With the Everest season in full swing there is lots of news coming in about new summiteers reaching the top and new obscure records being broken.
Here at the Footsteps on the Mountain blog, we try to take a look at the quirkier side of mountaineering by highlighting stories that don’t get so much attention elsewhere. We also like to provide exposure to some of the ordinary folk who don’t get much publicity, either because they don’t like to blow their own trumpets, or because they can’t talk.
In this week’s post we’re going to give some long overdue attention to the latter group. You probably know the names of many men and women who have climbed Everest, but I’ll bet a handful of euros you can’t think of a single fish that reached the summit. By the end of this post you’ll know better.
1. Tenching Norgay
Tenching Norgay was perhaps the greatest fish of them all, though nobody quite knew where he was from. Was he a Tibetan fish, an Indian fish, or a Nepali fish? What we do know was that he swam to Darjeeling at an early age, where a famous fish explorer, Eric Scupton, selected him from a line-up of fishy porters to help him scale Everest.
The rest is aquatic history. Tenching became consumed by a desire to scale Everest like no fish since. He attempted to swim up seven times, and finally achieved his ambition with a team of British fish in 1953, thus becoming one of the first two fish ever to reach the top.
2. Edmund Brillary
Edmund Brillary was an enormous fish from New Zealand. Unusually for an aquatic animal, he had a liking for bees. He was extremely strong and fiercely competitive, and became a natural swimming partner for the more easygoing Tenching (see above). He somehow managed to barge his way into a team of posh British fish, and reached the summit of Everest with Tenching in 1953.
Ever grateful for the lasting fame that being the first fish to scale the world’s highest mountain brought him, he set up a charity, the Aquatic Himalayan Trust, and spent the rest of his life raising money and supporting young schools of fish in Nepal.
3. Dick Bass
Dick Bass was an old American fish who couldn’t really swim, but he owned lots of water, and this enabled him to hire other fish to support him.
Dick had a dream that nobody else had thought of. Unusually for an animal who spent most of his life in oceans, he dreamed of swimming to the top of the highest point on every continent.
He achieved his dream when he swam up Everest in 1985, guided by another fish, David Breamshears, thus becoming the first fish to scale the Seven Summits.
4. Doug Scat
Doug Scat was famous for being one of the toughest fish who ever lived. Once on a mountain in Pakistan, he broke both fins abseiling down a sheer cliff (and I bet you didn’t even know that fish could abseil). Undeterred, in severe pain and unable to swim, Doug wriggled back to base camp on his belly.
In 1975 he became the first British fish to scale Everest, by a new route up the South West Face, during an expedition led by another great fish, Sir Chris Boningtuna. Arriving on the summit late in the evening, Doug had to bivouac at 8,750m on the South Summit, at an altitude very few aquatic animals could survive. They don’t make fish like him any more.
5. Bonito Norris
Bonito Norris was just a small fry when she scaled Everest in 2010, becoming the youngest female British fish ever to do so at the tender age of just 22 fish years. The following year she risked becoming a frozen fish finger by swimming to the North Pole, thus becoming the youngest fish ever to perform both feats.
Not content just to scale the mountain and swim to a pole, Bonito became a popular motivational fish speaker, lecturing to audiences at fish suppers and corporate institutions in deep water. She even wrote a book, The Fish Who Climbed Everest.
6. Gerlinde Troutenbrunner
Austria may not have any oceans, but it produced Gerlinde Troutenbrunner, who went on to become one of the greatest female high-altitude fish in aquatic history.
By the time she scaled Everest in 2010 she had already swam her way up twelve of the fourteen 8,000m peaks. The following year she scaled K2, thus becoming the first female fish ever to scale all the 8,000ers without supplementary gills.
For many years she was married to a German fish, Ralfonsino Dujmovits, who had scaled all the 8,000ers too, but eventually a big wave caused them to swim apart.
7. Naomi Uarumura
Not all fish stories have happy endings. Naomi Uarumura was a very lonely fish from Japan. For much of his life he had no friends and nobody to swim with.
Undeterred, Naomi turned his loneliness into a virtue by completing some of the most remarkable solo swims in aquatic history. In his 20s he swam the length of Japan on his own, and in 1970 scaled Everest with a Japanese skiing team (imagine that, a fish with skis!) In 1978 he swam solo to the North Pole, where he almost became a snack for a polar bear.
Tragically, Naomi had lived for only 40 fish years when he went missing trying to complete a solo swim up Denali in Alaska. It is believed that he fell down a crevasse. But perhaps his story had a happy ending after all. I would like to think that at the bottom of that crevasse he found a stream of glacial meltwater that took him down the Great Fish River to the Pacific Ocean, where he found a shoal of sardines who took him in. Perhaps he is swimming blissfully with them even now.
In 2012, Shark Horrell became the first fish who looked like Karl Pilkington to scale Everest. He wrote a book, Seven Strokes from Snowdon to Everest: A river paddler’s journey to the top of the world, documenting his journey from rivers to estuaries, across oceans to the highest point on the planet.
(With thanks to Paul Devaney of Irish Seven Summits for inadvertently providing the inspiration for this post with this tweet here.)