A trio of British ski instructors braved potential avalanches to climb a frozen mountain in the Alps to rescue a pair of dogs that had gone missing three weeks before – after spotting eagles circling their position.
Cameron Skinner and brothers Marc and George Walton braved treacherous conditions near Morzine to save Mika and Mungo after French authorities said a rescue attempt "was too dangerous".
The two dogs, who had been living as strays in the Bahamas before their owners found them and were only staying in France for the ski season, ran off into woodland in the middle of March and disappeared.
Leanne Garner organised a number of search parties for the pups, who are thought to be about five years old, but they gave up hope after ten days when there was a huge snowstorm.
Ms Garner said: “There was a two-day snow storm. We didn’t want to say it out loud, but there was no way they should have survived.
“A couple of weeks afterwards, I was going for a hike with a friend in a remote area when I heard what sounded like wolves howling.
“I checked and there aren’t any wolves anywhere near there, so I thought it might be the dogs.
“I asked the French authorities for help but they said it was too dangerous, so I put it on our local group chat and Cameron, Marc and George took up the challenge.”
The three ski instructors took it upon themselves to save the dogs, despite not knowing them, because the authorities had refused to help.
Cameron said: “When I found out that the missing dogs might be alive, I leapt at the opportunity to try to rescue them.
“I hadn’t even known they were missing, but because they had been heard howling, even though it was almost three weeks later, I knew there was hope.
“I rang my friends and they were up for it as well – we got all the gear we needed and headed up the mountain.”
The 28-year-old, originally from Croydon, south London, added: “We all specialise in ski touring and off-piste skiing, so we are highly trained.
“We’re trained to rescue people and to spot the potential signs for avalanches.
“We knew the snow was deep and there might have been an avalanche at any moment.
“There were three eagles circling at the top of a cliff, which made us think that was where the dogs were, and that they were alive.
“When we got closer, we could hear the dogs barking too – it was echoing around the mountain, but with the eagles as well, we knew where to climb.”
George, 25, and his 26-year-old brother Marc, from Ascot in Berkshire, run Peak Snowsports, a ski-school in the resort town.
The trio were kitted out with ice axes, crampons and an avalanche probe – as well as a transceiver to help rescuers find them if they got buried in snow.
Cameron stayed at the foot of the cliff to keep watch as George and Marc climbed the sheer cliff to the trees where the dogs were sheltering.
George said: “While we were putting boot crampons on we heard a couple of distressing moans from the dogs, which meant they were in the area.
“About ten minutes into the hike we realised this was going to be a challenge, but a challenge that we weren’t going to let us defeat us, especially after hearing the dogs’ moans.
“The weather got a bit warmer, which increased the risk of avalanche, and it was getting dark quickly, we realised we would have to climb a cliff to get to them, with absolutely no room for error.
“We were so lucky to have our boot crampons at this point as well as some knowledge of climbing rocky faces.
“When I reached the top of cliff band, I saw the first dog, Mika. She was on the right about 50 metres up from the cliff band.
“I think I was just as excited to see her as she was to see me – she was wagging her tail.
“As soon as she was close enough I put a lead on her and attached it to my harness. I then let her get used to me as we had a long walk down from there.
“I looked across to the left where I thought I heard the second dog Mungo.
“He was standing on top of a ridge behind a tree which was above a gully with lots of wet soft snow, with an avalanche crack at the top.
“Marc came and joined us and we had a discussion on how we were going to get the next dog and definitely couldn’t turn around now and leave them.”
George added: “We thoroughly assessed the terrain and talked through some worst case scenarios.
“We were relaying information to Cameron who was doing a great job informing Leanne and Tom who were at the bottom.
“He was also scoping out a route down for us, which was vital as we didn’t have to much time to look for a route.
“Marc had to belay across a gully to get to Mungo, and when he got there, he quickly hooked Mungo onto the rope using a carabiner and sling.
“Mungo used Marc’s footprints to help back over to where Mika was, and the pair were definitely happy to be reunited.”
The trio – with the dogs – managed to make it home down the mountain in pitch black conditions, more than four hours after they set off.
The dogs, who survived 17 days together on the mountain, were treated to lots of food and affection once reunited with their owners.
Leanne added: “It’s absolutely incredible.
“It’s amazing the bravery and courage Cameron, George and Marc showed to go and rescue them, and it’s astonishing the dogs survived.
“It is fantastic what they did for a stranger – I didn’t really know them before, but when they showed up to go on the hike, with all the gear, I could tell they had a lot of knowledge and confidence.
“The dogs were absolutely over the moon when they were reunited with their owners. It was so emotional.
“And to think – those Caribbean dogs managed to survive almost three weeks in the frozen French Alps.”
The trio received an annual award for recognition from the town as thanks for their efforts bringing the dogs home on 7 April.
George said: “The family and the dogs were so happy to be back together, it was great to see.
“It was also massively rewarding for us to be able to give the dogs a second life and joy on the family’s face was awesome to see.”
Cameron added: “I would do this again in a heartbeat. It’s a wonderful community here and we all do whatever we can to help each other out.”