On the same day he thought he’d die, Rick Crandall experienced his most life-affirming moment.
It was Sept. 12, 2007, and the 64-year-old tech exec was climbing Mount Yale, a Colorado mountain summit with just over 14,000 feet of elevation.
The thin air at that altitude, combined with his weakening legs, made Crandall feel like he might black out. But his canine companion wasn’t about to let him give up.
“She was always in front and always leading us higher,” Crandall tells The Post of his strong-willed Australian terrier, Emme (pronounced “Emmy”). “When I’d fall behind, she’d turn back and look at me, and I swear her expression was saying, ‘This is what I want to do, and you are going to do it with me.’ ”
The only reason he’d made the journey at all was “because I was either pushed or pulled into mountain climbing by Emme,” he explains in his new memoir, “The Dog Who Took Me Up a Mountain” (HCI), co-written by Joseph Cosgriff, out Tuesday.
When Crandall arrived safely at the bottom of Mount Yale, he vowed to make some life changes.
Although he was already in good shape — 6-foot-1 and just under 200 pounds — he wanted to be leaner and stronger, if only because it was “my best (and only) chance to keep up with Emme,” he writes.
He started a training regimen, dieting and taking practice hikes with Emme four or five times a week. He dropped 25 pounds and got into the best shape of his life, all with the goal of climbing every mountain over 14,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains — all 58 of them.
It was an unexpected second act for Crandall. In 1966, he had founded Comshare, an international software company, and spent 24 years as its CEO. Since the 1990s, he’s been an advisor for numerous startup tech companies, also serving on the board of directors for many of them.
But when he reached his late 50s at the turn of the millennium, Crandall was feeling old and out of touch and increasingly “burned out mentally, physically and spiritually.”
So the Ann Arbor, Mich., native moved to Aspen, Colo., with his second wife, Pamela, who insisted that they adopt a dog. In 2001, they brought home Emme, a “200-pound Saint Bernard trapped in the body of a 20-pound Australian terrier,” Crandall writes.
His hikes with Emme started out small, but over the years the pair were soon taking on challenges that would’ve been remarkable for hikers (and dogs) half their age.
On Sept. 6, 2008, they climbed not one but four “fourteeners” — shorthand for any Colorado mountain over 14,000 feet — in the span of just a single day, as part of a charity event that raised $18,000 for a local animal shelter.
Over the course of nine hours, Crandall feared he wouldn’t make it, but he pushed himself “well beyond my physical limits,” he writes, “inspired by my vigilant, loyal and stubborn dog.”
For a man who’d spent so much of his life as a leader, it was eye-opening to realize that following Emme didn’t make him weak.
“Emme was usually better in leading us down the mountains,” he writes, “rarely hesitating even when physical signs would wear thin or disappear.” Despite her diminutive size, Emme was afraid of nothing, facing down snowdrifts — she’d disappear from view “only to explode out of the snow a second or two later” — and ferocious-looking bulls blocking their path.
Emme would charge towards the animals, with a message of “Ready or not, I’m coming through, and I’m blazing a trail for my humans.”
Emme also taught Crandall patience. In Colorado, he says, there are climbers in their 20s and 30s who only care about getting to the summit as quickly as possible.
“We call it summit fever,” he says. But Emme was never in a hurry. “She wasn’t focused on the end goal,” he says.
“She’d stop to chase some ptarmigans or sit on a boulder and admire the view. For her, it was never how fast you could get up the mountain. It was about pausing to enjoy every moment of it.”
Crandall and Emme reached the peak of 16 “fourteeners” together before Emme succumbed to doggie dementia and died at age 14¹/₂ (about 74 in human years). Although he and his wife have adopted several more Aussies — two of which won “Best in Breed” at Westminster — and Crandall says some have accompanied him on hikes, “so far nothing close to Emme.”
He’s climbed four more fourteeners since Emme’s passing, and he’s not about to stop now. And even though he’s hiking solo, he never forgets the credo that got him here:
“When in doubt,” says Crandall, now in his 70s, “follow your dog.”
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