, “they both started sliding for [500 feet] down the icy slope,” an HGSS spokesman told Climbing.
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Brkić suffered severe fractures to both his lower leg and ankle, among other injuries, and his partners were unable to reach him. He attempted to keep himself warm with a gas stove in his pack, while North curled atop him. Rescuers reached Brkić’s position at midnight in sub-freezing conditions, and he was finally handed over to medical services at the bottom of the peak at 7:55 am the following morning, and transported to the hospital.
“Friendship and love between man and dog know no boundaries,” the HGSS wrote on Facebook following the accident.
According to HGSS station chief Gospić Josip, the rescue on Vaganski was “the most difficult and complex rescue operation carried out in [HGSS] history,” and involved 27 rescuers from several nearby HGSS stations. The volunteer rescue outfit has over 1,000 active members and conducts approximately 800 missions per year, according to the representative who spoke with Climbing.
“The injured mountaineer had crampons, an ax, and all the other necessary gear,” the HGSS spokesman said. “Generally, people should get to really know the area they are going to, especially [the] weather conditions,” he added. The HGSS also cautioned against bringing dogs along on high-altitude hikes in winter conditions.
Antonija Sjauš Brkić of the Brkić family posted an update the following day, noting that “Grga will be fine,” and that “North is home and welcomes everyone.”
“HGSS… We have no words,” she wrote. Thank you!”