Last week the world’s mainstream media were awash with stories about the world’s first dog to climb ‘Mount’ Everest.
- “Slumdog mountaineer: Former stray that was rescued from a rubbish dump becomes first canine to climb Mount Everest after trekking to base camp”, screamed the Daily Mail, Britain’s worst newspaper.
- “An abandoned puppy rescued from a rubbish dump in India has trekked to Everest Base Camp, becoming what is believed to be the first dog to tackle the peak”, claimed the Manila Times, in a week when a typhoon hit the Philippines, leaving an estimated 3600 people dead and half a million homeless.
- “Brave dog rescued from dump said to be first to climb Mt. Everest”, the New York Daily News casually remarked.
“Believed to be” and “claimed to be” are phrases journalists use when somebody has provided them with a story which sounds like it might be interesting but they can’t be bothered to check the facts because it would be far less interesting if it wasn’t true.
On the face of it, it was a heart-warming story about a cute little doggie called Rupee who had been plucked from a garbage dump in India, rescued and fed by a caring owner, and went on to become a pioneering canine mountaineer. But what had the lucky pooch actually done, and how much of the story was true?
The facile headlines appeared to be claiming that a dog had become the very first, well dog, to reach the summit of Everest. But how could this be? How on earth had a dog made it across the yawning crevasses of the Khumbu Icefall, scaled the Lhotse Face and tackled the steep rock of the Hillary Step and the overhanging cornices of the Southeast Face?
The answer was, of course, that it hadn’t. It wasn’t the first canine to “climb Mount Everest”, or “tackle the peak” at all. Its owner had simply walked it to Base Camp. And there was more: it wasn’t even the first dog to do that. Take a look at this short video clip.
“Wow, that is awesome,” mutters the voice in the video.
And it is. It’s a dog crossing an aluminium ladder over a crevasse at Camp 2 in the Western Cwm, having passed through the Khumbu Icefall. This particular dog, which I’m going to call Tenzing, must have crossed several ladders considerably longer and steeper than this one.
“This guy went to Camp 2, over the ladders, in 2008. He slept in the tent with one of my teammates and a Sherpa carried him back down to Everest Base Camp,” said the mountaineering writer and Alzheimers advocate Alan Arnette on his Facebook page.
And it wasn’t the only time Tenzing made the gruelling trip through the Icefall. US memory champion and mountaineer Nelson Dellis filmed him being walked on a lead at Camp 1 in 2011, as you can see at 1:40 in the film below.
While Tenzing’s achievements are remarkable, not even he holds the altitude record for a dog. Incredible as it may sound, I wasn’t that surprised to learn a dog had made it to Camp 2 on Everest, at 6800m. When I was climbing in India in 2007, I was surprised to see a dog following us up a steep boulder field to our high camp on Sahib Chasa, a 6000m peak in Ladakh. It snowed overnight, and I was even more surprised to see it sleeping outside our kitchen tent the following morning, with a two inch crust of snow on its fur. I tried several times to frighten it off when we started to climb, because I feared that if it followed us onto the glacier it would fall down a crevasse, and we would have to risk our lives to rescue it. But even then it wouldn’t have been the first pooch to benefit from a crevasse rescue. In his book The Worst Journey in the World, about Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole in 1911, Apsley Cherry-Garrard described rescuing a husky from a ledge 100 feet down a crevasse. So I need not have worried. Although I chased the dog off a few times, it always came back, and it eventually followed us to 5500m, where we abandoned our climb due to foul weather. Had we not done so then I assume it would have tried to follow us all the way to the summit.
In view of last week’s media frenzy, I’m not going to claim I know the altitude record for a canine, but it might be held by an Argentine dog. My guide on 6959m Aconcagua one year was Augusto Ortega, who told me he had been with a dog on the summit on no fewer than three occasions.
“What were you doing taking a dog up there?” I asked him.
“No, no, dogs just follow you,” he replied.
Twice it was the same dog. Augusto has climbed Aconcagua over 60 times, but assuming dogs don’t follow the same people every time, I speculated whether a dog had in fact climbed South America’s highest mountain even more times than he had.
So as you can see, in canine terms Rupee is just a pussy cat and the story that appeared in the media last week was poorly researched dogshit.
But does it matter? Pictures of a cute little doggie-woggie in glorious mountain scenery were circulated across the world, its owner no doubt raised a few quid for charity, and the people of the Philippines had a heart-warming story to cheer them up in the face of overwhelming natural disaster. If nothing else it was refreshing to see the Daily Mail publish a story that wasn’t full of hate-fuelled racism. And even I have to admit Slumdog Mountaineer is a cool headline, in the same way that not even Celtic fans could have begrudged their team being hammered 3-0 by Inverness Caledonian Thistle when it produced the headline Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious in the Sun the following morning.
One final thought. Earlier this year the government of Nepal announced measures to constrain bizarre records on Everest. Good luck with that one.